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.

Lavancher Laps

Graham: Best snow of the day in the lower half of Lavancher Bowl

Location: Grands Montets
Snow: Mostly 15-20cm sugar
Weather: Hazy cloud, warm

Grands Montets’ Bochard gondola opened this weekend thanks to last week’s lower temperatures and new snow.  I didn’t make it up the hill yesterday but Graham reported decent conditions, so we headed up this morning for a couple of laps of Lavancher Bowl with touring gear for the return to midstation.

Not many tracks were leading into Lavancher so there was plenty of untouched smooth sugary snow for us for one run to the tunnel with an easy hike out on the piste and then one to the Pendent chairlift for a mellow skin back on the cat track.  There were a few rocks around but seeing as I was on broken skis it was nice not to care much and take long fast turns in the open sections but I only clipped a few lightly anyway.

Graham: Steeper little pitch

Very nice smooth sugary snow lower down

Things sound a bit warm and wet for the next week but there should be a bit of snow up high midweek and the base should be sorted nice and early this year for a change.  Maybe even some biking still to do at valley level.

Here We Go

Feeling good in the powder

Location: La Fouly
Snow: 30cm powder, some wind & sun-affected
Weather: Bluebird

Winter 16/17 is well and truly upon us.  After some bike maintenance on my return to Chamonix I only managed a few rides off the Flegere cablecar, one at Loriaz and an excellent late-afternoon descent from Plan de l’Aiguille before temperatures dropped last week and the snow started falling.  My bike still hasn’t had its end-of-season wash but I’m pretty doubtful that I’ll get back out on it this year so it’s ski time now.

Verbier had a few lifts open today but our passes don’t work there yet so we headed to the small Swiss resort of La Fouly for a quick tour on its mellow, grassy slopes.  After about 600m skinning on a mix of groomed cat-track, semi-groomed cat-track and skin track we were at the top of the resort with a few groups ahead of us.  Plenty of fresh snow for everyone today though; a good 30cm of powder for the most part, a little wind or sun-affected in places and not many rock strikes under the surface.

Graham: Tackling some powder single-handed between wrist operations

Little drop lower down

So not the most exciting day but not a bad way to kick off the winter either and it’s nice to get back into the winter routine anyway with my ski gear feeling good.  This week looks pretty sunny so I’ll maybe get some resort touring around Chamonix if I’m bored, and there looks like another good dump of snow incoming next weekend.

School Holiday Dates 2016/2017

Here are the UK and French school holiday dates for the upcoming winter.

Canada, Eh?

Upper Angry Pirate; one of my favourite park trails

Oh Canada.  I’m currently sitting in Glasgow after my first “real holiday” since 2008: 17 days spent staying in Whistler with my former Chamonix housemate Rob and hitting some of the best nearby riding spots.  Graham was set to come on the trip too until a nasty wrist injury put him out of action at the start of September; it was a real shame not to share it all with me as the friend who really got me into biking in the first place but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying myself!  Early or mid September would have been a better time to visit for drier weather and more time in the Whistler bike park but I had an Irish wedding to attend at the end of September and Graham was meant to be racing the last two EWS stages so flights had been booked to arrive on 5th October.

Thanks to some very nasty weather I only managed one wet day and two dry days in the park in the end, and only on the lower mountain due to snow closing the Garbanzo chairlift, but I really got a taste for why it is famous as one of the premier lift-accessed bike parks in the world.

Riding the perfectly smooth blue flow trails was a real treat compared to the 100% natural tracks I ride most of the time back home; nothing but fun berms and jumps, perfect to start me off.  I probably hit more jumps in the first two days than I have in the past five years, slowly getting my confidence up to hit some of the classic bigger jump trails by the end of the second day and feeling comfortable getting just a little bit sideways in the air for the first time on day three.  Some of the technical double-black trails were a little intimidating at times but I could pick my way down everything OK, and my favourite trails of all were the blacks which blended a bit of flow and tech together nicely.

Rock drop on Schleyer

Paul: Northshore drop on Fade to Black

Once the park shut I was really regretting not doing the trip in September after all, but after I had been on a few other trails I found that I preferred the riding outside of the park.  The trail-building culture in BC, from local bike authorities and individuals alike, is something we just don’t have back home; every track was purpose-made for biking and well documented on the excellent Trailforks app.  I felt I could ride as fast and as confidently as most of the group on these trails, compared to the in park where I felt a bit cautious a lot of the time, so could really enjoy them to their fullest.

As well as local rides in the Whistler valley I got to sample trails in Pemberton, Merritt, Kamloops and Lillooet, all with their own character and features, but I feel like I only scratched the surface of what each area has to offer.  See the photo captions below for trail names and locations.

My introduction to rock rolls on Green Monster (Whistler)

Nice views towards Mount Currie at the bottom of Stimulus (Whistler)

Accessing Rio Escondido (Kamloops)

Rob: Riding the whole Merritt/Kamloops trip on a twisted ankle

One of the best day's riding ever at Della Creek (Lillooet)

I’m already thinking about a return trip next autumn but there’s plenty to enjoy back home in the meantime.  Some friends have been skiing up high in Chamonix for a few weeks already but I’m not quite ready to scrape the storage wax off my skis yet; Flegere is open for the next five weeks with some new trails I want to explore, plus the usual classics around the valley to pedal up or maybe even some Canadian-style shuttle laps.

I’d like to give a big thank you to the new friends I rode with around Whistler, the old ones I met up with, and most of all to Rob and Kathleen for being such good hosts.  See you all next autumn I hope!

Very fun gully section at Della Creek (Lillooet)

September

Late-afternoon golden light at the top end of the valley

Ah, September.  Probably my favourite month of the Chamonix summer season, and one of my favourite of the whole year.  Town is a lot quieter with the main summer holiday season & UTMB race week finished, work contracts are coming to an end, the weather is still good and bikes are allowed back on some of the best trails in the valley.  Game on.

Graham: One of only two descents of the Sentier des Gardes this summer

After my ride-as-many-different-lifts-as-possible challenge with Graham last month I had another big link-up ride at the start of the month with a very different goal: to ride my favourite trail on every lift-accessed mountain between Vallorcine and Sallanches.  Another spreadsheet was required to plan out the timings and I managed it all, taking nine big descents on the back side of Le Tour, front side of Le Tour, Grands Montets, Flegere, Brevent, back side of Les Houches, front side of Saint Gervais, back side of Saint Gervais and back side of Megeve/Combloux to finish at Sallanches for a pedal & train back home.  All-in I covered 155km in 13 hours and descended over 10,000m for very little uphill effort.  By the last descent my legs and arms were ready to give up so I was kind of glad I ended on a pretty mellow route but very satisfied to have finished another big day and I definitely want to do a few more like this each year.  This style of riding is quite unique to the Chamonix valley and hopefully we’ll see more people taking advantage of this in the years to come.

Bikers, walkers, paragliders, wingsuiters (out of shot) and sightseers all enjoying September on Brevent

For the rest of the month the various lifts throughout the valley were closing one-by-one so I got some final descents in on my favourite trails even if a poorly-timed train closure meant retrieving my car by bus the next day or dropping it down the valley the night before.

My only descent of Col du Tricot this summer; always worth the effort to push up here

Final descent from the summer lifts on my favourite newly-discovered trail

I’m writing this from Glasgow while I’m here visiting family and attending a friend’s wedding.  Next up, a wee trip across the ocean; watch this space for updates!

See you in a month Chamonix!

Summer Keeps Rolling

Bike park laps at Le Tour

We’re now more than halfway through the Chamonix summer season and it’s been another really fun one so far.  In past years I would be itching to ski by mid-summer but these days I’m happy to enjoy the biking to its fullest and let the snow come when it comes.

Classic views from the Tete de Balme

I’ve been riding on my own for a lot of the summer but those are still some of the most fun days, riding hard all day to my own pace and schedule.

I got hold of the excellent iPhiGénie app which provides full IGN maps with a GPS locator which has really helped in exploring new areas and finding new trails; much more convenient than a paper map and no time is spent finding the right section of the map or my exact location.  I’m learning how to spot potentially good trails better but sometimes I’ve been finding trails marked on the map that must not see much foot traffic and are so overgrown that they’re unridable.  It’s always a bit of an adventure anyway.  There’s something nice about riding into the unknown for the first time, and returning to the best trails not needing to be as cautious is really fun, as is taking friends down new discoveries.

Loamy trails off the back of Les Houches have been the best find – I won’t say exactly where they are but seek and ye shall find!  With almost every trail on the map now ticked-off I now know 6 distinct routes off the back instead of the 3 from past summers and the maze of trails lets you combine sections into a lot of different variations.

Finding new loamy trails on the back side of Les Houches

Much to the bemoanment of some bikers in Chamonix, Brevent and Flegere have been completely off-limits to bikes for July and August for the first time this year.  In my eyes it’s a minor inconvenience at worst; with most of the trails up there part of the mid-summer bike ban and the remaining legal trails often busy with walkers anyway, I really only take the occasional lunchtime lap in the Brevent main bowl most years in those months.  When you consider that we have 12 extra lifts included on the lift pass this summer spread across Saint Gervais, Les Contamines, and Megeve/Combloux/Giettaz in addition to the 6 still accepting bikes in the Chamonix valley, I’m not complaining at all.

In past years the various routes off the Back of Le Tour have been my favourite trails but it’s been nice to ride there far less this summer and explore the new terrain available in the areas mentioned above: Les Contamines for a decent bike park trail (not quite as nice as Saint Gervais but still smoother and flowier than anything in Chamonix) plus some easy-access technical singletrack, Megeve/Giettaz/Combloux for OK bike park trails and lots of new variations in their natural-ish trails in the woods that have seen some shovel work, and I’m still loving the Saint Gervais “Wizz” flow trail and the natural stuff off Bettex and Mont d’Arbois.

Robbie: Saint Gervais track in prime condition

Angus: Les Houches singletrack overlooking Les Contamines

Last year I had a good ride linking the Les Houches, Saint Gervais, Megeve and Combloux lifts, and a few years back Graham and I rode most of the Chamonix Valley lifts in a day, so we had an idea in our heads since the end of last summer to ride all of the lifts covered by our lift pass in a day.  Even with Brevent and Flegere excluded it was an impossible challenge really, especially if Les Contamines was included, but we made a big plan to ride every other lift that was open for bikes and pretty much managed it with 150km travelled and 9250m descended in 11 hours from Chamonix to Chamonix.  On more than one occasion we were riding trails flat-out and sprinting uphill to the next lift to make it before it closed on its lunch break or half hour rotation so we didn’t have as much time for photos as usual but still got enough for a nice little article for Pinkbike.com.

Definitely the biggest day I’ve done on the bike so far and one of the most enjoyable, so hopefully we can manage at least one more big day like this before the lifts start closing for summer over the next few weeks.

Graham: Wheelie at Col des Posettes at the start of our 150km day

Summertime Again

Really fun and flowy trails in Saint Gervais

Once again winter has come and gone, skis and Gore-Tex have been put away and the bikes and shorts have come out.

As the years go by my love of mountain biking grows and grows, and lately I get the feeling that if I had to choose only to ski or bike I’d be tempted to pick biking, with a far higher hit-rate for amazingly fun days on the mountain without anywhere near as much stress, crowds and risk as most ski days, as well as being far less dependent on the weather.  Luckily we don’t have to pick and I’m happy to take 6 months of each in rotation.

Good times in Finale

I didn’t start biking this year until I’d completely finished skiing in early May, and kicked things off with an excellent four days in the seaside town of Finale Ligure in the north of Italy after my old pal Andy invited a few of us along to crash at the massive Airbnb apartment he’d rented for his group, for my first real holiday in about 7 years.

Graham and Spence had both ridden the area a few times for EWS race weekends so had a few spots in mind for us to hit but the new trails proved to be the most fun (the Isallo Extasy trail at Din especially).  Being a bank holiday weekend the shuttle buses were almost fully booked so we only managed to take one single uplift to Din near the NATO base but most of the rides were only a 30-45 minute pedal up on good roads which helped with the early season fitness too.

Maybe the best thing about Finale was the general atmosphere; I’ve never been to such a mountain bike-friendly town, with roadies and old locals always giving a wave and a “Ciao” as we passed and the entire main square taken up by bikers from late afternoon onwards for aperitivo outside the bars on all sides.  I’ll definitely be back.

Got my bike set up just in time for local lifts opening (Brevent, looking towards the Mont Blanc Massif)

My shock (rear suspension) was in need of some work but I had left this until after Finale.  Unfortunately it took almost three weeks to get it sorted in a new workshop down the valley but with very wet weather in May I didn’t miss much good riding.  I got the shock back just in time for the local lifts opening and the weather improving in early June, and with some new wider & taller handlebars fitted to my bike it had never felt better.

Sunrise self-portrait at Es Canar on Ibiza's east coast

Late June saw me take a trip to Ibiza.  Yes, Ibiza.  Not my scene at all, but I was there for my old pal Scotty’s wedding.  I met Scotty when he moved into my house in Whistler in winter 2005/2006, and even after only knowing each other for a few months he’s one of the friends who made the most effort to visit me on my initial 8-week hospital stay in 2006 which will always mean a lot to me.

We were staying at an all-inclusive beach resort on the south-east coast and although the cost was hideously expensive for a ski bum like me it was nice to have a lot of the wedding party staying together and to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in easily 7-8 years.  Of course we took full advantage of the all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink facilities too!  I would have liked to make it out for a night out or two even though dance music really isn’t my thing, but at €50 entry, €16 drinks, €8 waters plus taxi rides across the island I just couldn’t do it.

Road biking above Cala Benirras on Ibiza's north coast

There’s meant to be some decent mountain biking on the island, and the terrain did remind me of Finale a little, but I wasn’t sure how good it would really be compared to my local trails or if I’d find the best ones, so I rented a road bike to take a circuit of the island instead for my first ever road ride.  A little online research suggested that the full loop would be about 135km so I fancied doing that plus a few detours to some beaches to hit 100 miles.  Ibiza couldn’t be too hilly or tough for a Chamonix resident, right?  Wrong!

Even after taking a few wrong turns which gave a shorter distance than planned (116km), I ended up doing 3754m of climbing according to my tracking app; the equivalent climbing from Chamonix to the summit of Mont Blanc!  The heat didn’t seem to bother me much but I did drink 5 litres of water and two cokes in the space of 7.5 hours including breaks, without peeing once.

I won’t be trading in my mountain bike any time soon but I can see the appeal of road biking a little more now, although I reckon the unknown location and navigation was half the fun of the ride.  It was a great way to see the whole island which was much nicer than I had imagined …except for San Antonio which is pretty much the hellhole I had pictured.  Any real road bikers would love it I’m sure.

Mr & Mrs Gauci after the beachside wedding ceremony

The wedding ceremony and reception was great too, on a small beach on the west coast, plus a really nice sunset midway through which I never see at the coast these days.

Sunset midway through the wedding reception at Cala Gracionetta on Ibiza's west coast

Back in Chamonix I got some new tyres set up on my bike and settled into my summer routine with all of the lifts open.  Riding my favourite trails for the first time of the year is always a treat and there’s plenty of new terrain included on our lift passes this year including Saint Gervais, Les Contamines, Megeve, Combloux and Giettaz.

It’s going to be a good summer, and there’s a trip to Whistler on the cards in the autumn too…

Fresh tyres, lifts all open; game on (looking towards Mont Blanc from Le Tour)

As always stay tuned to Graham’s bike blog for writeups of our bigger days around here, and I’m now on the Instagram so give me a “Follow” if you want to see daily photos and mini reports.

Done

The highlight of my winter (<a href="http://www.lornecameron.com/2016/mont-buet-ne-face/">Mont Buet, 12th April</a>)

Another winter has been and gone for me.  As always, some friends are still skiing up high but it’s that time of year when skiing offers diminishing returns for me and I’m more interested in getting out on my bike.  I’m just back from a good few days’ riding in Finale and now in Glasgow for a week, and looking forward to another long summer on the bike when I get back to Chamonix.

It was another frustratingly slow start to the winter but things caught up by mid January and gave us some very good days on the mountain.  Crowd avoidance was my main goal for most of the year; it was definitely the fewest days I’ve ever spent on Grands Montets and I managed to explore a few new areas including some bigger tours feeling fitter and on lighter gear.

Plans didn’t come together for return visits to some areas or for a few roadtrips, but there’s always next year.  Le Tour’s park came together pretty nicely midwinter, definitely something I appreciate being able to hit even for just a few days over the winter; hopefully the team builds on what they’ve managed in the years to come.

This has been the first winter in which I’ve picked up a few small injuries.  Maybe time to start thinking about some preventative measures, we’ll see.  Most importantly all of my friends stayed safe without any major injuries.

Now time to forget about skiing for 5-6 months and enjoy the summer!

Graham: Frostbitten toes well worth it on this day (<a href="http://www.lornecameron.com/2016/one-of-those-days/">Vallorcine, 15th January</a>)

Unknown skier: By far the deepest day this winter (<a href="http://www.lornecameron.com/2016/classico/">Helbronner & Courmayeur, 10th February</a>)

Graham: Prime conditions on the Plan (<a href="http://www.lornecameron.com/2016/two-runs/">Plan de l'Aiguille, 7th March</a>)

Graham: Touring in a new spot (<a href="http://www.lornecameron.com/2016/couloir-du-pissoir/">Argentiere Basin to Trient, 15th March</a>)

Andy: Finishing on a good one on the Rond (<a href="http://www.lornecameron.com/2016/rond/">Aiguille du Midi, 2nd May</a>)

Rond

Andy: Deep in the exit couloir

Location: Aiguille du Midi
Snow: 30cm powder, some firm, some crusty
Weather: Sun & clouds, windy up high

Probably my last ski day of the winter today.  I wasn’t even going to ski but when a plan of West Couloir came together last night (another classic route I’ve not got round to skiing yet), I thought why not.  The plan didn’t work out in the end but it was still a good one to finish on.

Things weren’t too busy at the Midi first thing and we were up to the top on the second lift of the day.  Out on the arete the wind was howling from the SE but we hoped that the Rond would be sheltered and that a few groups would be in front of us to test the snow, so headed around to the west side.

Windy on the Midi Arete

Round at the top of the sidestep track the wind was still strong but as soon as we were under Cosmiques Arete for the traverse into the Rond it was nice and sheltered and we could see one group ahead of us making their way in.  The entrance was quite rocky and narrow but not as bad as three weeks ago and fine without ice axes.

On the face itself the snow was a lot firmer than we had expected but still OK to ski with a rhythm, and on the skier’s-right side and lower down it was much deeper and softer.  With the snow a bit variable and no bootpack in place to West Couloir we abandoned the plan and stuck to the familiar route of the normal Rond exit couloir instead.

Slash on the right bank of Glacier Rond

Over at the exit couloir the entrance was a lot rockier and icier than usual, so an entrance a little lower than the normal one had been taken by the groups before us; still a little rocky and firm itself so it was a careful sidestep & shuffle in with axes.

Andy, Graham: Tricky entrance to the exit couloir

The exit couloir started off a bit firm too but quickly improved to a good 30cm powder most of the way with the odd bump and firm patch and clouds lingering in the bottom third, so it was a slightly cautious descent but still fun.

Andy: Snow still good lower down the exit couloir

And then the real fun part of the day.  There were 15-20 tracks ahead of us leading out of the Rond and Cosmiques descents so a good traverse track was in place to the Para Face down from the old top station.  From there half of the tracks had stuck under the cables and half went just a little onto the face.  All we had to do was go a little further right and enjoy long, fast turns in good soft snow; a little humid but still as fun as always.

Andy: Dropping into the Para Face

Bottom of the Para Face

We planned to head to the old midstation for an easy walk out, and between the main gully descent and the midstation the snow quickly turned to breakable crust and then heavy spring snow; pretty nasty to ski but well worth it for the face above.  We managed a few switchbacks on the summer path with skis on before taking them off for 20-30 minutes’ walk down to the tunnel, something we knew we’d be doing and definitely what I’d rather do than traverse back to Plan de l’Aiguille!

Andy, Graham: Walking out to the tunnel

Not perfect conditions at all, but good enough.  I’m happy to finish on this one.

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