Saturday, April 01, 2017

6 days of exceptionally good ski touring.

The weather forecast was perfect. Clear skies meant we would get a strong overnight freeze. Bright sunny days would produce the optimum spring snow skiing conditions. Monday 27th March. John Young and I headed off up La Flegere. We skinned up the Col du Crochue. It was a bit weired because despite the weather being wonderful there was no one around. It is the sort of place that if you are on your own you have to ask the question what does everyone know that I don't? The answer soon became apparent - everyone was behind us; Next we skied down to the foot of the big gulley which leads up to the Glacier du Morte. We strapped our crampons on , stuck the skis on our ruck sacks and climbed up the couloir , which gets pretty steep at the top. The ski down was very good. Although the track through the forest back to Le Buet was "faster" [read icy] than we wanted. Tuesday 28th March. We got dropped at Le Tour by my new driving daughter Andrea. We headed up the lift and then skinned up and over the col just to the right of the Grandes Otanes. We couldnt believe the sight of the exceptional skiing which awaited us.
Again there was no one around - It was truely magnificent. Mind you there was a price to pay. Lower down there was the remains of some massive avalanche devastation the like s of which I had never seen before.It was tedious clambering through the hundreds of meters of smashed up trees.
. Eventually we did fight our way out and down to Trient village, where after getting lost several times, Andrea turned up to pick us up and drive us back to Chamonix in what she claims is now her Land Rover Defender. Wednesday 29th March. We drove around to Les Contamines , we used the lift system to catapult us on our way into the Beaufortain region where we skied around to above the lac de la Girotte. On the Thursday we decided to go on an overnight ski tour. We drove through to Sierre. We parked the car and took the Funcicular to Crans Montana. We then worked the lift system up to the Plaine des Mortes glacier from where we climbed the spectacular Rohrbachsteim 2950m After which we skied down to the Wildstrubel Hut- which at present I would have to rate as the best hut in the Alps that I have visited in terms of its welcome, food and general ambience. Friday morning we were a way by 7.00am just in time to arrive on the summit of the Wisshore 2948m to enjoy the sunrise over the Plaine Morte Glacier. From there we traversed the glacier before climbing up and on to the summit of the Wildstrubel 3244m. The ski down got better and better and the spring snow was very good all the way to the Gemmipass cable car. From here we descended by cable car to Leukerbad. After some lunch we took the bus to Leuk, then a train to Sierre where we picked up the car and drove back to Chamonix. Saturday was to be our final day. The weather was threatening to change. We headed to the summit of the Brevent and skied off behind the ridge making our way around to the Col du Brevent. The weather was cold and windy and the snow was not softening up. It wasbone shattering skiing and and had zero to recommend it. We decided to head back to La Flegere. This proved to be a good call. The wind dropped and the sun came out. We traversed around to Lac Blanc and the made our way over to the deep gorge which leads up to Col L'Encrenaz. Instead of climbing up the col we skied towards Col du Montets again enjoying good spring snow. Inevitably by the time we hit the road it was decidedly soggy and there was rather a lot of vegetation sticking up through the snow. All in all it was another excellent day. Andrea was there to pick us up in her Land Rover and rive us home.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Resort Skiing is not quite shot to bits : If you are flexible.

The best way to have good skiing is to have a good sense of what the weather is doing and then go where the snow is best on the day. On Wednesday 22nd March Fiona and Reuben and I drove to Verbier. It is about 40 mins drive to La Chable. We had good off piste skiing from the lift system , but at lunch we eat in probably the weirdest restaurant of the season. Weird because the owner is seemingly a friend of Sarah Ferguson and thinks that having a Fergie themed menu is a great idea...
On Thursday we awoke to a fresh snow fall and decided to head to Les Grands Montets. The morning was good and we managed to find a descent down the Retour Pendant where we made fresh tracks all the way. In the afternoon we took up our reservation for the top cable car. This proved not to be such a great idea , because as we skied down the glacier du Rognan, suddenly the weather changed . The wind picked up dramatically and reduced the visibility to zero. We had a minor epic getting down and back to Lognan.
On the Friday the dreaded foehn wind had kicked in. The weather in Chamonix was miserable. But not to worry we headed through the Mt Blanc tunnel and were greeted with fresh snow and very good tree skiing. On the Friday the weather was indifferent in Chamonix so we drove down to Combloux where the weather was glorious. Yet at the foot of the resort it was lacking the essential ingredient , instead it had been replaced by lots of mud. Yet high up everything was fine and we found some good spring snow skiing, yet aspect was everything: The wrong aspect and there was no snow whats so ever.

Ski Touring in the Vanoise

Bill Mills and Greg Knott have been ski touring with me for nine consecutive years and we needed new areas of the alps to explore, so I suggested the Vanoise. They flew in the Thursday night and I collected them from their hotel in Argentiere and we drove around to Pralognan which took about two and a bit hours. We dumped the car, bought a one way ticket on the lift system which catapulted us on our way. At the top of the lift we stuck our skins on and headed up this vast open valley toward the Refuge Col de Vanoise.
It was a beautiful afternoon and we arrived at the hut after about 2&1/2 hours. The refuge has excellent draft beer .
Saturday 18th March. We awoke to find the whole hut shaking with the wind. Soon the clouds came in and the options were limited. Yet we still managed to get out and do battle with the weather. We headed up to try and climb the Pointe de la Réchasse 3212m. The weather didn't improve it just got worse and so we turned around just before the summit. Re finding the Refuge was far from simple, but find it we did.
Sunday 19th March. The day started cloudy but the weather was forecast to improve. We set off for the col de la Grande Casse . If there is a better days ski touring then I'd like to see it: We skinned up the glacier de la Grande Casse
At the top of the col the view opened out and it was possible to look over to Tignes and far beyond.
It is important to start the long traverse by keeping high. This needs to be done for about 2km because when you have finished the traverse and you look back from where you started you immediately see why you needed to stay high.
After the traverse the ski down was very very good. Perfect slopes which seemingly went on and on.
Then the skiing wasn't quite so good because it was flat , hot muddy and knackering. Eventually we arrived in Champagny le Haut. We phoned for a taxi which took us back to the car at Pralognan. We spent the night in Brides les Bains. The next morning we drove to Mottarret just above Meribel. We parked the car and then got frustrated that the lift didn't actually open until 9.00am. We then rode the huge lift system through Val Thorens and eventually arrived at the col des Thornens. It was here we left the lift system and headed off up to the Col de Gébroulaz 3417m which is steep.
At the top were now in a position to ski the Gébroulaz Glacier. In the distance we could see Mt Blanc.
This was absolutely fantastic spring snow skiing. One of the great things about the descent is that we saw no one. Well apart from a weirdo in his swimming trunks walking across the glacier.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sun Sets & Sun Rises . Ski Touring at its very best.

David & Antonia Francis joined me for five days ski touring. Prior to our meeting the snow conditions had been very unstable with lots of avalanche activity. I was keen to choose a very safe but interesting day trip to start our week off. Saturday 11th. David& Antonia drove from their house in Basel and I drove over the Col de Forclaz and we met up just above Martigny to climb the Arpille. The weather was perfect and so were the views.
Sunday 12th. The weather wasn't quite as good as the previous day , but it was still far from bad. We headed round to Beaufortain region which we accessed from Les Contamines ski area. As soon as we left the ski area we had the place to ourselves. We skinned up above the lac de la Girotte before enjoying a very long run down to Hauteluce
Monday 13th. After our two day tours it was now time to go on our long awaited multi day trip. The good weather had settled the snow and so the avalanche risk had diminished. The weather forecast was perfect. We drove from Chamonix to Crans- Montana. Parked the car a the foot of the Violettes cable car. Twenty minutes later we were looking across the vast Plaine des Morte glacier towards the Wildstrubel 3244m which would be tomorrows goal. Today's goal was to arrive at the Wildstrubel Hut. This meant passing over the Wisshore 2947m which is a very sinister place...
For a supposedly neutral country it has a lot of secret installations which rumour has it our rented to Donald Trumps country.
From there it was a short ski down to the wonderful Wildstrubel Hutte 2789m. We were the only guests.
Tuesday 14th. This was to be a big day. Made bigger by the fact that the planned next Hut , the Lammeren Hut, was full and so we had to go onto the Schwarenbach Hotel. It was minus 6 and quite windy as we left the Wildstrubel Hut. It was necessary to retrace our steps to the summit of the "Secret" mountain. As we climbed up we were treated to an exceptional sunrise over the Wildhorn.
We then traversed the vast flat Plaine des Morte Glacier before starting the long climb to the summit of the Wildstrubel.
Four hours from setting off we were on the summit. It was on the summit that we met the first other group of the day: Mike Turner a fellow British Mountain Guide had climbed up from the other side and we met on the top. The ascent had been quite icy and in places had been quite thought provoking, yet on the descent we had very good skiing and several memorable pitches. We skied on down below the Lammeren Hut and then polled across the Daubensee Lake on the cross country track before going over the slight rise of the Gemmi Pass and skiing down to the delightful Schwarenbach Hotel and a well earned beer. I was very pleased the Lameren Hut had been full otherwise I might never have discovered this place . If its a choice between a hut or a beautiful mountain hotel its a no brainer. Wednesday 15th. We left the hotel at 7.30am and skinned up the very steep slope to the Schwarxgratti pass 2383m
Once at the col we could see the route down. In the distance we saw three skiers coming down from the Steghorn pass. It was again Mike Turner and his two clients . They were the only people we would see all day.
Before we could enter the bowl we had the issue of getting over the ridge which was quite dramatic:
Once we were on the north facing slopes we had some very good skiing
Followed by some not so good skiing over some troublesome avalanche debris
Then further down it got even more interesting as the snow cover became thinner and thinner, yet still we managed to ski to within five minutes of the bus which arrived about a minute later and took us to Kandersteg railway station. Here ended a quite magnificent ski tour.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Skiing with Dad and the God Parents

You might think that I get to ski a lot with my girls. The truth is I don't . Them being free when I am free is difficult. Last Saturday was fantastic . Sophie was free, I was free, Jeff & Faerthen, her God parents were free. Plus it was snowing like mad in Courmayeur. Absolutely the best conditions imaginable for powder skiing through the trees. As well as being her God parents , both are ex US Ski Patrollers and Avalanche forecasters.
Sophie said it was good and she was well looked after. She did however think it was not fair that she was on skinny Giant Slalom skis while the Three Mountain Professionals were all on dedicated off - piste skis. But there again she is so much better than us.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Grand St Bernard : Lets not go there at the momment.

The Grand St Bernard Monastery is right at the bottom bit of the red section on the avalanche danger map. This was to have been our goal. We were due to skin up the road and spend the night. A goal Marco and Laura and I had had in the diary for several months. Yet with an avalanche forecast like the one above the decision was simple. We needed a plan B. Instead we climbed the wonderful L'Arpille . Laura and Marco invited their friends Jess and Matt , both who were new to ski touring. The Arpille is a very good choice because it is both safe from avalanches and offers spectacular views.
Plus a beautiful place to stop for a picnic.
Finally you get to ski a very photogenic pitch with Martigny as the back drop.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Dont follow tracks , especially our tracks.

It continues to be grey and wet in the Chamonix valley caused by almost continuous Foehn winds . Yet the conditions in Italy have produced some of the best powder skiing I have seen in years. Chris Dovell and Lia Heisters joined me for three days. On our first day we skied the trees which lead down to the Petit St Bernard road, then down through the meadows in knee deep fluffy snow. The next day Chris and I explored Courmayeur. Chris has skied in Courmayeur a lot, but I still managed to find him some descents he hadn't made before. To be safe I asked him to throw 50 meters of Dymeena cord in his bag in case we got "Cliffed Out." Anyone stupid enough to be suckered into following our tracks thinking they would get good skiing would have got some amazing skiing , but a whole lot more too.
On our final day it was raining in Chamonix coupled with high winds , so once again it was back through the tunnel to La Thuile , where once again we had excellent skiing.