Park Skis, Not in the Park

View from the Tete de Balme down the Chamonix Valley as the clouds rolled in

Location: Le Tour/Vallorcine
Snow: 20cm powder
Weather: Increasing cloud

Tied legs from yesterday’s long day and lots of work on, but I fancied some lazy park laps today while the weather was fair.  Bad news: the park still hadn’t opened by the time I got up to Le Tour at 12.30pm.  Good news: it’s getting completely rebuilt, hopefully with better landings and bigger features.

So I figured I might as well have a blast around the Tete de Balme on my jib skis anyway (2005/2006 Head Mojo 90s) which turned out to be way more fun than expected.  90mm was considered a proper fat ski about 15 years ago after all so they were fine in today’s shallow powder, just a little more care required to stay balanced due to their centre-mounted bindings.  I won’t be getting rid of any of my modern freeride skis any time soon but it’s nice to know I can still enjoy conditions like this on 10-year-old gear if I want to.

Classico

Graham: Pillow shifty

Location: Helbronner & Courmayeur
Snow: 40-50cm powder
Weather: Cloud and sun

There was only one place on our minds for today’s skiing: Courmayeur.  Through to Val Veny for 9am the lift wasn’t open yet so rather than wait it out we headed up the new Helbronner Skyway lift for the first time, thinking that we would be battling traffic but everyone spread out very quickly and we got two sublime untracked laps down from the Pavillon midstation leading into the main gully skier’s-left of the lift line.  Genuine knee-deep powder, the deepest I’ve had this year for faceshots the whole way; incredible stuff.  We timed it perfectly at the end of our first lap for a minibus ride back to the lift station with the Skyway staff member running shuttles but the ski/skate back on the road after our second lap wasn’t much effort anyway.

On to Val Veny for the rest of the day once it opened around 11am for 7 or 8 laps just in the Val Veny trees in all of the spots we have come to know well over the last five years plus a couple of new variations.  The first lap was the best I’ve ever had in this area where we found a fast and flowy line in untouched deep powder which I had the privilege to ski first with fast shallow turns the whole way.  Plenty of pillows and drops to hit today too and with the deep landings it was time to try a few flips and spins;none landed cleanly but we came away smiling so who cares?

Nice to bump into quite a few Chamonix friends in the lift on most laps out enjoying the conditions and comparing routes, and we were skiing mostly untouched every lap until 4pm when our legs were ready to give up.  Cheers everyone!

Unknown: Deep!

Riders on the Storm

Pillow popping in the Magic Forest

Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 20-30cm powder, heavy down low
Weather: Snow/sleet/rain descending the mountain, getting heavier, poor visibility

Here we go again… a big storm has rolled into town and temperatures are slowly dropping so we bagged some local storm laps on GM today while things fill in.  I haven’t gone out during a big snowfall like this in a while but it’s good to be reminded why I should, with no real crowds on the hill even as we enter the holiday period and even less as the snow started to fall heavier.  Mind you, we did hear a few other Scottish accents in the lifts out enjoying the conditions!

We timed it pretty well for the Herse’s late opening for a couple of long laps to the carpark; lightly tracked up top but good enough to ski fast, then a bit heavy past the Refuge de Lognan but less skied so still good fun.

One Magic Forest lap next with some fun drops around one of the gullies, then at the top we got the thumbs-up from the Pendent liftie preparing the chairs so got a few nice pillow laps in that direction with easy exits; a little heavy again so tranny finding was the name of the game.

Graham: A little heavy in the trees but deep & smooth

No Bochard today but we managed to traverse into the edge of Lavancher Bowl OK from the Herse as the snowfall increased.  Poor visibility in there at times but the snow had gathered deeper so when we could see where we were going it was excellent.

Home on the Pierre a Ric as the snow turned to sleet then rain towards the carpark to head home soggy but satisfied.  More tomorrow!

Deep & untracked on the edge of Lavancher Bowl

I got one long lap on a pair of Faction Candide 3.0s today which Graham had borrowed from our pal Spence.  I found them nice and jibby but not enough ski for me (186cm and a light construction).  Graham really got on with them so I’m sure the longer lengths would suit me a bit better at least (there’s a 204cm length listed on Faction’s website!) but they were just too much of a departure from the stiffer & heavier skis that I’ve grown to like for everyday riding.

Lunch Laps

Graham: Classic Hotel Face shot

Location: Brevent
Snow: 30cm powder, baked on south aspects
Weather: Bluebird, warm

Just a few laps on the local hill for lunch today.  I had a couple of runs off Cornu to check things out before Graham got up, finding heavy & baked snow on the south aspects through the Keyhole but good snow on east faces under Cornu ridge’s couloirs.

So Cornu ridge first, down the one untracked couloir I had spotted earlier but it wasn’t good snow on the old gasex debris path (probably detonated yesterday morning) so we moved on.

Three laps of Hotel Face instead.  No queues, an easy traverse track and three different route variations.  The snow was tracked but not too heavily, still easy to find untouched sections with a few small drops.  Temperatures were very warm (I was down to a short sleeve and shell jacket pretty quickly) but things should be getting colder by Monday bringing some decent snowfall.

Graham: Baked snow but we got the shot

Tete de Balme

Still untracked in the trees at 11.30am if you knew where to look

Location: Vallorcine
Snow: 25-35cm, sometimes on a firm & bumpy base
Weather: Cloudy then sunny then cloudy

Pretty nice off Tete de Balme today.  A good bit of new snow, feeling deep and skiing well up top but the lower sections which saw a lot of traffic over the past few days still had firm bumps to be felt underneath.  Sticking to the lesser-known spots gave much nicer snow, not the best pillow landings but I was putting the first track into three entrances on my last laps so still good fun.

Gros Rognon

Aiguille du Midi top station

Location: Aiguille du Midi
Snow: Chalky then crusty then spring snow
Weather: Hazy cloud, warm

A quick run off the Midi today for my first time this winter before February holiday crowds arrive next week.  Nice smooth chalky snow on the Gros Rognon route without too many other tracks and only two other ski groups, a little crusty at the Salle a Manger and an easy exit in spring snow on the Mer de Glace to within 20m of the steps.

Full speed on the top pitch of Gros Rognon

Smooth chalky snow on the main descent

The Mer de Glace from Montenvers station

The Houches

Very atmospheric inside the clouds before they cleared

Location: Les Houches
Snow: Soft and a little sticky on piste, very soft and sticky off piste
Weather: Mostly clouds then mostly sun

Sky high freezing levels for the past day and a half meant that I wasn’t convinced how fun or safe anything off piste would be today, so just some Les Houches laps for the first time this winter.  The clouds cleared mid-morning and it was full spring conditions everywhere; nice soft pistes, some side-hits to find and not too busy.

Very fun & relaxed, and I’m loving my Devastators more and more every time I ski them.

Nice views over the Mont Blanc Massif once things cleared up

Race Skis In Italy

Fleur: Nice piste, nice backdrop

Location: Courmayeur
Snow: Soft pistes
Weather: Bluebird

Just pistes today, through in Italy for better pistes than anywhere in the Chamonix Valley and on my new (second hand) GS skis for the first time to make things interesting.  Soft pistes, low crowds, fine weather and a couple of cappuccino breaks made for a nice relaxed day.

The skis were a lot of fun too; their 191 length is shorter than what a racer of my size would use, meaning that meant they didn’t kick my ass but still had incredible grip and stability on the pistes.  A fine addition to my ski quiver I think!

15/16 ski quiver

More Park

Angus: Spinning the first kicker

Location: Le Tour
Snow: Soft pistes
Weather: Hazy cloud, warm

Another relaxed and fun few laps in the park today.  Red kicker takeoffs have improved a little from earlier in the week, there’s one new kicker in the making and lots of new rails ready to be installed.

Up/down box at the bottom of the park

Summit Park

The third red kicker in Le Tour's Summit Park

Location: Le Tour
Snow: Soft pistes
Weather: Bluebird, warm

A park day today, my first in almost two years.  I’ve been missing park kickers a little bit even with all of the other ski options around Chamonix; there’s something nice and simple about going to the park, lapping it until you’re tired and going home, compared to a lot of other types of skiing which require some planning and management throughout the day.

The “Summit Park” opened on Le Tour last week instead of the small park at Grands Montets from years past.  At the moment there are 4 red kickers (6-7m), 8 blue kickers (2-5m) plus two boxes open and one of the park crew told me that black kickers will be built soon.  Everything was skiing OK but the landings are far too flat in my opinion and takeoffs a little too flat.  The kickers are a little inconsistent too, even being about the same size their takeoffs are all a little different so it took me a while to get comfortable with my speed on them before trying any spins but I got there.  My first rails (well, boxes) in about 6 years too thanks to new free park skis whose edges I don’t really care about, which felt good.

Hopefully some bigger features get built soon and this will be a nice option in dry spells this year if I have no-one to go touring with.

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