Well, after 89 days on the hill my skiing is now finished for the winter. A lot of rain is falling in town this week but in these warm temperatures only the top of the Midi will be getting snow, so the only complete runs will be those on the north face which really don’t interest me. So it’s time to put the skis away and get ready for a good summer of biking ahead.
This winter has been hands-down the best and most fun winter I have ever had, due to a combination of consistently good snow conditions, the variety of the days I’ve had and a good group to ski with. I didn’t get as much touring as I’d like, but when the lift-served powder has been this good, why bother? I’m really happy with how I’ve been skiing and am now more confident than ever of my mindset and where I want to be within the fun-to-gnar spectrum of terrain on offer around Chamonix. I have a lot things I didn’t manage to get done this winter, mainly just skiing certain areas or getting good conditions on particular lines, but there’s always next year! Most importantly almost all of my friends got through the winter with no serious injuries. Next year Angus, next year…
A big thanks to everyone I’ve skied with this winter and especially those who helped out with photos. I’ve enjoyed the blogging process this winter and really didn’t expect the number of visitors and return-visitors the blog has had. So thanks for reading and commenting, hopefully this has given a little information and inspiration to help you make the most of your days on the hill. Until November!
Some shameless self-promotion today, but I’m being honest about it so that makes it OK, doesn’t it? The announcement: Boax Clothing’s end of season sale is now on, with 30-50% off all items in store. That’s 50% off all men’s and women’s t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, zip-hoodies and standard beanies, and 30% off all handmade custom beanies, headbands and neckwarmers.
Boax Clothing is a headwear and lifestyle clothing brand which I started in 2006 and now co-own with long-time ski partner and Chamonix resident Angus Paterson. What started as a personal project now forms my main line of work for most of the year, allowing me to work to my own schedule and maximise my ski time. We specialise in handmade custom headwear using acrylic or merino wool which you design yourself with our state-of-the-art live preview system before placing your order, plus a full range of men’s and women’s t-shirts and hoodies.
Head over to www.boax.co.uk to check out the full range.
Chamonix residents: if you’d like to pay in cash please contact me through this blog or the Boax Clothing website with the items you would like and I can hook you up!
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: Solid ice on piste
Weather: Sleeting and cold
Closing day at Grands Montets; the last resort-day of the winter and by far the worst conditions all winter! The weather forecast for today wasn’t great but I figured it was worth heading up anyway just for a couple of hours to check things out. Once we got up there, one piste run on Bochard was all we managed.
The past few days’ warm weather and rain had caused a lot of melting of the mid-mountain snow. With colder temperatures last night this had refrozen into solid ice on the piste meaning it was slide-turns and high speed sideslipping the whole way back to midstation (especially sketchy on the reverse-cambered Hojis I had borrowed for the day), amongst the falling sleet and 20m visibility. Rubbish! We even didn’t attempt a run off Top Bin, figuring that the top would be OK at best then back to the same conditions we had just experienced. Festivities at midstation were trying to be kept going but in these conditions no-one seemed to be in much of a party mood!
It’s a disappointing end to the winter at Grands Montets where I’ve had some of my best days this year so I’ll definitely try to get up the Midi on Monday or Tuesday for one final lap to finish on a decent day.
EDIT: We tried for one final Midi lap on Tuesday but were caught up in the break-down incident. A motor broke 20 seconds out of the bottom station, we hung around for half an hour then were winched down. The lift didn’t reopen all day, then poor weather rolled in for the rest of the week. It’s a really disappointing end to what has been an incredible winter, but sometimes that’s just the way things go in Chamonix!
Location: Aiguille Du Midi
Snow: Powdery at the top, spring snow in the middle, slushy at the bottom
Weather: Bluebird at the top, skiing in the cloud at the bottom
Heavy rain has been falling in town for the past two days, and while this wasn’t impressing those who have packed away their winter gear already I only had one question: “What’s the freezing level?” 2500m as it turns out, so there was surely a fair bit of fresh snow falling up high. We skipped GM today as it would surely be pretty busy, so the Midi was the place to be. Cunningham Couloir will have to wait until next winter as we didn’t fancy the exit back to midstation and the current entrance looks a bit sketchy, and after speaking to a guide this week I’m still not convinced that the north face of the Midi is my cup of tea, although we did see one group making good progress down the Mallory route on our way up today. Instead, just a lap of the Envers.
We were in the Midi lift line at 9.30am which was busy but not as bad as I expected and the majority were sightseers, so we were down the arete amongst very little traffic and onwards towards Grand Envers by 10.30am in perfect blue skies above the clouds. We had planned to break off to Petit Envers after hearing that there were a few quite open holes on the Grand this week, but seeing no tracks as yet on the Petit and only a few on the Grand, sticking to the Grand was the safer option.
The first pitch had quite grabby snow until crossing the bergschrund where it turned to nice boot-top powder to ski fast. The second had the best snow of the day; just-right spring snow to make quick fluid turns down then longer turns once the slope mellowed out. The third pitch had slightly heavier snow, still fine to ski fast but was sliding quite a lot in the heat so we took it carefully. We had planned to stay hard left to exit but again changed plans to stay safe by sticking amongst the existing tracks towards the Salle A Manger where we entered the clouds and things got a bit wet. The Mer De Glace had a decent track through it but got heavier and heavier so we were using our poles for most of it making the slowest exit I’ve ever had up there, with just a few rocky patches to cross before the steps up to Montenvers.
Despite the exit it was a really nice run at the top, so another good late-season day in the bag; nothing serious just fun skiing which is all I’m looking for right now. Grand Montets’ closing day is tomorrow so I’ll be up there to see what’s happening on and off the snow, then maybe just one more Midi lap on Monday or Tuesday ahead of the forecast foehn wind which will probably put an end to this winter’s skiing.
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: Slushy pistes
Weather: Mostly sunny, warm
Yes, snowboarding. Things were looking hot and sunny for today so we had planned an easy day cruising around the lifts but managed to keep things interesting by bagging some ski and snowboard setups courtesy of Local CHX and Sanglard Sports, so Graham and I were on snowboards for a change and Robbie and Nana on skis, plus a few others joined us on their normal gear.
I haven’t snowboarded in over three years so it was pretty fun change today, although my mistake of picking up a 152 jib rocker board thinking it was a 159 didn’t help much! Still, it was easy to throw around off plenty side-hits on and off the piste and mess around forward and switch with only a few falls. We stuck to the Marmottons and Bochard pistes from about 10.30 to 2.30pm which were nice and soft to start with and ended up very soft and slushy but still skiable. Some of the group had a few laps through Canadian Bowl which they said is still skiing nicely with soft rolls but no real moguls.
The next two days are looking like bad weather so I’ll catch up on work ahead of the final weekend of Grand Montets’ lift-accessed skiing which will probably be my last days of this winter; things are looking sunny for the weekend and hopefully there will be some fresh snow above 2500m to finish the winter off nicely.
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: Bumpy & rutted where skied, really nice spring snow in untouched areas
Weather: Hazy cloud, warm
Just a few more days of skiing left in the Chamonix valley, but while many people are putting their skis away and fixing up their bikes, I’m still getting out there for whatever is available (and fixing up my bike in the evenings). There was talk of skiing Cunningham Couloir on the Midi today but a lack of 60m ropes to borrow meant that was a no-go, so Chevalier Couloir on Grands Montets was the alternative plan which turned out to be a really good one especially given that we’re well into May!
I wasn’t even aware of the Chevalier until it was mentioned yesterday. Access is by a bootpack directly opposite GM Top Bin’s stairs towards the Petite Aiguille Verte to reach a slight col from where the couloir leads left down to the Argentiere Glacier. Queues were minimal today so we took one run off Top Bin down to the glacier first to warm up and check out the snow on similar aspects to the descent we were planning. The tracked-out areas were quite firm and rutted but the untouched snow was lovely to ski so we were confident that we would find good snow in the Chevalier itself. The bootpack was well established today and only around 250m vertical climb so we were at the top in 25 minutes without the need for crampons or ice axes. Most of the traffic today was skiing back down towards the Top Bin station which looked like really good skiing in wide-open untouched spring snow with a nice big roller in the middle which one guy got a good bit of air from – it would definitely be worth the effort to hike for that face this week if you’re looking for some fresh tracks. Some parties were skinning up instead of bootpacking but that looked like it would take far more time and effort.
The entrance to the couloir is very steep and narrow but had good grippy snow today. Still, we took no chances and sideslipped in slowly with axes plunged in the snow and just a couple of rocks to avoid. The first 100m of the couloir itself pushes 50 degrees then it mellows to 45 for the rest of the 400m vertical. We started the main descent at 11am which seemed spot-on for timing as we had excellent grippy snow for the whole descent; soft enough to bite well but not so soft that it would produce a lot of sluff or feel unsafe. It was jump-turns for the first two-thirds, but with a nice rhythm in these conditions, then lower down where things were a bit mellower and softer we could let the skis run a bit. The bergschrund crossing was no problem today, leading back to our previous run down to the Argentiere Glacier.
We headed straight home after this since we had gotten the best snow of the day already and Graham was still suffering through a back injury. Winter is now coming to an end but if this is one of my final bigger lines I’d be pretty happy to finish on this, plus a few more fun days cruising around the lifts in the sun.
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: Some hard choppy off-piste, some nice spring snow, pistes excellent
Weather: Some hazy cloud, pretty warm
I’ve been in the UK for most of this week sorting some stuff out, but got back as soon as I could to make the most of what’s left of this winter. Conditions have been prime this week for a lot of the big lines on the N and W faces of the Midi but with no new snow overnight we weren’t sure how things would be so another cruisey day on GM was in order.
I fancied just a couple of hours in the park to start things off so got there for 9am …to find it pretty much demolished. Snow has been used for spreading onto the pistes and the features that are left don’t look like they’ve been shaped in a long time, so that’s park skiing finished for the year. Instead, I caught up with Colin, Graham and Sandy for some more fun blasting around whatever we could find.
The Bochard piste was skiing really well (as long as you could avoid the out-of-control Russians) but the off-piste was pretty bumpy and solid. The Herse chairlift wasn’t running but the piste was still groomed so by making a long high traverse from Bochard we made it across there for a couple of high speed laps with no-one else around and a few lips to play on. The back of Top Bin had some really nice spring snow – we took one lap towards the Rognon then straight down, then one off the very top of the top station for the best snow of the day, a few little straightlines and some small drops to pop off and found more good spring snow in one of the couloirs onto the glacier.
Pierre Ric is not complete now so we took the cablecar down to avoid a walk. Not the best end to the day, but another really fun day anyway.
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: Soft, very heavy and sticky in places
Weather: Overcast but bright, warm
As predicted, things looked pretty overcast on the webcams this morning. But with plenty snow on the hill and no work to get through, what were we going to do? Sit at home? No; Graham, Fleur and I got ourselves up Grands Montets for a few hours blasting around in whatever we could find, with very few others on the hill. It turned out to be a really fun day and reminded us of blasting around the Scottish hills as kids; no backpacks, plenty of oldschool airs and a lot of smiles. Best of all I was back on my Volkl Explosivs which I have skied all too little this winter due to the amount of powder days; about 17 years old but still one of the best skis ever made, especially for blasting through today’s soft choppy snow!
Things were overcast but bright enough to see the contours in the snow for most of the day so skiing flat-out was the best plan of the day in the soft snow. The Pendent chairlift is now closed for the winter so Lavancher was out of the question but we hit most of the other areas. The pistes were soft and smooth and could be skied nice and fast while the off-piste was full of soft bumps (not fully-formed moguls) so long fast turns were still fine. Pierre Ric back to the car park was very soft and sticky but there are plenty of side-hits all the way down to play on and still has full snow cover.
So a really fun day, nothing serious and a nice change to the steep and technical days I’ve had this week. I do like skiing fun-but-challenging stuff or bottomless powder but in the end skiing is all about having fun and today had me smiling more than most days so far this winter.
Snow: Mostly scraped & sluffed, some softer patches, spring snow lower down
Weather: Bluebird, warm
More nice spring weather was forecast for today and there was talk of a trip to Verbier ahead of it’s all-too-early closing this weekend. I was keen for some easy piste cruising but Graham had set his sights on the Bec Des Rosses which he had heard was in good condition this week so that was today’s plan for us, joined by Fleur and Josh.
The Bec Des Rosses (famed for hosting the Verbier Extreme/Freeride World Tour finals each year) is accessed by heading skier’s-left from the Mont Fort cablecar then bootpacking up the ridge. The bootpack was very well established today and mostly pretty mellow but I’m glad we packed our ice axes as they were essential for the steepest section towards the end in today’s soft snow. We took a pretty leisurely pace and were at the peak in about an hour and a half which is quicker than I expected and I was feeling far fresher than Tuesday’s ascent on the Courtes. Josh wasn’t feeling too comfortable after the exposed climbing and at the prospect of dropping into the steep entrance and it seems like his palms had been sweating so much that the dye from his gloves had stained his hands completely black. Hilarious stuff; any luck scrubbing them clean yet Josh?
We started our descent at around 1pm. Graham, Fleur and I headed straight downhill off the summit to the Dogleg Couloir, since the areas to the left looked a quite boney when we looked across at them from Mont Fort and we weren’t entirely sure of the route when looking in from the top (big respect to the FWT boys for picking lines down the face), while Josh played it safe with a mellower line in nicer snow further to skier’s-right.
The Dogleg Couloir is the most obvious and least hazardous route down the front of the Bec; around 40 degrees for the most part (slightly steeper at the top), slowly bending skier’s-left through the descent. It has seen a bit of traffic this week so the snow wasn’t great in the couloir; quite scraped on the steeper sections and sluffed-off on a lot of it, so it was jump-turns for a lot of the descent but the snow still felt grippy and safe. Halfway through, where the couloir faces straight down the fall-line, I fancied cutting off skier’s-right to a far less-skied face which I had spotted from Mont Fort, but Graham was keen to head further skier’s-left in search of better snow so we stuck to that side and found some much nicer soft snow to make bigger turns through and finish off with a little drop – see the route here.
Once off the face we regrouped with Josh and got some nice cruisey turns back towards the piste in untouched spring snow, then all the way home on the pistes in just a t-shirt and no gloves; a really nice relaxed end to the day. Apres-ski beers were outside in the sun in Le Chable on the road up towards Bruson (much nicer than Verbier town) where we compared sunburns. I won, again.
So another day on a bigger route in “just OK” snow, but it was a pretty fun day with the group I’ve skied with the most this winter so I can’t complain much. The next week is looking pretty gloomy but I need to go back to the UK on Monday for a week so I should try to get on the hill anyway as I don’t know what will be left once I get back. Winter isn’t over yet, it’s just winding down!
Location: Argentiere Basin
Snow: Quite scraped & sluffed in places, nice chalky snow in others, boot-top powder in others
Weather: Bluebird, warm
After a big day of web design work yesterday and barely any food I wasn’t exactly feeling full of energy this morning, but had taken Graham up on his plan last night of skiing the NE face of the Courtes and figured I could bail easily if I really wasn’t feeling it. The face is a real classic steep line off the Argentiere Basin, accessed by skiing down to the glacier, skinning up to the right then bootpacking up the face (see this guide showing a few different routes off the Courtes). I’ve never been on any of the routes on that side of the basin, mainly because I just don’t like bootpacking and also prefer to traverse routes when touring instead of going up and down the same way, but Graham was really keen to get it done and I needed to see what it was all about.
We got down onto the glacier to put our skins on at 9.30am and were at the berschrund under the face for 11am where we changed to crampons. The bootpack was very well established from the last few days’ skiing and there were just two small groups ahead of us. I used my usual tactic of stomping 50-60 quick steps then resting for 30 seconds before continuing, rather than a slow plod, and was feeling pretty tired halfway up in the heat but kept it going to make it to the top by 1.30pm which is quicker than I had expected. By the last part of the ascent it was more like 20 steps then a minute’s rest and I was really suffering by the end. And I don’t mean “suffering in a good way”, which only exists in the world of British alpine climbers or in obscure French horror films. A quick rest to change gear and get some food in then it was time to ski.
The face is a solid 45 degrees for the whole length (similar to Glacier Rond but narrower) and I have seen footage of it being skied in nice deep powder which looks incredible, albeit pretty sluffy, but I wouldn’t fancy putting the first bootpack in on a powder day! Today the slope was quite scraped and sluffed-off in places from the previous days’ traffic, especially at the very top where some sidestepping was the sensible way to safely negotiate the narrow gap between rocks. We cut left of the large rock where we found some nice chalky snow which felt great for the first few turns until my tired legs caused me to hook one of my tips which put be on my arse amongst my sluff for a second before getting back on my feet and skiing out to the side – pretty scary as a proper fall today would have taken me a long long way. I took things cautiously from there on, next through a few more patches of hard snow but as we got lower things got better and better until we could link longer turns through boot-top powder near the bottom. A quick hop over the bergschrund got us onto the mellow slopes of the glacier for some long lazy turns in nice spring snow and back round to Grands Montets.
So was today “fun skiing”? I’m not sure, but I definitely am glad I checked it out. Hopefully I can return next winter in better snow and feeling fitter for a faster and more fluid descent.