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.

Glacier de Bron

Graham: Best snow of the day in the middle of the descent

Location: Le Tour to Trient
Snow: Smooth & soft but a bit grabby
Weather: Bluebird, windy

Snow falling for two days and blue skies forecast; conditions were going to be good today but crowd avoidance was our main goal.  So we dingied any plans of skiing Grands Montets or the Midi and instead came up with a pretty mellow touring option on a new route to all of us: Glacier de Bron from Le Tour to Trient.

I headed up Le Tour lifts at 9am with Graham and Claire, meeting Colin “I don’t need no stinking lift pass” Thornton at the top chairlift after his 8am ascent from the car park, and Josh & Tom caught up quickly near Lac de Charmillon where we put skins on and got on with the main uphill of the day.  Taking a pretty direct line towards Col des Autannes we had to bootpack a short steep section in the middle then again just before the col but were up in decent time.  A strong easterly wind was blowing for most of the ascent but thankfully died down a bit by the time we were up but I still kept my softshell, gloves and beanie on the whole way up.

Windy on the Autannes ridge first thing

From the col we could have descended straight down but fancied a route a little skier’s-right so figured that we might as well skin around and up to the col between Pointe de Bron and Pointes des Grands (not named on the map, but likely Col de Bron) then trend right on the descent.  During a tricky skins-on downhill traverse we triggered a shallow slab 30m wide below us (N facing at about 2700m) and were on our guard after that but the snow seemed OK on fairly mellow angles as we moved on, with smooth snow faces below.

Up to the col at 2900m, time for a wee break then the skis were on.

Colin was out to play today and naturally so was his selfie stick

The terrain on the descent wasn’t anything to get too excited about but nice and wide on safe angles.  The snow was smooth and untouched but a little slow and grabby even at the top so getting a bit of speed up before making big turns worked pretty well, then some slightly steeper sections in the second half gave the best turns of the day.

Graham: Starting the descent

Last section of the descent

Near the exit we were through to the refrozen rotten snow or old avi debris underneath the new light snow but made it down fine then out the valley towards Trient with very sticky snow in t-shirts and sunglasses.  Our hitchhiking performance from Trient wasn’t great last month so we had stashed my car at the end of the ski-out last night.  Back to Le Tour quickly for beers, and pretty cool to spot our bootpack from the morning so clearly from the Le Tour road.

Colin & Graham: Run/skate on the 4x4 track back to the car

Welcome Back Winter

Josh: Not much to see on the front side of the mountain, but nice snow

Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 20cm powder up high
Weather: Steady snowfall, poor visibility

At this time of year my motivation for skiing is slipping a little bit and I normally say that I want either a proper snowfall or just two weeks of full sun to finish off the winter.  Today we had the proper snowfall.

Josh and I got to GM car park for 9am, with the cablecar not turning yet and the gondola just starting up.  So down to midstation from the gondola to check out the top bin queue; only about 50 people ahead of us.  I can’t really be bothered with the queue these days but seeing as I hadn’t had a proper powder run off the top all winter I thought “why not” and joined the line while Josh got some revervation tickets for a second lap at noon.  After about an hour’s wait we were up on the second bin.

For some reason only two skiers had gone down the front face from the first bin.  Visibility wasn’t good but we knew the snow would be smooth so made some big fast turns down it before cutting hard right to join Rachasses.  No one had been down there yet at all; a bit bizarre, but we weren’t complaining as we got more good turns with better contrast beside the rocks then out straight down from the Herse piste in good tracked powder.

A couple of Lavancher laps before our reservation got us some more good turns; things were tracked enough to be able to read the terrain well but still very easy to find untouched snow for every turn.

One more off the top finished off the day; off the back and around to Rachasses on the front side where it was now tracked but not tracked-out so still plenty of fresh turns to be had.  Italian Bowl was a bit more tracked and bumpy but not too bad, and a slushy Pierre a Ric got us back to the carpark where the snow was still falling.

Josh: Good snow on the far side of Italian Bowl

Winter’s not over yet!  I’ll take some sun to finish it off though please.

Fresh Snow, Tired Legs

A bit heavier lower on the mountain but still good

Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 20cm tracked powder, heavier lower
Weather: Bluebird, warm

My legs are still pretty gubbed from Tuesday’s big day but with a bit of fresh snow overnight and the last sunny day for a while I wanted to get up for a bit today.  Just three laps on lunch in the end through Canadian & Lavancher bowls then one straight down from the Herse.  Tracked snow everywhere but not too tracked and soft enough to cut through without much effort; good fun but a little too much work at times being back on my heavy skis.

Wee air, poor form; I'm blaming my legs

More snow should be coming up high over the next few days but it’s that time of year where I’d happily take a few weeks of sun for some final spring touring and steep days before my bike comes out.  Let’s see what we get.

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