Category Archives: Skiing

Skiing in Tignes

College holidays fell early this year so I’m taking my ski holiday before Christmas. On the web last week, I saw a cheap last-minute chalet offer at Tignes, a well-know ski resort in France that is very high so off I went.

So far it’s worked out really well. The ski conditions are very good and there are few other skiers around. No queues and no crazies. One surprise is that the chalet is not actually in Tignes itself but in a village 20 kms away. There are pros and cons to this; it makes it harder to hook up with friends and guides in the Ski Club of Great Britiain as the lifts open late and close early. On the other hand, the village is a far nicer place than Tignes town and there are plenty of people to ski with in the chalet. Even better, I’m staying in a lovely little house in the woods and go down to the main chalet for meals and socializing…perfect.

The village of Les Brevieres near Tignes

Up until now the weather has been beautiful if very cold. Today, the temperature drooped to -26 degrees up top (3000m) which was a little uncomfortable. We stayed on the slopes facing the sun as much as possible but one of our party very nearly got a mild case of frostbite.

The eye of the needle near Tignes

Meanwhile, the recent news from the CERN is good (passing through Geneva airport made me think of the LHC). Last week the collider broke several new energy records, finally bringing us into a long-awaited new regime of high energy physics. Even in this brief period before the Christmas powerdown. a great many particles were detected (‘rediscovered’) whose discovery originally took years of labour. That’s the thing about science, it’s cumulative – each step affirms the former. This is such a nice story, I’ll do a separate post on it in few days.

In a different life, I would be heading off to CERN at Christmas instead of the slopes!


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Back in Switzerland

This week I’m back in Switzerland; in fact I’ve been here a bit more than a week and am not leaving until Sunday. I figured I’d be in need of a good holiday after a busy term and the Institute of Physics Spring Meeting (see previous post) so I booked myself 10 days skiing in Zermatt, the famous little town just below the Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn

On piste at the Klein Horn

The snow is fine both on- and off-piste, if a bit icy in the mornings and a bit slushy in the afternoons (I quite like variable conditions).The Ski Club of Great Britain are here in force with two different reps and I’ve been doing plenty of skiing with them on off-piste days. Such a joy to ski with experienced skiers, thanks Alaistair and Chris! (For ski bores out there: I’m trying the K2 Public Enemy twin-tip skis and find them superb for the variable snow, although the plume they kick up in spring snow drives some people nuts). I like the way free-ride technology can work it’s way into the mainstream…

Off-piste at the Stockhorn

Zermatt itself is drop-dead gorgeous, the archetypal Swiss ski resort, with superb restaurants, no cars and unbelievable views. Did I mention the world’s best apres-ski, rockin to an outdoor live band in the serious sun half way up the Matterhorn?

Zermatt Hauptstasse


It snowed all night on Wednesday. Snow conditions were excellent on Thursday, but visibility was poor.  Today, the sun came out and the conditions were fantastic. Best powder I’ve ever experienced, particularly off-piste. In fact possibly the best skiing I’ve ever had, despite witnessing the best skier of our group take a serious tumble on hidden ice off-piste at Stockhorn – no less than six somersaults on the way to the bottom. Happily, no serious injury resulted…photos to follow!

More ski cronies are arriving late tonight – the Frankfurt Ski Club are due in at midnight on their ski bus (if past trips are anything to go by, most of them will be hammered before they even get off the bus). I have some very good friends in this club; although the actual skiing can be a bit chaotic due to varying levels, the craic is mighty.The Frankfurters are staying until Monday, but yours truly has to finally return to Ireland on Sunday. Ah well, I expect some serious partying on Saturday, my last night in Zer…

And then it’s back to a hysterical week at WIT. The last week of term for the students (and all that entails) + Prof Joan Centrella of NASA’s Goddard Space Centre is giving a talk on Black Hole formation and gravitational waves on Wednesday + Peter Woit of NOT EVEN WRONG is arriving in Ireland on Friday. Jesus. I need a beer…


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Off-piste or piste off?

Yesterday, I was travelling through the snow in beautiful Switzerland once more, returning from the ski resort of Verbier to Geneva airport. The snow was so heavy that some regional trains weren’t working for once, but the pragmatic Swiss laid on extra buses so tourists could make connections with the Intercity trains.

Travelling through Switzerland in the snow

It’s a tale of two holidays. I spent the weekend 13-16th in the lovely Swiss town of Martigny with the Frankfurt International Ski Club. We were bussed into Verbier for skiing every day, but as ever it was the social aspect of the club that stood out (see previous post below). It’s hard to beat staying in a posh hotel with thirty friends from Germany, Britain, the US and other countries, with multiple languages over dinner & drinks every evening. Best of all, the hotel bar happened to be the town hotspot, so we  got to meet plenty of the local Swiss French …

Tooling up before the downhill

The rest of the club returned to Frankfurt on Monday, while yours truly decamped to Verbier village (this week is the midterm holiday for teachers). What a contrast! Verbier is picture postcard pretty but almost entirely anglicised. A huge number of British tourists, and nothing but English spoken in the bars and restaurants. Quite a disappointing village socially, full of young Brits on the piss…

Choclate box -pretty Verbier village

On the other hand, the skiing was fabulous. The Ski Club of Great Britain have a ski rep in Verbier, a service that is very useful for dedicated skiers. Essentially, members are guided around the mountain by an advanced skier who knows the resort well, both in terms of challenging runs and where best to have lunch! It’s also a great way of meeting other skiers of the same level. All week, we got a superb tour of the mountain – plenty of difficult skiing, mostly slightly off-piste, but never too far from the main lifts and pistes…

The only snag was the day we took a tour with a mountain guide. As so often, the guide justified the expense by doing a bit more than we really needed (I sometimes think these guys are so incredibly fit they can’t relate to the rest of us). I’ll ski most things, but I get fed up trudging up steep ridges at high altitude with skis, transciever, probe and shovel on my back, gasping for oxygen at 3000m – all for a few minutes of deep powder. I just don’t have the fitness any more. Basically, I end up more piste off than off-piste!

All in all, it was a great trip in one of my favourite countries. Now it’s back to rainy, monolingual Ireland and endless meetings about cutbacks in college. Sigh. Maybe I should look for a job in CERN…


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The best skitrip

Now that was a holiday. I just got home from one of the best snow holidays ever, a trip to Switzerland with the Frankfurt Ski Club. The club consists of American, British, French and Germans ski enthusiasts who work in Frankfurt and take a coach south to the mountains at every possible opportunity. (Yours truly got involved through a very good friend – I go as often as I can as the trips are always really well organised).

The trip got off to a great start with a gala dinner on New Year’s eve in our hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva. Although I moaned about having to bring a full tuxedo in my ski baggage, I must admit it was nice when I arrived from Zurich to find everyone at the hotel reception dressed to the nines and quaffing champagne. It really added to the occasion and it was great talking to old friends over dinner and making new acquaintances..



Next day we were bussed to Villars, the nearest ski resort. The conditions were fantastic, lovely deep snow from a recent snowfall and beautiful sunshine. One of the best day’s skiing I ever had. Incredibly, these conditions continued for the next four days as we visited resorts like Verbier and Portes du Soleil. I hooked up with some other off-piste skiers in the club and we had some very challenging skiing, including the famous Wall on the Franco-Swiss border in Portes du Soleil.




More FSC photos at

At the end of the trip I  took the club coach back to Frankfurt – a first as I’ve never been there! I’d heard it said that the coach journeys are one the best features of the FSC trips and it was certainly true on this occasion – it was more like a mobile bar full of friends than a normal bus journey. When we finally got back to Frankfurt, a few close friends decided to celebrate my arrival in their city, so the party went on til late..

This morning, I woke up in a strange city covered in snow. I made my way into the city center to meet a friend for lunch and then took myself on a mini-sightseeing tour of the city. Frankfurt city centre seemed surpisingly nice – an interesting mixture of beautiful old buildings and impressive new skyscrapers, not unike a large version of the financial district in London. Fantastic public transport of course, like everywhere in Germany.

Frankfurt in snow by Max Heidenfelder

Then it was on to the airport and back to reality. There’s no snow in Waterford and it’s too cold to surf. Sigh. Why can’t I live in a civilised country like Germany? Maybe I should apply for a job at CERN – I’d settle for Geneva alright…


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Winter wonderland

Last week was exam week for our students, so I took the opportunity for a week’s skiing in St Anton in the Austrian Alps. The snow conditions were pretty good as winter came early this year. I also got plenty of off-piste skiing as I was staying with a ski crony who is a guide for the Ski Club of Great Britain. That said, I find a week’s skiing more than enough these days – although I love the snow and the winter atmosphere, skiing itself doesn’t really give me the same rush as surfing, even off-piste

St Anton am Arlberg

As ever, what I enjoyed most was the travel. I flew into Zurich and took the train along the main Zurich-Innsbruck route. You simply haven’t experienced the beauty of winter until you’ve taken this train. The spectacular route through the snow-laden alps has few equals and should be listed as one of the wonders of the world. In fact, it still forms part of the route of the famous Orient Express. If that weren’t enough, I got 3 hours of uninterrupted conversation in my school German with a lovely young Austrian returning from Switzerland to visit her family. That’s why I love to travel in Europe, it’s the people you meet, the languages you hear and the places you see…

Ein Zug im Winter

Even Zurich Hauptbahnhof was a sight to behold, with snow falling heavily outside and the famous Christkindlmarkt in full swing in the great hall. I managed to get quite a good bit of present shopping done before boarding the train.

I read somewhere that the whole White Christmas thing in fact comes from the Alps, got imported to the United States by European immigrants in 19th century, and then got redistributed all over the planet like most American culture. It makes sense, as no-one does Christmas carols, Christmas trees and snow like the German-speaking countries!

After all that, St Anton could only be a let down and it was in a way. There were so many British tourists, I heard remarkably little German. Still, the skiing was good and the journey back a pleasure. Now, I’m back in rainy little Ireland and getting ready to start exam corrrections…groan

P.S. Lisa Lorenz has a nice description of a similar week in St Anton over at her blog Happy Hour. However, I was fascinated to read that she and her party had a totally different experience of the Zurich-St Anton journey. I guess travelling alone is always that bit easier…or maybe I’m the sort of sad person who is never in a rush to arrive at the destination.


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