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A Sledge Ride February 5, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Snow, travel.

I’m at a trigger workshop in Beatenberg, Switzerland. In the Alps. There was an ad-hoc trip arranged – a sledge ride. When this was first mentioned all I could think of was the stuff that comes out of a sewer plant (sludge). The second thing was a really big sleigh pulled by horses or rain deer. I’d never heard of a sledge before!

It is basically a sleigh. We took a cable car to the top of the local mountain, and then for 25 minutes whizzed down at break-neck speed. These things aren’t like the sleigh’s I used when I was a kid: there are no handles to steer with. You sit up on them instead:


You use your two feet – your heels – to steer. It is opposite steering, of course: you dig in your left heel in to turn right. The problem is you are going so fast that your heel doesn’t just dig in: it skips. This means a big plume of snow shoots up and totally blinds you: which alleviates your need to turn because you can no longer see where you are turning! To break you bring your feed flat and push down. To help, this was at night with just the light of the moon and these tiny little lanterns.

I crashed twice. Both times at the same place. Everyone had boots except me and one other person. We had sneakers. Sneakers do not bite into hard packed snow very well, and when the snow is crusted over there really is nothing that can be done! I was wearing jeans and they were frozzen solid by the time I was finished. If you look at the picture above you can see a small plume of snow behind the boot heel – when you are going fast this plume is quite a bit larger and shoots straight up your jeans. 🙂

But boy it is a lot of fun! A run is 25 minutes long. The last time I was on a sled was at Tommy’s pond, back in New Jersey. It took about 30 seconds to sled from top to bottom. I’d do it again in a second. Reminds me I really want to learn how to snowboard. Pictures from this and the rest of the week here.

UPDATE: I must not be remembering correctly – left heal means turn left, not right. My body knew what to do (I only lost it due to steering once!), but my mind was on the fritz! Sorry – and thanks for spotting it.


Crazy Weather – Marseille Edition January 12, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Snow.

The French city of Marseille is not one you would normally think of being under snow. After all, it is right on the Med. But a lot of places are getting hit by snow that don’t normally get hit by snow. We lived there for a year last year and we never saw snow. I think we may have seen a few flakes… but nothing actually hit ground. As one of my friends there put it:

Snow in Marseille. Has not happened in at least the last four years. Nobody has snow tires and the city says they cannot find the salt truck (seriously).

Another friend of ours put it thus: “Great for the kids, sucks for the adults.”

Here is a picture I took from the apartment balcony last year when we were in Marseille:


and here is what it looks like now (taken by the current residents of the appartment):

The images from flickr are impressive. My friend has been walking around the city taking pictures, and just the general pictures posted all over flickr.

And Marseille isn’t the only place that has been crazy. For a little while last week Seattle was cut off from the rest of the country. Both of the big interstates out of town were cut off – I5 and I90. Water and snow was closing them!