Some of you may not realise it, but I really do ‘do that work thing.’ This week, I was doing just that. Yes, I actually left the calming warmth of Sol y Mar and travelled to Geneva Switzerland to meet with a client. This was followed by facilitating a two-day, highly intensive team meeting for one of the client’s divisional heads. When I had been asked to do this, I said that I would be more than pleased to lead the meetings. It was then that I learnt that the two-day team meeting would not be in the extremely trendy glass office structure in Geneva, but instead would be in a town nearby Megev, France. Which meant it would be in the mountains. Of France. In the winter. Where there is snow…because it is cold. Oh joy.
Francois, Megan and I left Geneva shortly after 1900 on Tuesday and after an hour’s drive, were in Cordon, a very sleepy village-type place close to Megev. Megev (meh-jev) is a well-known winter and summer holiday location for the very fashionable people located near the foot of Mount Blanc. The hotel we all (there were eight managers from the client organisation and myself) stayed at was a wonderful example of a chalet-in-the-mountains, and you instantly had the impression that it was a very special place. Les Roches Fleuries has been in the same family for three generations, and they really do know how to take care of their guests.
The following morning, we all met in a meeting room in an adjacent building to the hotel for the beginning of the team meeting, and whilst I could go on and on about all the challenging things we talked about and did, to most of you it would sound like ‘blah-blah-loopy-blah-blah,’ so I will skip that and tell you what we did that night.
Francois (the head of the team) had arranged for some outdoor activities to stimulate the team. I always think that this is important, but rarely actually participate in them as I am brought in to do what I do and am not part of the team I am working with. The plan for that evening was to leave the hotel and drive ½ way up the next mountain for dinner. Okay, fair enough, that sounded harmless enough to me, even if it meant going outside in the middle of winter on some flippin’ Swiss mountain. So we piled into two vehicles supplied by a mountain guide company and drove down the extremely winding road from Cordon, past the town of Sallanches, and then up an even more winding road on the next mountain. Then we all got out of the vehicles (these were the type of vehices that have somewhat comfortable seats and heat flowing into the passenger compartment) and were met by three men in a somewhat deserted car park that had no illumination outside of the moonlight that was pretty much obscured by the clouds (that were dumping snow on everything). Luckily, the three young men each had a headband-equipped torch, so wherever they looked went quite bright…as long as they had their heads pointed in that direction. I was starting to think that this evening may not end up in the top 10 (or 20, or 2,000) of my favourite evenings, but I was there and I was going to have a good time.
The three lads packed us all into a retired army vehicle. I say retired, because it was clearly older than dirt, and army vehicle because it looked like the military lorries you see in the news hauling soldiers into some war-torn third-world trouble spot. This vehicle had multiple sets of massive tires, all wrapped in chains, to the point of looking like something from a mummy’s tomb. We all tried to get comfortable on the extremely crowded bench seats that ran the length of the canvas covered (but open-backed) bed of the lorry. Regardless of the fact that the canvas top and the open back end didn’t provide a massive amount of insulation form the cold, it wasn’t that bad. Probably because of the fact that we were wedged into a space that was not that much bigger than a large (dark green) sardine can. (Hmmm, does this sound like it meets my criteria for a good time yet?)
We bounced further up the mountain via what felt like a show-covered cow path for about 15 minutes. When we finally ground to a halt, we were transferred to a two-compartment articulated vehicle known as a Hagglund with only tank-like tracks to move around on. Whilst it was pretty difficult to actually see – it was very dark and the snow was falling in what appeared to be a near blizzard manner – the vehicle did look like it had last been used in an Antarctic expedition. This part of the journey lasted another 15 or 20 minutes, and after grinding along, we crawled over a hill and came to a stop at a large snow-covered chalet. We all sort of fell out of the vehicle (and I am using that term very loosely here) and trudged along into the chalet for a traditional French-mountain-winter-chalet dinner…which was actually fab. It was after dinner that the team learnt about how they would return down the mountain. Francois had made arrangements for a group of ‘sledges’ to be available, one per team member. Now in case you don’t know what a sledge is, it is sort of like a mini tri-cycle on skis; and the plan was that the team would careen down the mountain on these tiny vehicles from hell. Nice.
Everyone in the team bundled up in their winter kit (they had been told earlier that they should be ready for an outdoor activity) and was given a headband torch and a sledge to try to figure out how to fit on. And then off they went. I had previous knowledge of the plan having been told by Francois when we were planning the meeting; and not part of the actual team, and being of sound mind (and a whimp) had declined to do the sledge part of the evening. Francois had told me that it wouldn’t be a problem and someone would bring me back down the mountain in a vehicle.
One after one, the little sledges began flying down the ‘path’ (and I use the term ‘path’ euphemistically), with the occasional missed turn, many of them quickly ended up I a pile of snow most of them being upside down after their rather abrupt stop. I - the one who was still at the 1900 meters high level and feeling quite confident that I would have a proper vehicle to take me down - then discovered that the vehicle that the guides had in mind was in reality, a snow-mobile. Oh good. As I knew I wasn’t going to do the sledge thing, I was dressed in my warm and somewhat trendy topcoat, with only a scarf for additional warmth. Gloves? Don’t own any – remember, I live in Mallorca, and the only gloves I have are the ones I use to work in the gardens of La Antigua. Snow boots? Sorry, I only have Wellies, and I sure didn’t bring them with me. Insulated underwear? HELLO? I live in Mallorca.
Okay, I got on the back of the snowmobile and the guide and I went racing down the hill, chasing the poor sledge-bound buggers in front of us. Being somewhat coordinated, I was able to use one hand to try to keep my coat tightly closed around my neck and the other hand being used to tightly grip a handhold to avoid being thrown off the thing as we ploughed along. Being an extremely courteous guide, we stopped whenever we encountered one of the team members that found themselves inverted in a snowdrift. Having said that, each time we did stop, all I could think of was how cold it was sitting on the back of the snow-mobile…in the cold, in the snow, at night, ½ way up the side of a mountain. (Yes, the term pussy does come to mind)
Eventually we did all make it down to the embarkation point and transferred to the tank-like thing, which took us to the army vehicle thing, which took us to the cars, which took us to the hotel and warmth once again.
Now, to be perfectly honest, whilst I will be so happy to be home again on Friday, I have been gobsmacked by the beauty of being so close to proper mountains covered with snow.
the view from Les Roches Fleuries
Mlle. Bardot, on a visit to Les Roches Fleuries years ago
the team, getting ready for high adventure
the 'road' up the mountain
Thomas, with head torch, trying to fit on his sledge
one of the spectacular vistas
the real (non-pen-like) Mont Blanc
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley