Saturday, 6 December 2014

Aiguille des Saints Pères - Couloir Ouest

A quick hit this morning to try and kick-start some fitness and maybe sneak in some good skiing...

I had heard reports that the St Pères couloirs had a reasonable fill of snow, and with the Val Thorens ski area already open there was the reassurance of having a high roadhead and snow back to the car (quite a rare thing this December...).

Several couloirs line the face of the Saints Pères, but the right hand one is by far the steepest (and most aesthetic):

An 8:30 start saw me skinning up out of Val Thorens before the lifts opened, with 1000m vertical on the cards. Despite a gloomy morning in the valley it was actually quite clear, with just a bit of high cloud around the Aiguille de Peclet. Looking back towards the valley showed just how poor the early season snow situation is:

Looking up into the couloir from the approach slopes:

The skinning went quickly enough, but progress slowed on entering the couloir - the snow consistency was not great for skinning, even with couteaux on, but boot packing was slow going in the deep snow. The promise of a great ski down kept spirits up though and soon enough I came out at the col. The top of the couloir currently is as well filled in as I have ever seen it - just 3 metres or so of rocks which are too tight to ski through (with rocks under the snow too) but below that it was perfect - creamy, heavy powder on a fairly consistent base. In the past I have generally had to downclimb or rap the first 20 metres over exposed rocks!

Ready for some fun:

The descent was great - 400m of good creamy powder, and then by following the stream/gully lines which are well filled in I was able to ski back to within 50m of the piste edge without feeling like I was risking skis or limbs (there were a good number of 'skier vs rock' incidents when Val T opened recently for a weekend...).

Looking back up from partway down the couloir:

A good way to kick off some steeper skiing for this winter - although the couloir is graded 5.1 on the toponeige scale it doesn't often feel like it quite deserves the grade, but is a fantastic ski anyway!

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