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.