Saturday 28 January 2012

Les 3 Cols

The weather in Cham has been pretty unsettled for the last 10 days or so, but with one good day forecast before the clouds rolled back in, everyone was keen to get out. Will and I fancied a descent of the Y Couloir on the Aiguille d’Argentiere, and recruited Peter to come along with us. However, having got to the top of the Grand Montets we quickly realised that the SE facing Y couloir would have so much snow that it would take us days rather than hours to climb it. We considered dropping in from above after climbing the Milleu Glacier instead, but with the potential for massive avalanches we weren’t too keen on going in with no knowledge of conditions in the couloir.

Ever resourceful we thought that the SE Couloir of the Chardonnay might be good, but by the time we reached the Col below it at midday it was already too hot. Time for plan number 3, which was that we’d get over into the Le Tour basin and try and ski the Table Couloir on the Aiguille du Tour. As it turned out it was about 4pm by the time we got to the Table, and so we bailed on that too. All would have been lost but we then got 800 metres of fresh, fluffy powder all the way down to Le Tour. This coupled to the fact that we’d seen loads of amazing views and unintentionally ended up skiing one of the real classic tours of Chamonix (the 3 Cols tour), as well as having plenty of good banter, meant that although we didn’t ski anything “silly”, we had a great day. Here’s some shots – 

Skinning up to the Col du Chardonnet

And the Fenetre du Saleina

Will and Peter on the final Col

Will abbing down

Fresh tracks all the way to town

Will and Peter mid way down.

Will in an untracked gully. Who says Cham gets tracked out?

Will shredding

Will loves tree skiing so much that if there is one tree on a huge face, he'll find it.

Le Tour beckoning at the end of a long day.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Aiguille Pourrie SW Couloirs

With uber keen Vanoise skier Will Eaton over for a couple of days, the pressure is on to provide him with some good skiing. This morning we tried out the Grand Montets mid station and got some good snow but most of it was pretty cruddy and so we relocated to Brevent.

After doing the ENSA in such good nick yesterday we started with a lap of that and I had a really heavy fall on the way over to it, almost ending the day (and the season) before lunchtime! A quick inspection of my leg revealed no obvious damage, and the pain decreased gradually all day so no harm done but it was quite eye opening how quickly you go from minding your own business to nearly breaking your leg!

After skiing the ENSA and the crud below we headed up the Col Cornu chair and skied 2 fantastic lines off the Aiguille Pourrie, which is accessed by skinning up to the Col Cornu and then the short summit ridge. I'd never seen it getting skied before but the snow looked great and so it proved. The 2 lines we skied are below, and both were mainly 45 degrees ish, with 50 degree entrances - 

Our lines seen from the top of the Col Cornu chair, with numerous piste skiers in the foreground. "Here's what you could have won!"

As the afternoon progressed the views began to gradually reveal themselves, and by the time we got to the summit for the 2nd time the Valley was glowing orange and the clouds were swirling all around - perfect. The best part was that the powder was light, thigh deep and steep. Does life get any better? I'll let the pics speak for themselves.

Cornu chair from above

Will, with Brevent behind, getting ready to drop.

And again, this time with Cham calling below.

Into the second couloir with Will visible below on the "Demi lune".


Et encore.

Homeward bound with the Aiguilles appearing from out of the clouds.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Combe de la Gliere & ENSA Couloir

I've just got back from an amazing day at Brevent/Flegere, where we skied the Combe de la Gliere and then the ENSA Couloir. The skiing must have been so mind blowing that it cooked my brain as I've just managed to delete all the photos from the day - oops. 

The Gliere is accessed via a short skin from the top of the Col Cornu chairlift at Brevent, and brings you out onto the bottom of the Lachenal piste at Flegere. The skin up is pretty brief, and then the snow all the way down was perfect, 6 inch deep powder all the way back to the piste and all the other skiers. 

The ENSA meanwhile is accessed from the Brevent top bin and is known as an uber classic steep run. In reality only the top 50 metres is steep, but it deserves respect and would be tough in bad conditions. Lucky for us the whole couloir had a lovely firm base and 6 inches of light powder on top. :)

We then got a load of fresh tracks down the Brevent face, but unfortunately ended up with some horrific crust for the final few hundred metres. With a perfect short ski tour, tons of a powder and a classic steep line in the bag, it didn't really seem to matter though. 

One thing that was obvious today was the effect that the wind has had on the snow up high, and while SE aspects were incredible, but SW was generally terrible, so there is clearly plenty of good snow, but it just takes a bit of thought to find it. Good weather on the way for a couple of days, so I have a few ideas...

Monday 23 January 2012

Skiing the Lifts

With all this snow in Cham it would be rude not go out skiing everyday, so I've been all over the Valley in search of good snow. Saturday was Les Houches which was busy but with perfect snow everywhere. It was also the first time I've ever been somewhere with too much snow, a phenomenon I didn't believe was possible. It would actually have been fine had we found some steeper ground, but what we skied was so deep that we kept grinding to a halt!

The view from the front door on Saturday

Stuck! This is with skis on!

Hardcore skiers and rugged mountaineers require tough, lumberjack type food. Matt on the other hand eats "Tiddly Reindeers".

Sunday saw us at a a soggy Brevent-Flegere, and Monday we were at Grand Montets. It has basically been so warm that despite a vast amount of snow falling, most of it has already gone rotten. We had an attempt at skiing the Poubelles Couloir off the Bochard, but after a few nice turns it turned to terrible crust, and we decided to boot pack out rather than ski the fall-and-die section in such poor conditions. 

Tristan abbing into the Poubelles with a crowd watching.

Cloud inversion from Grand Montets

So there must be some good snow somewhere, the challenge is now to find it! Touring tomorrow...

Friday 20 January 2012

Even MORE snow!

Just as the good skiing was becoming slightly tougher to find, mother nature has come and dumped another shedload of snow onto Cham. Merci! Matt, Tristan, Peter and I had a day in Italy on Wednesday in the hunt for good snow but we couldn't find much, and things were beginning to look a bit "winter 2011", so with perfect timing the snow has returned!

Skiing the Helbronner on Wednesday

A huge amount has already fallen, and Matt, Tristan and I did a couple of laps off the Grand Montets Mid Station today in snow that varied from ankle deep right through to I-can-barely-move deep. The best part is that  another 40cm (ish) is coming overnight. 

The only downside is that, as with the last big snowfall, the snow is accompanied by extremely high winds at altitude, this time N - NW. The avalanche risk was recently upgraded to Level 4, and there will be plenty of slides unfortunately. That said, if you play it safe, sticking to relatively safer aspects and altitudes, trees and other friendly types of terrain, then you're in for an awesome weekend. 

For what we are about to receive....

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Genepi N Couloir

It’s been another busy few days here in Cham, with no sign of any more snow, but plenty of sun to enjoy the vast amounts of the white stuff that we already have.

After a run down the Pas de Chevre from the top of Grand Montets last week, I spent the weekend with my sister who was out visiting, and we took in a stunning day up at Le Tour with “Granny” Abs and “Youth” Pete, a good walk up below the Argentiere Glacier, and some hardcore tourism. Very civilised.

 Me on the Pas de Chevre. Photo Jack Geldard.

Ginger Ben shredding the Pas de Chevre while Jack takes the photo.

Jen Boscoe at Le Tour

I was really enjoying doing the tourist thing, but with Jen gone I couldn’t avoid getting my skins on any longer, and so headed up with Matt, Tristan and Peter to do the N Couloir of the Genepi (2884m), above Champex in Switzerland. A bit of a late start (some things never change) meant that we weren’t skinning until 10.30, but with a track in we made good time through the initial forests, and were soon shooting up the steep approach gully into the stunning cirque below the peak. As ever when out with 3 oil rig workers, the conversation was both high brow and clean, and focused mainly on politics, literature and occasionally what the role of women is/should be, so the climb passed fairly painlessly.

Having seen the Couloir from below, and the many similar looking ones surrounding it, we all agreed that the next time we came up we’d be bringing a tent and staying for a few days of steep skiing. However, with only 3 hours of daylight left we stopped planning future trips, and got stuck into the final boot pack up the N couloir. Some nice Swiss people had been up there recently and put in a track, so it only took around 40 minutes from taking skis off to getting to the top. As ever in the Alps, the views were incredible, the silhouetted Aiguille du Chardonnay probably being the highlight.

Tristan checking out the view.

Matt arriving at the top of the bootpack.

Me just about to drop into the Couloir. Loving it. 

As if the views weren’t enough, the ski down was just perfect. The Couloir itself was firm, grippy snow, ideal for steep skiing, and though it is sustained at 40 – 45 degrees we were able to ski it pretty fast and get some good turns in. From the bottom of the Couloir it took us about 40 minutes to ski down through the terrain we’d climbed earlier in the day, most of which was soft and great fun to ski. Even the forest at the bottom was pretty straightforward and we were back at the car 6.5 hours after setting off, which felt pretty good for 1600 metres of height gain and loss.

Tristan in the Couloir.

Me further down and still loving it. The descent goes down the obvious bowl behind me and then drifts right through the trees to join the main road between Champex and Martigny.

It’s getting to the stage where it would be nice to see some fresh snow, but days like today just go to prove that there is no shortage of good skiing just yet. 

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Bel Oiseau ENE Couloir

Psyched for a day of touring, Jack and I skied the Bel Oiseau (2628m) today, a stunning peak next to the Emosson Dam. The skin up is pretty long (we skied from the small town of Finhaut, making it about 1300 metres of ascent), but takes you through some really nice forest and then into the big bowl of Plan des Marais, and then finally onto the north ridge of the peak. You don’t actually top out, although the high point we skied from is actually higher than the official summit. Go figure.

In the baking sun the skin was pretty sweaty, but we took it really slowly, and had plenty of breaks and chatting, so it all felt pretty stress free. By the time we finally took skis off for the final summit ridge, all of the Frenchies were long gone having skied up and down very quickly on their superlight skis, and we had the summit to ourselves. It’s quite a summit too, with perfect views across the Mont Blanc Massif, the Rhone Valley, and even out to the Bernese Oberland.

Jack on the final summit ridge

Summit Views

As I asserted yesterday, I thought that south facing slopes would be best, but as we were skinning up the NE facing bowl we couldn’t help noticing how good the snow was, and how poor it was on other aspects. Some guys we’d seen skiing down told us that the classic line from the top, the NE Couloir, had a massive cornice at the top, so we’d decided to avoid that and just ski the ascent route. However, just before reaching the summit, we walked straight past the ENE Couloir, and couldn’t help noticing that it looked incredible, so that was decision made. The entry is pretty steep, and the line gets 4.3, 43 degrees, 300m, but it is mainly pretty steady and the snow was superb powder, albeit with a bit of crust for the first 50 metres or so.

Looking up at the ENE Couloir (Green, only the exit visible) and the NE Couloir (Red).

ENE Couloir from the drop in.

From the bottom of the Couloir it was perfect powder virtually all the way back to car, save for a short bit of crud in the forest above La Lechere, so we were both grinning from ear to ear all the way down after having spent all of last winter skiing sugar!

Me in the couloir

Skiing. Fun.

Perfect views, epic powder & a nice little peak - this really is as good as touring gets, and with the sun hardly touching the NE facing slopes that we skied, and them being surprisingly unaffected by the wind, it’s going to be amazing up there for a  few days yet. Enjoy.

 Sunset views across the Rhone Valley

Monday 9 January 2012

Aiguilles Rouges Recce

 There’s only so much easily accessible powder the soul can take, so Tristan and I decided on a tour in the Aiguille Rouges today, mainly to check out conditions and also hoping for good snow. We started up the Col Crochues, and were hoping to do a variation on the classic Crochues- Berard traverse, but the snow was pretty deep and trail breaking would have been tough, so we wimped out and followed another team up the normal route to avoid any unnecessary hard work! The Crochues-Berard is a great tour though, usually providing good snow and always providing amazing views, minimal effort and a pub at the end.

We were pretty shocked at conditions, and it is clear that whilst a lot of snow has fallen, the wind has been howling, and most snow above 2500m ish was very crusty and icy, with only south facing stuff being any good. We found minimal good skiing but what the bits we did find were sheltered and/or south facing. The wind has now stopped, and temperatures are on the rise so things are all about to change again but if I was a betting man I’d say that the best snow tomorrow will be south facing and between 1500 and 2500 metres. Natural shelters such as trees and narrow gullies should also provide good skiing, but anything up high and exposed to the wind of the past few days will probably be pretty tough going.

Off on a mission tomorrow to the Emosson Dam area, so hopefully that will be a good shout, but you just never know. Report to follow tomorrow!

This blog does what is says on the tin. Geddit?

View from the Col Berard

You've got to love skiing

View from the apres ski

Sunday 8 January 2012

Montets, Megeve & Mid Stations

6 days into my winter season and I've still not had my skins on my skis as I've had epic powder every day straight off the lifts. Friday saw Matt, Tom Grant and I skiing off the Grand Montets mid station and it was unbelievable - deep, untracked powder all day. I'd never skied from the mid station much, but I was blown away by the quality of the terrain and the snow. The best part is that I live just down the road from Grand Montets so we could ski home.

Saturday was Megeve, and place famous for it's tree skiing, and I can see why. Easily accesible, and with almost no-one skiing it, we enjoyed ANOTHER day of perfect skiing with absolutely no uphill required. We stayed mainly on the St. Gervais side and had a great day. I will definitely be back when there is a high avalanche risk but plenty of snow, as there was on Saturday.

Today (Sunday) we did a quick lap off the Grand Montets mid station, but the snow as not quite as good as Friday, so we tried the Plan de L'Aiguille (Aiguille du Midi mid station) and that was surprisingly average, so we ended up at Brevent. I'd never skied any of the couloirs from the Brevent mid station, but they looked so good from the lift that we dropped in, and found some incredible powder in the trees, and in the couloirs themselves. We then had a run down  the Bellin Couloir from the top of Brevent, and finished off with another mid station run. It's unusual for the snow quality on Brevent (south facing) to be better than the resorts on the north side of the Valley, but the snow was simply perfect all the way, the Bellin in particular being spectacular. It's steep (40 degrees) but the snow was so forgiving that you can ski it really fast and without any stress.

We reckon we skied 5000 vertical metres today, and virtually all of that was in tight trees or couloirs, so we're off ski touring tomorrow for a rest day...

Matt in his element

"Cautious" Tom Grant

Another hard day in Cham

Homeward bound

Free caps at Megeve!


Tristan, Matt, Tom Moores and Emma at Megeve

Me in the Bellin

Big ski days require big calories