Sunday, March 05, 2023

A hotel in a perfect time capsule : Hotel Weisshorn

 The Weisshorn Hotel situated above and to the side of the ski village of St Luc in the Zinal valley. It  is magical for many reasons ; not least its position.  It is perched on a hill top which over looks the valley with views  towards Crans Montana.

Plus only essential changes have been made to the place since it was opened in 1882.  It still has all its original decor.

Catherine, Bella and I arrived via a beautiful off-piste run from the summit of the St Luc followed by an hours skin.  

As we were taking our skins off, one of the staff came out and immediately asked if they could get us anything to drink.  Soon afterwards we were sitting on the terrace drinking beer.  

Dinner was a set menu-which was excellent, with a good selection of Valasian wines.

The next morning we headed out after  breakfast.  The weather was beautiful and we had the whole mountain to ourselves.

Our goal was to climb the summit of the rather strangely named Omen Rossi 3031meters.
Summit Omen Rossi .

The views in every direction were magnificent - especially the view towards the mighty Weisshorn.

The ski back down was good too.
Screen shot of the descent from Fat Map.

We arrived back at the hotel and immediatly commenced rehydration therapy, followed by showers, followed by pre dinner drinks followed by another excellent dinner.

The  next morning it was snowing lightly and it was not condusive to ski touring. Instead we said our 
good-byes to the delightful staff, skied down the track, which joins the piste [which was in perfect condition] all the way to the bottom.
Bella & Catherine looking for the car park

We then jumped in the car and went to explore Grimentz ski area- where we were somewhat caught out by the dramatic drop in temperature and decided a good lunch was preferable to frostbite.


Monday, February 20, 2023

In the foot steps of history- Gd St Bernard Monastery.

The Grand St Bernard Monastry is an extrordinary  place to visit, especially in the winter when it is completely cut off, and the only way to get there is on foot or on skis.  

Part of the attraction is that you are tracing  the foot steps of history.  Not only are you following in the Elephant foot prints of Hannibal, Napolean's 40,000 strong army, countless pilgrims making their way to Rome, but also Charles Dickens.  It is his visit to the Monastery that inspired the passge in Little Doritt considered one of his finest works :

"Seen from these solitudes, and from the Pass of the Great Saint Bernard, which was one of them, the ascending Night came up the mountain like a rising water. When it at last rose to the walls of the convent of the Great Saint Bernard, it was as if that weather-beaten structure were another Ark, and floated on the shadowy waves.Darkness, outstripping some visitors on mules, had risen thus to the rough convent walls, when those travellers were yet climbing the mountain."

 Despite there not being any new snow for a month - the snow cover was good.  

Rachel, Simon, Charles and I drove around from Chamonix on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning and parked at the sadly defunct Super St Bernard Ski lift.  This was to be Rachel's first ever ski-tour and there is probably no better place to start.

We headed up the snow covered road stopping after an hour for a picnic.

Picnic in the sun .

Next we passed through the "Comb des Morts" [not very threatening at the time]

Combs des Morts

 and arrived at he Monastery.

We dumped some of our excess equipment and then headed out for some further ski touring practice.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the Monastery and soaking up the history.

Breakfast was a 8.00 and we were away by 9.00am.  Our goal was to climb Mt Fourchon the classic ascent from the Monastery.

The summer road avalanche gallery.

Mt Fourchon is 2901meters .  It is a small summit which involes a short scramble to get to its top.  

arriving on the summit.

I have climbed this mountain countless times - but I have never had a better view from the summit as this.

Mt Blanc & Grandes Jorrasse

We were even able to have our lunch just below the summit.

The ski back was surprisingly good. The snow had softened up a little allowing for some well earned turns.

We reversed our route following the road used in the opening scene of the iconic "Italain Job"

Then it was back through Customs 

Swiss Customs post.

where enjoyed a second night at the Monastery. 

On our final day we climbed upto the col du Barasson, where once again we were rewarded with impressive views right across northern Italy .

We were able to ski all the way back to the car to end a highly successful three day trip.

There is an I carved on the other side.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Hold your Nerve



There had been lots of conversations between Dax, Mark, David and myself about the early season  evolution of the snow in Klosters.  It is true that the conditions had been [shall we say suboptimal ?] - Yet no way as dire as the ski press had painted the picture - especially the American press.  The guys were initially keen to relocate to Chamonix where there was ceratinly better snow cover. [ Yet this is another story.]

In short my advice had always been "hold your nerve" - the  forecast for eastern Switzerland was for considerable snow. Plus the area which was forecast to have the most snow was: - Klosters.  So as the hours counted down they choose Klosters...

As I drove past Zurich too meet them , it was raining, when I arrived in Klosters it was snowing hard.  Everything was setting up perfectly.  Even better, the next day was sunny and cold.  The skiing was excellent and this was a good oppurtunity to let David Mark and Dax find their bearings and warm up.  

The lift station had also renamed their Gotschna cable car:

King CharlesIII cable car.

It wasn't all good news, because later in the morning, coming off the top of the Gipfel  [the highest point in the Davos/Klosters lift system] Dax fell and banged into a hidden rock, bashing himself up and ripping the sleeve on his jacket.  

Nevertheless, after only  minute or two he was back on his skis and we contiunued to enjoy exceptional skiing while getting to see the vast potential the whole are has to offer.

The forecast was for lots of snow over night.  In fact dangerous amounts.  The Swiss avalanche service posting a red catergory 4 out of 5 for Klosters.

Dramatic difference in avalanche conditions in such a small area

Having skied many times in Klosters in simlar conditions I had built up a knowledge of where to ski safely in such conditions.  Therefore  we were able to ski deep untracked snow through the trees.  Yet after our first run of the day, Dax complained of a sore knee.  He decided to sit out our second run. When we met up he had concluded he should see if he could get some pain killers so that he could continue the next day.  A quick "google" suggested the hospital in Davos- so thats where he went.

It was later in the day we recieved a sledge hammer text from Dax saying he had his leg X-rayed and he had  split his knee cap!  Clearly his tumble of yesterday had been more serious. 

We were  incredulous - How could Dax have skied hard for a day and a half on a broken knee cap? We were very up-set for Dax because his ski trip was over. 

So on our third day we were inevitably reduced to three.  We headed over to the Cassana pass.  From here we put the skins on and climbed for about 20 minutes to the summit of the Gaudergrat.  In terms of a climb to ski ratio, its about as good as it gets, as the descent was both long and wonderful and through ever changing scenary.

A Sunday- High season and we had the place to ourselves.

We finished the day with the iconic Drostobel descent from the top of the Gotschnagrat cable car station.

The terrain,and snow conditions were extraordinary.  What's more it was a Sunday the run is close to the lift but  it was virtually  untracked.  

At the end of an outstanding day we had effectively only skied two runs. 

Ever keen to show-case as much of the area as possible, the next day we took the train through to Davos and then the bus to the Pischahorn ski area.  Our plan was to ski the descent known as the "Giraffe."[Don't know why its called this.]. Despite it being a mostly sunny day there was some thick cloud which glued itself to the ridge making it difficult to locate the entry point of the descent.  

finding our way through thick mist.

so here we go- hope its the right way!

But once we found it , then it was not long before we punched through the mist and enjoyed a memory- searing ski.

Atmospheric skiing of the summit of Hureli

Powder all the way to the bus stop.

Eventually all the way to the bus stop,  as if it had been planned all a long, the bus immediately  turned up to whisk us back to Davos, where we rode  the funicular to the top of the Weissflujoch before we  skied back to Klosters, once again via  the Drostbol descent which was even better than the previous day.

On our final day. The weather was completly  perfect.  It was cold and clear and the snow was dreamy.  We headed up the Madrisa lift system and started with a run down the back in light fluffy powder.  Our plan was to make the descent from the top  down the back into the village of St Antonien.  The glitch was that the  drag lift was closed- no one seemed to know why, but the people I quizzed suggested it was due to lack of skiers and the need to economise. Yet undaunted we skinned up to the top in about an hour and half.  It was worth it .  Over the years I have skied this route many times - but this time the  descent was exceptionel.

About to launch into the descent.

We skied down into the deserted sumer village - always on wonderful snow, followed by a section on a snow covered road , followed by more powdery meadows before arriving for a beer in the village centre cafe.  Mark summed up the descent by saying it was one of  the best runs he had ever done in his life. 
Further he said that if for some reason this was the last ski run he ever made  it would be as good any way to sign off as any- hopefully not - but some accolade!

Klosters village seen from the KingCharles III cable car.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Dire conditions finally turn good.


Secret powder stash.

Unless you have been living under a rock it is hard to imagine you hadn't heard that the conditions over the early part of the year had been apocalyptically bad.  But then it turned cold and snowed and everyone was once again happy.

With exquisite timing  Stephen and the Johns arrival was perfect.  A snowy day in a deserted  Courmayeur an even snowyer day in St Gervais

follwed by one in Combloux finished with blue skies at Les  Grands Montets re-kindled the belief that powder skiing was alive and well in the Haute Savoie

Combloux at its very best.

Aiguille du Chardonnet seen from Les Grands Montets.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

All the way from America

Mt Blanc seen from Les Grands Montets

I first met Scott about 12 years ago. He was on a secondment from the US to Europe. Over several autumn  weekends he would escape to the Alps and we would embark on a variety of adventures from long multipitch rock climbs, alpine climbing, to ski touring and off piste skiing. 

We became good friends and he promised he would return with his family.  True to his word he eventually  did. On 27th December last year accompanigned by his wife, Steph and their three children, Laney Jake and Ellie, they arrived in Chamonix, or more specifically Vallorcine...

Scott & Steph were keen to give their children an "immersive French experience" and not stay in a "run of the mill" bland hotel. So they opted to stay in the "Hotel du Buet" in Le Buet.  This was just as well because every other hotel in the Chamonix area was booked out.  

Before I continue it needs to be said that the Hotel du Buet is situated in a beautiful area and the staff are very friendly and welcoming, yet it would be fair to say it is a little eccentric. Or as the French might say: "un peu spécial".

This eccentricity provided the Todd's with many stories which they were able to regale with some amusement which are woven into this account.

Anyway, pretty much up until a week before the Todd family arrived the skiing conditions were looking good. Plenty of snow and it was cold. But then it rained and rained... and rained. All the lower resorts such as Megeve were stripped of their snow. Parts of Chamonix lost lots of snow too. It was far from ideal. I started to get rather worried.

People naturally hire Guides when the conditions are good. Yet often when the conditions are sub-optimal, this is when a Guide can truly make a difference because their  experience of local [or not so local] conditions can make or break someone's holiday - especially when they have travelled half way around the world to get here.

An example of this was that the conditions were so fickle that two resorts only a couple of kilometers apart had markedly different snow packs, despite both having simlar south facing aspects. Le Brevent had terrible snow and closed pistes. Meanwhile La Flegere had excellent snow and all the lifts were operating.

Aiguille Verte seen from La Flégère.

Of course with limited options for skiers searching good conditions  La Flégère was mobbed - so having anticipated this the Todd's arrived by train  from Le Buet, thus missing the fight to find a parking space. We had a very good day with beautiful weather and some memorable descents. Plus being accompanied by a "Mountain Professional" meant they could use the priority line, which evidently meant maximising the skiing.

I enjoyed listening to the first story of their first night in the hotel. Fundamentally this involved them not actually receiving any dinner despite waiting in the dining room most of the evening.

Next - A lot of pondering over the weather forecasts suggested that the Foehn wind would blow in Chamonix. This generaly means it will be significantly colder in Courmayeur -Italy.  

We left early in the Land Rover [American's love original Defenders!] and drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel. I was given the previous night's update :  This time they had been fed, but not allowed to order pre dinner drinks and not given what they ordered but something entirely different.

Arriving in Courmayeur there were no queues [Americans do Lines] Excellent pistes, real Cappuccinos  and a world-class lunch at La Chaumière was as good a way as any to experience your first ever skiing in Italy.

Courmayeur pistes.

Next day we were back in Chamonix to ski in its iconic resort: Les Grands Montets. We  awoke to fresh snow. Not much, but it was enough to make it all really silky. The sun even appeared which allowed for some good photographs. The previous evening's installment story did not involve the Todd family directly but a poor fellow guest who was told he was not allowed, to not like,what he ordered for dinner.

We were joined for lunch by  the  ski school's only  Cambridge graduate, musician, Investment banker and Chamonix Ski Instructor all rolled into one person - Andrea.  Ellie and Andrea peeled off and skied together in the afternoon.  The rest of us skied Les Grands Montets off-piste  although the visibility disappeared.

My Swiss ski-spy Alison, provided me with real time intelligence on the state of the Verbier skiing which was excellent.  Critically so deep is her knowledge she promised me that Verbier would be quiet on New Year's Eve...

I trundled over the Col de Montets to pick everyone up at their hotel at 8.15.  I was greeted by a very scary Father Christmas effigy slumped in a chair in the Lobby. He looked remarkably like Father Christmas [American Santa] might look if he had died. We were a little delayed leaving because the toilet door [American bathroom] mysteriously locked Laney inside and no one could find her. She was eventually freed by her mother, the hotelier and a long screw driver.

Despite this forty minutes later we parked the Defender in Le Chable and rode the bubbles up through Verbier and straight on to the skiing pistes. Alison was right it was quiet [well not mobbed like Chamonix]  We then headed up through the lift system to the top of Mt Fort- the highest point in the huge "4 Vallée" system. The view from the viewing platform did not disappoint.

View from Summit of Mt Fort towards Lac Dix.

looking towards the Matterhorn.

The first part of the descent was a bit sketchy because it was carved out of a series of icy steps, pretending to be a piste. Everyone dealt with it admirably especially Ellie who's previous days ski lesson with Andrea had proved transformative.

Tricky start to Mt Fort descent

The skiing all day was excellent although it did seem at times that it was like April.  I dropped the Todd's back at the hotel.  They had made the descision that they were not going to eat at the hotel that night but try elsewhere.

The next time I saw them it was a new year.  They had indeed ventured into Chamonix, but were somewhat dismayed to discover that every restaurent that was prepared to feed them [early New Years eve] seemingly only offered a traditional French NewYears Eve set menu.  So if Octopus, Fois- Gras, Oysters were not your children's favourite food you were a bit stuffed.

On our final day we returned to Les Grands Montets.  The weather was beautiful, but the snow was anything but.  It had melted the previous day and re frozen during the night.  The pistes were like boiler plates and the off-piste was like rough  icing sugar.  I decided we should relocate to Le Tour where we were rewarded with some really exceptional skiing which proved to be a good way to end a great five days  skiing .

Jake avalanche transceiver training.

Off Piste Les Grands Montets

Final descent of the day from Le Tour.

Fabulous turns .

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Mark the Mountain Guide


The original Mark the Mountain book was published in 2008. It sold over 20,000 copies in the UK, US and France. It was decided it needed a revamp – a new look.  

Yet, at the risk of stating the obvious, children's books are all about the illustrations. We set out to find the best. To that end we scoured the earth with no success which left us despondent.  

Time passed by, then, out of nowhere my friend Vin called me : "I have found you an illustrator: a children's book illustrator with an impeccable portfolio of books and awards." 

Vin continued triumphantly: "What's more is she only lives a mile from you!" 

"Oh," I said non-comitally.This is because  I am generally of the view that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. 

Yet seemingly there are exceptions:

Brooke and I met at the "Petit Social" cafe bar in Les Praz a couple of days later for what would be over time the first of many coffees. [It is 30 seconds from Brooke's house and 10 minutes from mine!] Originally from Canada, Brooke is an accomplished climber and skier who had been living in Chamonix for over 10 years.  She saw this project as the opportunity to illustrate a story about the mountains. We agreed a schedule and she started with some very simple character sketches:

Then some action sketches:

From there we discussed colours, I had always been captivated by the iconic Samivel paintings and as Brooke continued to work away it was good that she has given a nod to these wonderful illustrations.

One of Samivel's famous paintings

Furthermore, Brooke drew heavily from her own experiences: anyone who is familiar with the Chamonix landscape will be able to see the Argentiere glacier. 

Once Brooke had finished all the paintings, she set about designing the actual book which was then sent to the printers.

The next stage was to launch the book. My daughter Andrea  was able to connect with the world famous mountaineer Catherine Destiville. She publishes mountaineering books through Les Editions du Mont Blanc. In France, the book is published under the title Marc le Guide de Montagne, available here.

Les Editions du Mont Blanc are now responsible for the distribution throughout the French speaking world. It was not lost on us that having France's most famous climber driving the book forward would be positive.

We have been asked to do a book signing on afternoon of the 23rd December at the central book shop in St Gervais.

For the UK market we created our own dedicated publishing company – Mark the Mountain Guide Ltd .

We set up the primary form of sales via our own website – Order online and the books are shipped with postage included overnight throughout the UK. 

In summary, we are extremely satisfied with what we have created.  We hope it goes some way to drive home the key message that enjoying physical activity and exposing children to gradual risks improves their happiness and self-confidence.  Furthermore, the power of walking and climbing has the ability to connect us to the mountains.  This is a book for anyone who loves the mountains and the outdoors.

Sophie Marmot & Sophie real life version on the right.

Happy Christmas 2023