Two very different, but superb days
A deserted La Grave with 35cm+ fresh or some classic Serre Che Slackcountry?Two consecutive great days, and so different, one and immense memorable day in La Grave and the other a relaxed day in the back garden doing Serre Che Slackcountry, and both brilliant in their own right, and yet way too difficult to say which was the best?
Take One - a deserted La Grave with 30cm+ fresh
I've not skied La Grave for a good few years, in fact, I think the last time was during Covid for a memorable day when we ski-toured to the mid-station as the lift was closed.
Since then I might have made a few excursions over there, only to find massive lift queues or just too windy with the lift closed, and/or conditions just not worth it.
But this week it seemed that the planets were aligning, with fate playing a part as we had two days of more snow than forecast, the holiday hordes had all but disappeared and my old friend, Per As one of the foremost La Grave Mountain Guides, who I first snowboarded with way back in 1997, was guiding some Swedish friends for the day, who subsequently invited me along.
So there was considerable excitement at the prospect of skiing with Per again. He gave my friend the green light to come over after he had completed the La Grave commission run, which takes place early in the morning after a heavy snowfall, with four guides skiing each of the two valleys, Vallons and Chancel, to then sign off that the lift could open - though you can never guarantee that the mountain is totally safe!
I was somewhat paranoid at the prospect of the now infamous queue to buy the lift pass, but it was the emptiest I have ever seen it, with only a small line for the actual lift and around 10 or so people in front of us to buy passes.
So we were soon in the the cabin going up. Since I've last skied there the old cabins have been replaced and Per announced that there were now new cabins on the top section of the lift, too.
From the cabin you can really appreciate the immense vastness of the terrain. The only issue was that the visibility was not brilliant but I think even if it had been sunny I would still have been experiencing viz issues on the way down as the snow on each turn was billowing over my head :)
Even though I've been skiing for well over a month or more that extra 500m of altitude did make a difference to my breathing, though maybe the bout of Covid I was just getting over also was exaggerating the effect of the increase in altitude.
The first run down the Vallons, I was really trying to get my breathing right and relax more. The skiing was quite demanding but that was more to do with the visibility and lower down it was progressively better, in fact, I was almost looking forward to the traverse in the forest :)
As a group of skiers, we were all on in our mid 60's so the conversation in the lift was more about the condition of our knees rather than the snow, but it was a great group and the couple of new Swedes I'd only just met were ripping, bearing in mind this was their first day back on skis in a while.
It was great to hear Per so enthusiastic about the conditions and we both said, how it was like the old days with so few people.
The next run was down Chancel and that again at the top was challenging with the viz and effect of the altitude, however the snow was so light that I was having no issues with the knees.
Further down I realised that we were heading for Patou Couloir which I've definitely not skied in a long time, if ever, though have snowboarded it a good few times in ye olde days.
It wasn't the smoothest of descents but I coped well skiing it non-stop and then was able to film Per and Rolf skiing it almost on top of each other :)
Then it was the Chancel traverse through the forest and back up in the lift for lunch at the top, and still the pizzas there have the thinest and crispiest of bases even though they must have had a fair few chefs over the years.
Finally it was one last big run down to the valley, taking in another couloir I've not done for years and finishing with a run through the forest before the final line back down to the valley floor and a well-earned beer in the Castillian.
So great to ski with the Per Maister along with a great Swedish crew.
And as a postscript, I messaged Per to say thanks for a great day, and his response was.....
Yes, indeed a memorable day! I ski this mountain a few times every year but rarely in these conditions!!
Take Two 16hrs later - see what Serre Che slackcountry has to offer
It was while I was in La Grave that Elaine let me know that she had tested negative for Covid, and having missed out while I was in La Grave ripping I wanted to make sure she would have a day to remember.
I'm not too sure why I was so mellow as we started out, maybe it was to do with not too many people about, or that there was still a lot of good stuff left to ski if you were prepared to earn your turns, though I did have couple of potential plans flying around in my head.
So Elaine could not quite believe it when I asked her what she wanted to do and was up for going off the back of Eychauda, a route we'd not skied for a long while, in fact, it's very much something we do when spring snow is on offer later in the season, but it soon became obvious that, for once, the January snow was in perfect condition.
As you can see from the video and photos it was a rather splendid morning, and really doesn't get better than that!
In fact, it was a friend who took the photo at the top of this page, and you can just about make us out at the end of the tracks.
And a video of the sortie.