Y Couloir

Graham: Finding the entrance to Y Couloir

Location: Argentiere Basin
Snow: Very firm & rutted at the top, softening lower
Weather: Bluebird, some wind

Graham and I headed up the Aiguille d’Argentiere to try to find good snow in the skier’s-right branch of Y Couloir today, but nae luck.  Very firm snow in the first half of the branch with horrible ruts, softening just a little lower down, and OK spring snow once joining the main branch.  One to try again sometime.

Graham: Starting the skin up the Argentiere Glacier

Graham: Softer snow once joining the main couloir branch

Floria/Mort

Nice soft/sugary snow on the Mort descent variation

Location: Aiguilles Rouges
Snow: Mixed
Weather: Bluebird, warm

Very mixed snow today but a fun day anyway linking two Chamonix classics.

A quick ascent form Index to Col de la Floria brought us to some chalky/grabby snow in the main couloir, tracked but not tracked-out, followed by a mix of soft and wind/warmth-affected snow on the mellow slopes below.  From the bottom, we had initially planned to climb directly to Glacier du Mort but with sunny slopes warming up fast we changed plans to climb to the top of the Mort couloir from the north from midway along the Col de Berard traverse skintrack which turned out to be pretty straightforward with just a short tricky steep section at the end.

On the Mort descent, more semi-tracked mixed snow, mostly quite grabby again, before taking an untracked variation I know from past years which provided very nice soft/sugary snow and linked back into the Col de Berard descent where the medowy section was still holding nice soft snow.

A very good Berard Valley exit brought us out to the Buet Hotel in perfect time, ie. 40 minutes before the train arrived for beers on the deckchairs outside.

Graham: Grabby snow in the Col de la Floria north couloir but not too tracked

Graham: Nice soft/sugary snow on the Mort descent variation

Classic end to a tour in the Aiguilles Rouges

Surprise Surprise

The best snow on shaded slopes of the Toule Glacier

Location: Helbronner & Courmayeur
Snow: Deep powder in the shade, heavy in the sun
Weather: Sun & cloud

It’s entirely fair to say that winter 16/17 has been totally shit so far in Chamonix.  I’ve had less than 10 ski days so far instead of my usual 35-40 by this time of year, and with warm temperatures and school holidays starting this week plus lots of work on, my ski motivation has been at an all time low so I’ve been shopping for bike parts and making summer plans already.  Then today came along and completely blew away my expectations.

Italy got a bit more recent snow than the French side of Mont Blanc so Graham and I headed through mid-morning to have a look about.  One lap off the top of the Helbronner lifts to start with (my first time in over two years) for a line far right on the Toule Glacier provided excellent deep powder especially in shaded areas.  The snow was warming up fast and got progressively more heavy and sticky back towards Pavillon midstation so we decided than one run was enough.

Over on the Courmayeur lifts we bagged just one main run too, exploring further left than usual from the Arp for fairly mellow skiing with some interesting gullies and plenty of untouched powder all the way to the Zerotta road, and the Val Veny trees were skiing pretty well at the top of our home run but got heavy very quickly.

Graham: Steps down to the Toule Glacier

Graham: Far right of the Toule Glacier

Graham: Very nice off the Arp

Vallorcine Powder

Graham: Dropping into the lower Vallorcine trees

Location: Vallorcine
Snow: 25cm powder, some soft windslab
Weather: Snow/cloud/sun

Decent snow off the Tete de Balme today.  Things got busy pretty quickly but we still found some good untracked stuff on each lap anyway with a little effort.

Graham: Not everywhere got tracked-out

Combe du Pouce

Graham: Skins back on for the crossing towards the Gliere

Location: Aiguilles Rouges
Snow: Mixed
Weather: Bluebird, warm

With warm temperatures and high winds earlier this week we weren’t expecting great snow today, but had planned an interesting new little route in the Rouges for a bit of fun anyway: the Combe du Pouce on the W face of the the Aiguille de la Glière with an exit to Le Buet roughly following this camptocamp.org guide.

From the Index lift we skinned then bootpacked then skinned then climbed a quick 500m up to the Glière on an OK track with just one other group behind us.  Snow on the descent was very mixed; some smooth and slightly chalky, some powdery and lots of wind-affected snow with mini-satrugi which my light skis really weren’t liking much.  We weren’t sure if the Floria exit gorge would go OK so stayed left with a bit of easy bushwhacking and soft tree skiing to bring us out a little lower than originally planned before a long, hot 850m skin up to the Col de Berard (definitely happy to be on my light skis for that).  Into the Berard Valley we got the best snow of the day, well-tracked but soft, before an OK track for a skis-on exit all the way to Le Buet with just a few rocks in the middle section.

Definitely one to repeat in better conditions.

Graham: Closing in on the Gliere

Decent soft snow at the very top

Graham: Practising his wrong-side one-hand jump turns in a steep little couloir halfway down

Graham: Wee drop in the trees

Just Pistes

Nice to get the piste skis up to speed

Location: Les Houches
Snow: Firm pistes
Weather: Bluebird

Just a few piste laps on the GS skis before work this morning.  Excellent firm snow, no crowds and not as cold as earlier in the week.

Lots of space on the back side of the mountain overlooking the Arve valley

Le Petit Croisse Baulet E Face

Graham: Dropping into the E face of Le Petit Croisse Baulet

Location: Portes du Mont Blanc
Snow: 25cm powder, a little sugary lower down
Weather: Bluebird, cold, windy up high

A little resort touring today from Megeve’s lifts, something we had heard is worth some short hikes and an area we know a little from summer biking.

From the Combloux base we took lifts up to Sommet des Salles before a quick 350m skin through Col de Jaillet to the summit of Le Petit Croisse Baulet.  We had originally planned to ski the NW face toward Giettaz but the snow looked much better on the E face so we changed plans for that.

Graham, Roddy: Halfway up to the summit

Off the summit we found nice boot-top powder on the fairly mellow face leading into some gullies where the snow turned a little sugary but still very nice to ski.  We continued down to rejoin the resort pistes and eventually made it after some some pretty nasty bushwhacking and sidestepping; next time I’d skin out to Col de Jaillet for an easier exit and a quick second lap.

Graham, Roddy: Considering an alternative exit route (we should have done it)

With time getting on and the snow on the NW face not looking great we abandoned plans for a second lap from the same peak and instead made a very quick skin up the groomed track to the north of Le Christomet which we know well from the summer.

Dropping in to the east from about halfway towards l’Eperon we enjoyed a short mellow powder field then some very fun skiing in clearings between the trees …then some more bushwhacking when we ended up in the riverbed.  We got out fine but staying way left or right next time would make it an easier job.

Graham: Nice mellow powder at the top of the second descent

First day on my new big touring skis today too: Invictus 108s which I’ve swapped my Kingpins onto.  Initial impressions are very good; heavy-ish, stiff-ish, powerful but pretty natural in the soft snow and decent on the piste (a bit of edge work will no doubt improve things).  I’m sure they’ll do a great job for their intended purpose.

Here We Go Again

Not me or my friends, but a nice intro photo (at the col between Tete de Balme and Croix de Fer)

Location: Le Tour/Vallorcine
Snow: 25cm powder on a good base, some wind-affected snow
Weather: Bluebird, cold

Proper snow is here, holiday crowds have left town and I’m kind of on top of things with work, work and work now, so time for some skiing.

Le Tour’s Tete de Balme chairlift didn’t open yesterday so we took a gamble and headed up there with hopes that it would today, but with touring gear packed in case it didn’t.  Just as well, as the lift status gave an 11am opening time when we checked it on the drive up.

Snow on the front side wasn’t looking great from yesterday so we skinned about half an hour from the Autannes chairlift to the Tete de Balme peak for a much-needed warm-up, keeping full layers, helmets and goggles on.  The other group that joined our ascent broke off towards Croix de Fer (maybe finding good or sketchy conditions) so we had the short descent towards the chairlift to ourselves on pretty nasty windblown snow, avoiding the steep deathtrap slopes above and right of the chairlift.

Trekkers for the skin up (not as shit as most people say they are)

Below the top of the lift the snow improved a lot; mostly just 20-25cm powder but creamy-smooth and with a good base; just one rock scrape for me all day.  Only the lifites and pisteurs had been down since the new snowfall so we stuck to the lift line, skiing flat-out on the fun mellow angles and rolls.

We arrived at the chairlift base at 10.45am just as the startup bell sounded and the lifties were as stoked as we were on the conditions, congratulating us on being their first customers of the winter.  Two more laps with barely anyone else on the lift next, then a couple more with a little more traffic which was mostly sticking to the same lines so it was easy to keep finding untouched snow without even having to go too far right from the lift line.

Colin: Heading from Tete de Balme peak to Tete de Balme chairlift on wind-scoured snow (Mont Buet in the background)

Colin: Deep

We headed home pretty early to save the legs for tomorrow, with the front-side pistes on the upper mountain in perfect condition and the home-run piste a bit icy.

Dinner at MBC coming up shortly; a classic end to a classic Monday ski day and I’m definitely in the mood for winter now.  Excellent to ski with my old pal Colin off the lifts for the first time in a couple of years too, now that he’s bought himself a lift pass!

The Longest Autumn

First ride back home after my Canada trip (Flegere, 31st October)

In recent years autumn has jumped from being my least favourite season of the year to possibly my favourite of all, with nice cool weather, a bit of moisture on the trails and very low crowds making for perfect biking conditions. After returning from Canada I was a little worried that I’d like Chamonix’s natural trails less than before, being much more rough & ready than those in BC and not purpose-built for biking, but it turned out to be the opposite situation; I felt like I was riding with more confidence than ever and enjoying them even more than usual.

Normally the Brevent lifts reopen for three weeks in November but this year it was Flegere for five weeks in October/November, so a little more time for easy-access 800m laps even though I don’t like the trails quite as much.  There’s always plenty other local stuff to hike or pedal too so I made the most of the dry weather while it lasted and kept my legs fit for ski season.

With great effort comes great reward (Plan de l'Aiguille, 1st November)

A couple of storms rolled into town in November so I put my bike away and got three decent ski days.  Then things got dry …very dry.

While some Chamonix locals were getting out ski touring during six weeks of no snowfall and trying to convince themselves and others how good it was I was more happy to get out pedalling again for what I consider to be more reward from less effort, and as the dry & mild weather continued I was really happy that I hadn’t decided to stay in ski mode this year once I started in November.  Luckily I found a few like-minded friends of friends to ride with and the longest autumn on record continued to provide really fun days through to early January including a few new variations of existing trails and and some roadtrips to some new spots, especially on the sunny side of the Aosta Valley where we met up with some of the friendliest locals ever for a couple of good shuttle days to finish off biking season.

Lovely autumn colours and trail conditions (Brevent, 7th December)

Incredible conditions on Who's Way after a big push up from Saint Gervais (18th December)

Final ride for now, and a very nice one to finish on with a good crew (Aosta, 5th January)

I was hoping for one more ride this week but with falling temperatures and a little snowfall I think biking is finished for a while.  Back on the skis soon.

Courmayeur Opening Day

Courmayeur does pretty good views

Location: Courmayeur
Snow: Fresh dense snow, rain crust below 2200m
Weather: Hazy cloud then sun

This week’s foehn wind has given us warm, dry weather in the Chamonix valley but on the Italian side of Mont Blanc there was a good amount of snowfall, just in time for Courmayeur’s opening day today.  Crowds were low (thanks for staying home everyone), the coffee was cheap and although the snow was quite heavy it was creamy smooth with no rocks hit all day and we found plenty of untracked gullies, rolls and drops off the Youla lift right up to the last lap.  Below about 2200m there was a pretty heavy rain crust (mostly breakable), but who cares when the skiing up high is this good?

Graham: Aye, that'll do

Rain-crusted pyramid jib & Mont Blanc

The next week looks pretty dry and warm.  I’ve washed off my bike and am getting into winter mode more and more but I’ll probably get back out on some rides this week anyway.

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