Season Opener, Meribel Dec 2014 So it turned out pretty good after all...

Season Opener 2014 - So it turned out pretty good after all…


The beginning of the 2014-15 season will go down as one of the worst for a number of years. Despite good early snowfall in October and early November, temperatures across the Alps said stubbornly high in the six weeks leading up to the official opening dates of ski resorts across the major Alpine countries. This was a big concern for Inside Out Skiing as we got closer to our traditional Season Opener coaching holiday. Based in Meribel, this trip has been a great success over the last five years and we watched anxiously as the weather forecasts slowly turned to disappointment until a few days before the trip when the Meribel lift company confirmed that they were delaying the opening of the resort by one week. However, all was not lost as one of the great features of skiing in the Trois Vallees is the high altitude skiing above Val Thorens. The downside was the inevitability of the drive around the valley from Meribel to Val Thorens, but the upside was that at least we would have some skiing available. Little did we know when we confirmed our contingency plans just how well everything would turn out!

Working with our accommodation partner, Ski Hame, we had three minibuses at our disposal to drive us to Val Thorens each day, a slightly tedious commute of one hour but more than worth it for the skiing that was available. An early start meant that we got to VT in time to start the skiing day when the lifts opened at 9.15am

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A pre-dawn start from Mottaret to get to Val Thorens for 1st lifts Scott and Derek getting ready for Day 1

The first few runs of Day 1 brought us a welcome surprise: pistes conditions were actually pretty good! There were a good range of lifts and pistes available above the resort, at 2400m, certainly enough to run the coaching course that we had planned for the week. The 2014 Season Opener was our largest yet, so the three coaching groups headed off to do their own thing, led by Inside Out coaches Rob & Scott plus Derek Chandler from Marmalade Ski School, our Alpine Partner who works with us in the Trois Vallees. The first morning is always a good opportunity for a gentle warm up and to tune in to the skis.

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First day warm-up runs

The weather on Day 1 was to be fairly typical of the week as a whole, with cloud below us the valley first thing gradually clearing as the morning went on. This gave us some spectacular views looking down on the cloud and some amazing circular rainbows and lighting effects from time to time during the week.

Sunlight through snow-cannon snow creating a beautiful halo effect

Looking down on a cloud-filled valley

Day 2 gave us very good on-piste conditions and the opportunity to work on developing our skiing. Each group had their own programme for the week, but there were common themes such as making effective movements, having great dynamic balance and accurately steering the skis to achieve great turn shapes. All of these skills provided the foundation for the skiing we were to do during the week, in all the conditions we encountered.

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Working on varying the stance width Developing strong lateral balance skills

As with all Inside Out trips we like to keep things civilised, so coffee-stops in great mountain bars are an essential part of each day. Chalet Marine, above VT, is a favourite, with a cool play-list, great views and comfortable surroundings. These breaks also provide opportunities for some impromptu video feedback and some time to relax from the hard work being put in to the ski coaching!

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Relaxing at Chalet Marine…

As we were leaving Val Tghorens at the end of Day 2 it was beginning to snow, which we hoped might help keep piste conditions fresh. It turns out the snowgods had a much nicer treat for us, and Day 3 turned out to be quite awesome! What we thought might be a light dusting of snow was, in fact, boot-deep light powder snow just waiting for fresh tracks. That day’s coaching focused more on choosing the right terrain and “getting stuck in” than too much technical chat, often accompanied by shouts of joy (not least from the coaches!). All three groups managed to find some great snow and all three groups had a most amazing day.

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Finding fresh tracks by the side of the piste

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Amazing to have such great snow when most of the Alps was struggling to open at the start of the season

Overall that will go down as one of the better days to be had in the mountains! Not only did it provide us with some great off-piste experience, it also help to keep the pistes in very good condition until the end of the week.

As with all Inside Out courses video analysis plays an important part in the coaching, either on the hill or back in the chalet at the end of the day.

Video feedback in the chalet, accompanied by a glass of red wine. Very civilised!

Day 4 returned to perfect piste conditions and blue sky above a cloud-filled valley. Each group returned to their own coaching programme, working on a variety of things from high speed carving, off-piste variable snow and short turns. Despite the best of intentions sometimes things can go a little awry, leading to the odd unbalanced moment…

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With apologies to Jon and Claire!

Days 5 and 6 provided an opportunity to build on and consolidate the progress made during the week, once more with great piste conditions and nice weather. What continued to amaze was the contrast between the high quality skiing available above 2400m, and pretty much bare slopes just a little way below that altitude. The old adage of “head high” certainly was true for this week. At a time when most resorts were struggling with a significant lack of snow Val Thorens looked after us well, providing enough terrain to run a full week’s coaching, and some pretty amazing snow conditions.

Thank you Val Thorens!