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.