Friday, 31 January 2014

ENSA Couloir

After nearly a week off my skis (I've been over at ISPO Munich so check out all the latest kit reviews here), I finally got out today for a quick hit with Tom Moores. Time was tight due to various work constraints so we knew we'd have to get our fix of adventure in a couple of hours return trip. The ENSA Couloir at the top of Brevent has seen a lot of action recently and I had a sneaky feeling that although there would be no powder left, it could still give us a decent run. 

The entrance requires an abseil right now and someone has handily installed an anchor that you ski right up to, so you don't have to traverse across the Couloir to use the normal anchor. There is a fixed rope in place that you could just about hand over hand down in order to avoid abseiling, but it is absolutely wrecked and it would take a braver man than me to trust it. The spot you put skis on is actually about 40m down the abseil but with 30m ropes we abseiled and then down-climbed the final 10m easily enough.

Tom pulling the ropes.

Looking into the Couloir from where you put skis on. 

Once we started skiing, life was very good. Perfect chalky snow, albeit a bit bumpy, led us onto the front face of Brevent and some "amusing" combat skiing. The final track out is actually OK and not nearly as rocky as I feared.

Amazing views from the Couloir.

Mooresy loving it.

Further loving it.

Snow on the way tomorrow so it's all about the change again. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

VB, Plan de L'Aiguille, GM and Les Houches

All in one day! Busy times in the Valley today but with this being the first day of good weather for a while and the first day I was free to ski for nearly a week, I had to make the most of it.

First up was a trip up the Midi to do a lap on the classic Vallee Blanche. As ever the views were incredible and we got some amazing powder followed by some superb, steep chalk underneath the Requin Hut so an excellent morning by any measure.

Next up was a lap down the Plan de L'Aiguille which was fun but not classic powder. At the top it's basically dust on crust but still rippable and it makes for good sport. The stuff lower down was pretty similar and not nearly as bad as I expected, plus I only took my skis off for about 10 metres, so pretty good all round. It's not really worthwhile right now but if we get some fresh snow it will be amazing.

The lower section of the Plan de L'Aiguille.

By now it was still only lunchtime so I headed to Grands Montets and did a really fun lap off the top bin with some friends up there. As if that wasn't enough, I ended the day with an hour of ripping the Les Houches pistes just to finish the legs off. 

Boom! More snow on the way tomorrow and Friday....

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The beginning of winter....?

We haven't really had a winter yet but it snowed Monday/Tuesday and there is more forecast to come so we could be in for a bit of fresh stuff. Temperatures are forecast to stay higher than the seasonal average but anything other than baking sun would be good right now and it looks like we're finally in for something approaching winter weather.

The avalanche risk remains high and many N facing slopes are going to be no-go areas for the rest of winter. That hasn't stopped people skiing some of them but it says a lot when many of the best known slopes in Cham, such as the Para face (under the Midi N face) remain untouched by ski or board this season. Patience and reasoning aren't 2 qualities you often see in this Valley but everyone is pretty intimidated right now and rightly so.

Despite the risk in many areas, there is good, safe lift served skiing to be found elsewhere in the Valley so I've been out enjoying it.

While I've been out I've got really into these. They're a healthy option for a snack and taste better than the unhealthy option! You've got to love the name "Chamball" too. Check them out at

Eeny, meeny, miney...

Mo. It is a powder day after all. 

Enjoying some low angled freshies at the Grand Montets.

And again. Thanks Tom Moores for the pictures.

And one more time. Photo Peter Riley.

Peter dwarfed by it all.

Matt getting a bit of it for himself.

It looks like we've had our good weather for this week and now things look unstable and unpredictable. That isn't necessarily a bad thing as changeable and weird weather gave us the snowiest winter for half a century last year! I'll be updating on here as things evolve so stay tuned.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Drought! Time to do something productive...

Well, after 2 epic winters it looks like we are on for a lean one. It hasn't snowed for a couple of weeks now and the temperatures are sky high. As if that wasn't enough, there's no sign of it getting much colder and the predicted snowfall is pretty minimal. The high glacier routes are skiable and it is possible to find good skiing but the endless powder days of 2012 and 2013 seem a long time ago.

Dave Searle summed it up eloquently on his blog, found here.

Despite this I've had some good days out and found some decent chalky snow up at Grand Montets the other day. Right now I'm mid way through the superb AIARE Level 1 course and I'm starting Level 2 on Friday and quite glad that I'm not missing any epic powder days! It's been great to get some formal avalanche education and things are pretty dodgy off piste right now so we should be in for some interesting snowpack analysis. Matt and I discussed ruefully today how stupid it is that it took the death of 2 friends last year to make us sign up for a course, but sometimes you just need a boot up the backside and I got one last winter. Through various training, reading books, studying snow and talking to experts (and of course, skiing through the Chamonix hills for 6 years) I feel I have a reasonable grasp of practical avalanche awareness but you can't beat proper training. We're only a couple of days in but I'd already recommend the course so get on it!

Zoning in on a "victim" (a transceiver in a rucksack) at  the Plan de L'Aiguille. 
Photo Jack Geldard.

Testing the snowpack near Brevent.

Matt LOVING it!

There's some snow due to arrive starting tomorrow but things look pretty unpredictable right now. If there is any good skiing to be had, I'll be trying my very best to find it so stay tuned.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Courmayeur Powder

Well, I finally got my first big powder day yesterday :) 

Courmayeur under fresh snow. Is there anything finer in life?

Phil toking a big doobie on the lift.

First run off the Youla. I was amazed they got it open given the avalanche risk but it had been heavily blasted and people were skiing all over the place up there. We stuck to the safe lines though and had some amazing skiing.

A nice feeling after a lean winter so far.

Heading out from the top of the Arp.

Yet more powder!

Unfortunately the weather is once again very mild here and there are reports that most areas are either wind affected and/or have high avalanche danger. It sounds like all hell has been breaking loose over in Switzerland, with yet another fatal avalanche yesterday. Overall things are pretty sketchy across the Alps so while there is good skiing to be had, you need to exercise extreme caution right now. 

It seems that Italy has had the best of the snow but with the winds swirling around as they have been the best stuff may be pretty dangerous right now. I would say that if you're looking for good snow then tree skiing in Italy is the best bet right now, but there are still slides going off in the trees so stay alert. 

Overall, it's scary times right now so enjoy the mellow stuff and save the bigger, steeper lines for when the snowpack has solidified a bit.

This photo has been doing the rounds on Facebook today. If this doesn't make you think twice about where you ski, nothing will. Stay safe out there.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Kit for sale

We keep getting promised snow here in Cham but it still hasn't quite arrived. We keep getting the odd dusting, and it snowed for a couple of hours yesterday, but we're still waiting for that first big January powder day. According to the forecast Sunday could be the day so here's hoping. 

 In the meantime I had an afternoon up at les Houches yesterday and it was pretty good, but still with thin coverage in many areas. The Vallee Blanche is said to be good now too, but there will be some big creavsses near the bottom so watch out.

While we're waiting for the snow, I've got some kit for sale so get in touch if you're interested in any of the following. My email is and it's collection only I'm afraid but I can put things aside for anyone coming out later in the season.

K2 Sidestash 181cm. Unmounted, never used, straight out of the packaging. 400 Euros (600 in Snell!!!).

Volkl Mantra, 2012 model, 177cm, plus a set of Black Diamond Glidelite Mohair STS Skins pre-cut to the ski. 1 season of use, in good condition. 250 Euros.

Dynafit Titan ski boots. Size 28.5, sole length 322mm, plus a pair of Palau "soft" liners with 2 months use. 3 seasons use but still plenty of life in them. 50 Euros.