Winter 2010-11

The search for fresh tracks continues… Val d’Anniviers    10th March 2011

Exploring the freeride potential at Zinal, with a spectacular backdrop of the Weisshorn and Zinalrothorn

5 days of off-piste skiing and ski-touring around the ski areas of Zinal and Grimentz, in the Val d’Anniviers of the central Valais alps of Switzerland.

Another week of fine sunny weather was in prospect, but the team perhaps could not complain, coming from the wind and rain of the UK. No fresh snow was forecast for this week, yet it had recently snowed a few days beforehand, so off we all set to see what we could find…!

With a small amount of skinning……or none at all…

…great snow was still to be found, here this time in Grimentz

On the final day we all did a complete ski-tour to explore the area to the south of Grimentz. Using lifts to start the day, we soon escaped the pistes, and for the first part found some reasonable snow. In full sun, the snow had become ‘spring corn’ and worked quite well.

Having left behind the lifts and pistes of Grimentz, the adventure of the ski-tour began

In the wilderness the snow was actually quite good!Crossing the stream gave a Scottish feel to the journey…

Following a second section of skinning that took us, through the heat, to a col for a fine lunch spot, before the final long descending traverse back to the Moiry dam.

Surviving the final section of pie-crust back to the track at the Moiry dam; one big traverse line, no turns needed!

Chamonix off-piste skiing 4th March 2011

It was a well-timed arrival for the group of intermediate off-piste skiers. Fresh snow had fallen during the days before the start of their week of skiing around Chamonix and Courmayeur, and then on the first day the sun came out!

A return to the slopes above Val Veny, Courmayeur

We might not have had too many powder turns……but it was a great place to ski all the same!

Setting off down the Val d’Arp, the opposite direction to Val Veny

Finishing on the snow covered track through the trees An intro to ski-touring at Le Tour

High up on the Vallée Blanche, in front of Mont Blanc du Tacul

Backcountry skiing at Courmayeur 18th February 2011

Yesterday would certainly have been the best day to have made the most the off-piste slopes at Courmayeur, but you can’t be in 2 places at once, although I was here yesterday afternoon… Returning today to see what spaces were left amongst these north-facing powder slopes, big queues for the Youla gondola were not especially encouraging, but it is half-term holidays after all…

Setting off from the Arp…

The lift system at Courmayeur takes you almost to the summit of fine prominent peak from which all the descents are adventureous off-piste and take you through some exciting and varied terrain. Knowledge of the snow conditions and route-finding is crucial here.

We traversed around the sunny side of the peak to reach a col and the slopes that face back towards the Italian side of Mont Blanc. The snow was great but fairly well tracked out so we hiked a short section up over a ridge to reach a relatively untouched valley on the other side.

Hiking up above Val VényBeneath Mont Favre

Great skiing and situations, a few other tracks but nobody else about… The skiing starts by winding its way down through the high open bowl beneath impressive shaded cliffs…

Plenty of snow on a firm base, great to ski in the sunshine!

…before descending amongst the larch trees back to Val Veny. Skiing powder between nicely spaced trees is really the best fun! The depth of the snow helps control your speed as you dive round obstacles, over rises and into gullies…Smile Skating along the track at the valley base, you eventually arrive back at the lift system, to go round the circuit one more time, or to have a very nice lunch!

At last there is new snow on the Toula!    17th February 2011

A change in the pattern of the weather of the past few weeks is much appreciated! Some new snow all across the Alps, it was great to get out the big skis and have some powder to ski in again!

The ski descent approach that avoids the metal stairway onto the glacier was popular this morning

The Helbronner lift system on the Italian side of Mont Blanc gains access to a world of snow that is entirely off-piste and glaciated.These high-up slopes, starting at 3400m, today had deep enough snow on the firm base of recent weeks, which stayed light and powdery for a few runs in the morning at least, before the lunch-time sunshine started to affect the snow.

Another big slope, in the sunshine!…and this time somewhere completely different!     1st February 2011


A ski-tour of the Bel Oiseau   30th January 2011

Situated above the village of Finhaut, just across the border from the Chamonix/Mont Blanc area into Switzerland, this relatively low peak can combine 3 things that make for a good day tour; a good journey on the way up, a great little peak and a good ski down.

It’s quite a height gain that’s involved however, but usually once established with the zigzags progress is steadily made. The initial climb through the forest opens and levels out into the Fenestral, and from where the whole of combe is visible, looming above.

The Col d’Oiseau lies out of sight up on the right, the NE couloir is directly above the figure

There are 2 popular objectives from here for ski-tourers; to the right the Col de Fenestral, to the left the Col d’Oiseau. The 2nd col is particularly good as the slopes leading to it are well shaded early in the year and the snow can stay nice and light for skiing.

From the Col d’Oiseau, the summit of the peak is another 30 minutes away, traversing along the side of the north ridge, mostly on skins, with a short easy scrambly section.  The top is a very fine view point, central to many of the greater peaks of the Mont Blanc area and the Swiss Valais, and you can really enjoy the immense sense of space surrounding this little peak.

Nearing the summit…the NE couloir is down to the left

Well worth the extra effort, but not always attempted by many as to continue on from the summit requires either a more committing descent down a different aspect of the mountain or a descent of something a bit steeper. For many folk, the col itself is the preferred high point of the tour.

Today, skiing with my sister Katie, our focus was to ski the north-east couloir which starts just before the summit. The snow in the centre of the couloir was quite firm as it already had had a number of descents, so it looked a good possibility for skiing. A bit steeper and narrower at the top, it soon opened out and after many turns we arrived at the lower slopes.

Looking down into the couloir and beyond towards the Rhone Valley

The snow here was not perfect, as mentioned earlier… The snow was a mixture of heavy powder and crusted lumps…we happily took a short cut to meet the snow covered road that winds around the front of the mountain. Tired legs but happy with memory of the mountain, the views and the skiing of the couloir!

Alagna, Monte Rosa, northern Italy   27th January 2011

A week of off-piste adventure based out of Alagna, the eastern most village in the Monterosa Ski region.

Looking down from Colle Zube towards the Alagna valley

The area is renowned for its potential for awesome off-piste descents amongst stunning mountainous scenery, with the option for some steeper terrain if you choose. Most of the skiing is accessed by ski-lift but some descents are reached by short sections of touring/hiking.

Skiing beneath the great walls of Monte RosaStarting the descent down into the Ayas Valley

This was a Mountain Tracks ‘off-piste advanced’ week, where I was working alongside local Alagna mountain guide Paolo Paglino. Powder was very much hoped for by everyone but the recent weather conditions have been cold, sunny and settled for the past week and this situation was set to continue. The snow pack was firm enough in the north-facing shadows to allow for enjoyable skiing. Yet elsewhere, entertaining breakable crust lurked… a good but unwelcome test for your skiing technique!

In search of the Malfatta…

At least with the fine weather we were able to explore the best of the area, seeking adventure by dropping into new valleys and couloirs. Bands of cliffs separate each valley from its neighbour, with the odd convenient easing of the terrain to allow a skier through. Always there was the awesome back drop of the big rocky walls of Monte Rosa and before us the view of the peaks and plains looking on into Italy.

Two different views……of the Couloir Giachetti

When the skiing gets a little steeper, it’s easy for things to feel a bit dramatic… Being confident to side-slip a slope in the first place was an important skill. Using a rope was also essential for the two couloirs we descended; to overcome steeper sections and to get used to the slope in the first place!

Vallée Blanche, Mont Blanc massif   19th January 2011

The continued cold, clear weather conditions resulting in spectacular days out high up, although some more new snow would be very welcome…

Glacier du Capucin, les Périades, Mont Blanc massif  17th January 2011

The slopes to the left of the glacier des Périades offer great potential for good skiing; a high hanging bowl of snow that hides in the shadows at this time of year, located below the jagged Périades ridge and above where the Vallée Blanche turns a corner at the base of the Géant Icefall.  A ski tour of 1-2 hours can give a fine descent back down the same way and is great additional ski to your typical Vallée Blanche descent.

Further up these slopes lie 3 objectives for those who like to explore the maximum potential for mountain adventure on skis. Here you will find a little more exposure, gradient and need of commitment and the use of a few mountaineering techniques thrown in as well.

On the left there is the NW shoulder of the Aiguille du Tacul and the col du Tacul, and then on the far right, a little hidden, is the broad couloir leading to the Brèche Puiseux.

Following the initial skinning section, each objective involves a fair boot up carrying your skis to reach the high point. From here you can return the way you’ve come… but hopefully conditions, ability and courage will enable you to make a traverse of the mountain and to continue down by a different route.

On this occasion I’d headed up to the col du Tacul to peer down the steeper slope down the other side that leads down to the long, slim glacier du Capucin that eventually joins the glacier de Léschaux 1000m below. Keen to see what it looked like…it hadn’t been skied yet though slopes of a similar aspect and nature had been done recently in the Massif.

Happily it is the norm to abseil the first bit! Here there are a number of shallowly buried rocks, so you get to explore the snow too with the benefit of the rope… Still felt a bit reluctant to pull the rope down after 40m but it was better to get sliding without it. Softish snow on a good base; not collapsing, not too variable across the breadth of the couloir.

Still a bit of side-slipping required before finding a bit more space and confidence to try a turn… It did feel very high up! There’s a good length of slope before reaching the easy-angled glacier below.

Great to drop into this new space and to start enjoying the new views across to the Taléfre basin and eventually looking up to the Grandes Jorasses.

January 2011

After New Year the Mont Blanc massif the snow conditions were looking promising, despite warmer spells of weather for the valleys.

The skiing through the trees at Courmayeur still provided reliable fun!

Skiing above the Toula Glacier, my new skis trying to keep up with everyone elses…

Col du Belvédère, Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix   2nd January 2011

A fine day to try one of the popular ski-tours within the Aiguilles Rouges mountain range above Chamonix. It was great to escape the sea of cloud by taking the Flégère lifts up into the sunshine.

Although the ski tours in this area are accessible and popular, they all require one to be reasonably competent in a whole range of ski-touring skills.

The uphill bits usually involve many kick-turns and booting-up sections, the downhill bits can have the odd bit of ropework.

Traversing the Col du Belvédère is typical enough with a pleasant skin up a sunny valley, its only once at the col the scenery and prospects change dramatically…

Here, to descend onto the north side there is a significant steep snow slope to negotiate, which can be skied, but generally an abseil is the most popular form of descent.

Its quite a long abseil, and the remoteness is immediately felt as you descend into the corrie on the north side. Its quite exciting to look back at where you’ve just come from…

Somewhat varied snow awaited us for the descent beyond. The snow was a little wind affected, so it kept us on our toes! Was good fun though and produced quite a few laughs out of Norma… Back down to the cafe bar within an hour, not a bad journey!

Skiing is often a team effort!   December 2010

Great snow mid-week in Verbier 2nd December 2010

The top lift station of Les Attelas and the Funispace bubble-cars

4 days after the busy weekend and now just after 2 days worth of cloud and fresh snow, the sun comes out… The conditions for skiing off the west flank of the Attelas-Col des Mines, a mountain-side of crags and slopes that looms above the town of Verbier, would have been good those few days ago but now there’s even more snow and alot less people…

A fine off-piste descent all the way down to the town

There’s an amazing sense of space looking right down to the valley depths and across to the Mont Blanc massif. In full season this place would be completely over-looked, but early season it is great to have lots of off-piste terrain which is all accessed by a lift and it is good for working the ski legs. Today I skied five different descents here, making the most of the amazing snow conditions, and all to the tunes of my favourite songs!

Awesome to get these tracks in here!

Early season piste skinning  28th November 2010

There’s a fair bit more snow now and at weekends some ski areas are starting open… But whether its to escape the crowds or to venture somewhere rock free (almost) mid-week, the local ski areas offer reliable skiing for those who are happy to put in the uphill effort.

Heading out from the top of Verbier town.

The skilifts at Verbier have been open for a few weekends now, although is only been in recent days that it was possible to comfortably ski down to the town. Its great mid-week to have the normally busy main slope to Les Attelas almost all to yourself, shared only with a few other folk doing the same thing (& the odd piste-basher). An ascent of 1100m provides good exercise, and there was a reasonable amount of off-piste for some fun on the way down before the next snow showers rolled in.

Midday, mid-week…the slopes are like a ghost-ski resort!

Some days later, after a few days of good snowfall, skinning up the pistes still works well to access some great snow.

On the Vallorcine side of Le Tour the snow was really quite deep, without much of a base and perhaps the touring skis weren’t the best choice afterall…but the skiing was good fun!

Which way down? Left or right?

Dodging the dog at le Tour – 19th November 2010

It was great to finally stretch the legs on skins closer to home. A reasonable snow cover at le Tour and a sunny weather forecast provided excellent conditions for skinning up the Tete de Balme at the back of the ski area and permitted the hope of good ski, if only as far as the mid-station…

The whole excursion was made much more entertaining by the presence of Baxter, a great big chocolate Labrador, who was very happy to be out in the snow and who really enjoyed chasing speeding skiers. Fortunately this only really happened to Norma and me, who had to play ‘dodge the dog’ whilst skiing down very nice snow, in the sunshine with a splendid view.

The most successful ways to dodge Baxter were either making swift turns or speed, both of which resulted in much hilarity as we were chased about the hillside by this enthusiastic animal!


En route to the hospice – 11th November 2010

Looking back at the looming dome of Mont Vélan with the Grand Combin to its left

It can easily feel that winter has definately arrived on clear, sunny days with a cover of new snow..! Forever hopeful when it looks like this, even though the rocks are really not too far away. A nice morning out a few days ago…