A bad ski-tour day in the Office

Sometimes you should just go with your gut instinct especially knowing what the snow pack is like!

Think it's fair to be honest and say that not every ski tour results in a memorable day, although it can be a day to remember but for the wrong reasons :)

Had such a day this week, in that I climbed for nigh on three hours and just over a 1000m elevation and was rewarded with hardly any decent turns.

It was last minute and initially, I was heading elsewhere, but that direction looked a little too overcast, I did think about another route, north facing forest, but that way you climb up a trail for just over an hour, which is the only way back down. But once above 2000m the terrain can be really good, and again there was another route in the same sector, north facing forest. However, I thought why drive the 30 mins or so to get to that trailhead, and, instead, I opted for a tour closer to home, almost out of our back garden and one that so far this season I have not done, or been anywhere near.

For sure it was south facing but the recent snowfall had provided plenty of good cover lower down and I thought it could well be worth it.

I was a little concerned at how wind-affected it would be above the tree line, especially as the day before I had dropped off the back of the resort over the Col du Mea and skied down some very varied snowpack on my resort touring gear (picture above) but I thought, based on previous experience, that on the way up I could find a route that was the marker for a descent in decent snow ie ski down close to my skin track.

Leaving the local village here at 1430m my objective was the Gardiole at 2753m so a big climb.

There are two routes, an easy, but long skin up a trail that winds its way up the mountain to the Col du Granon road, or boot pack up a steep path, much more direct. I opted for the latter having done it three or four times previously.

I was really encouraged by the snowpack going up and there was one set of footprints so was not too arduous. However, when they turned back the snow was deep, so I took the skis off and skinned up, which at times was pretty steep.

It was at this point that the path with all the snow in the forest disappeared. For sure there were traces, as it did tend to follow an obvious gradient, but I soon found myself among young saplings and brambles skinning up in combat mode, and even with a map on the phone, the difference a couple of metres can make is huge. So I did chuckle at how someone with a paper map might get on in that terrain, bearing in mind I'd been up it before but was still engaged in jungle warfare wishing I brought a machete :) (slight exaggeration).

In the end, I changed direction as I could see where I was and where I next wanted to get to. Climbing up over the old terraces I thought that even if it was windblown up top it was going to be a fun ski back down through and over the terraces.

Once out of the trees, I encountered the wind-affected snow; it was a case of climbing up in the lee where the better snow had been dumped, but it was hard work breaking trail, so it was sort of 50/50 climbing up on the hard snow, which was way easier but close to the soft, and as I've done many times before, looking for the best line in the snowpack.

I climbed, changing direction back and forth, and changing my mind about my objective. Now in hindsight maybe I should have gone with one of those where I thought that the snow would be less wind-affected, but I was sure that I'd be able to at least find some half decent stuff.

In the end, a 1000m became my objective, and after transitioning I headed in another direction traversing down in the hope of finding some good snow. The descent became a series of long traverses with the occasional handful of turns thrown in where I found a pocket of soft snow.

But I still had the terraces to look forward to.

So after skiing along the Granon Road, I turned off in the direction of where I'd come up, and indeed snow was much better. However, it was getting heavier, and by 1950m what should have been fun was getting hard work with the heavy snow.

By 1650m I'd had enough and opted to ski back down the trail, rather than over and down the fun terraces which were now close to the viscosity of concrete.

Even going down the trail was hard work having to pole in the dense thick snow. On my MTB that trail is very fast, with fingers on the brakes all the time!

Then with one km to go I gave up again, opting to walk as the snow was bare in places and then ice under that. To add salt to the wound I nearly slipped on some ice outside a farm where the kids from there had been tobogganing and I thought it was just very hard pack.

So as ever, a bad day in the mountains is better than a good day in the office, and it's always a good workout when you're on your own.

But I did get back to see posts on FaceBook from friends who skied north facing forests and I admit to a huge dollop of FOMO.