Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bienvenue à Bessans!

How can you tell you are in France, besides the fact that everyone is speaking en français? The first hint is that you hear church bells pretty regularly (one of the churches here in Bessans was built in the 14th century). Second, when you order a coffee, you get a cup the size of a shot glass. Third, your orange has a sticker on it that looks like a woman wearing red lipstick has kissed it with the brand name being “coquette”, or “flirt”. Third, your toilet paper is scented like perfume. It’s always an adventure coming to Europe, but enough of that – we are here to ski!

Bessans is a little hamlet with a population of about 300 residents though it appears that the visitor population is probably about equal, if not more. It is also the home of Beaufort cheese, though I have yet to see any cows. Yesterday was a beautiful day in Bessans out on the ski trails. There are lots of gentle rolling trails that meander along the valley floor making Bessans a perfect training site weary jetlagged skiers but there are some steeper climbs on the trails that swing up the sides of the valley walls. I was still feeling really tired and am now fighting off a cold so while Andrea went on a trail scouting mission, I got in a 90-minute pole-pole (pronounced po-lee po-lee) ski with Mary and George. For those wondering, poly poly is Swahili for slow, and I believe it was something George picked up while doing volunteer work in Kenya a few years back.

The three of us took a trail that meandered its way right to the end of the valley where you could buy a coffee at a little chalet and sit out on the deck enjoying the sunshine and the breathtaking views of the French Alps – the views are amazing and pictures just can’t do them justice! Along the way, we found a heritage site where prehistoric drawings of reindeer were visible on a steep rock face. I couldn’t seem to find them, but then again, I’m not exactly the best person to be looking for that sort of thing! Mary and I finished the ski together while George did a short ski with Tyler. On our way back, Mary decided she should practice her French so on one of the bigger downhills, she joyfully shouted out “Pomme de terre à la mode!” When I said to her, “You do realize you just yelled out “Potato with ice cream!”, she just laughed. She was just radiating happiness! It was one of those “I love my life” moments!

Today Andrea and I did some zeroing in the biathlon range, which means essentially trying all of the rifles to learn their unique differences. Then we headed out on a skate ski along the river that meanders along the valley and past Bessans. This afternoon, Andrea and I finished the last step (yay!) in our new ski prep process by hot waxing in one more layer of blue. I am so happy that job is done with…I will never, ever be a wax tech! Then while Andrea got in another short ski, five of us organized our wax hut, though the French officials keep calling it our bungalow. I’m not so sure it really would make much of a warm weather vacation house!

In that we are here with Cross-Country Canada’s approval, but not as the official Team Canada, our inexperience has caught up to us a bit. We realized yesterday we should have brought our own wax bench and forms instead of relying on the organizing committee to provide stuff for us. We also realized today we didn’t bring any ski straps which hold skis upright against a wall so they don’t fall over like dominos, making the wax techs jobs a whole lot easier. But, being the resourceful group that we are, we emailed one of our teammates who has yet to leave Canada and asked him to bring some waxing gear. As for the ski straps, we built our own with luggage ties and duct tape. It might not be pretty, but it’s functional, or at least we think it’s functional. We will find out tomorrow morning if our jerrybuilt ski straps were up to the task of holding up over 30 pairs of skis. If they weren’t, the skis will be all over the floor and we’ll be playing a life-size game of pick-up-sticks and it will be back to the drawing board for our research and development department.

Anyway, I am off to bed early again. I went to bed last night at 10pm and was asleep by 10:01, but I awoke at 2:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so it’s been another long day. I am very much looking forward to a good night’s sleep, a nice morning ski and an afternoon to kick back and relax. Maybe while I’m kicking back, I’ll write a short blurb to explain how someone who can’t read street signs can do biathlon….and yes, pictures are coming! I just have to download them from Mary's camera. I'll work on that this afternoon too.

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