Life’s a pitch and then you drive – into the Alps pt1
The prospect of driving into the Alps, in winter…
If I’m being honest with myself, the thought of driving into the French Alps in winter… to a ski resort, did give me cause for some concern. OK we had some snow chains in the motorhome that we could use if need be (and the kind chap at Polar Snow Chains had given me a demo of how to fit them), but the fear that comes with the unknown was playing on my mind a bit.
Would I know when to put them on?
Would we get stuck on the side of the road without traction and cause a big hold up (due to me having to put the chains on in a not so ideal location)?
These and many other scenarios played out in my mind – and they still do actually as we are still in resort and due to leave the Grand Bornand resort on Sunday to head yet further into the Alps… plus Kerry and Amy have just returned from the supermarket and said that it is snowing! But we’ll be OK ( I tell myself). And after all, we are on an EdVenture – which means we are seeking new experiences and challenges. I guess this is one experience that is pushing me (as the main driver) out of my comfort zone more than anyone else in the family. So, like I have said many times to Kerry and the girls before, I will treat this as a positive experience… an opportunity. I must practise what I preach (well, I hope I don’t actually preach but Kerry and the girls can be the judge of that).
Anyway, prior to today’s post, we have been in the attractive and somewhat quaint village of Grand Bornand for nine days now, and it seems an age ago that we were driving along a winding snow-edged road excited with anticipation of skiing, snowboarding and generally enjoying some fresh mountain air alongside like-minded outdoorsy folks.
On arrival to Grand Bornand, the traditional architecture of local stone and wood based chalets (Swiss like in appearance – no surprise as we are not far from the border) and the impressive church that stands as the centre piece to the village and piles of fresh snow made for a very romantic image, that more than exceeded expectations. But what about the campsite – what the heck does a winter Alps campsite look like? L’Escale Camping here we come!
Just around the corner, in a surprisingly central location alongside the rushing alpine river than runs through the village from the mountains that dominate the skyline in all directions, here it was. Not the half empty, occasionally populated site that I had in mind – I mean, how many people actually camp in the Alps in winter, after all? – but a bustling site of motorhomes and caravans and a ‘warden’ whizzing around on an electric buggy to show you to your pitch and help you reverse into snow that was two-feet deep, before giving you the fuse needed to get the electricity hooked up and flowing into the van’s heating system.
Phew we had made it into the Alps and onto our pitch!
But oops, in our haste to get pitched, we’d forgotten to first pass by the motorhome service point to replenish our water supply! Damn – schoolboy error! The options we faced were:
2. go to the supermarket to buy a 5l bottle of water and use that to manually shuttle water into the van. Being English – and not wanting to cause a scene – we did the latter. NB. we hate buying single-use plastic bottled water, so we would make sure we reuse this bottle for the rest of our motorhome EdVentures.
Many water shuttles and semi-frostbitten fingers later – we had just over half a tank of water – enough to keep us going for the time-being.
All that was left to do was to put the frost covers over the fridge and oven outlets – the covers were supplied as part of our winterising upgrade to the van that Elddis arranged for us before we left the UK; with temperatures potentially reaching well below zero, it was important to get the water tanks lagged and fixed with heating elements to protect against freezing and frost damage. So, pitched up and settled, it was time to hunker down for the evening right?
Wrong, there was snow out there to be enjoyed, so we headed out to enjoy some early evening bum sledging – when in Rome (and all that).
A key element of our first week in the Alps was to ski and snowboard; we love the outdoors and the thrill and excitement that these winter sports give. It’s not the cheapest of activities to do – especially if you have to hire gear on top of the purchase of lift passes – but this is what we came to Grand Bornand for, so we had little choice but to stomach the costs.
One way to counter the costs of the equipment hire and lift fee was to eat in and reduce the amount we’d spend on food and drink; ski resorts are notoriously expense – especially if you eat lunch out on the mountain. We decided to buy food and drinks from the supermarket and make sandwiches to take out and eat on the slopes, and make meals (soups, stews etc) in the evenings. This saved a lot of money and gave us the added advantage of being able to eat quickly and efficiently when hungry, and maximise the time en piste (and exploit the lack of people of the slopes during the traditional French lunch period between 1 – 2pm).
So, each day – for 8 days – we’d flock to the slopes in the morning, ski/board all day, and then return via the cable car (just 500m away with ski bus provided). Wake, ski, sleep – repeat. It was an invigorating week full of exercise, spectacular views, lovely ski conditions and more than occasional queue to get onto the lifts (it was the school holidays so we were prepared for this). It was interesting to see the girls get familiar with the etiquette of queueing – or not so – it was part of the cultural experience and one of the reasons why we value travelling to other countries with them. The phrase “when in Rome” was new to them before this trip, but it is certainly one they are accustomed to now.
Tips to share with fellow motorhomers
- driving – give plenty of time for your journey and make sure you do as much of the drive as possible during daylight hours
- expect to pay plenty on toll roads if you use the main highways
- travel with snow chains and a shovel, as well as the required high vis jacket etc
- make sure you have the required adaptors for the EU compliant electrical hook-up, and a gas adapter if you plan to use French gas.