Went to bed last night with the sound of rain and woke up to a blanket of white outside Style Altitude HQ.
So a quick cup of tea and ski gear on while What's Apping to see who else was heading up the hill. I was on the Pontellas lift at 09.05, first on the chair and the drags doing powder stashes on my own until meeting Ken and Adrian at 10.00. It was like no one else got the memo that we had a fresh 15cm layer of snow!
The cloud cleared by around 10.30 so we did lap after lap off the Crete and Barre drags, first tracks down Pikey's shoulder and had the Crete trees completely to ourselves.
Finally called it a day around 12.15 with the sun warming up the south facing snow. But a pretty good way to spend Easter Saturday!
31st March 2018
RANDO CHIEN GETTING PLUMP
It's been an amazing winter as far as fresh snow is concerned but usually by the end of March it's spring touring weather and the Rando Chiens are coming out with us nearly everyday.
Now Mamma Kiki is definitely looking a little rounder thanks to stealing the stale bread put out for the birds and less touring. Gavin went up the north slopes at the Lautaret on Thursday, but it's national park and taboo for dogs.
On Friday we took them for a ski tour up the south slopes facing Monetier village (image above). We went late as the temperatures were pretty cool in the morning and the snow certainly seemed to be transforming in the sun but after climbing around 750m we skied down in a variety of snow conditions, from crust to heavy powder to, yep, some spring - you can hear the sssssweet sound of the spring snow on the turns, below, and also from the Rando Chiens who do a short cut downhill and straight line it
In the heavy powder one of my skis went one way, the other straight on so I did a headplant and twisted my knee meaning I was off games for a few days. Gav, Ken and The Vikings did Monetier backcountry again the next day and scored pretty good spring snow.
The next day, Saturday, Gav took the Rando Chiens up Gardiole, over 1400m so a good work out for the dogs. It was also a bit of a work out for Gav coming down as the snow in his words was 'crap'. Same timing, same aspect, same temperature as the day before. So go figure.
On Tuesday, the Rando Chiens chilled while Gav donned a helmet and hit the pistes on borrowed carvers - and had one of the worst falls of the winter, going off a bend at 65kph.
The next day the attraction of Manchester (the groomed corduroy) and general boredom from resting up my knee, saw me joining Gav on first lifts to do the pistes. We had black runs to ourselves top to bottom skiing non-stop and, thanks, the knees fine.
That afternoon Gav had the sad news that his father had died so he headed back to the UK on Thursday leaving the Jacks and I in a fairly miserable resort with rain coming down. I couldn't even persuade the Randos to go for a walk in the drizzle.
Kiki doesn't know but she might be going on a diet next week!
18th-22nd March 2018
IS IT SPRING YET?
Go chasing powder on north slopes? Or seek spring corn on the south-facing ones? And what about avalanche risk that was 4/5 last weekend with all the fresh snow?
This has been the dilemma for the past week as the sun has finally given us hope of warmer days and spring ski touring. But significantly the temperatures haven't actually been that high during the day especially with some chill winds blowing. In fact, it's been colder at the end of March than it was in February last year.
So we've done short ski tours with the Rando Chiens just to give them some exercise (Kiki has definitely had too much French bread) and see what the snow's doing. Our last south slope tour was yesterday, Wednesday, in Cervieres, where there'd been another 10cms overnight and the snow wasn't transforming at all. But at least there was fresh.
Gavin's also been up the Lautaret on the north side to still score untracked powder which is staying cold and skiable after last week's snowfall. At least, with this much snow, spring ski touring should last well into May.
15th-16th March 2018
FAT SKI FRIDAY (AND THURSDAY)
The snow came in on Thursday, blanketing the hill in low cloud so we gave it till midday to fill in the tracks and then put on the weather proofs and low vis goggles ready for some storm riding.
Anywhere above the trees was a white out but in the trees with better vis the fat skis floated in snow up to our knees - and as light as Japow. I was riding my fav all mountain skis of the season, the Santa Ana 110s, Gav was on Black Crows 108 - and he leant Steve, normally more of a cafe cruiser, his White Doctor 104s.
So we had three hours of play time in the trees floating in the pow before tackling the far more leg burning chopped up lumps and bumps that had developed on the pistes. Steve managed some spectacular head plants in the powder but was set up with the White Doctors and loads of hands-weight-forward advice for a great time, the next day, doing untracked sidecountry in the sun.
It was a classic bluebird. We were on first lifts at Monetier to do the Crete des Lauzieres steep trees. The narrow ridge with a drop either side has the sign 'Passage Delicat' and it certainly gives me wobbles in my delicate passage.
It's a super fast 20m straight line ski across the exposed part of the ridge. Turning is a no no as you'd just fly off the edge so it's a question of letting the skis go which means picking up speed and hurtling like cannonballs into a path between the trees on the other side.
I only just managed to stop and miss smashing into Gav who'd stopped mid-path to check a Go-Pro malfunction while Ken, coming next, had to take serious last minute avoiding action so as not to take us both out like ten pin bowling.
Then Gav got hung in a tree, literally, with a branch threading through the top loop of his backpack which took him a while to sort out by which time Pikey and Co arrived. So there were seven of us, soon becoming spread out in the woods negotiating some pretty steep and deep chopped up lines in close packed trees at the top before veering left and finding perfect untracked pow in the wider spaced more skier friendly ones.
We took the decision to not join the queue at the Bachus chair but leave a car at Monetier and drive to Pontillas (the Cucumelle chair was under going repairs so you couldn't ski back). Then a couple of laps of Pikey's shoulder right off the top of the Barre drag, before I bailed with tired legs while Gav and Ken hiked Cucumelle where Gav did some more hanging around before dropping back down to Monetier via some pretty sweet powder.
14th March 2018
HARING AROUND LA GRAVE
Today was always on the cards given the forecast and our friends over there keep us updated as to whether it might open so we were there well in advance of the many late arrivals.
We still had to buy a pass and even though there were not too many ahead of us, by the time we got the them the lift queue had grown with people already having a pass, but in the overall scheme of things we did get up to P3 well in advance of others and scored some good conditions.
Snow was actually better lower down. As P2 traverse was a no go due to avalanche risk we opted to ski all the way back to La Grave rather than P1 as we knew we'd get on a lift and that there would be a massive bun fight at P1 which sure enough was indeed the case as we went back up.
It really was a very good move. I've never seen a queue like it, in fact at the bottom they were deliberately not filling all the cabins as they knew they had to pack them in at P1.
Once back at the top of P3 we put skins on and started to walk across to the drag on the glacier in the hope that it would open and failing that we'd skin to the very top.
At the drag there were a few groups with guides in front of us and a couple of LG locals I've known for a while and everyone was very optimistic about the lift opening.
I was ready to skin all the way but my comrades talked me out of it. However after 20 mins or so the guides and their groups began to hike up, so we put skins on again and started the climb then a few mins later a skidoo arrived at the lift and things started to look more positive so we skied back down with skins still on and 10 mins later the lift fired up.
Think there must have been about 10 in front of us so we were able to get some good lines in before the piste basher started dragging people over.
We did the drag four times before we decided to head all the way down to have a late lunch in Chancel.
Then it was ski back down to P1 with the traverse in the best condition I've known it, and while my comrades took the lift back I opted to ski all the way as legs felt good, and sweet untracked spring snow on the field on skiers left.
So was a good day, but not classic, snow was not uber light and cold and like the last couple of times I've been there this season it's getting so busy now. But it is still an immense mountain and dramatic terrain and even with all the people you can still be on your own.
And after ski beer at the Castillian was sweet, and again I've never seen it so rammed.
Driving back over the Lautaret there was a delay as a heli was bombing suspect ridges above the old avi tunnels.
9th March 2018
FIRST SPRING SKI TOUR OF THE SEASON
We've had some glorious weather this week (though not as I write this), and for most of the week I've been avoiding the hordes by taking to the XCountry trails trying to perfect my skating.
With temps most afternoons in double figures and freezing overnight so the snow was doing it's Freeze/Thaw thing and starting the transformation to spring snow.
So a plan was made for a gang of us, and of course Les Rando Chiens to climb up to one of our favourite summits just behind us, La Gardiole 2,753m.
This time last year we were able to drive up to around 2,000m but yesterday we had to start at 1,500 so a long climb.
We were all concerned as to what condition the snow might be in, and would it have transformed or would be end up skiing a mixture of crud and crust? And as we were climbing up we were trying to be optimistic.
We took it easy doing around 300m an hour and once at the summit is was pretty windy.
The ski down was mellow and sublime a mixture of powder and spring snow, except as you can see in the video Les Rando Chiens found it hard going at times, and worked out it was easier to run down the skin track we had made on the climb up!
5th March 2018
CLASSIC SERRE CHE WEEKEND
Heavy snow on Saturday saw a gang on us making the most of the fresh snow and having to hit the steeps in the trees as you needed the gradient to ski as the snow was just so deep and was way too easy to get stuck, but at the same time having to be aware of the very real avalanche danger.
Sunday was just one of those classic days, waking to the sound of controlled blasting, which hopefully was a good omen in that upper runs would be opening, and not a cloud in the sky.
Conscious that Eychauda would open we skied over that way and sure enough we saw it open, twas a bit of a bunfight in the lift queue but think we managed around four runs and then a couple of hikes up above the Col de Mea.
It was tempting to go further afield but along with the controlled avalanche activity there was so much evidence of natural slides that we kept inbounds.
3rd March 2018
NEW ROUTE OFF THE BACK
When we walk with the Rando Chiens in the summer we sometimes go up from the villages below Les Combes and Gav's often said it'd be great to ski down IF we ever had a winter when there was enough snow. But it'd mean using two cars, parking at one of the villages like Puy St Andre.
Yesterday Gav had a Plan B not to ski all the way to Puy St Andre but with the sidecountry in resort chopped up thanks to the half term hordes his idea was to ski down from the Rocher Blanc chair off the chemin and through the trees taking skins so we could hike back up before we got too low.
It was a good plan except that it was snowing all morning and we were shrouded in cloud as we arrived at the chemin. But we dropped in anyway as the trees were around 100m - or a dozen powder turns away - where the vis was a tad better.
As we skied down and down through the trees and knee high powder I did question whether it was time to skin back up but Gav assured me that we'd only gone around 300m so it would take just an hour to climb to the chemin. And off he went in a flurry of powder.
Finally we transitioned and then had to carry the skis up some steep banks and rocks that we'd skied / side-slipped down. Gav was in front, naturally, making tracks (main image) and soon the air was as blue as the sudden break in the clouds that had revealed the sun. The snow was getting heavy and he was on his super wide 114mm K2 Coombacks so he was finding the going tough.
Now it takes a lot for Gav to throw in the towel but when he turned to me and declared, 'I don't think I can do this' I knew we were in trouble. At least as far as hiking up was concerned.
Fortunately there was the alternative. To ski all the way down to Puy St Andre. Although the snow was somewhat heavy for smooth skiing we made it down to the road and then skied down as far as we could. Just as we'd taken the skis off a car came by and generously stopped to give us a lift to Briancon.
So Plan A accomplished.
3rd March 2018
THE POWDER FEAST FROM THE EAST
We woke up to at least 50cms of fresh snow on Thursday, the first day of March. After digging the van out we headed to Monetier for early lifts at 08.30. Being among the first up the Bacchus chair, Gav, Pike (vid below) and I had runs down pistes which were thigh deep in powder for half a dozen laps using the drag.
After we were joined by Bushy on her snowboard, it was time for a hike to do La Crête des Lauzières going over that narrow ridge. It meant making first tracks wading through waist deep snow (see main image) which was as hard for us skiers as it was for Bushy. The ridge was easier than usual thanks to the deep powder slowing the traverse and low vis so I couldn't actually see the steep drops.
Then it was a ride down through the trees with powder face shots in some of the deepest snow we've had in recent years in Serre Chevalier.
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