The driest December in this area since measurements began in 1864 created new challenges for a mountain guide like myself. I could have behaved like Chicken Little and believed the end was near, or rather taken advantage of those conditions. The foehn episode that dried the northern Alps in November, coated the southern Alps with a lovely layer of fresh powder. Living close to that main divide here in Verbier, my clients and I profited from the situation, ski touring and heliskiing in the south, and hiking and climbing in the north. For those who enjoy being outside no matter the weather and conditions, I've found it so rewarding to share these mini adventures with you. Thank you! The following 20 pictures show some of our days together on skis, skins and foot, enjoying what mother nature provides.
It's been a challenge, finding soft snow when none exists at lower elevations! That lovely base which grew above 2200 meters in November on the main alpine ridge, extending from the St.Bernard pass, through to the Simplon and on east, into the Graubunden, saved those of us willing to travel to ride. Duncan and his son Max have been keen to find that good snow. We skinned to the monastery at the St.Bernard pass, rode boot top powder, then visited the chapel and treasury to look at 1000 year old bibles and trinkets. We helied to 4000 meters to ride creamy snow down to 2200 meters and endured 200 meters of breakable crust from the rain event of 10 days ago. Courmeyeur offered excellent off piste runs to the funkiest little restaurant serving super savoury food to worn out snowboarders. Our split boards took us up to untracked powder, corn and crust. Cervinia offered the best conditions around with a full-on, lift accessed, winter base. And the high off piste around Verbier gave us a taste of the powder still to come this winter. But that's changing now, as I look out my window to the 20cm of fresh snow, and still falling. It's cold! -13 and windy at the Col des Gentiannes. The forecast calls for snow all day today and tomorrow with total accumulations up to 40cm. That would be a fresh start indeed. Can't wait to get the new Coombacks and Kingpins into the fresh stuff. Wishing you all a fine and cosy holiday season!
Wow! At the bottom of that first steep and deep pitch, I immediately texted Gilles, "OMG!" He was just behind me, savoring an expresso with his client, at the top, just before dropping in. Only in the Alps! We do aim to please, and pleasure it was. Franco had a grin from ear to ear as we carved our way through half a meter of light, cold smoke, toe to toe-side, ear to ear. Oh wow! The snow this morning was so light, the northerly system had arrived with no wind, gently placing many centimeters of fresh snow above 3000 meters. Lower down, that blanket of fresh snow had insulated the warm snow of yesterday, preserving that porridge for those low riders, seeking powder in the trees. But it cleared way faster than predicted, and by the time Franco had found a way back into his house, it was indeed blue bird. Timing, even if it means rolling up to the lift at 11:00AM, is what's it's all about, n'est-ce pas? The forecast is threatening us with hot air from tomorrow, 0° @ 3000. Yikes! Oh well, one never knows what that will heat will create. Maybe a solid bridge over all these facets we're dancing over right now. There sure were lots of spontaneous slides on NW to E faces between 2300 and 2800. Funky indeed! Have a blast whatever and wherever you are. Happy New Year!
I wish you a cozy Merry Christmas, happy and content within you, surrounded by friends and family, whether they are close or afar, and lots of joy in the coming new year. From our avalanche awareness course, to these past few days on split boards, the beautiful, sunny skies have given us ideal conditions for moving about in these mountains. The snow cover is thin, low tide indeed! But with expectations low, the reality of linking turns for 700 meters of vertical decent in boot top powder is pure joy, shared with happy free riders. After half a day of lecture on the evolution and metamorphism of snow on the ground, we moved outside to skin over varied terrain and talk about route choices up and down, slope aspect, altitude, terrain, and snow pit analysis. My 6 students were so keen to absorb everything we talked about, creating a desire in me to add more and more stuff to the curriculum. Thanks to James for this link to an interesting article on what it means to be an avalanche expert. As my instructor Werner Munter once said, "Beware avalanche expert, the avalanche doesn't know you are an expert." Most recently, I have been out riding with Duncan and his son on a snowboard. What a joy that has been! Thanks to K2 and their new Quicker system on the Ultra Split snowboard, I have been enjoying my passion for surfing at a level I couldn't achieve before. The whole set up must be lighter than any other split out there today. (My client is on the Jones Carbon, which is renowned for being light, and it's heavier than my K2.) This weight issue has been big deal for me, wondering if I would take my regular board or split. And the shape of this new board makes it by far the most forgiving and pleasant board to ride yet. It's so quick and easy to go from ride to skin mode. I'm even breaking it apart for the traverse along the Cleuson lake to skate on the two sections! We are in an intense episode of high winds from the south, the Foehn. If it does stop, we may see a few centimeters of snow. My finger are crossed! It will be dicey out there if it does snow substantially. The facetted snow we are skiing on now, will not offer much support for the weight of the new snow. Let's hope for a big dump which will create spontaneous avalanches on all aspects before we can get there to trigger them ourselves.