Monday, February 18, 2019

A week skiing in Gressoney. You need to hike to find the best turns.



My friend James Thacker along with his wife Alison  run the Off Piste Performance company.  The issue for them was that Alison was about to have a baby.  James asked me if I could take over from him and ski with his  group in Gressoney which is part of the fabulous Monte Rosa ski area in the Aosta valley.
Kenny Grant was the other Mountain Guide working on the course.  We stayed at the Gletcher hotel at the head of the valley in Staffel. This proved to be a great base, it was run by the delightful Francesca.

The brutal truth was that we did not have the best snow conditions because it had not snowed anywhere as much as it had in the northern alps and especially Chamonix.  In addition there had been very strong winds particularly in the Champoleuc valley.   The good snow was hard to find but we were able to do this because everyone was equipped with touring bindings fitted to off -piste skis.

This allowed us to do a mixture of some good tours and we found our selves in some great places .


Plus some memorable descents all which would have been impossible without the flexibility of touring equipment.
Skiing down the col de Zube towards Gressoney.



Saturday, February 02, 2019

If conditions can get better than this then show me what they look like!

I spent two days helping Ski Weekend run one of their big events for Polar Capital.  It coincided with a day of significant snow fall where we skied in the trees at Les Houches , followed by an unforecast blue bird day at Le Tour.

Frankly I was a bit sceptical about what the skiing would be like even though the weather was beautiful.  There had been a lot of snow and a lot of wind and the avalanche forecast was posted at 4 out of 5.  Yet when we arrived I was astonished how light and fluffy the snow was.  It was possible to ski fantastic safe terrain making fresh tracks all day.  By the end of the day I concluded that, in 30 years of skiing at Le Tour I had never had better skiing there. Just goes to show the very best conditions turn up when you least suspect them .

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Snow and conditions just gets better.

We continue to have excellent skiing conditions .  Reuben and Fiona Berg joined me for a few  days .  On our first day we skied off piste at St Gervais where conditions were first rate .  Plus we sampled the somewhat OTT venue of the Folie Douce where we eat lunch at  the adjacent La Fruitière Restaurant complete with a rather eccentric singer:

The singer is on the right.
The next day we skied at La Flegere.  The snow and conditions were perfect.
On our third day together it was a chance to ski with Antony and Reuben .  It was snowing hard when we turned up at Les Grands Montets to be told that it was closed by high winds.  We returned to La Flegere where the cable car was miraculously running.  We found exceptional conditions which allowed us to ski the front face underneath the cable car where we bounced down on huge pillows of cold fresh snow.
On our final day together we returned to La Giettaz where the tree runs were as good as any tree run in the alps .
Antony in the secret powder stash.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Excess Boys 2019

They are as reliable as the Atomic Clock.  Every 25th January 17.00hrs on wards they can be found in the Savoy Bar in the village of Argentiere.  2019 was no different. I walked into the bar to a fantastic welcome . Several jugs of beer later we had a plan:

We decided on  Les Contamines. Although  Toyota Land Cruiser's have a formidable reputation for toughness  it's a big ask to cram them with  over a 1000 kilos of sculpted, lean muscle .  Still, despite bulging tyres we arrived serenely at the cable car station  and were greeted with beautiful weather and exceptional light fluffy snow. 

We even had a "Gilet-Jaune" taking time out from "agitating" to come and  ski with us.  We just couldn't shake him  off despite trying to push him in a river.

The  day would have been perfect apart  an incompetent lunch where we had to wait for over an hour for our food.  I always thought the French knew how to cook omelettes.

Our second day is traditionally our ski touring day.  The Excess Boys had been nothing of the sort the night before showing a steely focus when they turned up at La Flegere at 8.45am.  They were greeted by the usual Chamonix Ski Station incompetence with a massive queue.  An even bigger queue than normal because the adjacent Le Brevent cable car had also malfunctioned. [Again.]  Still I'm sure the people didn't mind the two hour wait in -14c conditions.

  Luckily for the Excess Boys I got everyone up through the Ski School priority line and we were up and away on route up to the Col du Belevedre high above Lac Blanc.  The weather and conditions were once again perfect and the back drop of the Aiguille Verte is simply stunning.
The ski conditions were so good that we could ski all the way down to the car park.  It was an exceptionally good day out.

The Excess Boys 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Helicopter assisted skiing.

The weather at the pick up was not great .  In fact it was snowing quite hard.  It was touch and go as to whether we would fly, yet the helicopter slalomed through the holes in the cloud and found us in the lay-by just past  the village of Chatelard close to the Franco - Swiss border.
We piled into the helicopter and seven minutes later we were dropped in a different world on the Trient plateau.

The plan was then to ski and then gently  skin up to the Col du Tour before skiing down the Le Tour Glacier back into the village of Le Tour.

The issue was there wasn't a  great amount of snow at the top of the col which necessitated Phillipe [my fellow Guide] and my self roping the clients down the steep col to where they could refit their skis.


It was then skiing all the way down to the village and reluctantly back into the cloud.




Thanks to Gavin Foster of Ski Weekend.com  for being there and making all this happen.




Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fantastic Off Piste Skiing conditions

Richard Lewis and his good friend Joe Gold skied with me for a few days.  Richard lives near lake Geneva but Joe was coming all the way from Vail, Colorado  and so the bar was set quite high in terms of expectations.
So why not start by show casing the ultra modern lift system the Chamonix Valley has to offer?  There are now no queues to access the mythical off-piste skiing at the top of Les Grands Montets.  The lift company had a novel solution to the queuing , instead of building a new modern lift , they got someone to set fire to the existing one thus removing the need to queue.

So now to ski on the Argentiere glacier you have to walk, which is 100% more pleasant than standing in the old cable car  queue for about the same amount of time.

We enjoyed a wonderful descent and a late lunch at the Chalet Lognon overlooking the massive ice fall.

The next day we headed up La Flegere and the over to the Breche du Berard.

The climb up to the breche is in a world class setting up there with any alpine backdrop.

We finished our time together by skiing in La Giettaz , where there snow always seems to be fantastic.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Bullet hard pistes replaced with cold fresh snow.

Charles Sherwood heads off into the Aravis
Since before the New Year it had not snowed.  Neither had it snowed in the first week of 2019.

Our planned skiing in and around Megeve was looking like it needed to be relocated. The  Plan B had been discussed in readiness for a venue change. Yet the day before we were due to meet not only did the temperature drop significantly but it also snowed.  Even better, the weather cleared  to reveal close to perfect conditions.

Our group was organised by Charles Sherwood and consisted of  his brother Simon, plus some of his other very good friends Peter Folkman, Simon Allen and Martin Smith. I had skied with everyone many many times although I had never met Martin before.

The Bus Stop.
The first day we skied in St Gervais.  We found some delightful meadows to ski.  There was one particularly good descent in un tracked snow .  The down side was that the run ended up at the foot of a Poma lift [that unbeknown to me ] hadn't actually opened for the season.
Luckily there was a shuttle bus. Nevertheless  it did lead the group to allude  to the   Napoleon quip about his  Generals : Do you want a good Guide or a lucky Guide?
No harm was done and we even got to eat in the  quaint restaurant  Sous Freddy's run by the  Mountain Guide Olivier Curral , who for his sins was once the guardian of the Gouter Hut.  [ Food has improved.]

January 11th We skied in Combloux.  The descents were excellent.
Lunch was at the  Auberge de Bonjournal.  This was all very merry.  Possibly the  "on the house " Genepi was the cause of the days principle accident.  One of the group fell into a ditch while  not rejoining  the piste.


the one in the middle didnt get any higher

On our final day together the 12th January, our plan for the day was to ride the lifts of Praz-sur-Arly and then ski down into Hauteluce, from where we would take the short bus ride to Les Contamines.  We then planned to ski off -piste from the resort.  Yet when we arrived at the car park the weather was looking like a "jour blanc." I decided that we would be better off skiing somewhere else.  Mind you the indifferent weather did not stop the local balloon festival taking off. Or not, as was the case with the balloon in the middle of the photograph.  This one suddenly fell out of the sky.  It was while driving out of the car park that we saw the balloon  drapped all over a house and the passenger basket had lodged itself in the windscreen of Mercedes- Benz

Instead we skied again in Combloux and Les Geittaz.  The snow was still very good and the trees helped with the visibility.  Yet an attempt to find even more pristine meadows was thwarted by some uncooperative bushes which created much hilarity and the observation that anyone who followed our tracks assuming an uninterrupted powder descent , would at best, be surprised.