Time to count the costs, once again I travelled alone by car, which is never going to be a cheap option.
With advance planning you could possibly fly cheaply to the South of France or Northern Spain and hire a car locally.
Ferry Crossings: £65
Lift Passes, Tolls, Food and Sundries: £264
Total of Above: £855
Time to count the costs, once again I travelled alone by car, which is never going to be a cheap option.
I left at 9 in the morning, which gave me up to 15 hours to make the boat at Calais. The weather was bright and clear once again, so I was expecting a clean run.
|Pas de la Casa one of the highest mountain passes in Europe - source - skibiker.org|
Then it was time to settle into the routine of burning up the miles of endless French roads, hitting the traffic of Paris around 6pm and making it to the coast around 10pm. I was able to get an earlier sailing, found a comfy chair and passed the short voyage in slumber. Once off the boat I was home in an hour.
Settling into my own bed and listening to the South London soundtrack of police sirens, it was hard to imagine that I had started the day in the peace and tranquility of Andorra. I think I am going to miss it a lot.....I'll have to go back again.
After days of fine weather the BBC weather site predicted that it would snow overnight, which seemed impossible as I had sat outside the hotel around 7pm the previous evening.
However it did snow, over breakfast I asked the hotel proprietor if there would be a problem getting to Arcalis. No problem, he replied, brother in law had salted the road! He also said that there would be 2" of snow, he was correct on both counts.
I arrived around 10 and spent a few hours revisting the familiar runs but now totally transformed by the changed conditions.
Unfortunately visibility worsened in the early afternoon to the point were it was hard work seeing the piste markers. As ever one can but hope it improves your technique.
I noticed that there was quite a lot of play in the front ski, I returned to the car park to investigate further. A quick adjustment of the "bearing cups" sorted it; this was the first attention the skibike had needed in over 2 weeks on the snow. Hats off to Marin and Alpine Skibikes.
Late in the aftenoon matters improved markedly enabling me to get in some slightly more enjoyable runs on fresh deep snow.
I got somewhat heading to Arcalis and ended up in a loop going around Escaldes looking for the correct turning. A piste map is not the best tool for navigating by road, I realised that the turning for the valley leading to Arcalis is accessed from La Massana, but signposted for Ordino. As a result I met up with Joan later than planned, a little after 9:30.
|Joan Bages - source - Facebook|
I had a length of lightweight and springy rope in my rucksack and improvised a suitable fixing.
We tried El Tunel/La Coma runs and took the opportunity to make some videos and get photographs. The nearby La Basera green run was much too flat, I was able to scoot part of the way, but poor Joan on his weightier contraption looked quite worn out after much pedalling.
Joan had to leave early to return to Barcellona so we took a quick break, discussed some ideas on how to develop a K-Trax skibike to be more downhill friendly, then parted company.
I headed back up to Les Portelles and one of the lift operators wanted to see my skibike, he seemed to be surprised at how light it was, I asked if he wanted to try it. Behind his station there was a short slope, he strode to the top, jumped on and slid back down. "How do I make it turn?" he asked, with body language I demonstrated the "English Ski Turn" which is to throw your bum out in the opposite direction to the way you want to turn. Once again he pushed the bike up the slope, jumped on, got up some speed and pulled a near perfect 180 degree turn. He climbed off wearing a huge grin....he'd got it.
Moving on, I tried the fantastic La Portella del Mig run, one of the most exciting, challenging and varied runs ever and later the La Balma run.
Back down at Arcalis, I then tried the L'Abalsetar chairlift for an exploration of La Font/El Bosc/L'Hortell and L'Estadi runs. I called it a day around 4:30 by which time the snow was heavy slush just about everywhere.
Something very unexpected happened, whilst queuing for my fast run, a guy came running over to me with great excitement. I braced myself for a barrage of questions but it turned out he too was a fellow skibiker. Joan had converted a GT hard tail mountain bike with the K-Trax system. If you haven't come across these before follow the link; the rear wheel is replaced with a tank track and the front by a short ski. This enables you to pedal on the flat or even uphill, if you have the energy. It was only his second day skibiking and his first time using a chairlift. He seemed to get the hang of it far too quickly he set off on the blue run to practice his technique.
Having become more confident, I suggested that we move higher up the mountain and later across to the Pal sectors too. By late afternoon Joan was tiring, so we split apart with an agreement to meet later. I went over every combination of run at Pal before crossing back to Arinsal.
Near the end the day I threw all caution to the wind and had my first go on the Tub del Col black run. The combination of steep, narrow and heavy wet snow got the better of me, or as a friend later commented... "YARD SALE"...(there were bits of me scattered all over the hill).
The first priority was to locate my foot skis, luckily they weren't buried or at the bottom of the hill.
Then you have to get the compacted snow of the bottom of your ski boots so that you can then try to get them clipped back in, do one foot at a time, downhill footski first.
You can then side step up or side slip down to your skibike before remounting and heading off.
I had to do this twice on the one run. I had found my limit, it was time to call it a day.
Joan had dutifully waited for my return and I convinced him that tomorrow we should investigate what possibilities Arcalis would have to offer.
I did a couple of quick warm up runs on the Port Vell to get my legs and brain started, then took the big Arinsal-Pal cable car across to the Coll de la Botella, to play on the Posellettes and Font Roja runs.
I also sampled running off piste under the chairlift and through the trees.
Font Roja is now becoming another favourite run, with some very exiting gradients and plenty of room to maneuver, it is surprisingly empty for such a good run. Sadly my camera ran out of juice and there is no footage of it.
I went back up to the top of the Pic del Cubil and then along the Cami Superior till it met the Coms run. It had a monster mogul field but was very slushy by this point and with just a couple of hours left to play made my way back to the Arinsal sectors. I completed a perfect day on my favourite La Pala/Tub de Col combo which had a short gully section to explore.
I ventured off-piste around the environs of the La Capa run and wouldn't stop till all the lifts were closed and the slow was totally slushy at the bottom.
I realised that unlike skiing, skibiking works well on slush and you can carves your way through the heavy stuff like a jet ski on water. You need to use your footskis as little as possible as they can get caught by the heavier mounds, throwing you off balance or worse. You need to keep up your speed, follow the fall line much closer and avoid making unnecessary turns.
I sorted my lift pass and insurance in the morning then took the telecabine from El Oriols up to Camallempla and straight on to the Les Fonts chairlift for some good warm up sessions on the blue runs of Port Vell. Why is it that you get to do your first and most wobbly runs of the trip on freshly waxed, slippery skis and when the snow is at its most icy and hardest? The weather was still a little blustery and snow blown especially higher up the mountain but became sunnier throughout the day.
I moved up to the Port Negre chair and alternated between the Tub Estadi, Tub del Col and La Pala runs. I began riding much more confidently. It was getting decidedly softer lower down the hill but still pleasantly firm at the top.
I finished the last run of the day with a gentle descent down Bony Vagues and Les Fonts. It was horrendously slushy most of the way! I grabbed a couple of well earned apres ski pints and had an interesting chat with the proprietor of the Derby Irish bar.
I began the day with a simple French breakfast, croissants with strawberry jam and coffee, outstanding! Fortified by this and a fine nights sleep I hit the road South, around Tolouse the weather began to close in, the light drizzle strenghtened into a downpour. Odd new smells filled my senses, which can only be described as cats' pee, surely this can't be the smell of the Pyranese? Perhaps my walking boots have finally achieved critical mass.
The road narrowed from dual to single carriageway, cutting deeper through a gorge, where ominous black walls of rock dripped with moisture. The signs indicated that Andorra was only 25km away, but there was no sign of snow here. Had the websites lied? Should I have brought the skibikes wheels with me? Was this going to end up as a hiking trip?
A roadsign announced that this was the last spot to fit snow chains, then the switchbacks and hairpin bends began. The engine laboured and the cloud level descended to meet the road, visibility fell to 20m.
I caught a glimpse of snow alongside the road, we climbed on and upward, the pace now set by lumbering camper vans. Abruptly the climb finished, there was a customs/passport check (Andorra is not in the EU) and further on in the gloom you could see the first chairlifts at Pas de la Casa, next the vapours cleared to reveal a surreal vista of snowfields and mountains amid the clouds.
After crossing the highest road in the Pyrenees it descended slowly into the Andorran river valley floor, it connected the many small towns that I recognised from my internet research. Leaving Andorra's only main road at Escaldes the road climbed upwards once again, passing through La Massana and ending at Arinsal. The hotel L'Ayma was right next to the telecabine just as described, on check in I realised that French was going to be our common language, which is just as well, because my Spanish is shameful.
I sorted my kit out then went out for local orientation, first stop next door to the Pub and its welcoming staff, a quick beer to slake my thirst and found out the location of wifi hotspots, supermarket and cashpoints. I headed down the hill, eventually finding myself back in La Massana and picking up piste maps from the tourist office. www.skibiker.org
|Andorra - source - iguide.travel/Andorra|
Over the Easter break I was supposed to be helping sail a boat up the Baltic from Travemunde in Germany to Aarhus in Denmark, but as the Baltic was still partly iced over and the Captain had been unwell, plans had to be delayed till June. This left me with another handy gap in my diary and ever since my trips to Scotland I had been aching to explore some larger ski domains.
I considered at the French Alps, but the price for an independent traveller was too much, so I turned my searches west to the Pyrenees and the principality of Andorra. Eventually I settled on Vallnord which, unlike Grandvalira, (boo hiss) allows skibikes. Once again LateRooms provided details of some budget accommodation right next to the telecabine station in Arinsal.
I left home at 06:00 to check in at 07:30 for a 08:30 sailing from Dover to Calais. I was lucky that I had booked to go via P&O as SeaFrance were on strike on that day.
I had a perfect crossing in bright sun and sea as smooth as a mill pond. On the French side I fitted beam converters to the car's headlamps and began the long drive South.
My route took me via Paris, why does the Perepheric run so close to the centre of Paris? I had horrid bottle necks to contend with and the worst examples of French driving imaginable.
Something odd was going on with my sense of smell, the whole of France seemed super smelly, but in a nice way; the Pas de Calais smelled of Crisps and Paris of French Fries, perhaps my body was telling me to eat more.
I intended to drive till sunset and get as far south as possible, yet still get a room for the night. Just after Limoges, I spotted a building high up on a hill side with the word Hotel on the side in faded letters. A quick double back at the next interchange found me outside the empty looking Hotel de la Malyerie in Sadroc, luckily it was open and the proprietors were having dinner. I was shown to my clean, simple and quiet room. After freshening up I sat down to a delicious Omlette with Cepes (wood mushrooms), french fries and salad, all washed down with a glass of Primus blond beer.
Tired but not yet fully sleepy I took an evening stroll around the lovely rustic town, sympathetically restored; the air was filled with the pungent smell of wood smoke and damp fertile earth. I returned to the hotel by torchlight along a country lane and slept well that night. www.skibiker.org