THE RIDE BLOG: FEBRUARY

The ride blog 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.

A warm - and windy - start to the month of February, but all change throughout the French half term weeks. So it was Doom, Gloom and BOOM.

The Ski Blog, February 2016

MONDAY, 1st FEBRUARY

BLOWN AWAY

Words Elaine Deed

You know there are times when you pray for more wind - on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the beach, for instance, when you've just rigged a 4.7m to windsurf or an 8m kite  But, in the Alps, just after it's snowed, is not one of those times! The winds were brutal, yesterday, gusting  more than 100kph at altitude.

All the new snow we had here in Serre Che, yesterday morning, has disappeared, either blown or melted away in the unseasonably warm temperatures. Compare the pics, below, taken from the live webcam at 09.41, yesterday, and then at 08/26, this morning.

 
 

BUT, all is not doom and gloom if the weather forecasters are right. Next Saturday is looking like The Return of Snowmageddon - and a major amount of snow falling on transfer day. Boom.

So, today, I'm digging out my trainers and going for a run as I've foolishly entered a half marthon back in Blighty on Sunday, 14th February and need to see if being ski fit means being run fit, too.

WEDNESDAY, 3rd FEBRUARY

WEEKEND WARRIOR UPDATE

Words Jonathan 'Bing' Bingham

My friendly Swiss guide, Maurio, used such words as 'horrible' about the snow conditions. And the Tech Editor went cycling up a col, yesterday, So plans for a powder weekend away in the Alps have been on hold.

 

These were Maurio's exact words: 'At this moment the snow conditions are horrible! It was rain until 3000m. Now there is a big crust in the shadow and "pudding snow" on the sunny faces, But, in the next days, it will be snowing again and the cold is coming back. So, I think, for the 13-14th February, it will be good.'

So there is hope on the horizon. Maybe winter is returning to the Alps, next week with temperatures dropping and substantial snow shown on a number of forecasts.

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We are on standby for a trip to who knows where weekend of the 13th February. Happy Valentines (better clear it with the wife, sure she won't mind!).

THURSDAY, 4th FEBRUARY

BIT OF A BLOW!

Words Elaine Deed

It was hard to tell, last night, if it was actually snowing or just the NW wind blowing all the snow down from La Grave! This morning, we have blue sky and a hooley still blowing so, what did fall here in Serre Che, is now on its way to Mongenevre.

Here's a pic of the top of the Gaultier chairlift and Eychauda, showing not only the amazing zoom on our Panasonic camera as it was taken from our apartment, but ,also, just how wind trashed it is up there!

 

SATURDAY, 6th FEBRUARY

TOUR WITH A VIEW!

Words Gavin Baylis

Yesterday I went up Lautaret touring. And a picture paints a thousand words :)

 

After the violent winds of the last four or five days along with some fresh snow we were hoping to find some stashes of powder, which we did, but more surprisingly spring snow, as well. Think it's fair to say we encountered (though necessarily did not ski it, where possible), every type of snow pack!

 

Our target was La Crête de Côte Plaine et le Vallon de Roche Noire, once on the ridge there are stunning views of La Meije / La Grave.

 

And then zoomed in on the village of La Grave

 

And again zoomed in, this time on the ski terrain that is Chancel, and you can see various tracks!

 

MONDAY, 8th FEBRUARY

BLUEBIRD!!!

Words Elaine Deed

Off for first lifts, this morning. A few open at 8.30am during school half term but there's blasting going on up the hill so, sometimes, they keep them closed till 9.00am.

Yesterday, it stopped snowing around 5pm here in Serre Che. We went up the hill at midday, when it was still puking, to see how much has fallen. And, yay, a Sunday lunch powder ski! Not great vis, but better in the trees and up to my knees!

 

I took some great pics on motordrive of Gav jumping off a lip into pow. Unfortunately, I couldn't see that the camera was in selfie mode, so we had a dozen pics of me peering into the camera, instead!

You wouldn't have known that it's French half term and the hordes have arrived in resort! Lunchtime and a white out helped keep the slopes pretty quiet. Absolutely no queues! But we all know that the queues at this time of year can be horrendous. Catch our feature, War And Piste, and how to do battle in the queues 

TUESDAY, 9th FEBRUARY

MORE SNOW!

Words Elaine Deed

Well, we made first lifts, yesterday, at 8.30am on a bluebird morning but, yup, same as last year, they were avy blasting up top, again, so the lifts didn't open till 9.10am, by which time the queue was epic (but, fortunately, this was the view, below, behind us as we were near the front!).

 

But, once up the hill, the hordes stayed on the pistes. We had a lot of fresh to ourselves for endless first tracks including the face under the Gaultier lift (see Ken shredding it, main pic, above) and off the ridge from the Eychauda drag, for the first time this year.

We were avy bag primed all the time with transceivers on. Hands up, I should have worn a helmet, though, with the hidden 'sharks' rocks under the powder AND Gav, too, who seems to have a twat magnet in his avy bag and had a close encounter as he came off the pow near the Gaultier lift with an out of control young man hurtling down the piste above him. Gav stayed upright but received a bruised nose; the other guy went flying and received a ton of abuse!

AND I managed not to take selfies, this time, but got a decent pic of Gav cranking it in the pow...

 

Today, it's meant to snow all day, but it's getting off to a slow start!  Meanwhile, the avy risk is 4 (it was 3 yesterday), which must have something to do with the consolidation of the fresh. But, at least, we didn't get the wind that closed many of the lifts in the Northern Alps including most of Meribel. And, by all accounts, it's pretty grim, wind wise in the Northern resorts, today, with rain reported at low altitude in Morzine/Les Gets.

In Mayrhofen,  Austria, there's been some fresh and, also, melt. As our snowboard contributor, Faye Young, says,: 'The snow,this year, is like a moody teenager and never does what you want it to'.

Hopefully it'll grow up to be a reliable adult soon!

THURSDAY, 11th FEBRUARY

SKIING THE TREES - AND STUMPS

Words Elaine Deed

We went over to Monetier for first lifts at 8.30am, yesterday.  And ended up having a coffee waiting for them to open at 9.00am. Again! Not sure what the poiint is of SAYING you're going to open some lifts early during the school holidays if the pisteurs secouristes don't go up half an hour earlier to avy blast?

But the off piste in Monetier was quiet so there were plenty of routes via the long tree runs from the Crêtes des Lauzières accessible from the top of the Bacchus chair and a short hike on skis. The trees are fairly steep but well spaced. But there are still plenty of tree stumps lurking just under the surface to catch you out as there is still a lack of real base. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick - and we managed to avoid that, too. See Ken and me, below. So, then, back at the van at 1.15pm and home for lunch!

 
 

SATURDAY, 13th FEBRUARY

SNOWMAGEDDON...

Words Gavin Baylis

As expected the drive to and from Turin, yesterday, back and forth over the Col de Montgenevre was mayhem as many holiday makers made the decision to leave a day earlier than risk Snowmageddon!

Today is one of the busiest transfer days of the year with many of the main regions of France on half term hols along with the UK, so not only do you have the traffic coming into the mountains through the one or two main arterial roads that access the numerous ski stations but you then have those that have been here this week departing.

The vast majority of 'tourists' do not use winter tyres and chance that the roads will be clear and, in the worst eventuality, they will use chains. However, many only decide to put chains on once they are slidding all over the mountain creating the 'Snowmagedddon' gridlock. Hopefully the gendarmes will be out in force making people put their chains on well before the climbs start!

As for the snow, yesterday was more or less on forecast with 25-30cm of fresh in the valley with, hopefully, more up top. Forecast is for more snow later this morning, so now is the time to dig the cars out and put the chains on rather than wait for it to start snowing again!

As for the skiing, the trees again in the Crêtes des Lauzières forest were superb and I found some new routes. As I neared the bottom I came across a cute chapel I'd never seen before and what looked like an old piste, and sure enough there was an old drag lift. Looking on my map it was the teleski de Charvet and the Chapel was Charvet at 1608.

SUNDAY, 14th FEBRUARY

MORE SNOW OVERNIGHT....

Words Gavin Baylis

Yesterday was indeed 'Snowmageddon', so there was hardly anyone on the hill as they were all stuck in their cars!

We took first lifts at 08:30 and nigh on had the hill to ourselves before more locals turned up. Up top viz and wind were bad so we stuck to the trees (again), especially as the Pres du Bois drag opened up for the first time this season, which gives you access to some great lines in the trees.

By 11:00 more people were skiing and we came back down, and had to go and pick some skis up. The shop was empty where normally you'd expect it to be full of people renting their gear for the week. I then went back down three hours later and still no one.

The local French media are full of the carnage on the roads, and it seems, at least in our area, the worst was the traffic coming up from the South, though I should imagine the Frejus tunnel and Col du Montgenevre were just as bad.

We've had more snow overnight, so out for first lifts.

 

MONDAY, 15th FEBRUARY

WILL BE A GOOD DAY....

Words Gavin Baylis

I think it could well be a very good day up the hill with plenty of powder stashes to be found. However, it will get progressively busy as the Ski School groups and holiday makers take to the lifts. Forecast is for sunshine and much lighter winds than of late.

I'm off out early ski touring in Nevache, Bois Noir, with an 07:30 start with the Club Alpine Briancon.

Yesterday went for first lifts, though driving into where I park up (at a friends hotel) I ended up having to dig my way in as I tried driving across the snow but it was too deep! I arrived at the Casse du Boeuf lift around 08:45 expecting it to still be closed due to avalanche security and/or a large queue, but neither. It was open and no one around.

So we skied a nigh on untracked Casse du Boeuf with around 15cm of powder at the top going to around 10cm by the bottom. At the top of the Casse it was howling and any higher would have been grim with white out conditions so back into tree skiing mode. Sundays, especially snowy ones in high season, are always good as not too many Freeriders are around and those that are up on the hill in whiteout conditions tend not to know the good lines. Plus the organised groups don't start their activities till Monday, and the Frejus sector is empty as Sunday is Club Med transfer day!

Below is a lovely line down an old drag lift piste (near Cretes), and shot looking down it doesn't look at all steep but it's about 25-30%.

 

TUESDAY 16th FEBRUARY

TOUR DE FORCE

Words Gavin Baylis

Target for today (the first few hours of the morning ) was the Croix Carail, climbing up through the Bois Noir in Nevache. Superb trees and powder for the descent, though the ascent was quite steep with many a kick turn and the pace was rapido at around 450m an hour.

On the way down through the trees I heard these voices (not in my head). 'Where are your dogs?'so I skied over and it was the team from Riquet Sports Villeneuve going up. They started at a sensible time of day. Needless to say, the powder was way too deep for the Les Rando Chiens!

While I was beasting myself climbing, a good friend, Ken, was using the lifts here in Serre to ski Montagnolle.

As ever a picture paints a thousand words.

 

Meanwhile, with the Team CAF Briancon atop the Croix Carail there was 'fall and you die' terrain - I think that's why they put a feckin cross there!

 

Trees as ever were superb.

WEDNESDAY, 17th FEBRUARY

MAYBE SHOULD HAVE STAYED HERE?

Words Gavin Baylis

Went over to La Grave, yesterday, and it was quite tracked out. Came across a group of Swedes who were with UCPA here in Serre and they were bemoaning coming over. That said LG is always a magnificent location to ski and with just so many options. We only skied some variations of the classic routes, Chancel and Vallons, and it was great to get some demanding skiing in, and always a tad envious to see guided groups going off the glacier skiing terrain that will deliver the goods.

Forecast has a few flocons for tomorrow but no major snow falls on the horizon.

Might nip up the hill to explore Grand Pre, that's the face right in front us, coming in from the Cucumelle vallons.

La Grave, Lac and Bannane couloirs:

 

THURSDAY, 18th FEBRUARY

NICE LINES

Words Gavin Baylis

With the failure of La Grave to score some decent fresh in the back of my mind, yesterday, I embarked on an off piste route that I'd only ever done once with a guide.

Route finding can be a little technical but there were traverse tracks to follow and at a certain point it came back to me.

As I was on my own I opted on a variation that took me back into the trees that I know as opposed to coming straight down the face you can see on the webcam (Rocher de Bez).

First hike the Cucumelle then ski across

 

Then a clamber through some rocks.

 

Followed by another hike to the little summit left of centre.

 

And then over the top to this.

 

More overcast today, and I'm giving my legs a rest.

SUNDAY, 21st FEBRUARY

WHERE'S ALL THE POWDER?

Words: Gavin Baylis

I was up early yesterday morning to start at 08:00 with the CAF Briancon from Les Boussardes. I do wonder why we have to start so early when we're not beholden to the timings that spring snow requires. But, being a Saturday, it soon became obvious for just as we were leaving a fair number of Italian cars arrived, spewing out around 15 ski tourers, who then proceeded to ask Pierre, from the CAF Briancon, what was the best route. And there's no better way to ensure that our pace was subseqently rather rapid!

Our target was Les Jumelles Sud at 2,986m so just under 1,400m of climbing.

Snow in the forest was encouraging. However, as we climbed above the trees, the snow was very wind affected and, along with the sunshine rapidly disappearing, the flat light and varied snowpack would mean a tricky descent.

Pont Etendard, in the background, does not look steep but it is around 45 degrees

 

In the main Vallons Fontenil with cloud replacing the blue sky.

 

Nearing the Crete.

 

Made it.

 

The descent, at times, was feckin' hard to ski, especially with tired legs and every variation of snow from crust through to heavy sludge, though we did get some nice turns in and the powder was actually better once we were near the trees on the North facing slopes.

On the way down there must have been nigh on 20 or more going up and doing variations on the route with a handful tackling some pretty steep chutes as you can see in the first photo.

We either need more snow or for the current snow to transform to spring.

MONDAY, 22nd FEBRUARY

THE JUMP HERE WE COME!

Words: Elaine Deed

Road trip!!!! Off this morning to Kuhtai in Austria. No, not to take part in The Jump, which is currently being filmed there, but to try out new skis for Winter 16/17 showing in Kuhtai for the annual SIGB ski test organised for the UK ski industry.

Yesterday, I managed to ski after a week off games following last Sunday's Half Marathon, which I completed back in our home town, Worthing. The 13.1 miles took us around the houses. Literally. However tempting it was to pop home for tea, as we passed our house on the seafront at least six times. Our Health & Beauty Editor, Siggy and I managed to finish it without walking. Siggy even sprinted the last 400m - smiling all the way (below). But I wasn't able to walk for a week afterwards!

 

Temperatures were insanely warm, here in Serre Che, yesterday. The pistes were pretty slushy by noon, but the queues were non-existant during the lunch time lull. The thermometer hit 38C in the sun on our patio in the afternoon!

TUESDAY, 23rd  FEBRUARY

JUST TESTING

Words: Elaine Deed

So here we are in Kuhtai, Austria, for the SIGB Ski Test - and the weather's been, well, interesting. Today was mostly flat light and then light snow so it was hard enough to see where we were going let alone let the skis run.

Gav's been on a mission (and, no, not the old SCOTT ones) to test touring skis and has been climbing up on similar set ups to compare them, as lightweight skiing kit is still a Holy Grail of many of the brands. Watch this space for his thoughts. Meanwhile, I've been trying out pure piste skis, which I don't actually have in my quiver. And I'll let you know how it went at the end of the week.

This evening, it's been snowing and blowing. On top of rain, here, up to 3000m on Monday it's making conditions fairly challenging. 

FRIDAY, 26th FEBRUARY

BACK TO SUN - BUT SNOW'S COMING

Words: Elaine Deed

We returned from the SIGB 16/17 ski test in Kuhtai, yesterday. And we're loaded with thoughts for next winter, which we'll be uploading over the coming week. Here's Gav (below) with the new Black Crows Atris Freerides 108 waist that he tried out when we went over the back and down through the trees to the lake in around 10cms of fresh.

 

Back home and the sun's shining. There's a small amount of snow forecast in Serre Che, for the weekend- and more for the Northern Alps mid-week. But it looks like the imminent 'retour d'est' will be dumping big time only 15 miles away from here in the Queyras, which is where we'll be!

SUNDAY, 28th FEBRUARY

SNOW WATCH

Words: Elaine Deed

Still awaiting the snow that has been forecast for here in Serre Che. Meanwhile, we're watching the webcams and it's already dumped in Gressoney, Italy and it's looking very good for the Northern Alps all next week.

We returned from the SIGB 16/17 ski test in Kuhtai, rubbing shoulders in the Alpenrose Hotel bar with the celebs taking part in The Jump. The ski jump, itself, loomed over the ski test centre (below), looking fairly formidable. Good luck to the contestants doing that, tonight!

 

Meanwhile, catch our first report on next winter's skis from the test. With better skis and even better prices, what's not to like? Read more, here.