THE SKI BLOG: MARCH

THE SKI LOG FEATURING (ALMOST) DAILY UPDATES FROM THE MOUNTAINS WITH OUR EDITOR AND TECH EDITOR AND THOSE OTHER RENOWNED POWDER HOUNDS, THE RANDO CHIENS. CATCH OUR RESORT CRUISING, OFF-PISTE, BACKCOUNTRY, SLACKCOUNTRY, TOURING AND EXPLORING NEW DESTINATIONS WITH REPORTS ON CONDITIONS, DESCRIPTIONS OF ROUTES AND IMAGES

You never know in March, whether winter will hang on and give an arctic chill - or the sun will shine and warm up the snow for classic spring skiing.

The Ski Blog, March 2015

TUESDAY, 31st MARCH, 09.00 10C SUN AND WIND

Words: Elaine Deed

Sunny, warm and VERY windy! Blowing a hooley up the valley from the Col.du Lautaret! Also, windy in La Grave where they've had 25cm.

And, meanwhile, the Northern Alps have had at least 50cms fresh (see Tignes yesterday morning, below) above 2000m with heavy rain below and umbrellas out in Morzine. So good news for higher resorts although, we hear, that the powder has quickly turned to concrete with the warmer spring temperatures.

 

MONDAY, 30th MARCH, 10.00 5C LOW CLOUD AND RAIN

Words: Elaine Deed

Rain in the valley, snow above? We'll see...

Yesterday was another spring day here in Serre Che. Gav went for a ski over the back of Eychauda; while I ran six miles to Monetier and back, training for the Brighton 10K on April 12th.

>Gav decided to explore a different route(s) off the back, taking skins to climb up to the Rocher Blanc chair and in case he miscalculated en route. Looking at the map it all seemed feasible but the lack of snow and rocks could have been an issue. He came back with a smile on his face, finding a new route down (see red line, below) and snow that was super spring. 

 

SATURDAY, 28th MARCH, 10.00 10C SUN AND WIND

Words: Gavin Baylis

So Gressoney had all the snow BUT was not quite the powder fest everyone had hoped for on Thursday and Friday.

Following the bad vis on Thursday, which resulted in the guide backtracking tentatively down from the hut at 3500m, Friday dawned with a howling wind that closed all but two of the lifts. So Plan B, road trip back to Sauze d'Oulx, where it was all very pleasant and sunny for fast piste cruising, becoming windy at the top, later.

Meanwhile, there's been another avalanche, locally. Two off-piste skiers were killed on the slopes of Mount Terre Noire in Cesana in the Susa Valley, Italy, not far from the French border to Montgenevre. Italian victim, Luca Prochet, 53, was a mountain guide who lived in Briançon. He was married with two children. His client, who also died, was French. The avalanche swept away a third person who was slightly injured.

They were in a group of eight skiers. They had airbags and safety equipemnt. The avalanche risk was 3 of 5 in this area at the time of the accident.

FRIDAY, 27th MARCH, 09.00 5C SUN AND WIND

Words: Elaine Deed

The amazing thing about Gressoney in Italy is how high it is - and, this season, how much snow there has been, even this week. Should be perfect, no? Well, in the morning, it was pretty awesome in the powder for our team: Gav, Jes, Bing, Chris, Paul and Tracy.

 

But then Gav, Jes, Bing and Tracy went with the guide to hike/skin from the top of the lift at 3300 to the hut for lunch at 3500 - and do one last run all the way down.

 

But, then, the weather closed in. They tried to ski down but their guide was not happy with the vis.

 

So they skinned back to the hut and slowly, carefully skied back down out of the cloud having to follow their original skinning lines. Now a guide who can say 'we have to turn back', braving clients' disappointment rather than danger, that IS a good guide.

WEDNESDAY, 25th MARCH, 10.00 5C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

Rain and a very, very light dusting up the hill.

It was Road Triiiiiiiiip time, yesterday. We drove to the Queyras (only 60 miles away from the tragic crash site of the Germanwings Flight 4U 9525) where there's been more snow and the lift passes are currently half price. So for all five of us it was just a little more than a day pass for just one in major resorts!

We started at Abries where we ascended into cloud and icy conditions. The descent down through the north-facing trees was decidedly meh with an icy crust. Down the bottom it was a 1km path to the road and the free bus back to the village. We went up again and down the south facing slopes where Chris Wootton practised his forward rolls off the sides.

 

The hard corduroy at the top turned into spring snow near the bottom. The amazing thing was that the pistes were still wall-to-wall corduroy at around 11am. Absolutely empty.

 

A hot chocolate later and the decision was to drive to Moliens and ski to the picturesque Sans Veran (above) as the ski pass covered the whole area. Off-piste was sketchy with the odd rock and bare patch to negotiate but the spring snow on the empty corduroy pistes was sublime.

TUESDAY, 24th MARCH, 08.00 3C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

So it was Meh Monday. Cloudy. But we went anyway for a ski tour back up the Galibier sector (Vallons de Roche Noire). Just as we pulled up in the van at 09.00 Gav was dismayed to see a group of around 20 ESF guides on a group outing.

 

But, hey, it's a big mountain. We kept them in sight and, indeed, caught them up. But then went our separate ways.

 

After a two hour climb of around 780m and around 4.5km, we took the skins off, put the split boards back together and were rewarded with cold snow above 2200 then spring snow lower down. With Jes, Chris (below) and Paul Wootton (above) and, of course, Les Rando Chiens.

.
 

SUNDAY, 22nd MARCH 09.00 CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

There is all of 5cm of fresh on the hill, today. So Gav's taking friends from UK, Jes and his two sons, Chris and Paul, for a piste tour of the resort.

Yesterday, we did a 11km hike up the old military road to one of the Vauban hill forts (sans skis) but with the Rando Chiens with an amazing view over Briancon - and the trickle of snow that is what remains of the Vauban piste going all the way down to the Prorel gondola station.

 

SATURDAY, 21st MARCH, 09.00 6C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

Some precipitation is due later today. Hopefully, snow, at least above 2000m!

We skied the pistes, yesterday, with Darren, who has just finished his second week skiing. The pistes are still good all the way down, if a tad slushy in the afternoon. Even though Darren had only ever done one red run in his lessons, Gav decided that he'd be fine doing Casse du Boeuf and Luc Alphand. Both blacks! And he was (see below).

 

FRIDAY, 20th MARCH, 10.00 7C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

Cloud but we can still see the sun's eclipse with goggles AND sunglasses on (a punter look only allowed on eclipse days)!

So it may be warm and the snow's melting in the valley with temperatures hitting 17.5C but the good news is that on the right day, at the right time, in the right place, the spring snow is insanely perfect. 

The right day was yesterday. Clear skies overnight and sun all day. No wind. The place was the Col du Lautaret and a climb up to Crête de Côte Plaine. We parked up at 8.30am carried the Jacks 100m along the road and then over the road barrier onto the snow.

 

It was a 5K hike up and 750m vertical and such a beautiful, peaceful ascent with many fewer tourers than, say, Galibier.

 

We arrived at the ridge, see below, in about two hours.

 

There were awesome views over to La Grave but it's where I stopped, nearly freaked and had to descend to the less vertigous col while Gav continued along and up another 50m.

 

The Rando Chiens, meanwhile, were leaping about like mountain goats.

 

So at about 10.45 we took the skins off and the Rando Chiens looked at each other, probably thinking 'oh crap, here we go' before racing after us downhill for the 5K of perfect spring snow. We take it slow, though, to wait for them - and enjoy the descent.

 

WEDNESDAY, 18th MARCH, 09.00 3C SUN

Words: Elaine Deed

Wall to wall blue sky, this morning. Perfect for piste skiing - just so long as you have a wakeboard later this afternoon for the slush down the bottom!

Meanwhile, we did an Italian road trip, yesterday. We arrived at San Sicario at 9am - and then had to find the chairlift which was invisible in the low cloud. There was thigh high snow, though. But that was the good news. The less good news, it was a tad TOO much and heavy so the only way to ski it off-piste in the trees was steep and fast. Which is why both Gav and I have injuries from hidden tree branches - and my thighs are aching from stopping in the deep stuff and then having to kick my skis out! 

 

Hardly anyone was going off piste (probs because of the heavy snow), so Gav said, 'Let's follow those tracks' (going off down into the woods), followed by 'let's live dangerously'; both phrases you should never say outloud skiing and reasons why, in the past, it's been wiser NOT to follow Gavin! Our first run was fairly epic through trees but with about a 1K walk out. 

 

At lunch time, we returned to the van and drove to Sauze d'Oulx (the linking run was closed from Sestriere/San Sicario). Then up again in the dense cloud for more tree kamikaze skiing. 

TUESDAY, 17th MARCH, 08.00 1C CLOUD

Words:Elaine Deed

Cloud and still no more snow, whereas Italy is having tons. So that's where we're going. Here's a Swedish client of Per As, ski guide legend, slaying the pow in Sestriere, yesterday.

 

Meanwhile, we hiked up behind our HQ on the South facing slopes (where we'd normally ski tour IF there was snow!). But it's a great view over to Serre Che with the runs standing out like an etching of a piste map. 

 

TUESDAY, 17th MARCH, 08.00 1C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

Cloud and warmer. No new snow. Yesterday, we went up on first lifts and had all of 5cms of fresh! So now planning a trip to Italy where there has been significantly more snow.

SUNDAY, 15th MARCH, 08.00 0C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed ,/p>

A few centimetres of snow - and more of a picture postcard resort, this morning. 

And mourning the loss,on Friday, of our legendary Jack Russell, Pooch, our little companion for nearly 15 years, even coming on ski tours with us (and getting a lift down in Gav's backpack). R.I.P. 

 

THURSDAY, 12th MARCH

Words: Elaine Deed

Gav and the legendary ski photographer, Michael 'Pikey' Truelove, did the run off Yret, again. According to Gav it was 'like corrugated boilerplate' at the top and more affected by a chill wind. But it came good with, mostly, spring snow all the way down. But it was an icy climb up!

 

Gav and I did the same route, yesterday, Wednesday. Except for the icy crud at the top, it was practically perfect.

 

Gav skied the gully, right of camera above (the tiny dot in the distance is him), this time, while I took the left, slightly better snow line (less wamed up still corn) all the way down, see below.

 

Then Gav decided to go further down from the rocks where we usually skin up to find a little bit more spring snow - and, so, it was another hike-off, climbing up. And I won, though Gav did have an extra 175m vertical to catch up!

WEDNESDAY, 11th MARCH, 09.00 6C SUN AND HIGH CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

Temperatures didn't get below freezing, last night, here at 1400m in Serre Che. And it hit 16C during the day. So it's actually warmer and sunnier than it was during last summer when we didn't get the deckchairs out at all!

We went back to the top of Eychauda drag, yesterday and over the back to Les Combes. This time, the top was less windblown crust so we descended straight down - and, wowser, is it steep (as you can see by the face behind me).

 

Then it's two miles down a quite gentle descent. Except, that is, till we came to a gully (pictured to the right of the rock face, below) with a steep little entrance and then a stream to cross.

 

This meant taking off skis and, for me, sliding down rocks on my butt.

 

Today, we're probably heading bact to the top of the Yret and over to the Montagnolle Ravine. After Monday's awesome descent it would be rude not to.

TUESDAY, 10th MARCH, 6C SUN

Words: Elaine Deed

So,hello, spring and spring skiing. Yesterday, we took advantage of our lift passes to do more slackcountry via the lifts. These routes are not known to holiday skiers - or even some seasonaires - and not swarming with ski tourers as they would have to hike up a long way whereas we just drop off the back of the top lifts. 

The top of the Yret chair was fairly wind blown and tracked by people going through the gap in the ridge and down to the Cucumelle chair. But ride just a bit further down and it's totally untracked and, timed right, perfect spring snow. Why don't people come down this far? Because you have to take skins to hike up! From the top of what is the Montagnolle Ravine to where we put on skins, we must have put down around 200 turns in spring snow!

 

The hike up is steep. And there was quite a fresh avalanche to cross from, probably, just the day before, reinforcing the need for the right timing ie not too late.

 

At the top the sastrugi, frozen waves, were massive.

 

It's then a skin across the frozen lake to the Cucumelle chair, where a heli was just arriving to airlift a casuality on the piste - which shows that, sometimes, it's safer off the piste!

 
 

SUNDAY, 8th MARCH, 10.00 6C SUN

Words: Elaine Deed

Good morning, Spring! And, yes, the freeze/thaw is happening so it's time to put those skins on and find the corn!

Yesterday, it was our first slack country ski of the spring going off the back of the steep Eychauda drag. There were waves of windblown crust at the top but, after that, a two mile run in, mostly, spring snow with the odd grabby patch. Then, skins on, and a 45min hike up to the bottom of the Rocher Blanc chair. Only complaint was that the light was flat - and, personally, my legs were screaming for mercy after Thursday's 14K hike off with Gav running/speed walking up and down the 500m to the Napoleon refuge on the Col d'Izoard.

 

FRIDAY, 6th MARCH, 10.00 0C SUN

Words: Elaine Deed

More sun, today, so the ESF insructors can deepen their sunglass tans while teaching on the last day of the holidays!

Yesterday, we decided to avoid the hordes, especially as a strong Northerly wind closed the gondolas and top lifts. So we had a hike-off going up to the Refuge Napoleon just below the Col d'Izoard, 7K if you  stick to the road (but it's possible to short cut steeper bits through the woods) and 550m up.

 

I ran / speed hiked in around 70 minutes, beating Gav who skinned up on skis by about two minutes. We had an amazing lunch at the Refuge before returning back down. Even though I ran all the way, Gav, who skied down, and the Jacks were asleep in the van by the time I got back!

 

WEDNESDAY, 4th MARCH, 10.00 5C CLOUD

Words: Elaine Deed

Meant to have snow today but nothing as yet!

Yesterday we went to see if there was any fresh up the hill. We went at 12ish to avoid the hordes, taking the Vallon chair, then traversing high so staying under Cucumelle, and skinning up to go over the col and down the north facing side towards Monetier. The snow looked perfect!

 

But, in truth, it was quite heavy and, once, in the trees, it turned to sheet - and steep - ice probably because it rained below 2000m and froze over night. Not the best for lightweight touring set up!

Coming back from Monetier at around 15.30, we got the Bacchus chair up to be confronted by long queues to get back on all the lifts. Roll on the end of the holidays (for us if not for the resort!).