Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Aravis slush

Last weekend I met up for a days exploring in the Aravis with regular partner in crime Oli Willett.
With warm weather & a mixed forecast I couldn't quite face the drive over to Chamonix for an 8 a.m. start so we decided to explore some more of the Aravis, a convenient halfway point for both of us..

Mission for the day was the Couloir Notre Dame on the South Face of the Grand Balmaz a short but steep 5.2-rated couloir above the small village of La Giettaz.
The approach to this is remarkably easy, a convenient layby sits just across the road from the path you skin up...15 minutes along this and you are at the bottom of the slope below the couloir, only 1200m of up left to do, but at least its all in sight!

Encouraging signs on the path:

As expected with the temperatures the lower slopes were very soft, but as we gained height the snow gradually became more & more weight-bearing, giving us hope for the couloir. Oli high above La Giettaz:

Unfortunately it wasn't to be, as the snow in the couloir turned out to be bottomless mush, not ideal at the best of times, let alone in a 50º couloir, so it was time to beat a retreat for a fine coffee at Chez Lulu...
The Couloir Notre Dame dissappearing into the mist:

Oli sets off for some water-skiing:

And finally an easy slide back to the car:

I have not really looked very closely at this side of the Aravis range, but given the ease of access (1 hour from home + short horizontal distances to the main skiable couloirs) I will definitely be back as there are a good few things to be skied here...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A few pictures..

Despite the current doom & gloom about snow conditions currently there is actually some really good snow around - you just have to go quite high...
Here are a couple of photos from the last 2 days in Chamonix, mostly climbing, but time for some nice turns here & there...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Day off

Day off today, but with perfect spring snow conditions it was too good a day to waste and a mid-morning start from Mottaret and 30 minutes skiing took me to the top of the Mont de Peclet. The 'Sablier' on the South face is a run I have wanted to ski for a while, but getting it in the right condition - spring snow but not too warm + no debris from previous days - is not easy. Yesterday we had passed close to the face and it looked to be in perfect condition and so it turned out - a tricky & exposed sidestep/slip to get in off the summit at the very top of the slope gave way to 400m of perfect spring snow at a reasonably friendly angle...still, with cliffs underneath falling is not really a good option!

Le Sablier from below, 400m of foreshortened vertical fun! :

Friday, 12 March 2010

Vanoise Day Tours

This week I have been running a combination training/touring week for the Eagles Ski Club. With exceedingly cold weather early in the week the camera didn't make it out much, and with very strong winds the snow had been left in a bit of a state... Good conditions for the team to build their skills in though!
Some short trips to the Mont du Chat, Pointe Emilienne took us well off the beaten track off piste, and a day in La Plagne, although probably the coldest of the week, saw some good snow high up in the Friolin, and also in the Arriérés combe on the way back to Champagny.

Yesterday, with warmer weather forecast, we skinned up to the Petit Mont Blanc.
On the shoulder into les Avals:

Great views of the Vanoise (L to R: Gde Gliere, Epena, Gde Casse):

The last section to the summit:

The Table D'Orientation is a work of art:

Roger, Nic, Phil & Neil on the summit of the Petit Mont Blanc:

And finding some reasonable conditions on the way down:

On a note of caution to the masses who ski the Les Avals valley without avalanche kit (and one would therefore assume without taking conditions into account) here are a couple of shots on both sides of Le Biol - through which everyone has to pass -

East face:

West face:

And for a bit of scale on the debris:

Having found some good spring snow for a few turns off the south side of the summit, today we went in search of more spring snow (and found it!).

At the top of the Combe Sans Nom:

And finding some great spring snow on the top slopes:

And further down:

The top 500m seen from near Grosse Tete:

Leaving all the tracks taking the higher exit we headed right of Grosse Tete for another 500m vertical of great spring snow - this bowl is great as you can play wioth the slope aspect to keep finding good snow...:

Negotiating the tight passage at Les Teppes:

Handy signpost:

The chapel of Notre Dame des Anges:

Nice spot for a picnic before the skin back up to the Orelle lifts:

A big thank you to Nic, Tanya, Phil, Neil and Roger for persevering with tough conditions early in the week - it certainly paid off over the last couple of days!!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Steep Vanoise Part 2

A great couple of day to finish off this week's Steep Vanoise trip...

Thursday morning saw the team heading back up to Champagny, hoping for a hole in the clouds for another trip down the North Face of Bellecote. After a warm up run down the Telecabine couloir the Traversee chair finally opened and with visibility holding out we made our way to the top of the Canadiens Couloir. This has a steep start, with the first 250/300m at solid 45º, and with a couple of days since the last snowfall for the snow to consolidate we found packed powder on a firm base - not as much fun as Tuesday, but perfectly skiable.

Steve on the top pitch:

Nick half-way down, only another 500m of couloir to go...:

The visibility held just long enough for us to complete our run down the face, with the snow staying good down into the valley. A full house meant we were denied Diots & Crozets at the Fer a Cheval café, so a late lunch was had as we made our way back through the La Plagne lift system in the thick cloud which had by now descended..

How to finish the week in style? With a good forecast I met the team at the Saulire with a traverse of the Col du Biol over to Pralognan as the day's objective. A quick slide from Chanrossa round past the Grand Plan refuge saw us donning skins and losing layers for the skin up to the Rocher de Plassa:

Above the Col des Saulces, heading for the Rocher de Plassa:

A cold wind kept us cool on the way up, but didn't encourage any lingering, so we quickly swapped to downhill mode for the almost ever-present powder fields of Les Glacerets:

Resisting the temptation to continue the descent into Les Avals, skins reappeared and we made our way up the steep & narrow approach to the Col du Biol - good kick-turn technique definitely required here...Steve approaching the Col:

Graham at the Col:

With the last of the early afternoon sun still just grazing the NE side of the Col we removed skins for the descent into Pralognan - it's always a pleisure to be the first putting tracks into a descent like this!:

The snow was perfect - 4 inches of super-light powder over a firm but smooth base made for excellent skiing...
Jack in the middle section of the descent

Graham in action:

Nick slashing away on his board:

Looking up at the Breches Portetta - 2 teams through there today:

The wide slope where the Breche & Col routes meet had a grand total of 5 tracks in it, so finding our own patches of fresh was definitely not a problem, though Graham did manage to encounter some frozen lumps under the powder leading to a spectacular high-speed crash and some 1 ski powder skiing...!

They are in there somewhere - the team tackle the tree section leading to the path to Pralognan:

A welcome rest in Pralognan - cheers guys - here's to next winter!!:

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Steep Vanoise

Last weeks Off Piste week in Tignes finished with a windy day skiing waist deep powder off the Brevieres bubble - a wild & windy end to the week, but setting up this week nicely with a fresh fall of snow...

This week sees the return of the inimitable Steep Vanoise week, and 3 days in we have certainly matched some of last years descents already! Monday saw us heading over to Val Thorens to get up high following rain to 2000m on Sunday, and we found great conditions with packed powder on the South Face of the Cime de Caron (with a start from the Table D'Orientation for maximum points..) and in the Bouchet North Face.
Yesterday we hit the jackpot over in La Plagne, after a nice warm up down the Rossets couloir we headed for the legendary North Face of Bellecote to find not a single track in situ...

Steve making the first few turns in Couloir Cairn...only 1200m vertical of perfect steep powder to go...:

Conditions were absolutely perfect, 4/5 inches of new fresh on top of more fresh underneath, and quite stable with just the occasional surface slough...

Graham going big:

Jack about to let fly with a 'Walpole whoop':

The turns kept coming and the snow stayed good, surprising considering the high freezing level of Sundays weather...

Working through the rock bands at the bottom of the couloir:

1200m later and still getting fresh turns in good snow:

A quick drink at the Fer a Cheval and we worked our way back through the lift system for another Rossets couloir and a great run down the Montagne de Bellecote before fighting our way through the crowds back to Champagny...

Today plans were changed by the weather, with a traverse to pralognan via the Col du Biol put on hold, and some Courchevel couloir action taking its place.
Skinning up the North couloir on the Aiguille du Fruit:

Visibility: not great; snow: creamy!!: