Monday, February 28, 2022

Show casing some of the best off piste skiing in the area.

 Dax, David and Mark flew in to Geneva from Denver Colrado to ski with me for six days.  It was my job to "show case" the best the Mont Blanc range had to offer. Yet up until their arrival the conditions had been decidely mediocre  and I was beginning to feel the pressure of having to deliver.  Yet just in time it snowed, not as much as the forecast suggested,  but enough to make sure that everything was intially shut due to the avalanche risk.

world class skiing from summit of Mt Joly.

So we started  at St Gervais.  The weather cleared and the snow was near as good as it gets.  During the day the top lift on Mont Joly opened and we got some exceptional skiing down the front face towards Megeve.

On our second day we went to Combloux and where Dax provided us with a Buster Keaton momment by firstly falling off the Poma lift  at the top. As he was getting to his feet the Poma behind him hit him on the head leaving P for Poma embossed on his forehead. It could have been a holiday ending experience but  after downing several Ibuprofen Dax was up and fighting.  We climbed the Petit Croisse Baulet and enjoyed wonderful views across to Mt Blanc.

Mt Blanc looking splendid from the summit of Petit Croisse Baulet 

We then hit untracked deep snow all the way down to Le Plan.  From here we rode the lift and skied the trees on the Geittaz side.  The snow was so good that I got  too excited and followed the endless powder run too far down and slightly too far to the left.  Fortunately the boys did'nt mind too much.  Having skins helped us get back on track quickly and we skied back through some gorgeous terrain, although at one stage I was concerned we might miss the last lift back into the Combloux lift system!

On our third day we headed through the Mt Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur.  The first thing that struck me was how few people there were.  It was weirdly quiet.  Also there was markedly less fresh snow than on the French side.  The lack of people did mean there wasn't much a queue for the top cable cars.  Infact we were the only people for the last cable car.

Youla cable car

It took a bit of effort to get into position , side stepping some rock and mud but once we reached the col the descent of the bowl below was some of the very best skiing I have ever enjoyed in Courmayeur.

Dax negotiating the non-snow bit .  The top lift is in the background. 

The traverse to the col 

The bowls before the Youla Couloirs

It was then along to the La Chaumiere restaurent for an excellent late lunch. 

Chaumiere restaurent.

For our fourth day the team actually got to ski in the Chamonix Valley.  We headed up to the Argentiere glacier via the Col des Rachasses.  It had snowed 10 cm  overnight with no wind.  The skiing would have been perfect except that the cloud had socked in and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face.  Skiing the glacier was not an option in these conditions and so we reluctantly turned around and skied down the Comb des Rachasses.  This was hardly a sob story because we had knee deep untracked light fluffy snow and the rock wall on our righthand side gave us enough perspective and therefore visibility to enjoy it all.  We conveniently arrived at the Chalet Logan for an excellent late lunch.

On our fifth  day we skied the Vallée Blanche.  I had made reservations on the 9.00hrs Aiguille du Midi cable car.  We arrived to find the area in front of the station swarming with waiting skiers.  The lift was shut due to strong winds.  After a few minutes they announced the cable car would be closed for the day.  The wind was blowing 110 kph at the summit.  We needed a plan B.  My plan B was to drive through the Mt Blanc tunnel and enter the Vallee Blanche fron the Sky-Way lift.  We arrived to find a nominal queue, we were whisked up to the top where we even had time for a compulsory cappocunio before sauntering out and onto the glacier. No stress and totally civilised. 

It was quite windy to start with , but within about 200meters we were out of the wind and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Geant Ice Fall


We skied down to the cable cars below  Montenvers train and walked up the ever increasing steps( global warming) to the bubble before taking the train back to Chamonix. We of course had to go and collect my car , but the boys made the most of it by staying and  eating dinner in Courmayeur.

The long climb from the glacier to the cable car.

On our final day together we headed back to Grands Monterts to do what we had failed to do two days beforehand, namely ski down the glacier Rognans to the Argentiere glacier.  this time we had blue skies and the boys were not disappointed by the views.

Argentiere glacier with Mt Dolent in the far background


Friday, February 11, 2022

Not Perfect , but not bad.

The Applestrudelhorn.

 For the people who primarily come skiing to slide from morning coffee to lunch to Apés ski and then slide back to their hotel and nothing more, then the weather and conditions have been perfect.  Cold and crisp with the temperature never getting above zero [which means the pistes never really  become icy. ] All this along with blue skies for weeks on end has meant lots of contented holiday makers.  

For the people who take their skiing seriously, where the quality of the snow is more important than the colour of the sky , then it has altogether been more challanging.  Over the last two weeks I have travelled far and wide in search of the best conditions.  I even went to Zermatt for the day leaving Chamonix before dawn and returning by moon light

When I was not guiding I was treated to a ski lesson from Andrea my daughter who is a member of the Chamonix ski school.  Say what you like about nepotism but  I would highly recommend her to transform and take your skiing to another level.

I had three very entertaining days with a family who travelled all the way from New York to ski with me. Ayal Kayan his wife Riva and his five grown up  children came to sample the best Chamonix had to offer.  We had a day skiing off piste at Le Tour, Then the "must day" of the Vallee Blanche, which was fantastic.

Dent du Géant

Geant Ice Fall

 It was made even  more interesting when I missed the key exit to the Montenvers cable car [2 years absence and further retreat in the glacier is my excuse], leaving us comitted to skiing all the way to Chamonix.  This proved to be a great mistake because, not only did we get to enjoy a drink at the buvette Mottes , but also allowed us to ski all the way to Chamonix [ the track was in great condition] and everyone got the full and rare oppurtunity to ski all the way to the bar.  On our final day we skied off-piste at Les Grande Montets, which because it had remained cold the snow was good.

Next my good friend Charles Sherwood turned up for what we think is close to our 30th anniversary of contioniuoisly climbing and skiing together .  We started with a day skiing off-piste at Combloux.  The snow wasn't for the faint hearted.  Otherwise known as challenging. Others might just call it crap.

Yet a change of venue and the next day was magnificent.  We went ski touring above Les Contamines  and did the tour of Lac de Girotte which provided good skiing.

Mt Blanc

Looking towards Lac de Roseland
Perfect ski touring scene

We found some good turns
On our final day we headed into the Aiguille Rouge and were lucky enough to have jaw dropping conditions in which to climb upto the Breche Berard where we enjoyed wonderful skiing the entire distance of the Berard vallee .

Chaines des Fiz
Charles on the final bit upto the Breche Berard.

Climbing upto Breche Berard

And then the ski down the valley
The Berard Vallee
Next I had the pleasure of Freddie and Katie Pack, who were delightful company and will go home with a good story to tell, which is only semi ski related. The brief they gave me was that they were keen to get back into ski touring after a bit of a hiatus [ can't think what that might be due to ]   
I suggested we head off and climb the Petit Croisse Baulet high above Sallanches. 
Mt Blanc from the summit of Petit Croisse Baulet
We duly did this, but the weather was threatening to turn and the light was getting flat so instead of continuing on and upto the Grande Croisse Baulet we elected to privlege the skiing and descended down to Giettaz on immaculate snow. After which this gave way to some grass skiing before once again picking up some further good snow once we hit the shade.
We arrived in the tiny resort of Le Plan . We duly took the chair to the top of the resort, where I suggetsed we try one of the world class tree descents Giettaz has to offer.  Well the terrain is always incredible, but on this day the snow didn't quite match [ It was still better than anything in the MT Blanc massif at the time]. Nevertheless the physicality of the descent resulted in Freddie's brand new I phone being ejected out of his pocket without his knowledge.   When we eventaully stopped to gather our breath, the phone was sickening not where it was supposed to be.  That was because it was in the middle of a forest all on its own.
So what to do?  Katie went on the "Find My" App which established that the phone was some where in the forest.  This wonderhul technology is all well and good, but without skins to climb back up the hill , then nothing is going to be found.  Fortunately we all had skins and we were able to follow our tracks back up hill, eventually Freddie got a ping on his I watch which said his phone was in a 25 meter radius.  He was then able to get his phone to ring.  We heard it somewhere above us, but it was still frustratingly invisible.
Then we saw a faint black in the snow and there it was.

Almost found

On Monday 7th it snowed.  So much so the lifts were slow to open because of the high avalanche risk.  I was joined by Tom Roscoe and his snow board.  We started the day with a very good cappuccino outside Les Grand Montets while we waited for news.  No news was forthcoming and so we relocated to Le Tour, where we had some fantastic skiing [ Well I did ] Tom seemingly had a good time on his board too!
The Aiguille Verte seen from Le Tour.