Sunday 25 January 2015

Vallée Blanche and Berard Valley Conditions

The sun was forecast to shine on Friday morning so it seemed like the perfect time to head up the Midi and check out conditions on the Vallée Blanche. I teamed up with photographer David Thexton (check out his website here - David Thexton Photography) to go for a look. He's going to be accompanying groups who book to ski the Vallée Blanche via, so if you like the shots, get in touch!

Conditions above 3000m were surprisingly good and we got perfect fresh tracks for pitch after pitch on the Classique route. Once you get to within sight of the Requin Hut, things get a bit thinner and the very last section back to the Montenvers is pretty rocky right now. Overall, the top is great, the middle is OK but quite open and the lower section is poor. The Aiguille du Midi arete is not equipped yet and basically the VB is still in early season condition and feels like a mountaineering day out more than "just" a ski descent. (Does it ever just feel like a ski descent?)

The (very!) good news is that there is something resembling a biblical snowfall forecast at the end of the week, which is due to bring a huge amount of snow between Wednesday evening and Monday morning. Once that has had a couple of days to settle, things should be pretty spectacular up the Midi. However, there have unfortunately been more avalanche fatalities in Chamonix over the past week so stay safe up there.

Anyway, enough chat, here are the photos. All photos David Thexton.

It gets a bit pokey near the bottom!

The weekend was supposed to be all about work and I made it to midday at the desk but then saw on the webcams that there was a cloud inversion. Displaying zero willpower, I instantly dropped everything and went for a tour! With time limited, Sharon and I shot over to the Flegere, met up with Trey and headed for the ever-enjoyable Crochues-Berard. 

The vast majority of the tour was awesome and the snow on the ski down the Berard Valley was exceptional. There is still a lot of untouched, cold powder out there but there is also a lot of faceting going on, which doesn't bode well for when this massive dump of snow arrives. Of the stuff I found, the faceting was most pronounced on NE aspects, but that's only a very localised observation and I'm sure there are people who've been out more than me recently and will have a better idea of what's going on. Still, a good reminder to read the avalanche bulletin carefully every day.

All photos Sharon Wray.

Moody views from the Col Crochues.

Me and Trey skiing the powder in sync.

Me enjoying skiing the facets but trying not to think about what they'll do to the snowpack next week.

Once we got lower down the Berard Valley things got thinner and thinner and there was some varied and high quality "sanglier" skiing, which provided plenty of amusement! Much of the track out was actually OK but it is time consuming and pretty bad for your ski edges right now! The metre or so of snow that is due should sort it out nicely.

One final thing, here is an infographic I commissioned from the clever person who owns Doodle Brighton ( I've printed mine and checking off everything on the list before going out skiing has become part of the daily routine!

 I had to pay for it but I'm now giving it away so feel free to buy me a beer if you see me in town :)

Monday 19 January 2015

Flegere powder day & Col de la Gliere

After a long wait for it this year, winter seems to have finally arrived. We got a big dump of snow at the start of the weekend so by Sunday I was itching to get out. 

We figured that the Grand Montets would be absolutely rammed so decided to go for Flegere in the hope that we might enjoy a bit more peace. It turned out to be a pretty good decision (if I may say so myself!) because we basically skied untouched powder from start to finish. It was so good that we skied non-stop from 9 until 3.30 and did somewhere in the region of 12 laps off the Index. That beer afterwards was like nectar!

Here are the photos from the day, thanks to Charli and Caroline for the ones they contributed.

I had work to do today but when I woke up and saw that the day was better than forecast, I couldn't resist a quick trip over the Col de la Gliere first thing in the morning. Sharon and Caroline were keen too and we had a great couple of hours and only saw 2 other people the whole time.

Starting the skin in some snowy weather.

Caroline about to drop into the Combe de la Gliere.

Caroline deep in it - the snow was awesome. 

Sharon and Caroline near the end of the skiing. 

The Lachenal bowl was pretty thin but we found some good snow and were back on the Liaison lift and headed back over to Brevent by 11.30 with an excellent little half day hit in the bag.

The forecast for the week is looking pretty poor but hopefully it will bring some more snow. We don't have much of a base so there are still some rocks sticking out but it won't take much to have decent coverage. Looks like winter is underway - better late than never!

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Breche de Berard

The foehn wind is due to blow into Cham in the second half of this week so Sharon and I wanted to get out for a day before the bad weather came. We originally planned to do something up in the Argentiere basin but the top lift didn't open so we went to "plan b" - a tour up the Flegere. 

We didn't really have a set objective but I'd somehow never got round to doing the Breche de Berard (sometimes referred to as "the keyhole") so that seemed like as good a plan as any. 

The skin up was steady enough and the light was amazing, with the weather turning in front of our eyes.

Stunning light over the Aravis.

Sharon near the end of the skin.

On board camera. 

Final section of skinning. 

We had a final stop just below the Breche and then booted up, got ready as quickly as possible in the strong wind and set off down.

 Sharon scrambling up to the Breche.

The ski down was a mix of ice, crust and even a bit of powder and overall it was pretty good fun. However, the Berard Valley is incredibly dry and after a decent section of combat skiing, we gave up and walked the final 40 minutes or so.

Me skiing near the top of the descent.

Me (bottom right) dwarfed by the Berard Valley.

Final section down to Le Buet.

It looks like the weather is about to turn fairly unsettled, which could hopefully bring some much needed snow over the next week. Here's hoping.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Col de La Pare, Alpe d'Huez & more La Grave.

After a great day on the La Grave lift, we decided to go for a tour on Tuesday and headed up towards the Pic des 3 Evêchés, high above the Col du Lautaret.

We weren't sure what to go for but eventually decided to go to the Col just to the left of the peak. The snow wasn't what it might have been in places but some of it was good, there were amazing views and we generally had a fun day in a wild place.

Matt approaching our lunch spot.

Our col. 

Just the bare essentials in Matt's bag.

Quick beer at the Col.

Stunning evening views.

Matt on the ski down. 

The next day we had another day back on the La Grave lift and did the Trifide couloir, a few runs down the Vallons and a couple of laps of the Girose glacier. As on Monday, most of the snow was superb chalk, with just the odd bit of crust chucked in.

Tom and Matt in the Trifide.

Tom on the Girose.

La Grave in a nutshell. Big mountains, incredible terrain and one lift.

A final run down the Girose.

The door on the lift failed to close on the way down from the mid station, making for a stomach churning view!

Matt was like a kid who'd got a puppy for Christmas when he saw that the Hotel Castillan, 50 metres from the lift, had Warsteiner on draft.

With one day left down south, the touring options weren't looking too tempting and, amazing as La Grave is, we'd done pretty much everything that's in condition right now. A day on the piste looked the best option so we headed up to Alpe d'Huez and had a really fun time ripping around some busy pistes. 

Off piste options were limited in Alpe d'Huez!

I'm now back in Cham, busily studying the forecasts like everyone else. Some sites reckon we're due a big dump but others say it will just be a dusting. Hope it's the former!

Monday 5 January 2015

La Grave

This "chaps" trip to La Grave has been in diary for months so we decided to stick with the plan, despite there being very little snow down here. It hasn't exactly been a classic winter in Cham thus far and, figuring that a change is as good as a rest, we had an unpleasantly early start this morning and made the 3 hour drive south. 

When we checked in with the ski patrol things didn't sounds promising - it's not possible to ski below the Peyrou station at 2400m and the whole of the Chancel Valley is basically off limits as a result. However, good conditions were reported on the Vallons side of the mountain and so it proved. There was no sign of any powder, predictably enough, but there was mile after mile of amazing chalky, cold snow and the views were as incredible as ever. In the end we did 5 laps from the top station back to the Peyrou, including no less than 3 runs down the Trifide Grand Couloir, which was just amazing. 

Who needs powder when you have all this?

Tom heading into the Trifide Grand Couloir.

Conditions in the Grand Couloir. The chalk was amazing.

Me having too much fun to stop and pose for photos.

A little vid of me skiing the Trifide couloir. I'm not sure what the whooping noises are all about but you get the gist.

We've got a few more days here and I think touring will be the best bet tomorrow. However, another day on the lift wouldn't be bad either. What a nice dilemma to have! This place really is enchanting, I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Friday 2 January 2015


With Dr. Phil over in Cham for a few days, a ski today was a must. There isn't much snow though so we were only really looking for some fun pistes to zoom around. Initially we thought of Courmayeur but for no reason in particular we fancied something a bit different and so carried on down the Aosta Valley to Pila.

The morning was a bit of a non-starter, with the small, slow lifts being clogged by enourmous queues which were so bad that after less than 2 hours, we nearly headed home. However, we stuck with it and the crowds seemed to dissipate throughout the day. We also found some decent snow and amazing terrain off piste too, making it a pretty decent day all round. 

Phil didn't have a beanie and asked to borrow one. I just knew that he'd love my choice for him. 

Nice views from the top, with the Roman town of Aosta clearly visible in the Valley below.

Phil stomping a massive cliff.

"Imagine how good this would be on a powder day!!!"

Me loving the off piste.

Probably the only ABS bag that the magic carpet has ever transported.

It was fun though!

Phil on a final section of good stuff.

Tomorrow looks a bit of a ropey day but Sunday could be epic if the forecasted dump of snow arrives. Stay tuned!