Friday, 26 December 2008

A taste of Beaufort.

The village of Beaufort, as well as being home to some of the best cheese in the Alps, has a small ski area beside it which I had been meaning to explore for a while. Home to the famed Pierra Menta, one of the classic ski-alpinism races, there had to be some good off-piste here...

With a savage foehn wind blowing the lifts up the Grand Mont side were mostly closed, so with a cheap randonneur pass in hand we took the lifts up from Planay to see what we could find. A howling wind at the top of the Combettes chair ruled out one of the possibilities, so we headed over to the Col de la Grande Combe and round to the Col de la Bathie, where I had spotted some reasonably sheltered snow.

From the col a selection of gullies gradually merge, giving a long run right back down to Planay:

As I had hoped there was still some soft stuff to be skied, if a little variable in places...
Ginny at the top of the gullies:

Looking down:

Ginny lower down, in the main gully, Mt Blanc in the background:

All in all an interesting 900m of descent, and I'll definitely be back to explore the rest of the possibilities here...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Courchevel update

With the Courchevel lift system now fully open, and last weeks BASI course all finished, I went out with Ginny today to suss out the off-piste conditions.

There is a good layer of soft snow still about on everything that doesn't get too much sun, though after last weekends winds the cover is very thin in places, and areas like the Creux Noirs bowl look like they will take a long time to become skiable. After a look off the sides in 1850, and a brief stop in Camp de Base to try & fix a loose boot rivet, we decided to head over into Les Avals.

The walk up was more of a pain than usual, but with only 2 sets of tracks heading in we were guarantees some freshies...

Ginny on the ridge, Roc Merlet behind:

The ridge is a great viewpoint, and with a set of binoculars you can check out Mont Blanc, the Aiguille Verte, Grandes Jorasses, Mont Pourri, skiers on the glacier over in La Plagne, and a whole selection of other peaks and descents...

Looking into a thin-looking les Avals, with the distinctive rock pinnacles at the top:

Despite a slightly crusty start the rest of the descent gave perfect powder on easy angled terrain, perfect for a bit of cruising.

A quick stop for a drink and a chat with the guardian at the Grand Plan Refuge and we continued down the valley with fresh tracks all the way...

A final word of warning though...the snow pack is very thin, with a lot of rocks in evidence or just under the surface. There are also a few areas of windslab lurking in various locations, so ski with care!!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Powder, powder, powder...

Another sunny day in the mountains...
With the avalanche risk still high I met up with Luigi and we went out for some 'mini-golf', spending the morning putting tracks in all the lower angle secret stashes.

Gigi was carrying a shoulder injury so decided to 'take it easy' with a couple of small drops:

A quick lunch in 1650 at 'La Boulotte' and it was back out for more freshies:

And finally the scenic route back to Bozel:

Friday, 12 December 2008

Courchevel snow

The sun came out finally this morning so i headed up to Courchevel to check out the snow...and it didn't look too bad!!

Heading into a snowy Rocher de L'Ombre bowl:

Lorenzo in Suisses bowl:

Gigi cruising in:

Its worth bearing in mind that due to all the early snow the avalanche risk is very high at the moment so serious care is needed. Plenty of small slabs have popped out here & there, not least this not so small slab in the popular offpiste skiers left of Suisses (if you look carefully you'll see dozens of tracks where people had skied over this slab before it ripped - this is 50 metres to one side of the place where a similar sized slab killed a skier last winter):

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

First day back...powder heaven!

Well what a way to start the season!! First day back on skis for the winter yesterday over on the Punta Helbronner lifts on the South Side of the Mt Blanc range. Some of the gang had been out Sunday and the reports of 2000m vertical of perfect powder were too good to pass up on. Three cable cars later and we were on the ridge making our way round to the top of the Toula Glacier:

As promised the powder was excellent, with loads of space for fresh tracks right back down to the Pavillion, with some tree dodging extending the run right back to La Palud for 2000m of leg-burning powder heaven!

Photo courtesy of Jon Griffith

With an all-star team comprising Kenton Cool, Matt Helliker, Jonny Baird, Tim & Katie Emmett, Nick Bullock, and photographer Jon Griffith the banter was ever present in between the turns, and with only a few other teams on the mountain the turn-around time on the lifts was really quick.

Matt, Kenton & Jonny B stop for a breather, with the Peuterey Ridge as backdrop:

One by one the team slowly dwindled, Nick waylaid by a virus, Tim off to jump out of a helicopter with his wingsuit, and Kenton, Matt and Jon just being lightweights, leaving Jonny and myself to make a last run from the top with noone else around to round off a great day's hoping there's plenty more like this to come!

Photo courtesy of Jon Griffith: check out his excellent photography here

Friday, 5 December 2008

La Daille icefall

Yesterday I went out for a play on the ice with Roy on a slightly thin La Daille icefall. Somehow I contrived to leave the small bag with my harness & various jangly bits in at home, but cobbled together a harness out of a sling and we went for it with 1 belay plate, 4 screws and a 5 quickdraws between us...

Roy on the first pitch:

The icefall is beginning to form quite nicely but the ice was still thin in places, but very friendly to climb..
With a makeshift harness I decided that a leader fall was even less of an option than normal on ice, so had to let Roy take the lead for the second pitch as well - with 5om of double rope I think my 'harness' would have ended up round my ankles...
Roy on easy ground on pitch 2:

A quick abseil descent saw us heading back to Bourg for an athletes lunch at the mighty Golden Arches - food of champions (not!).
Back in Bozel it started absolutely dumping with snow in the evening as I was heading off for a climbing wall session, so the good start to the winter continues: