Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where's all the snow?!

Very warm this week out in Morzine, which let me sneak up and ride one of the local trails - a short blast as the top section is under snow still, but good to be out on the bike again...


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chamonix Day out

I posted this on our blog at so thought that I should share it. Missing the riding, but days like these almost make up for it!

Rob has been working hard for us up at Chalet Joran, so with this in mind, we treated him to a day out in Chamonix, to board the Vallee Blanche - something that I've always wanted to do too, so no hardship!


After an early start and Baltic change next to the car in -14, we headed over the the Telepherique headed up to the Aiguile du Midi! We were in a group of other guys, being guided by Chamonix-Guides and we were put with a couple of other English speakers - 3 English, one Argentinian with a Scotish accent, a Finn and a Swede, headed up by guide Bertrand Gentou. Quite an international affair!



After a quick hop into climbing harnesses, we queued up with the other 200 or so people heading up and tried to stay warm as we waited for the car to arrive...





The last time I was up here was a few years ago and I remembered the cable car trip as being reasonably scary! I must be more used to dangling from wires now, as it really wasn't that bad and our cramped car didn't afford me a view of the vertiginous drop below. After relocating everyone and taking in the views from the platforms, we started to gear up in the tunnel which heads down to the ice cave exit. What an exit, too. When I was up here in the summer, I jealously looked on as mountaineers headed out through the little metal gate, dividing those who can and can't play on the glacier below. Bertrand had roped us up and we made progress together, with a safety rope in hand, which was a good comfort as the drop is not to be underestimated and would certainly be fatal if you went.











At the bottom, my board strap buckle had handily frozen up, so I faffed around and cut it, taking a few snaps and enjoying the perfect conditions - cold, but with no wind. The snow under foot was windslab, or 'crest de Coq' as Bertrand put it, meaning a softer layer below was topped by a slightly more compact and lumpy top coat. Ok, but not the powder that we've been used to and immediately difficult if the top layer is broken.




The first shoulder down from the Aiguile du Midi is an open snow field with no crevasse danger, so we ripped down here, with the view of the spire behind, stopping lower down to look at the first of the changing ice conditions, snow bridges and crevasses. It was amazing for me to be down on this 'floor' of the valley as I'd looked down there longingly before - the view you get is so different and achieved so quickly on the board or skis.






It was after this point that we got the talk about staying in Bertrand's tracks. I was more than happy. We saw another group with a guy who shot off in front of his guide to the left and almost skiied into an open fissure, stopped only by his guide's shouting. Not cool. Guides are there for a reason!



The views just kept opening up and it really was great to be in amongst such impressive peaks.



After a flatter stretch, we came towards some steep stuff and my first problem of the day in the shape of steep moguls! I lost my heelside edge a few times on the steeper stuff and I think that I need to get into the habit of leaning further upright when on the super steep. Feels wrong, but holds the edge! I was relieved that Rob was having similar issues with the steep ice.



Below the shots above this text, we dropped into a narrowish couloir and this was where I lost it big time! Exiting, I lost my edge and then promptly dropped a good 80 meters on my bum. Great style, to the amusement of our group! I pit the camera away after that! I did note that I had been heading towards a large roll over that had a hole on the other side. Glad i stopped in time! On a worse not, we saw at least two helicopter pick ups from injured skiers, so it really is worth knowing your up to it!

The terrain dropped steeply again, heading down to the lower glacier as seen in the shot below. After a tricky traverse on my now tiring legs, we opened up with a great shuss down onto the glacier floor, with the Grand Jorasses and the Dru towering above us. Couldn't be better than that!


A bit of board touring by poles ensued before a bit more of a drop and then a 150m hike up to the little refuge at the head of a cat track back down to the valley. We stopped, enjoyed the view and then headed down the 4x course that was the cat track, with a few spills, a bit of off piste and crazy Japanese lady who seemed to tied to me by string! Once at the bottom, we drank a well deserved pint and thanked Bertrand for his day taking us through this amazing scenery. Great guide, great group, great weather - couldn't have been better!

Our guide was worth recommending, so I will!

Bertrand Gentou
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