Posted by: sunshack | March 25, 2017

Windy

The Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Trust Museum at Manston, Kent, had an open day recently. This was the 72nd Anniversary Event for the Manston Spitfire TB752. A variety of attractions were on offer to help raise funds for the Museum.  The Museum is really well organised with friendly staff and even had some exhibits available for visitors to handle.

Spitfire at Manston

Spitfire Cockpit at Manston

Browning Machine Gun fitted to Spitfires

In the adjoining Hangar sits a Hurricane. Really well presented and restored.

Hurricane

I spent some time chatting to the staff, and they were very interested to hear about my experiences when  I flew in Spitfire MJ627  last year. The Spitfire, Spirit of Kent was due to attend, but cancelled on the day due to bad weather. Outside the venue, is a separate RAF Museum, which has a Doodlebug Bomb on display. Many of these V-1 bombs fell on London during WW2.

Doodlebug

Listen to the sound of a Doodlebug passing overhead.

Some really unusual Vintage Cars attended.

Austin 7 Super Speed

The days before bicycle racks.

By the time I left, it was not just windy, but really windy.

Posted by: sunshack | March 20, 2017

Bounce

P1040257.JPGWhen booking a Ski Trip to Switzerland, I did not give any thought to how I should behave during an Earthquake. It really did not cross my mind. I was more concerned about snow! So, there I was in bed, on the top floor of the second oldest Building in the village of Engelberg, and can say, honestly, that the earth did move for me! Actually my Bed was bouncing up and down, the whole room was creaking, and the light fitting was swaying from side to side, with a side serving of big deep bangs somewhere below me. My first Swiss Earthquake. The skiing was quite good too, though visibility some days left a bit to be desired. The sun, eventually put in an appearance, and showed me all the wonderful offpiste that is within the ski area. I was very tired by the time I’d finished.

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The snow was deep and wonderfully fluffy. Not everyone got to enjoy the snow.

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I made time to visit the Ice Cave on the Glacier, and take a good walk around the village.

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A word of caution to anyone who has allergies or food intolerances. Zurich Airport Security don’t seem to be able to cope with travellers who carry with them Coffeemate powder, in order to enjoy a Coffee. They took mine away, after extensively searching all of my hand luggage, and after they finally returned it, I threw it away. It is a dried food, and I was unsure if it had been contaminated. I found nowhere offering Soya/Oat/Almond Milk with Coffee beyond the security area.

Posted by: sunshack | February 24, 2017

Contrasts

Matterhorn

In December and January I skied 3 ski areas in 3 Countries. The conditions I experienced varied greatly. In December, I stayed in Zermatt, where conditions on the slopes had been augmented by artificial snow. Zermatt managed to open a couple of pistes back to the village. Hopping over the border into Italy at Cervinia during the same week, and I experienced the magical Powder. Of course, weather patterns play a big part of determining which resort gets the “freshies” and it was the turn of Cervinia, which shares glacier access with Zermatt.

I was happy that my favourite Black piste on the Zermatt side, was opened up. It was quiet, so I got stuck in straight away.

Furg to Furi piste

Furg to Furi piste

Ventured over to Cervinia several times. It can take quite a while to get there using the lift system. Going up onto the glacier, then skiing across the border into Italy. It was however, worth the trek.

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 Christmas came and went, and I made the trip out to Chamonix in January. I had snowfall for my drive out, which made for a longer trip. The upside of all that big weather was powder for my first few days. Bliss!

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It's a Powder Day!

It’s a Powder Day!

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I visited Le Tour Vallorcine, expecting to find a little more of the nice soft powder. I’d not checked the wind forecast the day before I went up there. Oh dear! The off piste was hard, wind scoured crust within the system.

It's still snow, but not much fun

It’s still snow, but not much fun

The weather warmed up, and I thought I’d try another day at Les Houches. Some of the open pistes had insufficient snow.

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Interesting snow crystals in Vallorcine.

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The Bears have the right idea!

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I rented an apartment near Brevent, which had superb views.

Room with a View!

Room with a View!

So far this winter, many mainstream European resorts have been short of snowfall. I’m hoping that the latter part of the season will see bumper snow.

Posted by: sunshack | November 18, 2016

Getting High

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I will use any excuse to get some time on skis. New Ski Boots to run in? That will do nicely. So I packed a bag and headed for some early season sliding in Zermatt. At this time of the year, it’s mostly on the Glacier, which is quite extensive, though there are not many holiday tourists, it’s mostly National Ski Teams and their Trainers. It was fun being the worst skier on the hill. The snow was in superb condition, and the weather stayed cold. It’s always a little strange to come down to a mountain village, and find that it’s really warm, and I’m way overdressed!  The Lift Company had decided that they would service the main Gondola, that week, and everyone was trying to squeeze into the old Cable Car. Long queues, it was grim!

Up on the Glacier, conditions were superb. Wonderful squeaky snow.

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 Great to watch, but I have no wish to try this!

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I went for a Coffee in Italy!

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The slopes close early in the Summer and Autumn,  so one afternoon, I went for a walk around in the old village of Zermatt. It’s very pretty, and has much more charm than the new Hotels.

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With access by Train from Geneva or Zurich, Zermatt is a good choice for a short ski break.

Posted by: sunshack | November 5, 2016

Spitfire

I recently took a flight in a World War Two Spitfire. It was an amazing experience. I flew in this plane.

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MJ627 is a WW2 Veteran, flown by the Canadian Airforce and was stationed in Belgium. My flight was organised by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar who offer flights to the public during good weather.

A choice of routes are available, and it’s possible to fly as far as the Spitfire Memorial on top of the White Cliffs of Dover.

The weather for my flight was perfect, still air and light clouds. There is an extensive safety briefing carried out for all participants, as this is not like a commercial flight. I would be wearing a Parachute! By the end of the briefing, I knew how to use it.

It’s possible to withdraw and get a full refund if you change your mind. I was quite sure that I wanted to fly in this plane, as it’s been on my “Bucket List” of things to do for a long time. The option to withdraw, ends as the engine is started, and that was the point at which I wondered if I had done the right thing!

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Lots of noise, smoke and shaking!

It’s not possible to take a Camera into the rear Cockpit, since it may interfere with the controls, so I left mine with the Ground Crew. The Plane can be flown from the seat I was in, so once the short takeoff was completed and I’d settled in, I was delighted to be offered the chance to take the Controls. Nervous? Well, yes, but the Flight Commander was very reassuring, and I managed to fly straight and level, and make some turns too.

There was the option of doing a Barrel Roll, so the Flight Commander accelerated to 240mph…..

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This is the view of the Kent fields, below my head There was a Go-Pro Camera fitted behind me in the rear Cockpit, but I’ve not managed to make it play properly (bah)  If I ever make it work, I’ll post this segment, as it was amazing. There was no real sensation of the acceleration,  it’s nothing like being in  a commercial plane. Tiny plane,  27 litre, supercharged V12 engine.

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Here is the Cockpit view, looks really complicated to me.

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There are two heights for the Rudder Pedals. When flying Acrobatics Pilots use the higher set to help keep their blood flowing. I learned that 6g is possible.

This year, some events in my life, made me question just what am I waiting for. If I wanted to do this, then just do it. I’m very glad I did.

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Posted by: sunshack | October 7, 2016

Chillax

A week on Tenerife to recharge me. It’s been a busy summer, and I wanted to focus on being well for the winter. I chose a traditional Spanish Hotel, instead of a modern resort Hotel, and it felt comfortable and quiet.

P1030589.JPG Beautiful stained glass Atrium. At the top, there was a Rooftop swimming Pool with great views.

I did a little sightseeing, probably the highlight of the trips out was Whale and Dolphin watching. There are Whales and Dolphin’s in abundance within 1 km of the Harbour of Los Cristianos.

P1030686.JPGGoing out on a small boat does have advantages, as I felt really close to these beautiful sea creatures.

P1030722.JPG The local weather seems pretty reliable, I saw no rain during my stay, just the occasional cloud. The main Tourist areas, are quite well organised, everything in it’s place!

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I visited Tenerife, a couple of years ago, and aimed to reach the summit of the Volcano  Mount Teide. Last time around, there was too much snow, this time, no snow at all, and it was very warm. The Cable Car ride, stops short of the summit at around 3555m. You need a Permit to ascend on foot to the summit.

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Looking across to the Island of La Gomera from Mount Teide.

I could have spent much longer at the summit of the Cable Car, unfortunately, there is a Ticketing system, which times ascent and descent from when issue. Due to delays on ascent, I had only around 10 minutes, before starting to queue for the descent.

Some parts of Tenerife are focused firmly on shopping and eating with Mall’s and big Restaurant chains.P1030712.JPG

Sensory overload!

Will I be back? Ask me in a couple of years time!

Posted by: sunshack | May 25, 2016

Besucher

I have recently spent over 6 weeks in Austria. In Kaprun for most of the time. It’s given me the chance to see a little more of how a ski resort functions. I stayed in one place throughout, which was organised by the provider of the course I attended. Called Freeride WG, the Tourist Office classified it as a Hostel, and it’s not a place I would have chosen for myself. I did expect it to be basic, however I was not happy with the standard of the property. The Housekeeper told me that everyone was very relaxed there.

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Dirty walls and dangerous electrical fittings in my room. Reported on checking in, still not fixed 6 weeks later.

Some of my peers on the course were happy with the accommodation, and were prepared to stay there again. I met with the owner on the day I checked out, and he understands how I felt about my stay.

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Towels on the left catch water leaking from the water inlet. Towels on the right catch waste water leaking from the soil pipe.

The Housekeeper did undertake a temporary fix on the water leaks, but it was unpleasant staying amongst this for a few days. I also found a large sink plunger in the Bathroom, this was because the Bathroom sink was blocked. I did try to clear it, but that resulted in waste from the blockage spraying out of the overflow and ending up on me. The Housekeeper came up and dismantled the pipe, and found that the sink was blocked with cigarette butts. Smoking was not allowed inside the property.

I had paid for bed and breakfast, tried the Breakfast and found the Cereal choices to be very basic, so purchased my own.

I was unable to get the radiators in my room to work, so I purchased a Fan Heater. The Housekeeper advised me that it was “not the coldest room” On one morning I found the communal Kitchen locked, so I went and purchased my own Kettle, and thereafter ensured that I had a hot drink to start my day. I did my washing up in the Bath, it seemed quicker all round.

The daily Bread delivery stopped, and the Housekeeper seemed unable to fix the problem, so after a few days one of my peers made a phone call to our course provider, which got this fixed.

I sat on the floor when studying in my room, as there was no chair. I’m not sure if this had any effect on the outcome of my course, but I can say that it was less uncomfortable than using the bed. I paid over £600 extra for the Double room.

I really wanted my Bedsheets changed after almost 3 weeks use, caught up with the Housekeeper in the kitchen and offered to change them myself. The Housekeeper then attended and changed them. You get the general idea.

Each day, I caught the bus. Most days it was to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier slopes outside Kaprun, although I did get to ski the Maiskogel slopes for a few days before it was closed.  The Maiskogel area is small tree lined and pretty, with traditional mountain restaurants.

The Bus to the glacier was at 7.45am, and each day over the 6 weeks, I saw people standing on board by the time the Bus reached the other end of the village. On a few occasions, folks were left at their Bus stop, as there was not enough room.

At the other end of the day, there always seemed to be quite a crush to get onboard the half hourly Bus back to Kaprun, plenty of pushing and shoving. I did see people left behind. It was as though the Bus company put on too few Buses for the number of people on the slopes. Some days it was very busy on the Glacier slopes.

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Parked cars, as far as the eye can see. These are the folks who did not use the Bus!

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Most people stay on Piste.

There does not seem to be any active crowd management on the slopes at Kitzsteinhorn. At places where slopes converge there is no flow management. This leads to collisions, as no-one is required to slow down, or give way. I did ask my Coach, and he told me that signage or artificial crowd management barriers such as Chicanes are not generally used in Austria. I saw plenty of collisions on piste. I was knocked over, and another member of my group was also knocked down.

For a Glacier resort, there is enough off piste skiing to occupy a moderate skier for a week. Slopes range from marked Itineraries, to steep unsecured slopes. Outside of marked Itineraries, Crevasses exist.

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Our Coach took us down the resort’s Signature piste ” Black Mamba”during our first few days. I thought we had missed out the steep section, but apparently this was not the case. I came home without the T Shirt celebrating my achievement.

Eating and drinking at the Kitzsteinhorn is mostly at the giant Alpin Center building. Upstairs is a giant self service cafe with seating for hundreds, and queues to match.

It’s a fact that Austria is still in love with smoking, and the covered entrance to the Alpin Center is where the smokers gather on the steps.

 Off the slopes, I managed to find a non-smoking Cafe/Restaurant in Kaprun village. The staff were charming and the choice of food excellent. The Kennidi  also gets good reviews on Trip Advisor.

When I had some free time I visited the small Motor Museum, which contains lots of really small cars.

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A Messerschmitt with wings, but not a plane!

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Just put the Bubble cars on the top shelf!

It is many years since I last skied in Austria. Lifts have become bigger, and faster. Technology is being utilised, though I’m not sure I’m the right person to appreciate the benefit of heated seats inside a Gondola.

Posted by: sunshack | April 29, 2016

Granny

I have just finished a six week stay in the Austrian mountains. During my stay I skied with a group of amazing people from all over the world, and it has been unique and life enhancing. My stay was organised by SIAaustria.com. It consisted of a four week training course and a 10 day exam period, leading to a ski teaching qualification called the Anwärter. I had begun studying German in May 2015 in preparation. The four week training course passed quite quickly, the SIA Coaches worked quite hard with my group, and put in long days. My German skills were tested in exercises and I was pleased to hear that my vocabulary was ok and my accent declared not too bad!

I have relearned the snowplough, and up unweighting at the start of a turn!

At the end of four weeks, my group were passed to the selected examining body, who are an Academy from Vienna. We had now entered the Exam phase. For the first two days, we were with an Examiner who engaged us, and motivated the group and individuals to achieve a higher standard of skiing. Unforseen circumstances meant that we were then passed to another Examiner for the remainder of the ten days.

The new Examiner spoke almost entirely in German.  I could not follow what he said. A couple of group members were fluent German speakers, so I took to regularly asking them what this man wanted, once he’d delivered his mumbled monotone instructions and walked off. He never once made it to the meeting point on time. We were left standing around waiting.  Power Play? New Watch needed?

By now, you are probably wondering why this entry is called Granny. Well, we were each required to run a warm up session. One of these was themed to Pulp Fiction,  which was released in 1994. After the warm up session was completed, the Examiner criticised my fellow student on his choice of theme. This critique was based on the premise that “someone my age” (points at me) “might not have seen Pulp Fiction”. The Examiner then went on to call me Granny in front of the group. There was no evidence of humour.

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Here I am in another ski year, doing my best Granny impersonation.

I was not impressed, but I really did not care that this man thought I was old. His job was to conduct Exams in skiing, and I was skiing before he was born.

Each evening this Examiner ran mandatory Lectures which we all attended. They took place predominantly in German, and were delivered mostly in monologue with no audience engagement. We needed willpower to stay awake! One of my fellow students observed that the Examiner seemed to suck the life energy from the group.

One of the underpinning principles for Austrian Ski Teachers when working with pupils, is the concept of Lob-Kritik-Lob (praise-criticism-praise). It’s in the “Ski Lehrer Buch” . My Examiner had apparently dispensed with the Lob elements. I did observe him curling his lip after I completed a run I was not happy with. His comment to me:  “Expectations for your age group are lower”

Charming!

Another of the group commented to me that they had no idea if what they were doing was correct, since the Examiner said nothing at all to them.

When wishing to speak with a group member, the Examiner would extend one arm and summon the person by curling a finger at them. I also observed him wagging a finger up close to a face, intruding into personal space.

He criticised one group member for not using “complicated enough German” when they ran a session.

Could it be that they ran their session based on the needs of the learner group?

It’s been a fact for many years, that I learn in an unconventional way. I get by. I don’t feel the need to tell folks that I have a brain injury, unless it becomes apparent. I am not an impaired learner, and last year passed two Sailing Exams without difficulty. On the ninth day of the Examination period, the Examiner removed from my possession the means by which I would have triggered my memories. He thought he was taking my notes from me, the memory triggers were not notes, and I spent quite a while preparing them. This left me unable to run the Session he had set. My peers attempted to help me out, but I did not have enough of the information in primary memory. The Examiner stopped the session, calling it “Not the Austrian Progression”.

No Shit Sherlock

He did the finger curling summons to me. I went over. I told him I had a brain injury, he shrugged.

That was the final straw for me. So I told him I quit, he shrugged again, and I skied off. His power over me ceased at that point in time. It was quite a relief.

I contacted the original Examiner and advised him of the situation. He told me, that it’s the style of the Academy. Everyone else in my group hung in there, most, not all passed their Exams.

Age is just a number. What we do with our lives is far more important.

I spent many years empowering learners to achieve their goals, for which I was well paid. Human potential is awesome. I don’t appreciate abuse of power, bullies and blatant ageism, it limits potential. It’s not my style.

Megeve Powder

This is more my style. Off piste Megeve. Avvy Level 5. Photo Tinderbox Ski

Posted by: sunshack | February 20, 2016

Road Trippin

Each January, I drive to the Alps. I’ve been doing this for quite a few years now, and it provides me with a feeling of having properly visited the country where I’m skiing. This trip took in Switzerland, France and Italy.

The weather was mostly cold and windy, well it was January after all.  The weather affected the running of the lifts, and I failed to make it to the top of the Klein Matterhorn lift, with skis. I almost made it, but the liftie bounced me!

Onwards to Chamonix, and I made the best of some fabulous powder in Les Houches.P1020316

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I also made the best of the powder in Le Tour, seemed rude not to.

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I took some time out to visit the Step Into The Void attraction at the top of the Aiguille du Midi . It was fun to stand on a sheet of glass over a 1000 metre drop. You can just see Chamonix below my left hand!

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Skiers setting off the ski the Vallee Blanche

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Off the slopes, my mission was to eat my way through the display counter in my favourite cake shop.

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Headed over to Italy for a day with Chris Fecher of Tinderbox Ski. Rode the tiny Cresta d’Arp cable car to the top of the resort and skied quite a steep run back down to Zerotta, in time for a late lunch.

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This was the easy bit. Then it got a lot steeper!

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A lot further down the same run, the gradient was easier. Chris measured it at 32 degrees.

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I met up with my friend Sara and her husband Ian, for a spin around Grand Montets. This was fun. We found some Crevasses quite close to the marked pistes.

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Posted by: sunshack | January 8, 2016

Quick Fix

It’s December and there is a snow drought. Many low lying resorts in Europe did not open. So, the safest bet was to head for somewhere a little higher, like Cervinia. I was very impressed that the resort had managed to open a piste all the way back into the village.P1020244

Up on the Glacier, shared with Zermatt, things looked much the same as normal. P1020235

I was quite pleased with my set of short turns!

Zermatt had also worked some magic with their snowmaking, and opened a piste down as far as Furi.P1020242.JPG

A little fresh snow fell, and I think this group are having a lesson off piste above Trockener Steg P1020185.JPG

I caught the train up to Gornergrat, which is always a little surreal.P1020195.JPG

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I spent most of my time on the Zermatt side, because the snow was in better condition.

I also got to ride a shiny new chairlift!P1020238.JPGP1020206.JPGUp above Trockener Steg

Chris from Tinderbox came over for a day, to work on some skills with me. We made the best of the conditions! P1020175.JPG

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