Its really has been an incredible winter. I really couldn’t have asked for a better one. Although I’m sure that people will be skiing out here long into May/June, no doubt making fearless and brave descents of the classic steeps, its time for me to call time. If I can sum up this winter with one word it would be “pow”. Pow as in short for Powder and by far and away the best type of snow for skiing. Today was no exception and after a false start up the Col Du Diable we turned our sights on the North Face of the Noire and found some prime time stable, deep, cold pow.
Noire North Face showing the line of descent down to the salle a manger.
We got to within about 200m of the top of the Col du Diable (a long morning in itself) before the snow got too isothermal to continue. With each step I started to sink above the height of my ski boots in the manky heavy snow. We decided to turn back, which was the right move as it was already becoming too heavy and slidey to ski. The idea of being dragged down the face in a wet slide appealed to neither of us. After we skied down (passing some guys at the Shrund at 11am?!?!?! WTF, way to warm for a lie in on that one!) we turned our sights on the North Face of the Noire. I’ve never seen tracks down this thing and its always been something I’ve looked at with eager eyes. Today was the day for it and after a short climb up the south west facing couloir in the scorching heat we arrived at the top of the snow patch and got ready to ski. Some friends had got lost and gone up the wrong couloir and had to do some mixed climbing to get down to where we were. Oops!
Climbing to the Breche Du Carabiners
Putting the ski’s on a few hundred meter below the Col du Diable
Heading over to the Noire, Which couloir to climb??? The one with a dog leg, 2nd from left!
The snow was perfect and we made our way down the face following the 4 tracks past a 30m abseil, some rocky side stepping, and a 3m down climb at the bottom. Proper ski mountaineering and proper good skiing. The line’s not super steep but it is exposed and steep enough that a fall could be quite serious.
Getting ready to ski
So that’s it for a while I’m afraid folks. It’s been a good winter with many happy memories. I’m heading back to the UK for a bit to do some work but no doubt I’ll be putting some posts up of adventures back there and fingers crossed I’ll be back at some point this summer/ autumn for another alpine fix.
Check out this video of Aurelien Ducroz Skiing the NE Slope and the Col Des Cristaux from a Heli drop after winning the Freeride World Tour in 2009. Giving you an ideas of the kind of sluff that you can produce from skiing such a slope. He certainly skied it right but I think in this era its impossible to get the Argentiere basin to yourself like that. One day maybe I’ll be magically transported to the top of some perfect high mountain faces with my freeride ski’s, downhill boots and a team of safety professionals at hand.
This last few weeks has been crazy. So many good ski days with good friends in cool places. This week I managed to get a cheeky lap of the Bec de Rosses NF in Verbier. It is an iconic face due to its looming presence over the Verbier Ski resort and its fame from the Freeride World Tour finals. I was surprised how unsuitable it is for skiing with weaving no-fall couloirs, hidden sharks (rocks under the snow) and massive exposure at the top, yet they still hold one of the most prestigious freeride events there and everyone goes oh so fast. Scary.
Today, however was something else. It feels like a while since I have had a big day out (except for my last big day off the midi). I’d seen some photo’s of the NE slope of the Courtes looking in primo conditions and knew that it could be my first real chance to ski it in good snow. I had a feeling that it was going to be busy and I had mentally prepared myself for a race…. With the growing popularity of skiing steep lines in Cham the key is speed from the word go, unless you want to be behind someone on a snowy face where you could easily get knocked of by a sluff from above. I knew this and in my mind I was ready to go as fast as I could to get to the top first. I set out with Davide de Masi, Liz Daley, Drew Tabke and Tom Grant but, for a number of reasons I ended up being the only one to ski that line. I was pretty lit for it and only the sight of two guys halfway up the face who had started from the hut (cheaters) gave me the slightest doubt as to whether it was the wrong thing to do. I charged up their boot pack and arrived at the col 10 mins after they had started skiing. They sent a sizable sluff of the face which nearly took out a couple of my friends who were starting up the bottom third. When they passed me I warned them, as politely as I could, that they should exercise caution as there were people below who they could hit with there sluff. They exploded at me and a minor argument fired up which I thought was pretty peculiar given the situation. I think they were just jacked up on skiing a big line like this in good snow and had little to no respect for others because of it. I got to the top and waited for the next guy behind me, Niki, to get to the col. I had been monitoring the other teams on the face and decided it was a good time to ski. Everyone below was in safe spots and I could weave a line around them and not drown them in my sluff. The snow was incredible and the line lived up to my expectations and more. Perfect skiing angle and face. Truly a skiers dream and something I have wanted to ski for a long time. 15 minutes (at 12.20) later I arrived at the flat glacier at the bottom to find Tom, Liz and Dave soaking up some rays.
I was keen for some more so we quickly decided to go up for a look at the Col Des Cristaux. We started up with caution knowing that there were 6 people above us who could drop in and sluff us. I had to break a different track up the first third to stay out of the way of the teams above, which was a tough few hundred meters of deep faceted snow. On the way up we watched some of the people dropping into the already crusty snow at the top and quickly made the decision to turn around when it stopped being good. We stopped a few hundred meters short of the col. The snow was once again incredible and we all arrived at the bottom within a few minutes of each other. Skiing back to the car my legs were about ready to give up on me.
Such a fun, long day which really challenged my fitness and provided 1500m of awesome skiing in what still is one of the best skiing areas of the world. Thanks all who were involved (except the rude, arrogant guys on the courtes, you nearly ruined my day).
The North East Slope of the Courtes
Looking down from the col waiting for Niki to top out.
Happy times back at the bottom, Still psyched on my La Sportiva Lo5′s.
I often forget how lucky I am to have the Aiguille du midi 10 mins walk from my house, but days like yesterday really remind me of what a big midi day can offer. I headed out with Ross Hewitt and Drew Tabke (of Freeride World Tour Champion fame) for a few laps off the top. Things are shaping up nicely for a good spring with the snow starting to bond to the steeper slopes well. We started of with a Glacier Rond to Salopar which is fun and interesting variation to the exit couloir which spits you out almost at the bottom of the West Couloir. Its bit of a faff at the moment with abseils and some tricky rock steps, to quote mr Tabke “I’ve never had to use a hand jam whilst skiing before”. Ultimately it was worth it for the steep, untouched pow turns and just for a bit of adventure too. Unfortunately Ross’s back gave out half way down that first run and me and drew thought we would have to jerry rig a ski zimmerframe out of our poles for the poor chap. He still made it down and displayed some good freeride skills hucking out the bottom but the pain was written all over his face throughout the second half of the run. We must have looked quite the picture in the lift station when I was trying to help him stretch his back out.
After this Ross called time but me and Drew were still going strong and wanted more so headed up to do the Cosmiques Couloir which was also in good nick and very rippable. We traversed back to the mid station again and decided it was probably still worth skiing some more so headed up again to check out the Rond. It was amazing how much it had been scrapped of after 60+ people had been down it and it was alot more sketchy that second time but got better the lower down we got. In the exit couloir we were both getting pretty bad leg pump (glad it wasn’t just me) and it felt pretty hard going. On the traverse back we dropped into the Para Face which, as always, provided some incredible skiing to get back to the tunnel. We managed to keep our skis on all the way to the road and then a friend gave us a lift back to town (cheers Tim). All in all a good day with many 1000′s of meters of descent with some really good snow, adventure and good company. Cheers boys.
Drew at the top of the Rond
sidestepping after handjam.
coming off the first rap
we skied this bit of snow by mistake and had to hike out.
not doing bad for an old codger
the actuall traverse is above and right of ross
me on the salopar
coming to the final cliff band
drew lead the way on the freeride bit
ross about to seal the deal with a straightline to compression.