Our 8th major trip, and our longest ever so far got off to a delayed start due to waiting for some final Christmas presents to be delivered – but sadly eBay let me down which is annoying as the present was for Mel and is needed for our snowboarding trip. Bugger. Probably a good job as the van is the fullest it has ever been, carrying bikes, snowboards & boots, helmets, winter clothes, food and all our other stuff in addition to all our Christmas presents. We had to leave a box of summer clothes and some extra biscuits with my parents who we will be meeting in Gibraltar in March.
With the van full the suspension seemed to be close to its limit – only around 30-40mm of suspension travel left on the rear axle. That said, it doesn’t hit the stops on normal driving and last time we had it weighed we were below the limit by some 50kg – so I’m sure we’re fine albeit **** close! At least the new snow tyres we’ve got fitted have a higher load rating than standard so they are well within their tolerance.
After a dull start and crossing we overnighted in Veurne again around 50 mins from Calais, a small but pleasant town with an area next to the canal. Much quieter than normal with only 2 other vans there – one brit. The town was set up for Christmas markets but they weren’t open on a Tuesday evening. Overnight we had our first snow and kept the heating on all night and kept snug.
Aiming for Metz our journey was crap around Brussels which is becoming a frequent occurrence – think we’ll try and find alternative routes in future. However, the route is useful as it does take us via Luxemburg and allows us to fill up at 89p a litre for diesel! We got to our usual place in Metz and toured the city and found 3 different Christmas markets – one had a mini fair with a ride like a moving Christmas tree where you sit in the baubles! Bit spooky actually. Then, typically, we got lost and took an age to find the van to settle down watching a Harry Potter movie.
We were so snug we didn’t notice how cold it must’ve got – both the cold pipe to the kitchen tap and the waste froze. The latter is expected as this would normally just drain to a bucket – but the former is cause for concern… With it being so cold we decided to make tracks further south, and amazingly a few hours in, the windscreen washer froze! Now if I wasn’t prepared I’d be expecting this, but we deliberately used un-concentrated “extreme winter” washer fluid which is supposed to be good to a very low temperature. However, I got this from my Dad… Hmmm. Also, “doh!”, I forgot the transit heats the washer jets if you turn on the heated windscreen – something to remember…
For the night we stayed at a small town called Orgelet – nothing special but convenient, a few shops, and an aire with water/waste that was frozen solid and unusable. Ah.
In the morning we decided to head to Chambery close to Valloire – so off we set on snowy roads very pleased with ourselves and our new snow tyres. These did inspire some confidence as they made the van much more sure footed than the summer tyres. The slower roads (our preference) were too snowy to be considered safe so we jumped on the Payage motorway – a first for us in France – and hoped they would be clear. Well, they weren’t – the ploughs were out but the snow was heavy, and the traffic very slow. Lorries were getting stuck and being dug out, and we even overtook one that was getting stuck – the tyres did a grand job! Don’t get me wrong, they would let go if you were too brutal, but driven gently they were good.
Once we got to Chambery the forecast was more snow and the Aire there wasn’t much cop. We decided just to make for Valloire instead which was another hour and a half on. The run started very well, then everyone else vanished and it was just us on the motorway. Even so we continued okay until the turn off for Valloire with about 15-20km to go.
Here it got interesting. The road was steep ish, but very windy for the entire way, and at the bottom it was slushy, so we continued and had good grip for a few km. But then it became clear it wasn’t as safe as it could have been with chains. We overtook a few cars and another campervan on the way up who were donning chains already. So we put the chains on and then made the final 15km slowly with the chains.
What surprised us, is unlike the other resorts we’ve been to (St Lary & Sierra Nevada which is much much higher) the roads were cleared and treated. The road to Valloire wasn’t – it was solid ice/snow – and apparently this is the norm here…? Maybe its because the resort it quieter…
Anyway, we got to the campsite which is fine, quiet and good facilities and we had a good sleep nice and snug despite it being -18’C outside. The temperature however caused problems – the waste tank was frozen and the hidden pipework behind the cooker froze. Also, despite our fresh tank water heater, the pipe connecting the fresh tank to the pump which is just insulated froze solid meaning onboard water wasn’t any good. So fair to say – minus 18’C is beyond the limit of the van, and as it is expected to frequently hit -5 to -10 we decided to drain the system and disable the pump and just live without onboard water whilst we are here.
On the Saturday we opted just to settle in, get all our stuff ready, and just explore the town and the runs and get our bearings and planning our first snowboarding day on the Sunday morning. Before we go however we’re buying some more safety gear in the hope to remain injury free…
Mel got her new knee protection as she is prone to fall on her knees, and as I don’t tend to I didn’t get any. Sunday saw us on the slopes around 10 hitting the beginners greens with some interesting (and typical) snowboarders starts on the button lifts. As in, weeeee – plop. But our old practice and lessons came back slowly and we made our way safely for the day – with some key learning points for us – mainly keeping weight FORWARD! Easier said than done when heading rapidly down a mountain. Annoyingly, after about an hour on the snow Mel took me out in style cracking her board right on my knee just behind the kneecap leaving me with a sore knee and big bruise. The benefit of hindsight eh?
Annoyingly the campsite has now got 15 or so vans and some are in pitches that are between us and the wifi point – and no doubt the extra radio pollution doesn’t help, but now wifi is almost impossible to get from the van – though there is a mountain chalet I can just about get to….
Monday saw us both have some good improvements on the snow, and we are just so impressed with the resort and the runs. Okay its not the biggest resort, but as we’re concentrating on technique rather than doing all the runs as quickly as possible then we reckon we’ll have more than enough to entertain us.
Bizarrely the weather here is superb, the sun is out and some of the resort snow is melting and the roads are clearer. Outside is today is 22’C in the sun – amazingly a 40’C change since Friday night! Last night only dropped to 0.2’C. If it was only that cold when we arrived we’d not have frozen our pipes!
For our last evening for week 1, we were aching all over but managed to get to a very nice restaurant where we had a great meal and some refreshing beer and quickly forgot our aches which no doubt will return in the morning…