As we approached the village of l'Esperou I wondered if there would be enough snow; there was much less on the road up than last year. We stopped off at the hotel La Source, took charge of the same rooms as last year - a double and a twin organised in a suite with a door onto the corridor as well as a door per room.
We rented skis, boots and sticks and headed up to Prat Peyrot where there was, thankfully, snow. After lunch in the hors sac picnic area of the caff (1Eur per person to eat sarnies at a table in the warm), we headed out and up the tire fesse. I was attired in my usual Leclerc 1992 fluo pink and black ski suit with white Salomon boots of the same vintage, warm woolly polo neck pullover beneath pulled up over my mouth to keep out the bitterness of the howling gale that raged around us. The gale was soon replaced by snow whereupon we called it a day and went back to the warmth of the hotel for a cuppa.
The next day we had organised lessons for all at 9am. This may seem like an ungodly hour, but those with children will recognise that as you're up anyway, you may as well just get on and out. Also, at that hour, there's hardly a soul about so lessons are undertaken on an almost deserted mountain with only the cross-country guys out practising their 'skating' technique in peace. As they whizzed by, we got our turns sorted out with one monitor brother whilst my youngest got the hang of the tire fesse with the other one. Pierre and Jean-Claude remembered me from last year thanks to my day-glo ski suit...
I asked them what they do during the summer months thinking that they must be guides de montagne or something like that. Apparently there's not much call for mountain guides in moyen montagne compared to haute montagnes such as the Alps - less chance of disaster if you get lost I suppose although Mont Aigoual can be a pretty dangerous place if the mist comes down like it did on day 3. Anyway, they are bucherons (woodmen) which means that if there's no snow, they just get back to cutting trees so there's never any shortage of work and they don't have to move around the country according to the season.
Once we'd had our lessons, there was no stopping my youngest who, with renewed confidence, speeded up his descents on the pistes, discovered the joys of hors piste through the woods and jumped over the slightest bump he came across. My eldest was dying to get his skis on the only red slope open, so I took him there and we went down it three times in a row. Once he'd fallen off the tire fesse on the way back up for the third time - it was a particularly tricky one with lots of steep bits followed by hollows - we made our way back down and spent the rest of the afternoon sledging.
If they weren't skiing or sledging, they were making snow angels, having a snowball fight or building fortresses in the woods. They had a lovely time, were totally exhausted by the evening and slept like logs until the next morning.
I love going there because :
- it's not far
- it's not over-crowded in the week
- it attracts people who want to have a laugh and ski rather than pose about
- I'm not sure if the hotel owner works with his 'niece'... (intrigue!)
- it's cheap
- there are no really frightening slopes
- the green slopes are perfect for acquiring confidence
- the ski monitors are not over-sexed, big-headed poseurs
- the hotel owner lets you cork the wine bottle for the following evening
- it's not far to get back home.
The other thing that was incredibly obvious was that you really need to take skiing lessons. It's not a sport that's easily improvised if you want to tackle anything beyond a green slope, and seeing some of the trouble that beginners got into when they tried the blue slope (Debutants Interdits!) confirmed my belief.
I have some marvellous memories caught on my digital camera filming the boys skiing, with me skiing alongside. And, "Action!"