Sunday, February 19, 2017

Italian Snow

It continues to be the case that all the best skiing is in Italy. It was good to ski with Rachel who I have skied with since she was 16. She was here to catch up with her parents Reuben and Fiona. Rachel now has two daughters of her own. Her children are still too young to ski with me , but that will probably change in the next few years. We had a very good day in Courmayeur , followed by a exceptionally good day in La Thuile, followed by the final two days in Courmayeur. The combination of excellent off- piste skiing and very good lunches at the Chaumiere [which is the best restaurant on the slopes] is a great combination of skiing and eating which you don't get anywhere else.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Making something out of nothing :In search of the perfect snow

The first plan was a good one . It had been tried and tested a few times. It was called a "helicopter skiing safari." We would take off from Finhaut just over the Swiss boarder from Chamonix , fly to the Trient Plateau , ski down to Champex, pick up another flight and fly to [say] the Pigne d"Arolla , ski down into the village of Arolla and spend the night. The next day , after consulting the weather forecast and finding where the best snow was by talking to the helicopter base in Sion, we would fly to another peak and so on and so forth. A great formula, but, the issue was that there was no good snow. It had all been scoured away and making skiing on the glaciers untenable. With the group arriving the next day , the plan was unraveling. I needed another plan and I needed it quickly. I opened my contacts book and started phoning around the alps to see if anyone had any snow. I was lucky , I found snow and in addition managed to rent a dedicated helicopter for our group. Monday 30th January. 6.45am. We left Chamonix in two cars . Four hours later Peter David and I arrived in Piedmont at the village of Pietraporzio where we were greeted by Analdo the Mayor of the Village and the man who can arrange the helicopter permit. [Who was also to be our local guide.] Meanwhile the other cars occupants had not arrived. They had decided not to follow us but instead put blind faith in their cars GPS. The GPS had chosen the most direct route yet it had not figured out that this involved negotiating several alpine passes, the key pass being closed in the winter. They were eventually confronted by a barrier behind which there was a wall of snow. They were forced to backtrack to Turin. At mid day our helicopter turned up piloted by Roberto and landed in the car park at the back of the hotel.
Five minutes after take off we were standing on top of a mountain looking north at Monte Viso. [See September Blog.]
We then got some very good skiing from the top of the mountain , back through the trees all the way to the valley floor, over 1600 vertical meters.
Eventually after having had a rant at the GPS Peter, Robert and Ian arrived at the Hotel. I flew back to the hotel to collect them.
We all were reunited on the top of the mountain and could start skiing as one group. We were also joined by Chiara,a local Italian ski instructor, Analdo's sister who among her many assets spoke English .
We enjoyed several excellent descents before the helicopter took us back to the hotel , for a quite superb dinner and wine. Tuesday 31st January. The weather was indifferent which made the skiing difficult , but made flying a helicopter very difficult.
While the skiing was still better than anything you would ever find in a resort, the snow did get very heavy in the afternoon, so much so that I became concerned about the possibility of wet avalanches and so I decided we should fly back to the hotel. Wednesday 1st February. The conditions , nor the weather forecast justified retaining the helicopter. Instead we explored the ski resort of Argentera. Its potential is outstanding , with widely spaced larch trees and interesting terrain, given a fresh dump of snow then it would be one of the best off -piste ski stations I had ever seen. Thursday 2nd It was now raining. We packed up and drove north to La Thuile where it was at least trying to snow. I had managed to get us a booking at Maison de la Neige which is a very good hotel and restaurant that can only be accessed by ski. Thus you get all the benefits of a remote mountain hut experience without the rest of the hut experience. All was fine apart from the weather and the skiing conditions both which were utter Crap. We went to bed not expecting very much for the next day. Friday 3rd. Life is timing , skiing is timing , being in the right place at the right time because, contrary to the previous nights pessimism we awoke to 30 cm of cold light fluffy snow and soon after that blue skies.
We continued to ski fabulous un tracked snow all day. The beauty of La Thuile is that unlike so many famous off piste resorts you don't have to fight for the fresh snow.
There were some stunning steep pitches too:
We all finished the week on a high. Without a shadow of a doubt Friday 3rd February was the best day of the season , so far, it did require a lot of effort to find good skiing , yet it was worth it.