...Continued from page 1

So, despite the good forecast, it was a surprise snowfall nobody was ready for. By the time it was obvious, it was too late to take any effective counter-measures. The cork was well-stuck in the neck of the bottle.

By Wednesday morning, the only traces of Paris' big blizzard were the melting remains of shabby snowmen, and a lot of people staying home to sleep it off.

Sports News - Football Shortie

Despite new, high-powered management supplied by Canal+, PSG lost again tonight and is now six points away from being dumped out of the French first division league.

Winter Sports Editorial

I have been idly watching and listening to the Winter Sports news on TV when I can see it past Max's head and hear it over the constant mumble of my dining partners.

Downhill racing looks pretty much the same year after year. The mountains are covered with snow, year after year. If they are not, then ski resort owners are shown, wringing their hands, year after year.

One item that has been particularly irritating, is the constant reports of skiers getting wiped out by avalanches, because they were skiing 'hors piste.'

'Hors piste' means they were skiing, or mushing about, on a part of the mountain designated as 'off limits.' Or, to put it another way, the mountain specialists have marked areas deemed 'safe' and the skiers are supposed to remain within them. When they don't, they sometimes die.

I can imagine it. You travel all the way to your favorite Alpine resort, and when you get there the only place safe to ski is in the parking lot of the chalet - which is surrounded by lots of mountains covered with virgin snow. Might as well have stayed home.

I don't remember this 'hors piste' from my own 'home' mountains and I have puzzled about it for a long time. I think I've figured it out. I once flew over the Alps and was truly impressed with their sheer size. I didn't think such big mountains could fit into Europe.

However, Europe itself is small, and there are a number of seas and oceans, as well as Africa, relatively close to the mountains. When conditions are right, they get a lot of snow. But, because of the nearby seas, weather conditions change very quickly.

The cycle goes like this: snow falls and everything is grand. Then a warm wind melts the surface of thephoto: cafe le balto snow during the daytime, and this freezes into a crust at night. Then more snow falls on top this crust, lying lightly on it. This second layer of snow is a bit like a snowboard; it is ready to slip and slide away.

Le Balto, another café in the Temple quarter.

This process goes on and off all winter long, and there may be short intervals between thawing, freezing and new snowfalls. All of this adds up to great avalanche potential. If you ski in the wrong place, you could be taking a big risk.

The mountain professionals know all about this and they are out on the slopes, constantly testing the snow for its stability or lack of it. From these tests, they can mark the 'safe' zones, where skiing is relatively risk-free.

But people are people and snow and mountains are exhilarating, so some of them go looking for the 'hors piste' areas.

When the mountain professionals aren't testing the risk level, they are usually spending a lot of time, equipment and energy looking for winter sports people who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, by tons and tons of loose snow.

They always find them. Even if they have to wait until the snow melts.

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