It’s snowing again!!

First blog post in a while.  Sorry.

Guess I kind-of got distracted and forgot…  …for a couple of years.

Anyhow.

It’s snowing.
Right now.
At chalet level.
18:53 Tuesday the 28th of February 2017..

and despite the drought across the French Alps this season, we are still ski in, and ski out.

Fantastic! and there will be powder around later this week…

Winter 2013/14 long-range weather forecast for Europe, French Alps and Chamonix

Autumn has arrived in Chamonix.

The colours of the mountains and trees are a vivid mass of reds and browns.  The snow line creeps downwards, and my excitement at the forthcoming ski season skips whenever I see fresh white powder coating the high mountains.

We had epic snow conditions last season.  So, as we move towards the new ski season, my excitement always grows, and I find myself wondering what this season will bring…

Whilst we wait eagerly, the question always arises in my mind, “What will the coming ski season hold in store for us?”

Well, the local rag,  le Dauphine Libéré, recently featured an article interviewing two renowned French weather forecasters who come up with their own month-by-month predictions for this coming season.  The two were in agreement over a couple of points:  that the ski stations would certainly NOT be short on snow this year!  However, both predicted a winter shorter than last year, with Spring arriving early April.

The “old boys”, observing the local fauna with its large and abundant blueberries, would predict a harsh winter.  However, others have noticed the lack of the normal sound of woodpeckers tapping on the trees – which would seem to suggest a warmer, wetter winter is predicted.  Based on last year’s forecast, the modern methods are only a slightly bit more accurate!

Dominique Hennequin, meteorologist and forecaster, announces a winter shorter than last year, but with lots of snow.  His advice is to put on your snow tyres before the end of November!

November
Snowy passage down to 600m at the start of the month, then mild weather,  sometimes wet, but with beautiful Autumn days.  Second half of the month will be more dusturbed and windy, with snow about 1800m, then 1000m, abundant in the mountains.  Storm possible at the end of the month with snow down to the plains.

The plains are the valley floor running from Geneva up to Sallanches and Le Fayet up to about 500 metres above sea level.
By comparison, the skiing in Les Houches is from 1000m to 1800m and Chamonix is typically 1800m to 3300 at the top of Grands Montets.

December
Wet and cold, snow to 600m, sometimes down to the plains, abundant above 700-800m during the first three weeks.  Sunny Christmas, but glacial temperatures until the New Year.

January
Continued good weather, cold and dry during the first half of the month, then snow down to the plains followed by rains, the snow-rain level rising up to 700m.  Snow in the mountains, then a return to sunny and cold weather in the mountains, but grey and wet on the plains underneath the stratus clouds.

February
Start of the month will be beautiful in the mountains, but grey, cold, and wet at the valley floors, then snow fall down to the plains.  The second half of the month will see beautiful, warm weather in the mountains, before a return to snow in the ski stations.

March
Wet weather, windy and cold with snow down to the plains in the first half of the month, then classical march weather with sunny, warm days alternating with cold, disturbed weather patterns passing through (snow showers possible down to the plains).

 

For Frederic Decker, meteorologist for MeteoNews and volunteer weather forecaster for Météo France in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, the winter is going to start warm, with snow in the high mountains, which will be conserved by the low temperatures of January and February.

November
Normal autumn weather.  Temperatures a bit warmer than the seasonal average, with a rainy period.

December
Rather warm, wet month, the snow staying on the high mountains.

January
More wintery weather with temperatures lower than normal.  Snow in the mountains, but weather will be drier on the plains.

February
A cold, wet month, snowy like January.

March
Like a normal March, always wet, but not very cold.  Winter is not going to be running into overtime!

Well, that’s what I think the article says anyway….

 

So, here’s my own prediction….

Using the CFS monthly mean anomalies with start dates 12-21 October, here is my own long-range prediction for Chamonix:

November
What CFS shows: Drier than normal – warmer than seasonal average
My interpretation: We are going to have a warmer, and drier start to the season.  Because it is warmer than usual, the ground will not freeze early, which means any precipitation – ie snow – will not stick at Les Houches levels until just before the official start to the ski season in December.  Higher up, it might stick, but there will not be amazing amounts of early snow.

December
What CFS shows: Average precipitation – slightly warmer than seasonal average
My interpretation: Hey, we are going to get a reasonable amount of snow.  If it is indeed warmer than seasonal average, the higher resorts will receive the best snow, so don’t stay at low resorts in the French Alps…  Think Chamonix – Grands Montets, especially – will be FINE!   However, Les Houches may not have the abundant start to the season like it did last year.

January
What CFS shows: Wetter than normal – with normal temperatures –
My interpretation: Fantastic!!  Wetter than normal, but with normal temperatures for January means LOTS OF SNOW here at chalet level!  Wetter than normal could be a LOT arriving in a few goes – or it could be LOTS arriving throughout the month.  This means either a fantastic base, or lots of fresh, untracked powder arriving on a regular basis throughout the month!!

February
What CFS shows: Wetter than normal – normal temperatures
My interpretation:  Awesome!!!  Normal snows in February are good.  So, therefore, wetter than normal means above average snow for February which means better than normal!!!  Continued good powder skiing throughout February…

CFS precipitation for Europe Feb 2014

CFS precipitation for Europe Feb 2014

March
What CFS shows: MUCH wetter than normal – normal temperatures
My interpretation:  Here is where it gets a little tricky…  Normal temperatures for March means it can indeed rain at chalet level, especially towards the end of the month.  The CFS prediction for Chamonix is for A LOT greater precipitation than the season average.  This means higher up, it will be simply AMAZING!!  There will be ENORMOUS amounts of snow!  So, Grands Montet, the Vallée Blanche will be AWESOME!!  However at chalet level, this story is a mixed bag.   What we find from the past, is that this type of weather normally alternates between rain and snow…  Sometime rain dampens the lower pistes, then it gets colder overnight and then the rain turns to snow, and puts it back onto the piste…  As we progress through the month and the average temperatures rise, this means the average rain-snow level rises…  This would suggest the first half of March will have better skiing than the second half if you are skiing a mid-level.

April
What CFS shows: MUCH wetter than normal – normal temperatures
My interpretation:  Same as last month, except with increasing average temperatures – which means a rising rain-snow level – ie. the lower slopes get affected more, and the higher slopes less so.   Whilst this might bring about an earlier end to decent snow conditions here in Les Houches, the higher slopes – Grands Montets especially – will still be receiving snow when other ski stations are being rained on!  Rain is NOT good for snow conditions – rain trumps sun for wrecking the pistes – so the sunny-side high slopes of Brevent/Flegere will suffer as well.  I would predict an earlier end to Winter, and start of Spring.

But… who knows….  the CFS forecasts are still very much in their infancy, and we can but hope that their accuracy improves!!!

 

 

Roasted Green Chilli Pepper Ice Cream – our recipe

Whilst preparing for Kerry and Gaz’s wedding last Saturday, I made a batch of Beetroot and Chocolate ice cream.
Sadly the weather on the day was a little too cold for ice cream.  So it stayed in the freezer.

However, we had a whole load of interesting ingredients left over after the wedding, including a big bag of mint, a few green chilli peppers.  So I duly made a batch of Fresh Mint Ice Cream using David Lebovitz‘s recipe from his wonderful book, “The Perfect Scoop”.

So I got to thinking…  Beetroot and chocolate go well together…  and chocolate goes wonderfully with mint.
What else goes well with both chocolate and mint?

Then it hit me.
Chillies.

You get chilli chocolate.  Why not chilli ice cream?

Trio of Ice creams: Beetroot and chocolate, Fresh mint, and Roasted green chilli pepper ice creams, served with mango purée

Trio of Ice creams: Beetroot and chocolate, Fresh mint, and Roasted green chilli pepper ice creams, served with mango purée

A quick internet search did not produce a recipe.  However, it show that a few other establishments have made one… including one for roasted green chillies….

Roasted chillies are wonderful..  The flavours are warm and rich and actually quite delicate, yet the bite of raw chilli is removed (the roasting process breaks down the Capsaicin).

So I formulated a plan.
I would infuse the cream with both Roasted green chilli peppers for the flavour, AND raw chilli to give it back its bite.

The resulting ice cream was, if I might be so bold, incredible!!  I LOVED IT!
In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is one of my favourite ice creams to date….

It has that coldness and richness of creamy ice cream, with the rich succulent flavour of roasted green chillies, then the aftertaste develops with a slight sting when the BITE of the raw chillies kicks in, but in a moderated fashion….  Yummy!

Try it!

Anyway, here is my recipe which makes about 1 litre.

Roasted Green Chilli Pepper Ice Cream

Ingredients

5 green chillies
100g Sugar
475ml Whole milk
475ml Cream
5 egg yolks
Olive oil
Green food colouring (optional)

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (350F).

Cut the heads off the five chillies, then slice them lengthwise into halves, deseed, reserving the heads, seeds and pith.
Drip just a little olive oil into the palm of your hand, and lightly smear the green flesh of FOUR of the five chillies with the olive oil.  Be sure not to make it too greasy.  Place the green flesh into a small roasting tray and roast for approximately 15 minutes.

Once roasted, remove them from the oven, allow to cool slightly, and then chop the chillies finely.

Put the sugar, milk and cream, the roasted chillies, together with the remaining chilli, chilli heads and the seeds and pith into a saucepan.   Bring this mixture to a light simmer, then remove from the heat and cover.  Let it infuse for one hour minimum.

Once the mixture has been infused, strain it into another bowl with a fine sieve then discard all the solids.  Transfer the liquid back into the saucepan and rewarm it.   In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the infused mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over a medium heat with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens to form custard, and it coats the back of the spoon.   Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl, and continue to stir it until cool over an ice bath.

Although not normally a fan of artificial colorants, this custard mix is quite a bland, creamy colour, so you can pep it up with a few drops of green food dye.

Once cool, transfer the mixture to your ice cream maker and freeze it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Simple.

 

 

New Vallée Blanche video

Long time no blog posts.  However, this is because we’ve been pretty much flat out with guests this Winter….

We’ve had one of our best seasons so far – fantastic snow, and we’ve had some wonderful guests through the chalet again.  Hopefully made some good friends too…

I bought a Go-Pro camera back in December and have been out a few times with it.

In January, we skied the Vallée Blanche with our guests, John and his wife, Kathy, together with James Kaler, our trusted ski guide and instructor, and took the camera along with us.

What a day!
Amazingly clear, blue skies.
Fresh, incredibly deep, virgin powder.
Bonus! Precious few people had been down the route before us – so we had LOADS of fresh tracks!

It was, however, incredibly cold and windy on the arete…
So cold, in fact, that I even got frost nip on my ears, despite wearing some ear protection thingies…

In all the time that I have lived in Chamonix, I have never experienced powder snow as deep as it was this day…

Awesome.  Watch and enjoy!

 

Ski season begins this Saturday

Fantastic news!!  It has been dumping snow hard here in Chamonix the last few days, and there’s more snow on its way.

As a consequence, both Les Houches and Grands Montets are opening from this Saturday 8th December…

Also, we are still number 1 on Tripadvisor for specialty lodging in Les Houches.
We’re thrilled at both and are looking forward eagerly to our first ski of the year!

Come and help us celebrate!

If you fancy a little pre-Christmas get-away, we are offering mulled wine, Christmas cheer, and a special early season deal.

 

Just 120 euros per person per night.
Three night minimum.
Come any dates from Friday 14th December through to Sunday 23rd !!
We can arrange transfers for 50 euros return (during normal hours).
Limited availability.

 

Also, we have two remaining places for New Year week.  Normally 1,497 euros, we are offering these at a third off!!
Save 499 euros!  Now only 998 euros!!

This includes Geneva airport transfers, and a gala SEVEN course banquet on New Year’s Eve, followed by free-flowing Champagne and fireworks at midnight!
So, Merry Christmas! And bon ski!

 

Oops! Our second worst nightmare comes true…

We experienced one of our worst nightmares the other day: we discovered we’d taken a double booking.
We’re only human after all, and mistakes can happen.

Luckily we discovered it before we had two sets of guests arriving on the front door step. (that would be our worst nightmare!)

So the question is, how do we handle this nightmarish situation and still end up with two sets of satisfied guests?

Well…  It is actually quite simple, but hurts financially.
The people that booked first get to know nothing about it….

And the people that booked second get their money back together with a FREE ski holiday for their family later in the season!

I think they were happy with that!

Financial a big ouch for us, but it’s better than us losing our reputation!

Now there’s a long healthy look at our processes to ensure this never happens again….

ps. it looks like the snow will arrive on Thursday!!!

Preparations for the coming Winter ski season

On Sunday, we hosted a dinner party for friends.
What a wonderfully delightful opportunity to trial new recipes for Winter!!!

Helen spent the day in the kitchen preparing different foods, gutting pigeons and preparing two types of stock…
I spend the morning preparing the Pepper Ice cream for dessert…

Dinner was…

Salmon mi-cuit in vanilla and star anise oil with Parsnip purée…  The salmon was gorgeous.  We cook it in flavoured olive oil at 35-40°c for about 40 minutes..   When done right, the salmon almost looks uncooked as it comes out really pink and incredibly moist.  By cooking it at that temperature, none of the oils in the fish cook or congeal, so the fish retains its moisture and colour, and the texture – well, the fish falls apart.  Very succulent…  The parsnip purée was prepared by simmering parsnips in milk, then puréeing them with lots of cream and a dash of s&p.  Delicious, light and very tasty!

Roasted pigeon breasts with caramelised figs and pigeon jus, on a bed of spiced red cabbage with Swede sautéed with sage.   This took a lot of effort – hence Helen preparing two stocks from scratch, spending nearly an hour gutting fresh pigeons… However, once the stocks are prepped (and can be frozen for the future), the actual cooking of the pigeon is only 6 minutes!  It was simply delicious!!  Not sure what most people think about eating pigeon meat though??  What do you think?  Unfortunately, the swede was a little bit disappointing and not at all like normal.  The previous times that we have sautéed swede with sage, it was delicious – however this time, it was a little bitter.  I think it was because we used a frying pan instead of our deep heavy-based pot (which was full of stock at the time!).  This meant that some of the cubes of swede were not nicely covered in that layer of melted butter that helps brings out their sweetness, and they dry-fried instead…. Lesson learned.

Followed by…   Individual peach tatins with caramel sauce and Pepper ice cream.   Sweet.  The risk with the pepper ice cream is either adding too much pepper and having it too strong – or too little and it is a very plain ice cream.   When ice cream freezes, the flavour actually gets less intense.  It was good, but next time, I think I’ll up the quantities of pepper just a little….  It is the pepperiness of the ice cream that offsets the sweetness of the peaches which become sticky and gooey in the oven.  Also, I think we’ll up the glaze on the puff pastry for added sweetness.

If that gets you salivating, fantastic!
Sadly we were too busy with our guests to photo the food.  Sorry.

Preparations are well and truly underway for this coming ski season…
We are renovating the “green” room this autumn. The room has been completely stripped, skirting boards ripped off,  and Helen is upstairs right now busy painting it yellow and “cutting in”. I call this “doing the edges”!

Rough-cut wood was ordered from the mill yesterday for a rustic pine headboard, just like in the other two rooms on that floor. I’ll wizzy-brush that to bring out the texture of the wood and create it’s unique style.
New heavy-weight rich red curtains have been sewn in keeping with the alpine style and our other rooms.

We have a small issue though…
With three rooms now painted yellow, it seems a bit daft to keep calling them the blue, green and yellow rooms….
(and could be slightly confusing at first for Robert, our new chalet assistant, who will be joining us in December).

We were thinking about naming them after famous skiers….   Anselme Baud, Glen Plake, de Benedetti,  McConkey, and Vallençant…

Thoughts?

We are undertaking some modifications in some of the bathrooms too.
New custom-sized mirrors have been cut by the local glazier and we are planning some lovely, thick, distressed pine frames aged to fit in with that alpine chalet feel.  They should look good!

Roll on the snow and the start of the ski season!

Chamonix events: Fireworks with Les Commandos Percu

Chamonix has been in the global news because of the tragic avalanche that took 9 lives on Mont Maudit a couple of days ago.

The day after, we were bombarded with people asking if we were ok, what the news was.
Thankfully none of us, our friends or people we know were caught up in the tragedy.
Plus, luckily, it appears that no-one who lives in the valley was killed in the avalanche.

Events like that do serve to highlight how this beautiful valley can be deadly when you least expect it.
Our thoughts go out to those suffering loss as a result.

However life always moves on — and this week has held one of the highlights of the Chamonix calendar:  the annual World Cup Climbing competition here in Chamonix.

The “Best of the Best” climbers battle it out – head-to-head in the speed competition,  and also in the technical difficulty which is measured in metres up an over-hanging wall with ever increasing levels of difficulty….

Despite the rain, the final was last night and AGAIN, we are blown away by the sheer athleticism of these amazing individuals.
An aerial ballet – plus the delight when they fall OFF the wall as they reach the expression of the peak of their ability.

This was followed by a percussion band.  But no ordinary percussion band.

This was “Les Commandos Percu”!

6 guys.
Dressed as commandos.
Creating a trance-like almost tribal experience.
with fireworks!

very cool!

Les Commandos Percu – Chamonix 13th June 2012

 

Actually, in the immortal words of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, “Frakking Awesome!”

Wingsuit flying in Chamonix – beautiful yet scary video!

Just occasionally I come across something truly breathtaking online.

Awe inspiring.
Amazing.

Amazingly scary!

If only because I know this place well.
If you know Chamonix, perhaps you’ve been here too!

It’s Brévent.

I walk it.  I ski it.  I paraglide it.

I’ve never seen anyone wingsuit flying it.  Until now….

Presenting M. Vincent Descol…  le Blond.
After watching this, I swear the man must have balls the size of Malta!

Thanks to Jane and Lars for letting us know about this video.  Wow.

The Corliss Resolution