Monday, January 15, 2018

A night in the Grand St Bernard Monastery

I left Chamonix at 9.00am with the intention of meeting Laura and Marco on the road to Gd St Bernard at about 10.00am. I drove up to the Swiss/French boarder at Chatelard and the conversation with the Garde-Frontier Officer went something like this:
Officer - "Where are you going?"
Me - "Gd St Bernard Monastery."
Officer- "The col is closed."
Me - "I know , Im going to go on skis"
Officer - "The col is closed"
Me - " I know, Im a Mountain Guide and I am going to go on skis"
Officer - "The col is closed."
The conclusion, I was rapidly coming to, was that I was speaking to a fucking idiot. Then the Officer smirked and decided to be a little less monosyllabic and said the Col du Forclaz was closed by a massive rock fall , which had just happened at 6.00am. [This is the final col on the road between Chamonix and Martigny.]
There was no practical way by road, so I dumped the car and took the train to Martigny which I would concede is more ecological but I am going to need incentivizing a little more than paying 40chf for the train. Basically 1chf/minute. Still needs must. Marco and Laura picked me up at Martigny station and we drove to the road head at the now defunct Super St Bernard Ski station. We stuck our skins on and headed up the track. The weather was beautiful , but like so often in this area it was windy and cold. We stopped for a picnic lunch in one of the emergency shelters.
After our picnic the temperature had dropped further and I was struggling to keep warm despite skinning up hill. Yet when we arrived at Monastery and went slightly over the col there was suddenly no wind and beautiful snow.
We headed off above the Monastery so that we might get the chance to ski the great snow.
The snow did not disappoint.
We enjoyed a very relaxed evening consuming some of the local Pinot Noir. The next day we headed out and skied across the border and into Italy. Our goal for the day was to climb Mt Fouchon. The conditions were good ,
bordering on excellent. We made the summit in about two and half hours. We then skied back more or less the same way. The snow was very good and the quality of the skiing was as good as I have had in this area. We passed the Monastery and then skied back to the car where Marco and Laura stuck me back on the train to France.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Skiing Conditions were perfect then along came the dreaded Foehn wind

Towards the end of 2016 the skiing conditions low down in the classic resorts of Megeve were perfect. On 29th December , as they have done for the 10 years Stephen Yeates and Steve Trantum joined me. It was wonderfully cold and crisp -15c. The snow was light and fluffy and it hadn't been destroyed by the wind , [which was the case in the higher resorts.] We skied in St Gervais.
Then the weather changed. Overnight there was a 20c increase. The temperature shot up and it rained. Once the rain stopped the clouds parted and it froze hard. This had the effect of creating a crust. A crust which was akin to skiing through broken paving slabs. In places it was horrendous because it was impossible to stay on the surface and you would break through and the crust would then cut into your shins. Despite this we did manage to climb to the top of le Petit Croisse Baulet high above Combloux where the view didn't disappoint.
Happy New Year 2018. On New Years Eve it snowed and got cold again. On News Years Day I was joined by Peter Whelan, for what turned out to be the "Perfect Storm of conditions. It set us up with fabulous skiing. Firstly not being hung over is good , although not as important as 30 cm of cold snow overnight. New years day is always quiet. Once we were up on the slopes the lift from the bottom broke down effectively meaning we were in our own private ski resort with all the lifts running and 30 cm of powder. The skiing in the comb Lachanel was sublime. The photo might encapsulate the saying "Life is timing?"
The day was so good that I persuaded Peter that he should delay going back to the UK. We skied in Courmayeur in conditions which were only quite good , relative to New Years Day. AND THAT WAS THAT. Next day it rained and rained and rained All the snow was trashed , the foehn kicked in , there was flooding in Chamonix and the roads were grid locked and the avalanche risk shot up to maximum 5. Even walking the dog became a potentially deadly experience
All skiing pretty much stopped , what was open wasn't really worth doing - it was like going through the motions . The Foehn continued to strip all the snow in Chamonix , not unlike last year. The only chance in these conditions is to go through the Mt Blanc tunnel and ski in Courmayeur. Charles Sherwood and I left Chamonix with an air temperature of 10c. Through the tunnel it was 0c. In just 12 km, Plus it was snowing. The skiing was okay , nothing exceptional but a thousand times better than anything in France. Mind you I have often wondered why the track down the Val Veni is not an official piste. The answer awaited us at the end of the day: A massive avalanche blocked the route and took quite a while to negotiate.