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

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.


The highlight of my winter (<a href="">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="">Vallorcine, 15th January</a>)

Unknown skier: By far the deepest day this winter (<a href="">Helbronner & Courmayeur, 10th February</a>)

Graham: Prime conditions on the Plan (<a href="">Plan de l'Aiguille, 7th March</a>)

Graham: Touring in a new spot (<a href="">Argentiere Basin to Trient, 15th March</a>)

Andy: Finishing on a good one on the Rond (<a href="">Aiguille du Midi, 2nd May</a>)


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.

Powder Closing Day

Angus: Deep on closing day

Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 35cm powder
Weather: Thick cloud, some sun

Closing day on Grands Montets already, and definitely the deepest snow I’ve ever had on a closing day.  Visibility was pretty poor so sticking to the rocks on the right side of Lavancher Bowl let us see just enough of the terrain, before three good laps off the Herse with patches of sun coming and going.  Tracked powder but not too tracked at all so when the light was good we could ski it full blast; the most fun parts of the day and too good to stop for photos!  Out past the Lognan Refuge on our third lap and down a very fun ungroomed Pierre a Ric and we figured we’d end on a high and head home.

Angus: Soft and untracked on the high entrance to Lavancher Bowl

Angus: Not much to see at the top of Lavancher Bowl

Angus: Skipping through tracked powder while the light was good

Only the Midi remains open now, and the weather for the next few days seems mixed, so I might get another day or two or just get a bit of biking in before Italy on Thursday.  If this is my last day of the winter then at least it was a good one.


Col des Cristaux ascent

Location: Argentiere Basin
Snow: Mostly soft and deep
Weather: Bluebird

Very tired legs today; maybe stretching is a good idea after all.  Something in the Argentiere Basin was the plan and I was pretty sure I would bail but thought I’d go out for a bit of a skin anyway and maybe part way up a route.

Off early lifts we took a very high line down to the glacier to save a bit of height.  The Courtes NE, Qui Remue and other routes had a lot of traffic on them already but the Col des Courtes and Cristaux at the end of the basin had no-one yet.  Even on light gear I could tell I wouldn’t be able to ski strongly even if I did make it up something, so I hung out in the sun at the base of the Cristaux while Graham and Rich went up a bit.  They only made it a couple of hundred metres up until things turned a bit softer and steeper so came down making some OK turns in better snow than expected with some big sluffs coming down occasionally.

Home early via the resort pistes in nice spring snow.

Home on the Argentiere Glacier

Capucin Couloir

Longer turns in the second half of the couloir

Location: Aiguille du Midi
Snow: 30-40cm powder
Weather: Bluebird, cold

I only have a week of skiing left this winter as I’m going to Finale for a few days’ biking next Thursday before heading to Glasgow for a week.  So only a few good weather days left to get some good final descents in.  Today: Capucin Couloir on the NE side of Col du Tacul.

I had a look into the Capucin four years ago but skied from the Breche du Tacul instead due to poor snow cover, and bailed from another attempt a couple of weeks ago when the weather closed right in.  So a little redemption today, made all the sweeter by amazing snow conditions.

Graham: Accessing our route on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche

From our 8.30am Midi first lift we were the only ones heading towards the Rognon/Classic Vallee Blanche route, finding decent boot-top powder across to the Italian side where we stayed high right to start skinning 800m up the Periades Glacier then left towards Col du Tacul.  We kept skins on for as long as we could before a bit of bootpacking when it got steep and a little firmer; just an axe for me today but crampons would have helped with slippage at times.

The entrance to the couloir on the other side of the col was pretty narrow with a few rocks showing and no doubt others lurking, and could have been skied very cautiously but it wouldn’t have been fun so we didn’t mind getting the ropes out for one 30m abseil.

Graham: Abseiling in

Rich dropped in first with a few cautious jumpturns to start things off in good, deep, untouched powder before settling into a rhythm at low speed.  About a third of the way down his sluff seemed to knock him off his feet and he went for a ride but was OK and got to a safe spot while Graham and I skied the couloir in short pitches.

The snow was great and we felt safe but we were producing a lot of heavy sluff which was tricky to deal with in a narrow space like this.  Once the couloir widened halfway down and the gradient mellowed a little we felt more comfortable making bigger turns so it was easier to stay ahead of our sluff and duck for cover when needed.

Rich: Ready to drop

Graham: Deep halfway down

All was going well until I hit a firm patch of snow under the surface, then my sluff started to catch my tails and I fought hard to stay on my feet, getting out of the way to the left but nailing a rock hard in the process.  It’s a nasty moment when you stop to take off a ski and inspect the damage but I knew that it was a write-off even before releasing my binding.  Damage report: 25cm edge ripped out and 15cm of sidewall missing; my trusty Wateas are toast but hopefully my mountain insurance has me covered at least partially.  Somehow I lost my axe and my ice screw holster on the descent too and Graham lost his axe.  No use crying over lost/broken gear though; still more good skiing to come.

Lower down, things mellowed out more on the Capucin Glacier and we let the skis run fast for some really nice long turns through some rolling features on some of the nicest snow I’ve skied all year, and a pretty straightforward route slightly skier’s-left got us out to join the Leschaux Glacier back towards Montenvers.

Long fast turns on the Capucin Glacier below the couloir

This might be my last big descent of the winter but hopefully not.  One to remember anyway, and yet another first-time line that I don’t really want to return to unless I know that conditions will be this good again!

Home on the Leschaux Glacier

Late April Powder

Plenty of untouched snow on the glacier

Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 20cm powder
Weather: Sun & cloud

My motivation for skiing hasn’t been too high for the last week.  We’ve had some new snow but also mixed weather and really I’ve had plenty of “just OK” powder days this winter, so I just want some sunny weather for a few final tours and steeps to finish off the winter and am already thinking about the long summer of biking ahead.  I almost wasn’t going to ski again today but am glad I did in the end even just for three big laps.  It’s more than “just OK” up there anyway.

A couple of laps of Lavancher Bowl got us some decent lightly-tracked boot-top powder with some untouched snow easily found, before a long but worthwhile wait for the top bin once it opened at noon.  We were on the fourth or fifth lift of the day but I’m not sure where most of the traffic had gone because after a traverse of about 100m onto the glacier there wasn’t a track in sight.  To exit, a little variation I hadn’t skied before, then home past the Logan Refuge where things were a little heavier but still totally skiable.

Graham: Cheeky wee crevasse gap

Quick Envers

The best snow of the day on this bank

Location: Aiguille du Midi
Snow: Mixed
Weather: Bluebird, warming up fast

Graham and I headed up the Midi early this morning to have a look at some north facing lines, fully equipped but with doubt already in our heads, but we thought we should at least take a look.  I’m not desperate to repeat the Col du Plan descent after skiing it in near-perfect condition last April, nor move on to anything more serious unless conditions are good and I’m feeling strong, but Graham missed out on the Col du Plan and is keen to get something done on the Midi north face when conditions allow so I’d like to help him out.

Looking at the Mallory from the lift ride up the snow was pretty wind-stripped and rockier than I’ve seen it in the middle so that was a no-go although I did manage to picture the route properly for the first time after actually looking for it the whole way up.  Over towards the Tournier Spur entrance to Col du Plan the snow seemed firm at best, icy or windloaded at worst, so we bagged a quick Grand Envers run instead, probably only my second or third time on it in the last three years but a route I skied a lot in my first couple of winters out here.

Graham: Classic shot on the way to Grand Envers

“Variable” would be the best word to describe the snow.  Firm snow, nasty breakable crust, refrozen chop, soft chop, deep soft snow and smooth spring snow; we had it all but did an OK job of finding the better stuff.  After leaving the Midi Arete we didn’t see anyone else at all on the way down so it was a nice relaxed day even if the snow could have been better.

Graham: Choppy but soft further right on the second pitch

A very fast, icy Mer de Glace track and a bit of a walk got us to the steps and gondola just after 10am before it even opened and we made it onto the first train back to town about 10 seconds before it left the station.  Probably the first time we’ve ever had an entire train to ourselves too!

Graham: A bit of walking required now before the steps

More snow should be coming over the next week then let’s see how conditions finish up; maybe steep season will return but I’ll take whatever we get.  I’m fixing up my bike today seeing as I got home early, so if the skiing isn’t great I’ll get pedalling.

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