'Pretty rough. The first couple of hours in the morning was unpleasantly hard - and my skis took a real hammering at the end of the day.'
These two views of skiing conditions in the Alps were delivered last weekend by returning friends. It is turning out to be one of those seasons. Skiers who booked a week in early February in the hope of skiing perfect pistes in pleasant sunshine have been disappointed on the first count, if not the second. Those whose perception of February skiing is still coloured by the desperate lack of snow of three or four years ago have been relieved to find decent snow at all, and have not been worried by its confinement to the top half of their chosen ski area.
It could be a lot worse. Most of the Alps had a top-up of new snow in the last week of January, which revitalised many resorts with large parts of their piste networks out of action. Last week most low Austrian resorts were claiming to be fully operational, despite lower-slope snow depths of between 5cm and 20cm.
The recent sunshine has not brought excessively high temperatures: air readings generally have hovered at about zero. So although skiing in the mornings has been unappetising, the snow has not deteriorated particularly quickly.
High pressure is dominating the continental weather, and the pistes are reaching their annual peak of congestion as school holidays start today for many of the French, as well as the British. If I was contemplating going out now, I'd choose my destination carefully, preferably travelling by car to permit some freedom of movement once in the Alps.
I would certainly spend my time at high altitudes, and would try to avoid holidaying children. The latter isn't easily done, except by avoiding all 'family' resorts, from Courchevel down to Puy-St-Vincent. Instead, I would go for the big, high resorts of northern France and western Switzerland. Conditions in Val d'Isere and Tignes seem to be among the best in the Alps. Chamonix, Verbier and Zermatt would also be on my shortlist.
If I could justify the expense, I would think of crossing the Atlantic as a serious alternative. A colleague, just back from a two-week US trip, reports excellent snow conditions, most recently in Taos (New Mexico) and Telluride (south-west Colorado). In both resorts last week he skied in bright sunshine the day after 50cm of snow had fallen.
Off-piste buffs will be pleased to hear that Kachina Peak at Taos is open, for the first time this season.
MY pre-season appeal for readers' feedback on ski insurance brought little response; perhaps the injuries and insults of last season had faded from memory. Reports on experiences this season are now coming in.
Cate Mack from Bath, a businesswoman and local councillor, broke her leg in a slow- motion twist on the last day of her January week in Meribel-Mottaret. As she was due to fly home the next day, Ms Mack elected to have the necessary operation in Britain; she had a temporary plaster put on, and was instructed to keep the leg horizontal. There wasn't room for her to do this on the usual charter flight, so the tour operator, Neilson, arranged space on a Swissair flight, plus an ambulance for the trip to Geneva and a spacious car for the final stage from Heathrow to Ms Mack's local hospital in Bath. The rest of her family would travel on the Neilson transfer and charter flight, as normal.
The 'ambulance' turned out to be a taxi with three other passengers. Ms Mack was forced to sit in the front with her leg on the floor; the driver took a circuitous route to Geneva airport, including dropping the other passengers at a railway station; and the journey ended in a painful, breakneck dash for the airport through fog - which, fortunately, had delayed the flight.
On the plane, the arrangement for putting Ms Mack's leg up was improvised and intermittent: a stool in the aisle had to be removed when the cabin crew needed the space, and for take-off and landing. 'At this point I very nearly cracked,' Ms Mack says. 'The combination of pain and complete indifference to my situation made me feel quite wretched.'
This tale suggests to me that injured people should not be required to travel alone. The powerlessness of someone who is incapacitated and in pain is all to easy to exploit.
If you suffer at the hands of insurance companies, let me know.Reuse content