January 2017 Ski Blog

January kicks off with a distinct lack of snow calling for alternative action plans. Then snow falls in Austria and the Northern Alps and dumps big time on the West Coast of America. And, finally, we have 10-20cms but the fresh disappears quickly off piste and slackcountry so it's time to tour for powder...

TUESDAY, 31st JANUARY

NOT QUITE DEJA VU

Words: Gavin Baylis

I was pretty sure that around this time last year we had three to four days of rain in the valley so was looking back at our Jan 2016 blog and what's amazing is how much better the conditions have been this season compared to last year and that's down to the heavy snow falls back in November above 2,000 and then subsequent cold temps.

On the 25 Jan I wrote Yesterday it was T'shirt and shorts in the afternoon as the temperature hit 29C in the direct sunshine and 13.5C in the shade.

Then 31st Jan Woke up to around 10cm, this morning, and temps are slowly on the rise (+2.5 at 10:00), so now seeing light sleet which, if it continues, will gradually turn to rain.

And then looking at the Feb 2016 Blog it's interesting to see how and when the snow did finally arrive.

Yesterday I took advantage of the slightly milder conditions (+4.5) to go out on the bike cycling up to Montgenevre to see what conditions were like, bit of a change to what we did the day before, but still an adrenalin fix on the descent down the mountain!

 

MONDAY, 30th JANUARY

WE NEVER TIRE OF THIS DESCENT

Words: Gavin Baylis

Really has to be one of our favourites and, as you can see, we scored some nice fresh, although not more than 10-15cm but it was still better than being on the piste with the Sunday hordes

 

What was a tad alarming was evidence of a big slide that the wind of a week or so ago had produced a big slab and that had gone on the steep face. So we actually cut in at the top of the slide and skied the fresh snow down which was the better option than traversing above it as I was concerned it still might be precarious. Does not look too step in this photo, but the one after gives you a better idea!

 
 

The descent is nigh on 4km and snow was really good all the way down to where we then put the skins on to climb back up to a chair lift.

SUNDAY, 29th JANUARY

THERE IS FRESH ABOUT

Words: Gavin Baylis

Friends were up the hill skiing the pistes early on Friday and reported back that there was 5-10cm of fresh.

So yesterday I decided to take Les Rando chiens for a long hike up to and along a valley, and then climb from there, only trouble was one of Les Chiens found the snow too deep so she came down in my backpack.


Nice and sunny today and tomorrow and back end of the week currently is showing a lot of snow.

WEDNESDAY, 25th JANUARY

GREAT ROAD TRIP

Words: Gavin Baylis

What a great couple of days chasing the fresh snow down in Limone Piemonte!

First day was lift assisted off piste skiing the 20cm+ that fell the day before, then yesterday a very tough ski tour (1,300m) in some stunning scenery. Click here to see a more detailed report together with some great pictures


And looks like we might see some fresh snow here in Serre, but forecast is very volatile.

 

SUNDAY, 22nd JANUARY

REFRESHER COURSE

Words: Gavin Baylis

Spent the afternoon helping CAF Briancon put on their Avalanche Saftey course.

It's not just about transceiver training, but digging technique and then first aid and preparing for a heli evac.


And then tomorrow "road trip" trying to score the elusive fresh powder, but we know where the snow is falling, watch this space.
 

SATURDAY, 21st JANUARY 

CHANGEOVER DAY

Words: Elaine Deed

Shopping today and welcoming Chris who has arrived for two weeks. Fortunately he's happy on the pistes because, an off piste powder hound would be pining for fresh snow - which is not on the immediate 9 day horizon.

So today Gav's back on the turbo in the garage, and, next week, is heading to Italy for a couple of days, powder chasing the 30cms that are due. I'll be back in Blightly going to SLIDE, the UK ski trade show, for a preview of next winter's gear. 

Hopefully, there'll be more snow when I'm back. This sketchy January (unless you're in Mammoth) is a crucial reminder to Protect Our Winters (read our feature, here). Go tell it to the new US President, who has just edited out all references to climate change from the White House website.

 

FRIDAY, 20th JANUARY 

EARNING TURNS

Words: Elaine Deed

It was a long hike up, through the forest, over ice, up steeps to get to any sort of powder, yesterday. Gav said 'let's go up for lunch at the Refuge Buffère up from Nevache', which sounded like a good plan involving 'lunch'. I shouldn't have been fooled, though. After a two hour slog to the Refuge, I didn't even get a Coke! it was onwards and upwards.

I wimped out the final 75m vertical and missed out on 10 extra turns. The powder was good, though, and not windblown like everywhere else. The Rando Chiens found it quite challenging. Beanie has a new coat - a bit like a shell suit - that protects her fur from icing up (Kiki's coat is short and doesn't have that problem).

Coming down the steep and narrow track in the woods from the Refuge was the most challenging skiing of all. It was too narrow to turn, too steep to snowplough, so quite a bit of rapid side slipping and run outs into the trees!

THURSDAY, 19th JANUARY 

ON TOUR

Words: Gavin Baylis

Another sunny day in Serre. So another ski tour to find any decent snow - and give the Rando Chiens an adventure.

TUESDAY, 17th JANUARY

BETTER

Words: Gavin Baylis

So much better than the day before!

This is one of our favourite slack country routes that is so good in the Spring and when we were climbing up yesterday it did look to be in good condition, though looks can be deceiving.

For sure it was still quite technical to ski as the snow did vary from powder to crust but at least you could let the skis run a little more.

The climb out was more technical and steeper, so just as well we all had crampons again, though one mate had gear failure and could only fit one.

Once back at the lift came across an Off Piste Freeride Group who had skied the same valley but had to turn off a third of the way down to get back to the lift, and were wondering whose tracks they were and where they went!

ravin de la montagnolle

 

ravin de la montagnolle

 

ravin de la montagnolle

 

MONDAY, 16th JANUARY 

HARD WORK!

Words: Gavin Baylis

Little slackcountry ski from the lifts going off the back and skiing down from Col de Mea with Ken Reeve. But it was hard work getting good turns in the windblown and then the snow ran out. Then it was even harder work climbing back up. Fortunately we took crampons!

SUNDAY, 15th JANUARY 

KILL OR CURE

Words: Elaine Deed

You know you're ill when there's fresh out there and all you want to do is curl up in a blanket with a mug of tea and a box of tissues watching black and white movies. That's what I've been like for the past three days with the cold/cough/flu that's affected everyone in the valley. 

But today I figured would be the last day of slackcountry, lift-assisted powder, before the wind and the UCPA trash the 15cms of fresh out there. So coughing and sniffing I pulled on loads of layers as it is so cold (-10°C this morning) -which while not good for lurgies is brilliant for cold powder -and headed for the Frejus bubble. Fortunately, for Gavin who shared the close germ-filled quarters of the gondola, he's just had the Serre Che grippe and is, hopefully, immune.

We jumped off the Crete drag to the left and, yup, it was all skied out. Then up and off to the right and, meh, windblown. But Gav had a cunning plan to do the ridge at the top of the Vallon and ski over Balme where the old lift used to finish. The only problem? It was a good hike carrying skis to the top during which trip I had to take several breaks when my lungs started wheezing.

ski hike Serre Chevalier
 

But, wow, was it worth it. We scored good untracked powder down to the drags. And I may be back to blankets and movies for the next couple of days because of the exertion but I've got it off my chest. Doing the powder that's left, I mean, unfortunately not the cough!

sking Balme Serre Chevalier
 
 skiing Balme Serre Chevalier
 

SATURDAY, 14th JANUARY

FINALLY A GREAT TOUR.....

Words: Gavin Baylis

This litte message was posted on the Club Alpin Français Briançon FaceBook to which I'm a member a few days prior to today.

;à tous. Nous avons du mal à trouver des idées de rando avec ces conditions actuelles.

Basically, it translates as Hi All. We have a hard time finding ideas for ski touring with these current conditions.

In fact they have been out touring most weekends, and I was glad that I either had domestic / family commitments or illness so I could not join them as I knew the conditions off piste were dire!

However with the prospect of finally some decent snow, last Thursday I moseyed on down to the Club to see what was on the cards.

I was a tad non committal about joining them on Saturday as I did think a trip to La Grave might be the better option.

However I knew after being up the hill yesterday that wind could well be an issue over there, and I'd had a good day of lift assisted powder anyway; and I felt the need (I know people have a problem getting their head around this) to earn some turns along with needing to get ski touring fit as I do have a couple of trips lined up!

Plus I bought some cracking new obese (K2 Coomback's 115mm) touring skis for exactly these type of conditions, powder!

So with all the above going through my head I texted Jean Louis early Friday evening to say I'd join them.

I met the small group of four at Briançon railway station, and then had to drive back past where we live en route to the Col du Lautaret.

It had carried on snowing throughout the early hours, and along with strong winds where to go and be safe was critical with avalanche risk at 3, considerable.

Driving up Jean Louis proposed Tète Noire du Galibier, a tour I'd done a couple of times before, but in Spring snow conditions. Part of the logic was that we'd be out of the wind, and he was right on that call!

So as you can see from the picture below, it was quite a morning, and you can read more here.

Tete Noire Ski Tour
 


FRIDAY, 13th JANUARY Part Two

SERRE DELIVERS, FINALLY.....

Words: Gavin Baylis

It's mornings like this when Serre Che is one of the better places to be! Ok we did not get the 45-75cm that maybe some of the resorts in the Savoie had, but there again I suspect that at least we were able to ski, in great terrain, good visibility and safe too!

It was insanely windy at times, and we were not even at the top of the resort, just as we left the Cote Chevalier chairlift (2,400m) there was a 2-3min spell of crazy wind, where viz was nigh on zero, and so cold!

We spent the morning doing laps in the trees with hardly any one else around, more or less untracked every run.

Clot Gauthier chair did open and we could have been one of the first up but we surmised that conditions would be grim and just not worth it so we carried on in our own little playground thinking how lovely (not) the exposed slopes of Tignes etc would be, that's if they were even open!

Then there are our trees, apart from greatly aiding visibility, they are so well spaced out that you can take great lines in them. For sure lower down skis were going through to to the surface and you had to keep an eye out for fallen trees / branches that could be half buried and on a couple of occasions there were gulleys where normally they would be filled in acting as traps for the unaware (me), but we had smiles on our faces after every run, and you know it's been a good morning when the last run we thought was the best!

At times we were skiing knee deep cold powder, with a fair amount of snow being blown around. At the start we had a chat with a pisteur who was watching his mates not to far away. I asked him if they were placing charges, and his response was Basil Brush, "Boom, Boom", and then there were a couple of big "bangs".

The pisteur warned us about the plaques and where not to ski, even then there were signs of wind slab building quickly and our first turns were in slab a couple of inches thick, that with the wind will quickly build into a dangerous layer.

By the time we came back down, all the gondolas and top lifts were closed due to winds, which I hope will eventually ease as I'm touring with the CAF tomorrow.

Skier: Ken Reeve

wind blown snow
 

FRIDAY, 13th JANUARY

GOOD NEWS AND....

Words: Elaine Deed

Look at the webcam below! We've had over 10cm of fresh, its -2C and the resort looks like a picture postcard. But keep looking and you might see the trees swaying because, yep, there's wind, too. Hard to tell if it's snowing again or blowing snow. And, even worse, I've got the mountain 'grippe' so I'm off games, stuck indoors and can't go to the pow party!

Gav's on first lifts so report later...

THURSDAY, 12th JANUARY

RANDO CHIENS BACK ON TOUR

Words: Elaine Deed

Awaiting snow today and trying to decide if I have the 'grippe' that has affected everyone out here in the mountains.

Yesterday, we did a ski tour up Vallon de Roche Noire with the Jacks as Gav believed there would be more powder up there following the dusting of snow we had on Tuesday.

He was right there was. But there was, also, ice and hard pack which had me taking my skis off at one icy stage going up (no, we didn't bring crampons). If that was my meh moment, Gav's was on the Galibier road where we decided to turn around and ski down as it was so windy (see below). 

wind blown snow
 

Seconds after this photo, below, his ski pole with glove on top (behind him) was caught by a gust and slid over the edge. And kept going. Forturnately it wasn't too steep.

ski touring with dogs
 

The Rando Chiens were excited to be out but Beanie wasn't too happy with ice balls gripping her fur (which is longer than Kiki's). But back in the van she enjoyed a tummy rub to remove them in the sun.

ski touring with dogs
 

WEDNESDAY, 11th JANUARY

FICKLE FORECASTS!

Words: Elaine Deed

It's a changed again since last night! Hardly ANY snow now for Sunday and more tomorrow night and Friday across the Alps.

But it's gloriously sunny AGAIN here in Serre Che (wouldn't be complaining if this was a beach holiday!). We're just off for a ski tour - Gav thinks there's enough for a bit of powder, I'm not so sure!

Will let you know!

TUESDAY, 10th JANUARY - UPDATE

We've had a dusting today here in Serre Che but now looking at more due on Thursday and on Sunday evening, BOOM! It looks like a DUMP here and throughout the Alps. 

So very happy to say that Ski World and Social Media might have been right bigging up the snowfall that's due! And no one needs worry about cannoned snow for a while...

And, by the way Mammoth Mountain has had 15ft in six days. And it's still dumping. Is there such a thing as too much snow? Is there?

TUESDAY, 10th JANUARY

GRR..BUT IT IS SNOWING!

Words: Elaine Deed

To all our friends and contributors in the Northern Alps and Austria, your overdue Christmas present has just arrived. Happy Snow Year!

And, grrrrr, we're watching the weather forecasts and only seeing maybe 8cms of snow, here, today in Serre Chevalier. A dusting. And, maybe, 20cms by Friday. Hardly a dump (see Sunday's blog). But, hopefully, enough to play off piste a little.

Otherwise it's more corduroy, the good news, yesterday, being that we had it all to ourselves (except for the pisteur in the distance).

corduroy snow groomed pistes
 

MONDAY, 9th JANUARY

GREAT PISTES BUT...

Words: Elaine Deed

Another wall to wall sunny day (see webcam, below). The pistes are in perfect condition.. So it's first lifts until 12.30pm for the corduroy and great piste skiing. I'm not sure how long even this will last. The resorts in the Haute Savoie may have to turn their cannons off due to water shortages - so how soon here in the Southern Alps too?

We're extremely jealous of the snow forecast for the Northern Alps tomorrow and Thursday. I think we might get a dusting (see yesterday's blog!) but that's it.

Here's some alterntative action, yesterday, at the Circuit du Glace up the road.

 ice car racing
 

And more alternative action, Gav on the turbo in the garage:

 

SUNDAY, 8th JANUARY

HOW MUCH SNOW?

Words: Elaine Deed

After Friday's blog (okay rant) about the Social Media posts from ski ops or ski resorts that stretch the truth about snow for commercial rather than over enthusiastic reasons, we've decided to create our own Social Media Authority Standards for snow posts. Here are the definitions we expect all to abide by in the future:

1-10cms               Dusting
10-30cms             Fresh
30-50cms             Shin or Knee Deep (Good Dump)
50cms-100cms   Major Dump
Over 1m                Epic

Any deviation from these rules such as calling 5cms overnight an 'epic' snowfall will be outed here on STYLE ALTITUDE.

Meanwhile, we're still awaiting ANY snow and may have a little this week while the Northern Alps will certainly score more. Don't forget to catch Ski Sunday tonight and watch Rocket Ryding blast into 7th place in the slalom. And massive congratulations to GB's Katie Ormerod for winning the World Cup Big Air in Moscow!

FRIDAY, 6th JANUARY

SNOW BUSINESS!

Words: Elaine Deed

Booked a ski or snowboard holiday, next week?  If it's in Austria, then I can see you smiling at the 50cms or so that's just fallen. If it's in the Northern Alps then you might be celebrating, too, if you've been on Facebook or Twitter because there are many posts boasting epic snowfall - and more coming soon. And, not surprisingly, some of them have been posted by the Tour Ops.

Now, Gav, Tech Editor, ex Fleet Street advertising was on the Newspapers Publishers Association and, also worked in top advertising agencies. He knows a thing or two about having to stick to the truth in ads with the Advertising Standards Authority pretty hot on misinformation. So how about Social Media posts that stretch the truth? Back in 2010 the ASA were looking to regulate Social Media but currently there are only CAP guidelines.

 

But is a post on Facebook actually advertising? Or is it editorial? The headline for a post from Ski World, yesterday, above, read: 'Heavy snow due across the Alps throughout January. La Plagne forecast to receive 130cms!But, currently,this week,  La Plagne has had a max of 15cms fresh up top, still has only 15cms depth at the base and over half the resort is closed with only 49% actually open.

So far there's not a whole lot more snow on the horizon and, yes, there are over three weeks until the end of January so anything can happen and I certainly hope 130cms do materialise, but that headline is blatantly hyping what can only be speculation, designed to make the punters book a ski / snowboard holiday. I'd say that's advertising.

Okay, okay, I get it, they weren't about to push out a post saying 'look guys there's been a bit of snow but it's still shit so don't bother going'. The chances are it WILL snow more in January, fingers crossed, so everyone will be happy.. And, yep, I understand why 10cms in Chamonix can create a flurry of Social Media images - we all get super excited when it snows 1cm after a month's drought.

Anyway 10cms? Call that snow? Over a metre in one night, now that's snow. Hype it all you like if you're Mammoth Mountain on Social Media, yesterday, with 'Storm totals are now at 40-84" with MUCH more still in the forecast'.  If you really want fresh, then go to the West Coast of the USA - see yesterday's blog.  

THURSDAY, 5th JANUARY

SNOW ENVY

Words: Elaine Deed

'We got hammered last night and woke up to 122 cm/1.2 metres (48 in) of snow up top, and it's still coming down!' No, no not here in sunny Serre Che, of course, or even in Austria and the Northern Alps where, at least, some snow has fallen in the last couple of days. Well over a metre of snow in one night is what Kristin Rust in Mammoth told us they had, yesterday, sending footage of the epic Sierra blizzard that's hit the Californian resort, the precursor to a string of storms expected to bring up to 20 feet of more fresh snow in the next 10 days.

And, yup, we've checked, a BA flight from London to LA is just £478 leaving tomorrow!

WEDNESDAY, 4th JANUARY

GEEZONAIRES DAY OUT

Words: Elaine Deed

It's still wall to wall sun here in the Southern Alps with little new snow on the horizon and, now, there's an icy northern wind blowing. Time to think out of the box (and resort) for entertainment. 

So, yesterday, we had a group outing to Col d'Izoard. There were nine of us, all Geezonaires as in over 50 spending seasons in the mountains - check out Skeezers, the SnowTribe elders here. Also, nine dogs. While a few chose to skin up on skis (Gav, obvs), most of us walked the 7km to the Refuge Napoleon at 2280m (around 500m uphill from the car park). It takes around an hour and a half at good walking pace or two hours skinning.

After a hearty lunch it was time to go back down at 3pm. Now the Refuge offers toboggans as transport (which they pick up at the bottom the next day) so four of us went for this option of going back.

Seven kilometres sliding full pelt downhill with our pack of dogs chasing after us? The cost? Priceless!

Napoleon refuge Col d'Izoard
 

TUESDAY, 3rd JANUARY

TAKE A HIKE

Words: Elaine Deed

Like many others, yesterday, we decided to take a hike up from Cerviieres instead of skiing the hard packed and packed pistes. And the mountain roads were, also, packed with cars parked at the sides.

 

But, hey, even though there's little snow below 2000m, the sun is shining and the mountains are stunning, see view, below, across to Col d'izoard.  #lifesamountain.

Col d'Izoard
 

SUNDAY, 1ST JANUARY

SUN BATHING

Words: Elaine Deed

So we've been lying on our terrace as it's yet another sunny day in the mountains. Good for hangovers, not good for skiing.  And there's no snow on the forecast horizon any time soon.

Looks like it'll be touring, cycling and running, this week.