Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Col du Bonhomme

Having just got back from Christmas in the UK, I was half expecting my house to have been avalanched, such were the dire warnings on the internet of how unstable the snowpack is. Luckily it was still standing but it's clear that things are pretty dodgy right now, with fresh snow having landed on a pretty weak layer. With this in mind I wanted to ease into it and go touring somewhere relatively safe which would allow me to have a look around and start trying to figure out what's going on right now.

Les Contamines fit the bill, in particular the ever enjoyable Col du Bonhomme. The tour is about as mellow as it gets and save for the final section up to the Col, the terrain is low angled enough to be fairly safe. Best of all, the views are great the tour takes you past some bigger terrain without ever putting you in too much danger. 

It's always a bit longer than you think from the end of the road up to the Balme refuge but from there the scenery is amazing and you get to have a good look around at various slope aspects and altitudes.  Generally things look pretty sketchy and there was evidence of numerous spontaneously released avalanches in places you wouldn't normally think of as dodgy. It also said a lot that the Col des Chassuers, a tour so popular that it can become a mogul field, was completely untouched. Ditto several other nice looking slopes on Mont Jovets and the surrounding area. 

Heading up Lacs du Jovet.

Beautiful snowy views.

Trying to work it out.

The final skin up to the Col is about the only bit that I thought might cause us problems but it felt stable and had had plenty of traffic so we shot up and were soon soaking up the sun and views. 

Final section to the top

After a leisurely lunch at the Col we headed down and got some superb powder, the odd bit of crust and then the final icy run down to the car. All in all, an excellent day.

Phil likes.

Despite the numerous people who'd gone before and the avalanche danger, we managed to find a short little untracked couloir which felt nice and solid - always a good thing. 


Sharon just below Lacs du Jovet.

Looking up towards the Tete des Fours.

One final look up the Valley before the icy path begins...!

Overall things feel scary right now in the Alps. I certainly don't feel like pushing the boat out and I'm sticking to low angled terrain for the foreseeable future. The weather forecast is calling for some very unsettled weather over the next few days so things are about to change again. My advice is - if in doubt, go for the mellow option and stay safe - there's plenty of good skiing to be had without doing anything too "out there."

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Snow on the way, but be careful...

After an incredibly dry month in the Alps it seems that winter may well be on the way back, albeit temporarily. The snow is due to start tomorrow and last into Friday but it will then be followed by mild temperatures and unpredictable weather. All in all, the great start to winter has stalled somewhat and even when the snow does come back things will be pretty sketchy out there after this recent weather has created a very weak layer in the snowpack. It was a bad year for avalanches last year and this year looks like it might be no different so stay safe out there and keep a close eye on the avalanche bulletins.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Mont Lachat

The sun just keeps on shining here in Cham so although there's been no snow for a while, I've kept myself skiing and training in preparation for the next storm. I skinned up to the top of Les Houches on Friday and Saturday but that wears thin pretty quickly so on Sunday Sharon and I nipped up Mont Lachat, above Bellevue. 

With the Prarion being the only lift open at Les Houches, we took that up, skied down to Col de Voza and then skinned 500m vertical up to the summit. There wasn't much snow about but the views were superb and the ski down the Tramway du Mont Blanc track was entertaining, to say the least.

Me lining up that first turn from the summit.

Nice but thin powder once back into Les Houches ski area.

Basically the story here in France is that we need some snow pretty urgently. However, there is none forecast for the foreseeable future and the sun is apparently going to keep coming so we may have to wait a while. Things are definitely at the stage where I think resorts will be struggling to open on time, so winter seems to be on hold for now. Best thing for it now is to do some skinning and get some fitness in preparation for the snow which will inevitably arrive before too long.

Despite the pessimistic outlook, I do have a few touring ideas up my sleeve for the next week...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tete Pelouse, La Clusaz

After a productive work day yesterday I was keen for more of the same again but after an hour in front of the laptop with occasional glimpses out of the window, I knew the game was up and so caved in and went for a tour. What willpower!

I ended up driving to La Clusaz and then on again to the tiny settlement of Les Confins, from where a huge number of good looking tours are accessed. However, in my hurry to get going I'd forgotten both the guidebook and the information I'd printed off from the internet so I was armed only with a French map - a "chocolate teapot" item if ever there was one. 

In the end I kept it simple and decided to head up the Combe du Grand Cret with an open mind, but hoping that I'd be able to find a way over a peak called the Tete Pelouse and  into the Combe de Bella Cha, which looked to have better snow cover low down.

Looking up from my start point. The Combe du Grand Cret Valley is on the left, the Combe de Bella Cha on the right. 

The skin up the Combe was great - a decent track and a perfect temperature for skinning without sweating too much. 

Enjoying the skin.

Once near the top of the Grand Cret there seemed to be all sorts of options but I had no idea if any of them led into the other Valley, so I just drifted rightwards towards the ridge line below -

I was hoping to get to the right-hand col on this photo but ended up too high and instead went to the middle one.

All on my lonesome.

As I got higher and began breaking my own trail I ended up taking my headphones out and just enjoying the solitude. The sun was out (albeit not shining on me), the views amazing and the snow seemed to be getting better and better as I got higher so life was pretty good. 

I eventually ended up re-joining an old skin track just before the col and I was glad of it because I'd done over 1000m of ascent without a break and was feeling pretty tired. Reaching the Col was great though - immense views and best of all a clear route into the Valley I was aiming for.

A flask of juice, leftovers from dinner and some fruitcake - what a lunch. Not a bad spot to eat it either.

So, what to go for?

The cold, north facing snow which was powdery but a bit changeable....

...or the sunny spring snow?

The spring snow! In fact it turned out to be powder, which put a smile on my face.

The descent down the Bella Cha was brilliant - 90% powder, a tiny bit of a crust and just the odd rock for most of the way down. Unfortunately the last few hundred metres was 90% rocks and 10% crust but you can't have everything :)

Looking back at my tracks. The slightly erratic course was due to me trying to stay away from any old tracks - there's no point putting in the effort if you then ski where someone else did.

So, another great early season day. The amount of terrain above Les Confins is mind blowing and some of it looks pretty adventurous to say the least. To quote the former Governor of California, "I'll be back".

Monday, 2 December 2013

Courmayeur & Verbier

After a heavier than expected snowfall on Friday, we were confident that we'd be able to find good snow over the weekend without needing to do any touring. First up was Courmayeur, which started badly when we got through the tunnel only to find no fresh snow on the ground. Luckily enough, things looked white up high and we ended up getting some great fresh tracks despite there not being a huge amount of lifts open. It never ceases to amaze me how different conditions can be in Courmayeur and Chamonix and today was no exception - we went from shovelling the car to a dry Italian Valley (which is 300m higher than Cham) in one trip through the Mont Blanc Tunnel. I guess having Europe's highest mountain between the 2 towns probably has a lot to do with it but it still feels weird to me. Anyway, an excellent day despite first appearances.

Sharon deep in it.

Tristan with the Grandes Jorasses behind. The views from Courmayeur really are incredible.

When I was skiing down on the last run, I was blown away by the pink evening light but then I realised that I had my pink tint goggles on. Such is the brain power of your typical ski bum. Anyway, I made the most of my stupidity and took this shot through my lens. I quite like it.

On Sunday we made a last minute decision to head to Verbier and we ended up finding some great snow. The snow cover is getting better but is still very thin lower down, so Matt and I had 2 great runs off the top of Mont Fort but made the mistake of carrying on down to Tortin on the first one, resulting in numerous rock encounters. Still, a brilliant day and yet another reminder that I need to go to Verbier more.

Matt on Mont Fort.

Matt on one of the better covered sections above Tortin.

We ran into my mate Ian on the way up to Mont Fort and he had collected a rock pretty heavily on the run just before we saw him. Ouch!

The weather is now set to be sunny and very warm (freezing level above 3000m) all week so it's tough to know what good options there are. One good thing is that a freeze/thaw cycle might turn this powder snow into a decent base lower down so let's see what unfolds. Whatever happens, winter is off to a great start.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Combe a Marion, Col des Aravis

Having sampled the skiing in the Aravis a few days back, it seemed rude not to go back for another look. This time we headed up to the Col des Aravis for a trip up the Combe a Marion - a spectacular north facing bowl which leads to a hidden gully and col.

All Photos Gary Tulloch

Me at the start of the skin. 

As anticipated, it was pretty chilly heading up to the Col, but the wind wasn't nearly as strong as a few days ago so the skin up was a bit more enjoyable. Some of the skinning is pretty awkward as you can't really avoid going up a narrow gully, but the scenery is amazing so it's tough not to enjoy the ascent. 

The upper bowl - big country.

Earning the turns.

As you get higher and higher, the atmosphere keeps on improving until you eventually emerge at the Col which separates the Combe a Marion and the Combe de la Blonniere. We passed a very pleasant half hour soaking up the sun at the Col and then strapped the skis on and headed back into the shade for the descent. 

A terrible lunch spot.

The ski down was great fun and took in some excellent powder, the odd bit of crust and the occasional rock where the snow cover was a bit thin. Despite the rocks, the ski was excellent overall and well worth the effort of the skin. 

Me near the start of the skiing.

Seeking out the good stuff. 

Seeking, and finding.

There's a couple of really good topos here so get on it before the weather closes in again!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pointe de Merdassier NW Face

It hasn't snowed for a few days now but temperatures have been really low so Tristan, Jack and I figured that we could still find some good snow. The direction of the recent winds seems to have resulted in the Aravis getting plenty of snow so we went to check out the Pointe de Merdassier, high above La Clusaz.


The Merdassier is the highest peak, on the left. The NW Face comes straight down the shaded bowl in the middle of the photo, in between the 2 obvious rock bands. 

The skin up the peak was nice but freezing cold, and when we reached the final summit ridge and started booting, things got even colder and windier. Randomly but very happily for us, there was no wind at all on the summit so we had an excellent lunch spot, spoiled only by me dropping the cup from my flask, which disappeared never to be seen again.

Jack and me on the summit.


Athlete food - a pork pie.

Stunning views across to Mont Blanc from the summit.

From the summit we did a short traverse into the NW face and then dropped in.

Jack traversing to the face.


A clear win for me in the effort:reward ratio stakes! Time to enjoy the big skis after the effort of pushing them up 900m.

The snow at the top of the face was pretty thin and involved some fairly amusing grass skiing...

After that the snow was quite crusty but got better and better until we reached the lower half, which was just perfect powder through the trees. 

Looking back up at Jack and Tristan on their way down the upper section.


Tristan in the first section of the good stuff. 

I'm still traumatised by the disappointment of the incident I'm about to describe but here goes...Having finally reached the perfect powder I hit a rock on my first turn, my ski came off as I face-planted, and then the ski picked up some speed on some firmer snow and shot off down the hill. Struggling to hold back the tears of disappointment, I skied down on one ski and the snow was so good that it was still fun even with half kit. The ski had lodged itself in a tree a few hundred metres down and seems to have suffered no damage. This is the 3rd time I've had this happen to someone in my group (although it was the first time I've been the "victim") and I think I'll just have to accept that it's bad luck. I'm not into skis leashes, and I don't want to lock my skis onto my feet, but if anyone has an idea to improve the performance of ski brakes, let me know!

Anyway, a superb day despite this incident, and a highly recommended early season tour. Best of all, we scoped out LOADS of good stuff in the Aravis and even took a bit of a detour on the way home in order to scout something out...Standby!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


With winter on its way I'm delighted to say that this season I'll be supported by Black Crows skis, Scarpa footwear and Plum bindings. This is an amazing opportunity for me and I just can't wait for the white stuff to arrive in LARGE quantities. 

A massive thank you to the 3 companies - bring on winter!

Dreaming of winter! Photo Carol Boscoe.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Verbier and Tete de Veret

After a wet day on Friday, the weather was forecast to be clear both days of the weekend and just about everyone in Cham was plotting and scheming to come up with a good plan. Everyone I know agreed that Verbier was the best idea for Saturday and I couldn't think of a better plan, so we headed over there for the second Saturday in a row. Coverage has improved a lot in the intervening week and there were a lot more lifts open so an excellent day was had. 

There are plenty of rocks poking through so going into the powder felt slightly like walking on eggshells at times, and you couldn't really let rip for fear of hitting an unseen rock, but there was some amazing snow and plenty of good terrain available. We started off with a razz around the Lac des Vaux, then a couple of runs down to Tortin, a lap down the Funispace and finally a big, beautiful couloir below the Funispace which took us all the way to Verbier. It wasn't the biggest ski day ever but it's more than enough for this time of year - everyone was buggered by the end! 

The new Crows about to fly.

Matt deep in it on the final run of the day.

Today (Sunday) a big group of us headed back to the Les Carroz/Flaine area for a half day tour. We skinned up to the top of the Grand Vans chairlift, then along the ridge to the Tete de Veret for a look at its NE couloir. It turned out that the entrance was a bit steeper than we'd expected, but it was fine once you dropped in - a pleasant case of a mountain's bark being worse than its bite. The couloir and the bowl below it were great - fun terrain and some decent snow in places.

The team heading up.

Looking back up at the NE couloir - I didn't take any pictures on the way down as I was busy enjoying myself.

From where the picture above was taken, we stuck the skis back on and were soon back at the top of the Grand Vans ready for the ski to the car. The snow from here was even better and we got plenty of powder and also a bit of bushwhacking, which is all part of the fun. 

Matt and Sharon about to start the skin back up to the Grand Vans.

Ready for the final ski to the car.

Pointe Percee

Me, Sophie and Sharon loving the powder.

It looks as if Monday is going to be the final day of decent weather and then it is snow, snow, snow. No complaints from me.