How much to pay for the best day of the season

Gav Mur des Aittes

When it's a long approach to get to great conditions

And you have a choice of risking a €150 fine for driving up a road that's theoretically closed to save an hour's hike so that you get the cold untracked snow

After what had been an incredibly barren season for us in Serre Chevalier, though better than elsewhere in the French Alps, we knew that once again we'd missed out on a Retour d'Est that had seen a good dump on the Italian side and into the Queyras.

Already this season I have explored and ski-toured up the Les Fonts valley with my eMTB however that's great for me as an individual but not too good for others. 

A plan was in the making and after a morning's cross-country I had to go to Briancon so decided to drive up to Cervieres and see how far I could drive up the Les Fonts road.

When I arrived the barrier was open and to the side of the road, and I was able to drive nearly all the way to the Mur des Aittes, just 750m or so short before the front wheels dug into the deep snow as the road at that point is pretty well in the shade all day.

I gingerly reversed back down before I could find somewhere to do a 20 point turn, but it was good that I could drive up that far as it would save a long approach hike.

The next day three of us went back up there in my van and it was snowing and around 5-10cms of fresh on the road, and yes the barrier was open!

We parked up and started to skin up just as the Gendaramrie were driving back down, and I decided to tell them that it was my van which was parked up, and they were totally cool about it.

van Mur des Aittes

At the Mur the pisteur that controls the cross-country up there had arrived on a snow-mobile and we told him that we had parked up, and he said that in fact there is a fine of €150 for doing that as the road is a cross-country piste, to which we explained that the barrier was open and that we had told the Gendarmes and they were happy. The pisteur was also pretty cool, as there was no longer an XC piste back there and we went on our way.

It was great to finally get some fresh snow under our skis, but the approach, even having driven up was hard work as they had not pisted the valley road.

It was snowing on and off whilst we were ski touring and our skin track had more or less disappeared in places by the time we skied back down, though the visibility higher up made the skiing very challenging; in fact, it was so bad that at one point whilst still skinning my ski tips went into a wall of snow I could not see!

With a better forecast for the following day I decided to go back there with Elaine, but we accepted that it was probably best to park in Cervieres and do the long approach, that was the night before, and on the actual day I said that we should go and look at the road and maybe drive up it again, which we ended up doing, but this time the barrier was there!

Over the years we've been going up there, the road has been open once the snow has gone as the cross-country piste starts at the Mur, but that is usually well after the holidays and then it tends to be locals that drive and park up there, and just maybe whilst there are so many tourists here they don't want people driving up there and getting stuck etc

So we moved the barrier and then replaced it as we drove up to where I had parked the following day, and the snow from the day before had pretty well gone on the road up there.

They had indeed pisted the road but a good km after where we had parked, so we carried on to our start point.

As we started the main climb the only tracks that were faintly visible were our tracks from the day before and fortunately the skin track was still there so I wasn't having to break trail.

The overnight clear sky had sucked most of the moisture out and it was really light powder, and as we walked up we reflected on the fact that if we ended up being fined the €150 for driving up there then that would probably be a good value for what was surely going to be on the of the best descents of the season?

The fact that we had not paid €400 for a guide, or that we had not gone to an Italian resort and paid €80 for lift passes or even if it was N America nigh on $150 each for a day ticket made it sound even better.

And as you can see, what value can you put on a day like this?