Thursday 28 November 2013

Combe a Marion, Col des Aravis

Having sampled the skiing in the Aravis a few days back, it seemed rude not to go back for another look. This time we headed up to the Col des Aravis for a trip up the Combe a Marion - a spectacular north facing bowl which leads to a hidden gully and col.

All Photos Gary Tulloch

Me at the start of the skin. 

As anticipated, it was pretty chilly heading up to the Col, but the wind wasn't nearly as strong as a few days ago so the skin up was a bit more enjoyable. Some of the skinning is pretty awkward as you can't really avoid going up a narrow gully, but the scenery is amazing so it's tough not to enjoy the ascent. 

The upper bowl - big country.

Earning the turns.

As you get higher and higher, the atmosphere keeps on improving until you eventually emerge at the Col which separates the Combe a Marion and the Combe de la Blonniere. We passed a very pleasant half hour soaking up the sun at the Col and then strapped the skis on and headed back into the shade for the descent. 

A terrible lunch spot.

The ski down was great fun and took in some excellent powder, the odd bit of crust and the occasional rock where the snow cover was a bit thin. Despite the rocks, the ski was excellent overall and well worth the effort of the skin. 

Me near the start of the skiing.

Seeking out the good stuff. 

Seeking, and finding.

There's a couple of really good topos here so get on it before the weather closes in again!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Pointe de Merdassier NW Face

It hasn't snowed for a few days now but temperatures have been really low so Tristan, Jack and I figured that we could still find some good snow. The direction of the recent winds seems to have resulted in the Aravis getting plenty of snow so we went to check out the Pointe de Merdassier, high above La Clusaz.


The Merdassier is the highest peak, on the left. The NW Face comes straight down the shaded bowl in the middle of the photo, in between the 2 obvious rock bands. 

The skin up the peak was nice but freezing cold, and when we reached the final summit ridge and started booting, things got even colder and windier. Randomly but very happily for us, there was no wind at all on the summit so we had an excellent lunch spot, spoiled only by me dropping the cup from my flask, which disappeared never to be seen again.

Jack and me on the summit.


Athlete food - a pork pie.

Stunning views across to Mont Blanc from the summit.

From the summit we did a short traverse into the NW face and then dropped in.

Jack traversing to the face.


A clear win for me in the effort:reward ratio stakes! Time to enjoy the big skis after the effort of pushing them up 900m.

The snow at the top of the face was pretty thin and involved some fairly amusing grass skiing...

After that the snow was quite crusty but got better and better until we reached the lower half, which was just perfect powder through the trees. 

Looking back up at Jack and Tristan on their way down the upper section.


Tristan in the first section of the good stuff. 

I'm still traumatised by the disappointment of the incident I'm about to describe but here goes...Having finally reached the perfect powder I hit a rock on my first turn, my ski came off as I face-planted, and then the ski picked up some speed on some firmer snow and shot off down the hill. Struggling to hold back the tears of disappointment, I skied down on one ski and the snow was so good that it was still fun even with half kit. The ski had lodged itself in a tree a few hundred metres down and seems to have suffered no damage. This is the 3rd time I've had this happen to someone in my group (although it was the first time I've been the "victim") and I think I'll just have to accept that it's bad luck. I'm not into skis leashes, and I don't want to lock my skis onto my feet, but if anyone has an idea to improve the performance of ski brakes, let me know!

Anyway, a superb day despite this incident, and a highly recommended early season tour. Best of all, we scoped out LOADS of good stuff in the Aravis and even took a bit of a detour on the way home in order to scout something out...Standby!

Tuesday 19 November 2013


With winter on its way I'm delighted to say that this season I'll be supported by Black Crows skis, Scarpa footwear and Plum bindings. This is an amazing opportunity for me and I just can't wait for the white stuff to arrive in LARGE quantities. 

A massive thank you to the 3 companies - bring on winter!

Dreaming of winter! Photo Carol Boscoe.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Verbier and Tete de Veret

After a wet day on Friday, the weather was forecast to be clear both days of the weekend and just about everyone in Cham was plotting and scheming to come up with a good plan. Everyone I know agreed that Verbier was the best idea for Saturday and I couldn't think of a better plan, so we headed over there for the second Saturday in a row. Coverage has improved a lot in the intervening week and there were a lot more lifts open so an excellent day was had. 

There are plenty of rocks poking through so going into the powder felt slightly like walking on eggshells at times, and you couldn't really let rip for fear of hitting an unseen rock, but there was some amazing snow and plenty of good terrain available. We started off with a razz around the Lac des Vaux, then a couple of runs down to Tortin, a lap down the Funispace and finally a big, beautiful couloir below the Funispace which took us all the way to Verbier. It wasn't the biggest ski day ever but it's more than enough for this time of year - everyone was buggered by the end! 

The new Crows about to fly.

Matt deep in it on the final run of the day.

Today (Sunday) a big group of us headed back to the Les Carroz/Flaine area for a half day tour. We skinned up to the top of the Grand Vans chairlift, then along the ridge to the Tete de Veret for a look at its NE couloir. It turned out that the entrance was a bit steeper than we'd expected, but it was fine once you dropped in - a pleasant case of a mountain's bark being worse than its bite. The couloir and the bowl below it were great - fun terrain and some decent snow in places.

The team heading up.

Looking back up at the NE couloir - I didn't take any pictures on the way down as I was busy enjoying myself.

From where the picture above was taken, we stuck the skis back on and were soon back at the top of the Grand Vans ready for the ski to the car. The snow from here was even better and we got plenty of powder and also a bit of bushwhacking, which is all part of the fun. 

Matt and Sharon about to start the skin back up to the Grand Vans.

Ready for the final ski to the car.

Pointe Percee

Me, Sophie and Sharon loving the powder.

It looks as if Monday is going to be the final day of decent weather and then it is snow, snow, snow. No complaints from me.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Les Carroz & Flaine

The snow line is gradually creeping downwards in the Alps and each spell of bad weather seems to be that bit colder and more wintery. After a bit of a false start to the touring season last week I was keen to try again this week after some more snow over the weekend. 

Although there had been some new snow, it had also been accompanied by some incredibly high wind at altitude, and skinning up Le Tour on Monday was fun but the skiing was frankly terrible. I was sure there was better stuff out there though, so Sharon and I headed up to Les Carroz yesterday (Wednesday) in search of fun.

We parked up at the foot of the Telesiege du Lac and then skinned up the 500 vertical metres to Les Grands Vans, surrounded by some incredible views with the sun poking through the clouds. After plenty of time looking at the view and drinking from a flask, we turned round and skied down roughly following the piste and also seeking out the odd tree section. Although the snow cover was thin, most of what we skied was nice, light powder so there were big smiles all round. 

Lac de Vernant, with Pointe Percee behind.

Me near the top of the Grands Vans.

Me with the map, working out what the other peaks are.

Sunset skiing - bliss.

Today I teamed up with Matt, Jack and Tristan and we went up to Flaine in search of more of the same. However, the weather forecasters got things pretty drastically wrong and we spent an hour skinning uphill towards the top of the Aup de Veran cable car in thick mist, before deciding that a coffee was in order. Annoyingly, the snow we skied down was good, and the stuff higher up was really nice, fluffy snow, so we would have had a really good tour if there been any visibility. 

It's forecast to snow to 600m tomorrow, but after their efforts today I'm not sure I believe what the weather men say! If it does arrive it could make for a great weekend so hopefully they're right this time.

Saturday 9 November 2013


Rumours were spreading that Verbier was going to open this weekend, although I was dubious that there would be enough snow. Luckily, I was completely wrong!

SUCH a good feeling after a long summer.

The views were beautiful whenever the weather cleared.

Quite a clear snow line above Verbier!

Back to rain tomorrow, but there's a good base forming at mid altitudes and once the high winds stop, things will be looking really good between 2000 and 3000 metres. As it is, the best skiing is probably 2200m to 2800m, which leaves plenty to go at over the coming weeks. As ever in November, the weather is pretty unpredictable but resorts are gradually opening up (although nearly all are weekends only for the next few weeks) and there is the odd good day coming up so get out and make the most of it.

Friday 8 November 2013

Grand St Bernard

Matt, Gary and I headed up the Grand St Bernard pass today, in order to check out how conditions are looking to see how much of a snowpack there is right now. We were pretty confident that there wouldn't be much good skiing to be had but figured that a day out was better than no day out. 

As it turned out, we were pretty spot on and the skiing was pretty dire but it was fun all the same just to be out in the hills, especially seeing as the weather has now closed in and is forecast to stay gloomy over the weekend. 

Snow down to 900m on Sunday apparently so stay tuned...

Gary considering part-exing his Audi RS4 beast for an electric Renault. 
Just as an aside, Matt was heartbroken that the Agip garage in Martigny was being refurbished as he couldn't buy one their excellent chocolate muffins, but finding this at the alternative garage provided some consolation.

Me out-clowning Matt - no mean feat. Photo Gary Tulloch.

2 mountain athletes at the end of the day.

Thursday 7 November 2013


I've just got back from the first day of the season of lift served skiing and it's not even the second week of November! Happy days.

I needed to get some photos today for various articles I'm writing, but somewhat inevitably the day descended into loads of skiing and not much photography! Unfortunately nothing was open in the Cervinia part of the mountain but there was enough open above Zermatt to keep us more than entertained. This can obviously be accessed from Zermatt but it's much easier to come in via the Cervinia lift system. 

There was a bit of good, chalky off piste but most of the day was spent getting the ski legs back in and flying around the blue runs.

I will DEFINITELY get the photos for the articles tomorrow....

Friday 1 November 2013

Cunningham Couloir

All week it's looked as if today (Friday) was going to be a washout, but the weatherman suddenly got optimistic and predicted a half decent day. Tom and I had initially thought about doing Fil a Plomb, but with the winds due to increase and some cloud expected in the afternoon we decided to save it for a better day and headed up the Midi with no fixed objective. 

The day got off to a great start as we stood back and watched the race for the abseil anchors from the Midi bridge. Word has got out that the routes accessed via the bridge abseil, on the Midi NW face, are in good nick and they've been getting hammered recently. Tom and I were in no rush and so watched the chaos and once it had subsided, debated what to go for. 

Jon Bracey abbing off the bridge, headed for some hard climbing.

We thought about heading for the Tacul Triangle but didn't fancy the walk, and also considered the Cosmiques icefall but with no info on conditions figured it was a long shot. We eventually decided to follow the hordes over the bridge and go for the "Shit route", so named because the top few metres on the final pitch is formed from frozen "waste products" spilling out from the Midi toilets. No-one we'd spoken to was heading for it, and we'd heard it was a good route (provided you didn't sniff too much on the final few metres).

The ab off the bridge was as gripping as ever, but the abs went smoothly enough and we were soon at the foot of the route. Unfortunately the team ahead of us had changed their minds and decided to do "our" route so we let them get onto it and settled into our down jackets. Things started to go wrong when we noticed just how slowly they were climbing and how much ice they were sending down the route. The speed they were going we figured that they might not even make the last bin, meaning that we wouldn't either - not good. By this stage it was too late to ab down further and join the queue on the other routes so there was nothing for it but to climb up the Cunningham Couloir, under the bridge and onto the Midi N face.

I'd always thought that the Cunningham looked a bit chossy but easy enough. Turns out it is about Scottish grade 3, but it feels like everything is held together with blu-tac so both Tom and I got a pretty harrowing, low angled chossy lead. Safe to say I won't be doing it again, but it's good to know that you can escape in dire straights. 

Tom Moores describing the excellent climbing that can be found in the Cunningham Couloir.

Bird, Blanc, Bottle.

Bad weather on the way now and the Midi shuts for 7 weeks starting on Monday, so summer is officially over. Let it snow!