Saturday, 21 March 2015

Chamonix Freeride course + conditions update

Last week I was in Chamonix for the & Jagged Globe Freeride course, working alongside IFMGA Mountain Guide Andy Lanham.

With the Chamonix valley definitely in a spring snow cycle but foehn winds forecast for the first few days we kicked off the week at the Grands Montets skiing smooth chalky hardpack and drilling the team in avalanche rescue techniques:

On Monday and Tuesday we headed over to Courmayeur where there was up to 30cm of powder in places off the Youla as and when the visibility opened up (and it was amazingly quiet as always!):



Of course no trip to Italy is complete without sampling some of the local wares:

On Wednesday we took the whole team for a run off the Punta Hellbronner down the Toula Glacier, finding creamy powder at the top, turning rapidly to spring lower down:

Once again Mark took advantage of the fine food on offer...:

After lunch Andy took Mark and Rian off down the Vallée Noire back to Chamonix, while Chas, David, Pete and I headed over to Courmayeur for a coaching session.

David in action:

On Thursday, with a spring cycle setting up again, we headed for Brevent in the morning, catching the Hotel face in great condition. Andy, Mark & Rian then continued on to ski the Aiguille Pourrie North face into Combe de la Gliere.


Yesterday 'team energetic' headed for the Col du Belvedere and skied good chalky snow down to Le Buet, while the rest of us went back to Les Grands Montets for a mix of chalky cold snow and spring snow, along with a slightly cloudy eclipse...

Chas in action:

Thanks to Chas, Pete, David, Rian and Mark for a great week, and also to Andy.

To summarise conditions as of Friday:

Brevent/Flegere - great spring snow to be skied if you get your timing right, but by 12:30 most off piste is getting too soft

Aiguilles Rouges touring - Andy, Mark and Rian went over the Col du Belvedere on Friday and found good snow on the descent down to Le Buet, with skis on pretty much all the way to the bottom (though this won't last long if it stays warm...)

Grands Montets - chalky snow still on North aspects (skier's left of Lavancher bowl, Grand Mur, under Bochard etc etc), spring snow on the Westerly aspects

Aiguille du Midi - by all accounts all the classic Vallee Blanche itineraries are in good condition

Punta Hellbronner - the Toula Glacier was in good spring condition - timing is everything again... Teams had skied under the cables - cover looks good

Courmayeur - there was still good cold snow off the Youla & Arp on Wednesday, Canale Vesse in good condition though in the right branch the ice bulge is becoming more pronounced and needs a confident approach - the stream crossing is tricky, with a muddy scramble along the other side

Up higher it seems like South-facing slopes are in reasonable condition (Y on Aig. d'Argentiere, S couloir on Chardonnet), while North-facing slopes are definitely still showing the effects of the strong Northerly winds from a week or two back...

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Steep Vanoise - Breche Portetta

Last day of the Steep Vanoise course yesterday, so Rob & I took the whole team for a mission through the Brêche Portetta via Les Glacerets, and absolutely classic steep Vanoise ski tour.

Skinning up to the Rocher de Plassa:

Great snow still in Les Glacerets:

Heading up to the Brêche, a stunning place no matter how many times you come through here:

Ready for action:

Jerry in the steep upper couloir:

Amanda just before the couloir splits:

Dangerous Dave styling it up:

Amanda exiting the really tight right-hand variant:

Looking back from the wide slopes below:

A big thankyou to Jerry, Stuart, Amanda, Hernan, Rod, Ian, Stuart and Dave for a great week!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Steep Vanoise 2015 - part 2

Yesterday we ventured further afield over to St Foy for a look at conditions on the North face of the Fogliettaz. Sadly, as expected, due to the wind last week the upper face wasn't in great condition (about the worst I've ever skied it actually) but we still found some nice 'old powder' to ski:

Lower down things started to improve, although only on very specific aspects:

Rather than stick to plan A of skinning up to the Col D'Argentiere, Jerry, Stuart, Hernan and I went off exploring towards the Italian border, where we found some good snow and a nice couloir and face to ski:

Well worth the effort of 'going for a look'!

Having scoped conditions from St Foy, today we headed for Les Arcs and a spring snow run down the S Couloir on the Aiguille Rouge. This is one of the big classics of Les Arcs, with a 45º entry and then several hundred metres of 40-42º followed by a big descent down to Villaroger. All in all some 700m of good steep skiing and a 1700m overall descent!

View from St Foy - the S couloir is the obvious S-shaped couloir on the left (funny that!):




Good spring snow in the sun, and chalky snow in the centre:

Some good snow to be had lower down too:

Last day tomorrow - bring it on!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Steep Vanoise 2015 - part 1

This week sees the return of the ever-popular Steep Vanoise course. So far we have been based in the 3 Valleys and mostly making use of the lift systems while getting the team up to speed and testing them out in varying snow conditions. With the current high pressure and spring-like weather there has been spring snow to be found on sunny aspects with the right timing, and chalky snow and even some old powder still to be found on shadier slopes:

Saturday, 7 March 2015

3 Valleys snow report 7th March 2015

Snow conditions around the 3 Valleys are excellent at the moment with good skiing right down to the lower villages. Pistes are all in great shape (even the Les Menuires pistes were not icy yesterday morning which is a rare occurence!). Off piste has been fantastic in places but wind-affected at altitude and near ridge crests and transforming rapidly on sunnier aspects with yesterday and today's higher temperatures.

The next week looks set to be sunny and mild so there will be 2 options - true North slopes should keep some softer snow, especially at altitude, South slopes should start to transform quite rapidly so we should get some corn snow skiing with the right timing.

On Thursday it seemed like the 3 Valleys escaped the high winds elsewhere in the Vanoise (150kph reported on the Bellevarde!) though it was definitely blowy up top. We found some great powder up high above Mottaret:

Yesterday some mellow powder touring along the La Masse skyline down to Chatelard wrapped up 5 varied days with Andy & Brian:

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The karma bank

Sometimes you have to do your time...

Yesterday was properly 'Scottish' up in Courchevel - wild winds, wet snowfall and only a handful of hardy souls out. Andy & Brian braved it through the day with me and acutally we scored a couple of really nice runs off the Saulire when visibility cleared (before they shut it because of the wind...!), but today was payback day - blue skies and powder from start to finish:

Caution is needed though - with the wild winds and varying temperatures the snowpack has had alot of big changes recently and will have plenty of traps - as evidenced by the two skier-triggered slides in Orelle today. It was also quite surprising to see how tracks appeared almost everywhere it was possible to get to (plus ça change...) despite some obvious releases triggered by the PIDA; not to mention the young English skier who got herself cragfast above some steep rocky terrain in Rocher de L'Ombre despite the clear blue skies and perfect visibility. Oh and the number of skiers charging about the further reaches of the couloirs on their own without any visible avalanche kit... Oh yes and the groups led by instructors heading into potential avalanche terrain without any obvious avalanche safety kit (while the non-professional could simply be ignorant of the risk the pros should know better - particularly this winter!).
Maybe I'm just getting old and jaded...