Sunday 23 November 2014

Trou de la Mouche, Les Aravis

According to the weather reports, which are forecasting sun for the foreseeable future, it seems that this early snow we've had has been little more than a false start to winter. Before all the white stuff disappeared, I was keen to sneak in one more day on the skis.

Verbier seemed a decent idea but we were sure it would be super busy and with off piste options limited, it seemed like a lot of effort and driving just to ski crowded pistes. Eventually we opted to head over to the Aravis for some touring above La Clusaz. The snow tends to linger at relatively low altitudes over there and the terrain is excellent so it seemed as good an option as any we could think of. Of all the many possible tours, the Trou de la Mouche ("the hole of the fly") seemed the best, mainly because skiing through a hole has got to be cool, regardless of the snow conditions. We ended up not rushing to the start and only managed to start skinning at midday but that seemed like just enough time, and so it proved.

Sharon skinning up towards the Trou.

Passing underneath some impressive cliffs higher up.

Sharon nearing the end of the skin, with the Trou behind.

Me slightly higher, enjoying the sun and the solitude.

Sharon on the beautiful final ridge, with Mont Blanc reigning supreme behind.

Me bootpacking to the Trou.

The skin up went fine but for the last few hundred metres the snow was awful and we ended up with huge amounts of snow sticking to our skins, making it really hard going. Initially we cleared the skins every few steps but in the end it just seemed easier to try a bit harder and plough on.

Suffice to say we were glad to reach the top...

The view through the Trou.

The snow we'd passed through on the way up was almost universally bad so we weren't too optimistic about the ski down but it actually turned out to be pretty good - a nice combination of powder and slush followed by some tough crust lower down.

Sharon in the slush.

Me loving the low angled powder.

After making good time in the upper section, the crusty, thin snow slowed us down as we got lower and we eventually gave up and walked down the last 100 vertical metres.

On the plus side, we got treated to this view whilst walking - 

Having been held up on the final section of the skin and then the last bit of the ski, we just sneaked back to the car before sunset. That burger tasted SO good back in Chamonix!

See you again soon, winter.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Verbier & Punta Croce

The snow line is creeping ever lower here in Cham and I decided it was about time to get winter started. With Verbier opening at weekends I was keen to go and check out conditions over there last Sunday and had a really fun day ripping around the pistes. The snow is surprisingly thin so off piste options were limited but the groomers were excellent and it felt amazing to be skiing again, even if it did prove beyond all doubt that I have retained zero ski fitness from last season!

Atmospheric views from Verbier.

Charli making some friends at lunch.

Tom and me loving having winter back!

Sharon and Charli on one of the few off piste pitches we found.

Today Sharon and I were keen for some touring and some solitude and headed over to Arpy, above Morgex in the Aosta Valley, to ski the Punta Croce. It is surprisingly tough to find good snow right now because the snow line is only down to about 1600m but there have been strong winds at mid altitudes which have got to much of the fresh snow. Furthermore, the Italian avalanche forecast doesn't seem to be working right now and the French one is pretty sporadic, so working out what is going to be safe is just as difficult as figuring out what will be good. It all added up to us looking for something conservative and the Punta Croce fit the bill. There's a brief section on the way up where you pass under some big, avalanche prone couloirs but we figured that if we got up there early, before the sun hit, we'd be fine.

Sharon getting ready in the Arpy school playground.

Me heading along what will become the Arpy cross country ski track once it gets pisted.

Sharon breaking trail in the woods.

 After gaining about 400 vertical metres of height, we emerged at the Arpy Lake, which was even more stunning than I'd imagined. 

Amazing views at the Lake.

Above the lake we continued breaking trail and, having not quite researched the route as well as we should have, we just followed our noses and it seemed to work out fine. It was tough going to break trail all day but to have the whole mountain to ourselves made it well worth the effort.

Sharon following me near the summit. 

Sharon on the final summit ridge. There is an old fortification on the summit and the last bit of skinning goes along the top of this wall, which makes for a pretty unique finish to a ski tour.

The summit itself is fantastic and Mont Blanc looks incredible, which you'll have to take my word for as we both had really cold hands on top and didn't bother taking any photos.

On the way down we chose the north-east face and found some fantastic powder in the trees, which put a big smile on our faces.

Amazing skiing on the north east face.

With the powder skied, we zipped down the final section of forest tracks and were soon back in Arpy, working out where the nearest pizza place was. 

The weather looks set to stay sunny for at least a few days now so I'll be aiming to get out for more at the weekend. If you're doing the same then go and check out Punta Croce, it makes for a fantastic day in a quiet and wild part of the World. We worked hard to put that skin track in too and we'd like to think that someone else might get some use from it!

In summary, winter is back and I love it.