As we gird ourselves for another great day for British sport, Chris Froome and the cricketers seem closer to their objectives than yeoman Westwood, whose protestations of how calm and confident he feels, standing over those terrifying putts, have a slightly ominous ring.
After all the excitements of July, how are we supposed to cope with the boredom of August, with only The Ashes to go on with? The sporting summer peaks with The Open, and I always feel there is an autumnal note to the presentation ceremony at the end of it. We already have dry brown leaves on our lawn, and the nights are drawing in.
Froome got the job done at Annecy, pedalling up Le Semnoz close to last year’s gruesome crime scene. Le Semnoz is a modest ski area with a few chairlifts, drags and rope tows serving 250 vertical metres of gentle pistes (1450 – 1700m). If not the biggest, this must surely be one of the oldest ski areas in the Alps: an early version of the sport was already popular there when a local architect built a chalet hotel at the top of the mountain in 1872. The lift pass costs a little more than £10 for a full day, but a couple of hours might be enough and you can actually buy a ticket valid for as many or as few hours as you want. If only more resorts employed the same system.
Le Semnoz is unlikely to be the chosen playground if you engage the services of local mountain guide Pierre Tardivel, one of the greatest and the most enduring of ski adventurers. Pierre will be 50 this year and has lost none of his passion for finding new precipices to ski, one third of a century after his first première at La Clusaz in April 1980. On that day and for several years to come he followed closely in the track of his mentor Daniel Chauchefoin, and imitated his senior partner’s elegant and fluid skiing style, which Pierre contrasts with the jump turns favoured by other extreme skiers of the time. Pierre resigned his desk job at Crédit Lyonnais soon after that, and dedicated himself to defying gravity.
His ski descent from the South Summit of Everest in September 1992 set an altitude record, but Pierre prefers to stay close to the family home in Annecy and find adventure in the local Aravis region, where he considers the terrain tougher and more technical than the more obvious slopes of the Mont Blanc range. See his website for the remarkable list of his exploits, a blog and photo album.
A charming and unassuming man, Pierre skis with an inclinometer and uses it to prove to himself, his anxious wife and any other interested parties that extreme skiing is not as steep as some of its more self-glorifying practitioners assert. Forget 60 degrees, he says: 55, maximum. He is also a sympathetic and patient guide and a keen-eyed naturalist. If you can persuade him to abandon his ‘chère et tendre’ for a day or two off the piste at La Clusaz, you will not regret the hours spent in his company.
16 impasse des Gravines
Lake Annecy is the cleanest and prettiest of the French Alpine lakes, its seductive charms advertised by Eric Rohmer’s nuanced masterpiece Le Genou de Claire.
The clear waters host a rich and diverse fish population. The king of the deep is the noble Omble Chevalier, a great local delicacy. Fish are always a problem on the menu, I find.
Trout and perch are easy enough to deal with, and I think most of us have learnt by now that lotte is monkfish and brochet is pike. Here are some less well known translations of Alpine Lake fish, as an aid to ordering and lakeside conversation. That is, if knowing the English name will help.
Omble Chevalier = Arctic char
Corégone* = Whitefish
Gardon = Roach
Chevesne = Chub
Ablette = Bleak
Brème bordelière = silver bream
Goujon = Gudgeon
* usually called a palée in Switzerland, a lavaret in the Lac du Bourget, and a féra in Lake Geneva and Lake Annecy.