Post subject: Week's trip crossing from Switzerland into Italy
Posted: Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:30 am
Joined: Mon Mar 06, 2006 11:44 am Posts: 7 Location: UK South Coast
Ok guys this is a long post.......
Last year we toured over from Austria into Italy over a week staying in mountain huts, this year the programme was meant to be Italy into France, but right from the start we were affected by conditions, such as the Mont Blanc tunnel being closed due to a rock slide.
We were touring with our Swedish Guides, Per As & Jonatan Hulten who are traversing the Alps from Vienna in Austria to Nice in France, http://www.alptraverse.com/proj2006/ - more details here.
Our group was made up of skiers & boarders. One guy using a Voille Split / soft boots, me on Approach skis, Dynafit bindings & TLT4 Pro boots, the other two guys on snow shoes, which was really hard work in the powder we had, but he was riding a 196 Swell Panic so did enjoy himself.
Have only managed a few camera phone pics for now, but do have loads of good video and pictures to come later, but here's my daily "blog"!
Saturday Even what was meant to be a simple transfer, whilst still not even out on the mountain, just attempting to get to our destination by road was a mini adventure!
Geneva airport on a Saturday was a nightmare getting all the boards out, one poor guy having to cope with hundreds of people with kit, so much for Swiss efficiency.
Jonaten, one of our guides, met us and the plan was to go through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Aosta, all was going well tilll we heard from our other guide, Per, who was driving out of Chamonix, that a massive landslide had blocked the entrance to the tunnel!
So we ended up taking a massive detour around Lausanne to get across into Italy via the St Bernard tunnel.
It was beginning to get quite late and we had to find a bed for the night, so tried in Le Chable, 5 km down the valley from Verbier, no luck, but we later scored well staying in a small village, Bourg St Bernard. And the plan for the next day was some lift assisted off piste.
Conditions would be dangerous, but should be good, forecast was for clear skies, and with the area shut for the last 5 days and reports of 2mts of fresh...
Fortunately Mat & I had also packed our big Powder boards as well, 196 & 198 Swallow Tails!
Sunday: Super St Bernard
So just a few kms from where we spent the night, we arrive just below the St Bernard Col, about 5km from the famous St Bernard Monastery, but no signs of any dogs with brandy around their necks!
This was a "mini" La Grave, just one slow old "bubble" from 1950 to 2760. The whole area had been shut for quite a few days after some 2mts of snow, and today, Per & Jonaten saw for the first time in 8 days, blue skies.
The slopes had all been "bombed" by helicopter, setting off huge slides, with fracture lines of well over a meter.
It was fortunate that one slide did not take the lift out as there was only about 4mts of the top of the pylon showing, so depth of snow, along with the debris was around 5mts!
The lift was still shut, as more people turned up, it was Sunday, and conditions on offer were probably the best of the season, and fortunately we were quite near the front.
Standing in the queue with our big swallow tail powder boards, caused quite a stir, as most people had not seen these big boards before. So first run was just superb, deep untracked powder, just right for the big boards, putting in huge turns at speed, and in so much control, whilst all around us majority of people were attempting to get to grips with the conditions. Andy was having fun with his big fat wide skis.
Did that run a few more times, before it became more difficult to find untracked. Then before lunch, we left Per, who was going to drive the van through the St Bernard tunnel and meet us over in Italy on the other side of the mountain. That run down over the back was yet another memorable experience, being south facing snow pack favoured the boards, as it was well sticky, but again we pretty well had 10km of untracked as only four others had been down prior to us, of that 10km, 7 were out in the open and 3 on a track down through the trees.
Just as the snow ran out, Per was there with the van, and a well earned picnic was had!
Maybe we'd be able to repeat the experience later?
Back in the van we drove back via the tunnel into Switzerland, and did a few more runs, this time taking a different route coming across a fair amount of untracked.
We then had to make a decision, whether to do the earlier run back down into Italy or remain in the powder.
So the boarders opted for Italy, which was not going to be a repeat of the first run. We thought if anything the snow would have melted a little more, it probably had, but by the time we went back over it was starting to freeze and had the consistency of setting concret, making for one of the toughest runs ever experienced. It was nigh on impossible to turn on, and if you fell on one of the many flat sections you were stuffed as to walk ou t the snow was so deep.
Some did manage it better than others, as it seemed the Swallow Tails handled the conditions better, and at one point we were waiting for Tim and Per for nearly half an hour, as Per was helping Tim out of some of the holes he had made for himself!
Eventually we made it back to where we'd had the picnic, very hot & sweaty!
That evening we stayed down in the valley, fantastic food, rooms as ever a wee bit basic, but we don't do this type of trip for two star luxury, as long as the food is wholesome, and local, then we enjoy the ambience that are hosts are always so pleased to heap on us!
Later that evening the second group of Brits arrived, having managed to ski over from La Rosiere to La Thuile, then via a mixture of taxis, buses & Per's made it for dinner.
Monday: So an early breakfast at 07:00, ane we left for Valgrisenche. After an hour or so through superb mountain scenery & villages we arrived at the village of Bonne, just up from Valgrisenche. There were a party of people waiting to go Heli skiing, but it was having mechanical problems, so we didn't feel to be as we prepared for our climb.
The village of Bonne is at 1810, and we were climbing to Arp Vieille, 2963.
First stage of the climb was through trees on a small track that was well covered in hard snow, and with some very deep ruts, that would cause a few problems for some on the descent back down.
The hike up took around 4 hours, starting in sunshine, then snow. Snow conditions for climbing was across deep powder that proved to tax the climbing capabilities of those on snowshoes and me on my approach skis, but we carried on motivated by the lure of the descent.
To get to the summit we took our kit off and climbed the last 30mts.
We then all had a superb descent, visibility was not too bad considering we had been climbing up as snow was starting to fall, and getting heavy.
So good open bowl descents, that is till we arrived at the start of the track. And I had a nightmare on the big Gun, so thought I'd swap to my small approach skis, that was a very stupid move. In the end I swapped skis with Jonaten, using his skis, whilst he managed to get down on my little skis without the skins. The others on the boards managed to get down without any real problem, quite a changebfrom yesterday!
So writing this, whilst in yet another superb mountain hotel, having just had a beer in the sauna, and awaiting a sumptous dinner.
As ever life is hard on the traverse.
Tuesday - so we passed on the heli as conditions were not too good, overcast & a low cloud base.
We climbed the north face of the valley, just up from the village of Valgrisenche, starting at around 1750mts being buzzed by the helicopters offloading fat Germans, though have to admit we were all slightly jealous at the thought of them getting to where we were heading, but unlike us taking four hours, it was probably only ten minutes!
On the way up we passed
some beautiful mountain huts & summer villages. Snow cover again was very respectable, and on the track up for the first 150mts it was quite frozen, but with warm temps would hopefully soften up for the descent.
Once out of the trees, which was quite good, as skinning up with a 198 board on your back branches can get in the way, snow was softer, which bode well for later.
Then further up we were climbing through soft powder, which again presented problems for the snowboarders on snowshoes, and me on my approach skis.
It was good to see the heli offloading at a lower altitude that we were already at, and we were still climbing, but towards the cloud, but every now and again the clouds cleared and we started getting excited at the powder feast we'd be in for, well that was the plan.
We eventually stopped at 2800mts, having done around 950mts in just over three & half hours, with quite a few breaks.
By the time we'd got ourselves ready for the descent the cloud had come down over us which drastically reduced visibility, throwing a real spanner in the works. So Jonatan & Per had to work together to find the best route, though we still found a few flat spots, which for us on boards resulted in a few waist deep walk-outs!
After a while, viz was way better and could really appreciate the terrain, letting the skis & boards run.
And this time the run out was ok, though still had a fair walk back, but way better (for me), than yesterday!
Another memory filled day.
So we awoke to find about 10cm and with a fair amount of cloud & wind.
Because of the uncertainty of the weather it was decided to go back down the valley to Aosta town, and from there go up to Pila, a small resort that a couple of the heli guides recommended for days such as this, and it was meant to offer good off piste routes and trees at lower altitude.
Loading the vans up we said our goodbyes to our hosts, Luigi and his wife leaving the Hotel Perret and the village of Bonne. As is so often the case we felt sure that we'd return one day to soak up more of the fabulous hospitality. http://www.hotelperret.it/
It was becoming clear by now that we were not going to tour across and on into France due to the adverse conditions, but this is all part of the fun of never knowing what the next day holds or even where we'd be spending the night!
The resort of Pila was something else. We pulled up in a car park just on the edge of Aosta town, in the equivalent of an industrial / retail park, this was where the gondala went from, very bizarre!
I decided to ski, so was filled with a fair amount of trepidation concerned as to whether I could hack the conditions.
Aosta is at 650mts so the lift went over farm land with trees in blossom and farmers getting to grips with cultivating the vines and land.
Because of all the rain at lower altitude the snow line was around 1600mts, when we arrived at the top station we were greeted by hordes of resort skiers with loads of children.
It seemed that the weather was turning in our favour as we took a chair up, plus it became obvious that as this was a very family orientated resort they just love to keep to the piste so it was not tracked out.
Snow was in abundance and good powder. By this time I was kicking myself for not having brought the big board up!
We did quite a few runs pretty well on untracked all the time hitting the piste to get back down to the lifts. My skiing was crap in the powder and I frequently managed to investigate the snow at close quarters, mind you I was not the only one.
One thing that often happens when a group of "ski tourers / boarders" encounter pistes is that the speed goes through the roof, well that is the skiers tend to open up a gap on the boarders, with the net result of guides loosing their clients on the piste. But our lost companion eventually found us, only to be lost again later on!
We only skied the morning in Pila and then it was back down the mountain and back in the vans to continue on our "Road Trip Powder Quest", the traverse for us now was well & truly out the window!
We drove up the Aosta valley heading towards Courmayeur, where we then headed north east to Pra Sec, where we parked up, and then got back into touring mode as we then once ready walked for three or four kms along the Ferret Valley which is a big cross country skiing area. We eventually started the steep 500mt climb to our destination, Refuge Bonatti at 2025mts.
The refuge http://www.rifugiobonatti.it/ was in a spectacular location, only built 9 years ago. The snow cover was huge. In fact the hut had only just opened as the whole valley had been evacuated for four days due to avalanche threat. On our walk through the valley we saw two or three huge slides, with debris from one almost covering the side of one of the houses in the valley, so close to taking out that house & a couple of others.
Once inside we found out why we had a decent well trodden path up, a party of 20 or so "local" students from Courmayeur, who were members of their college mountaineering club had trekked up on snowshoes.
Our group all had a superb dormitory style room with views across the valley to Mont Blanc.
So we crashed that night after some excellent food & wine, attempting to listen & understand the lectures given to the students by their guides.
As ever, we'd have to wait and see what tomorrow would serve up for us.
We woke early to fantastic blue skies and we up & ready to get going.
The plan was to skin up from the refuge, leaving some kit there as we would be returning back there to stay that night.
We climbed up in perfect cold powder for around 200mts vertical. However our progress further up the bowl was thwarted by the loaded slopes that our guides were planning on going up. At times like this it is so good to be in the hands of these guys, they just didn't trust it, and after a few of the experiences of last year we had no complaints when best course of action was to head back down. As Per & Jonatan said, better to have two "live" chicken guides. We understood totally.
Picture is of Jomatan coming back having checked snow pack out.
The run back was just breathtaking, I was back on the board, not the gun, so initially it felt like I was missing a meter or so of extra surface on the front.
See our tracks just above the refuge
Everyone just tore into the bowl laying awesome tracks. Once back down we quickly prepared for the hike back up, this time in a different direction. It was only 400mts vertical, but we were blessed by jaw dropping open bowl terrain in perfect untracked powder. We descended below the refuge, then hiked back up for lunch.
Once back at the hut we all agreed that that was probably one of the best runs / days we'd ever had!
Then after a blow out Italian lunch we did it all again, totally brilliant!
Friday Next day we said goodbye to the Bonatti, and skinned up the valley to the Col Entre Deux Sauts at 2524, we were heading back to Courmayeur.
In this picture yo can see the bowl we came down and there are guys touring up that.
From the Col we descended back down a bowl laying superb tracks, then it was back in touring mode to climb up to the Col de Sapin for our drop down into Courmayeur.
At the top we prepared for our final descent. The south facing aspect gave us lovely spring snow, the only problem was that our projected route out was full of massive avalanche debris all the way down.
The guides, as best as they could helped to advise us how to tackle what lay before us but it was never going to be easy. We've crossed avalanche fields before but nothing on this scale, the gouged out ruts and debris were well over head height at times. The skiers in the group coped far better than the boarders, and I was glad I was not on the big board.
In the end we had no alternative but to cross back over the debris and climb by foot (clamber) up the side and find a traverse route to get us in a better position for the run out.
After a while we were back into more hospital able terrain, but very hot & sweaty from it, but as ever not to be forgotten. Finally we made it on to a frozen track and headed back down, again not at all snowboard friendly with frequent bare patches, so on / off with the board on numerous occasions, and poles out.
We ended up walking the last couple of kms down into Courmayeur with the group well spread out.
Another amusing anecdote was that Per could not find some of us who were already down, resulting in a tour of the streets of Courmayeur for the others, really not to sure how these guides would cope in a big sprawling urban metropolis!
After a good pizza we headed back to Aosta town where we spent the night, taking a bus in the morning through the St Bernard tunnel to Martigny, where we caught a train direct to Geneva airport, a very easy transfer.
So that was the end of another adventurous week. In the end we were lucky with the weather as it was not looking promising when we started and with extreme avalanche risk.
Ok not so much of a "Traverse" this time, more of a "Road Trip Powder Quest", but who cares?