Riding the Mountains
One thing fascinates me more than any other thing in the mountains. No it’s not how do they get the lifts up there in the first place. No, it’s not how do lifties find it comfortable to wear ski boots all day long. No, it’s not who actually buys a whistling marmot, (please leave a short description of yourself if you have). And no, it’s not how many people do buy a bar/chalet in the Alps to run after an apres ski session discussing how they could run a bar/chalet in the Alps.
Seriously, the thing that fascinates me above all the wonders that the mountains has to offer is the humble piste basher and the people that drive them tirelessly through the night creating perfect corduroy and amazing snow parks. The wonder is made stronger by their mystical appearances at night. I can not be alone in finding myself perplexed at the lowness of a star in the night sky and the speed it is moving, only to then slowly work out that it is infact Pisten Bully plowing the white fields.
If you have pondered the existence of the Piste Basher driver as extensively as me then you may have questions such as; “do they get scared grooming back runs?”; “do they get lost?”; “do they ever get to ski on the carpet they create or are they tucked up in bed?”; “who has the better job the day drivers on the night driver?”; “what is it like in the cab, is it cold?”.
One time, in Meribel I had the opportunity to find the answer to these and many more questions. It was at a time when I was working for a company called Natives.co.uk. We had organised a Ski/Board – X event in Meribel. It started early and we had to be at the course, with our equipment, before the lifts opened. The wonderful Meribel Tourist Office helped us organise a lift.
At 6.30am at the bottom of the mountain in Meribel Mottaret we were met by a Piste Basher, we loaded up the bucket on the front with our kit and then to my delight I was invited to ride upfront in the cab. As I climbed into my seat I was grinning as if I had just spent the day riding fresh powder.
The cab is plush, warm and very comfortable. It was so warm that I sweated all the way up, in an my layers that ai had put on in preparation for standing in the cold all day, while performing the unglamourous task of recording times. It was so warm in the cab that the driver just wore a t-shirt. The windows are massive and you get amazing views from most angles. The cab is also packed with an excessive amount of levers, buttons and technology, you have to be on top of your game to drive one of these. I have been to Diggerland and I would say that qualifies me to say that driving a Piste Basher is harder than driving a JCB.
The journey up was magical. The towns disappeared into the background and we were chugging up the empty pistes. We went up and down and at no point did I feel in danger, if anything I felt a bit more appreciation for the mountains that I frequently use for recreation. As the sun came up more of the landscape was revealed. The driver displayed his skills, as every contour change meant that he had to reposition the front scoop that normally shifts snow, but on this occasion was the carrying our boards and skis.
As this was probably never going to happen to me again I took the opportunity to ask the driver some questions that my GCES French could cope. I started by asking some easy question, where did he live? How many sisters has he got? Where is the nearest library? I then asked if this was the best job in the world? It must have been my translation but he didn’t get the question. Either that or he thought I was mocking him. He told me that it was a dangerous job but they kept the risk low. And I also found out that they don’t get lonely as they chat to one another on the CB radio, just like the old days.
If you ever get the chance to ride shotgun in a Piste Basher at dawn then I suggest you grab the chance. On that day I only did one run and that was to all the way down to Jacks Bar in Meribel center. But I have to say the lift up was the best I have ever taken.
If this has made you jealous then there are often opportunities to ride in a Piste Basher in resort either through the tourist office or local adventure companies. Ask your rep in resort to find out more.