Monday, March 22, 2021

The Best Laid Plans..

 We had a plan .  The plan was to do the Bernese Haute route which starts in Diablerets and finishes in Kandersteg.  It was all looking good .  The forecast was good, the conditions were good , the huts were open, we had confirmed bookings.  Perfect.  

The Matterhorn.

Then as the date for departure grew nearer there were the first glimpses in the weather forecast that things were not going to be perfect.  Still doable, but  with suboptimal weather. As our departure date came nearer the weather forecast started to predict snow.  Then more snow and then show-stopping amounts of snow, mixed with very strong winds.  Non of this was ideal but it was due to fall before our trip.  Then the sun was meant to come out and settle the snow pack and all would be fine .  Except it wasn't. The updated forecast put the whole storm back a couple of days. 

When the storm hit, it was like a second winter .  We got a meter and half of snow in the garden in the space of a day.   In the whole of  February we had zero snow.

 I had to cancel the ski tour and let Mark, Rysto and Til know the bad but obvious news.

They were still keen to salvage something to break the monotony of a Covid winter, so agreed to rendezvous in Zermatt.  

Travelling from" no lifts open Chamonix " to Zermatt was like entering another world. Zermatt for all intents and purposes has pretended that Covid doesn't exist. The morals of this can and will be debated for a long time but ,  all the shops , hotels, restaurants were open  and critically so too are all the lifts.  

This combined with the massive dumps of snow of the previous few days, while bad for ski touring was now wonderful for lift based off piste-skiing.  Assuming you were careful.

On the Saturday we headed up the Klien Matterhorn lift system , which appears to be constantly undergoing a name change.  This year it's called the "Matterhorn Paradise."

Our first run was down the Furgggletscher, which had good soft fresh snow which was a delight to ski.

From there on we continued down before arriving above , what must be one of the most amazing ski routes in the world the "Chamois glacier cave."   Its a bit nervy,  but there is a tunnel right under the glacier which you can wiggle your way through.

The Chamois glacier cave

Then the tunnel becomes more challenging :

Then quite tight:

Before popping out at the other end.

We enjoyed exceptional off piste skiing for the rest of the day and were able to get a sense of where the skiing might be good and safe for our next day.  We enjoyed a social evening in  a real restaurant.

On the Sunday we took a helicopter from the base at Air Zermatt and were dropped at the Alphubeljoch. at 3836 meters.

We found good snow, all the way down to the car park in Tasch. A vertical drop of 2480 meters.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Covid February in the alps is not complete sob story

 With the start of February we still enjoyed perfect conditions until a weird phenomenon hit us one Saturday morning .  The whole of the alps were covered with Sahara sand.  This has happened before many times , but not at least in my life time in such a dramatic way.  It never really became light and made the sky look like something out of a nuclear disaster film.

The mountains were turned brown.  Fortunately it snowed and covered the sand up , but it did reveal itself again later when we suffered a thaw.

I continued to explore new areas which I had never skied before.  Some were close to home , for example I had never actually climbed to the top of the aiguille du Posettes from the Le Tour village.  This was a very good way to introduce two, of the few people, who could make it to Chamonix, to the benefits of ski touring. Albeit Matt and Paulo were coming from Monaco.

We made most of the ascent in thick mist but burst out at the top to reveal a satisfactory vista.  Yet like so much of ski touring the snow on the way down was far from flattering.

The French School holidays were now up on us .  Normally this means the UK half term too. But not this year.  Mind you considering the lifts were closed the town was still very busy. 

It is also interesting to note that despite there being no lifts open in Chamonix and therefore the only up hill mechanism the Compagnie du Mt Blanc was responsible for[ in lest us not forget is  one of the most important ski resorts in the world] was a 60 meter revolving mat. Le Tapis.  It was deemed in dire need of a service because it was potentially going to snap and should be shut down. The ski school were  incandescent about this and so a compromise was reached .  The new parts would be ordered and the tapis would continue to run.  If it did snap before the new parts arrived well sol be it.  Lets trust that  this laissez faire attitude isn't applied to the rest of the lift system when it eventually opens. At the time of writing it still hasn't snapped .*

  Andrea ended up with more work than anyone in the Seaton household working solidly day after day at the jardin enfant at the Savoie area near the center of the town.

It was interesting to see all the tourists in Chamonix with out the lifts open.  People seemed to be a lot more creative in the things they did, from simple tobogganing , to mountain biking on fat bikes.  There were certainly lots of families actually doing things together, as opposed to the traditional frenetic dash to dump  the kids at ski school so that the parents could 'escape' to ski on their own.

I had become so enamoured with Pointe d' Andey high above Bonneville that after another dump of snow I went back with Sophie and Andrea and we had the best skiing of the season right off its summit.

Other stand out trips were through to Switzerland. Namely the Tete Feret high above La Fouly on the border with Italy.

I went firstly with Christine Dennis and son Pierce and husband John.  The conditions were so good that I decided to return to the very same ski tour with Richard and Sam Lewis only a couple of days later.

Christine climbing up to the col with  the Sahara sand behind her

Sam & Richard Lewis.

My middle daughter Florence ended up" trapped" in Chamonix and unable to get back to University in the UK.  She decided to make the most of it by training for the next part of her ski instructors exam.  The dreaded Euro Test.  This is the ski race you must pass if you aim to teach skiing in Europe.  It is a timed Giant Slalom race. There are many countless arguments about the ability to race and the ability to teach, which will go on forever, but this is the situation and you have to pass this race if you hope to progress.  
Anyway Florence travelled to Alp d'Huez where there was just one race piste open.  She passed and can now continue to work her way through the scheme and join her big sister in the Chamonix ski school.

The tapis did snap break down .  Andrea said it was like teaching skiing in the 1900's.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Fabulous January for ski touring.

The Dru after the storm.

 The lifts are still closed in France and Italy.  But to paraphrase : Where there is a problem there is an opportunity. The combination of cold weather and a significant regular dumps of snow have produced exceptional conditions.  

Here is a quick summary of what you can do without a ski lift in January in a quick video from Florence.

While it is possible to go ski touring in the resorts, there is still something not quite right about skinning up under closed cable cars and chair lifts, which I am afraid is the case in the likes of Chamonix. It is of course better than nothing , but with a little exploration and creativity you can do much better than this. 

The area that has come into its own is the mountain range of the Aravis.  [This area best known for the   ski stations of La Clusaz and Le Grande Bournand]

The Aravis area has many many ski tours that go no where near the lift stations and they all start from the car park .  Most are interesting from the first step and don't require long approaches up pistes or tracks before you reach any interesting terrain.  What's more skiing down these sort of tracks at the end of the day  can be scary!

Two of the best ski tours we did were the" Pointe d'Andey" and the "Trou de la Mouche."

The first is the perfect ski tour to do attempt when the avalanche conditions are not good because the terrain is benign , yet provides for fabulous varied skiing , from open slopes to beautiful tree skiing.

Adjusting the skis before setting off from the road head

What's not to like?

The Madonna on the summit

View from the top towards Lac Leman

mother&daughter 1st ski tour together  Catherine & Jess.

Jess Lewis returns to the car .

The other great ski tour we did was the Trou de la Mouche.  This is one of the best know ski tours in the Aravis.  It involves climbing up to a col which has a unique feature - a great big hole in the cliff which the route passes through.

The conditions weren't great - there was a lot of wind and consequently a high avalanche risk but still Florence made the most of it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A birthday ski tour.


I was quite astonished to turn up a Plaine Joux ski station to find the police directing the traffic and making sure every car was parked carefully, in order to maximise the places. The weather was beautiful, the scene was completely perfect. There were people everywhere.  The one thing that was not right was that the lift system wasn't actually open..

This was clearly not an issue for everyone there.  In fact `I suspect that the fact that the lift was closed was part of the attraction.  There were people skinning up the pistes with their dogs [ something you aren't normally allowed to do]. 

There were people on snow shoes , there were people without snow shoes, there were  people dragging toboggans.

In addition  a constant stream of parapenters passing over head

There were even people there celebrating big birthdays .  This was us. Reuben decided that there could be no better way to spend a birthday than on a ski tour in jaw dropping surroundings.

Reuben enjoying his birthday ski tour.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

No Lifts No Problem

Setting off for the Mole
The lifts are still closed in France and Italy. In Switzeraland they are open. But for how long is a good question because "You reap what you sow." Covid is now running riot in Switzerland. From a skiing point of view the conditions are marvellous. It is cold and the snow is low and everything looks idyllic. The extra benefit of having snow in the valleys is that it makes ski touring wonderfully accessible from the car park. You can put the skins on and leave from the road without first starting a long approach hike with your skis strapped to your rucksack. Starting the tours by wondering up through beautiful woodland is a delight.
Sophie Seaton ski tours around St Gervais.
So far the standout ski tour this year was the ascent of Le Mole. Its a mountain that is perfectly formed and is in a wonderful position looking down on the town of Bonnville. Its a mountain I must have driven passed hundreds of times while driving along the Auto-Route Blanche. However although it is beautiful and spectacular it isn't very high :1863m. Consequently it doesn't come into skiing condition all that frequently. When it does, it becomes a highly prized objective. Catherine and her husband Richard met me at the designated RDV point, where we dumped a car because this would be the point we skied back to. We set off up a track that was well travelled, not just by skiers but by many people on snow shoes too.
After an hour or so we emerged into an Alpage. Where we stopped for some hot Ribena.
The route went up behind the chalet.
From here on up it was a question of finding our own line up the relatively steep slope to the summit ridge. Firstly you come across a cross which you would imagine would mark the summit , yet in actual fact a bench marks the top.
From the top it was skis on. At first it was a bit scratchy [and narrow]
Yet soon afterwards the skiing was fantastic.
A short skin up a bump lead to some even better skiing on the opposite side of the mountain which then thread its self through a narrow break in the forest before emerging onto a track which we followed back to the car we had pre dumped.  A brilliant day.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

An Update on uncertain times

Defender complete with chains - turns it into an unstoppable tractor.

If you can't be bothered to read this blog you can listen to it by clicking on this link

 As soon as it was announced the ski stations would not open in Chamonix before the 7th January , it snowed.  Of course it did.  We had about a meter.  It was cold and fluffy.  

It was THE dream start which any alpine resort would want.  Apart from the Covid wrecking ball.

Despite the lifts not opening the the cross country pistes have opened and the conditions have been very good.  This has lead to an explosion in interest in cross country skiing

There were queues to buy tickets like I had never seen before.  

In addition the shops have sold out of all their x- country ski equipment.

In the last few days the temperature has shot up and the snow has started to melt.  

With the refreezing at night it has made the x-country pistes icy, especially first thing in the morning.

Skiing in icy conditions is never good , no matter what sort of skis you are on , but with no metal edges and skiing with a free heel this has lead to Charlie Chaplin esque moments which would be ideal material for You’ve been framed.

Still its good for the balance and once you get back on traditional alpine skis the whole game seems remarkably straight forward.

If you take the long view , The freeze thaw cycle has been very good for the snow pack giving a good firm base for the season.

Aiguille du Dru from our house

Yet I have had an Epiphany.  I borrowed a Fat Bike. 

Fat bikes have big tyres.

  Its like a Mountain Bike on steroids. They have big fat squishy tyres and they allow you to ride on top the snow without sinking in.   It is proving to be just the thing for Exploring the Chamonix valley.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Always Amazed that virtually no one seems to want to make the most of the Autumn.

Aiguille Verte in all its autumnal splendour.

 If you hit a good weather window, then  climbing in the Autumn in the alps is wonderful.  Certainly Reuben thinks so, as he has been climbing with me at this time of the year  for well over 20 years.  We seem to always have a good time together climbing lots of interesting and different climbs.  We also always seem to have the added bonus of solitude - something we both rate very highly.

Last week we had yet another good couple of days together. The first climbing at Vallorcine and the second with his  daughter Emma on the demanding via ferratta at the thermal park in Le Fayet.

Reuben enjoying the autumn sun on the belay.


Spectacular situations.