A Climb Romance. Slackcountry Skiing Serre Chevalier
The avy danger is Risk 2 making the backcountry a safer bet than the packed pistes where the half term danger of collisions is currently around Risk 5The pistes are packed with half term holiday skiers, so the plan was to drop off the lifts and into the slackcountry to celebrate Valentine's Day. What's not to love?
We were completely alone, skiing sugary swishing turns down to a picture postcard valley, snow glistening in the sun. For many a perfect Valentine's would be champagne in a swanky restaurant, for Gav and me, it was skiing in the deserted slackcountry sharing an energy drink beside a rock and a bare larch tree.
What's not to love? Well, maybe the steep uphill climb that meant I had my heel lifts up for 600m.
Not that we were that far from the madding crowd. In less than two hours, after the climb, we were in sight of the Cucumelle chairlift and the hordes of holiday makers waiting in the queue.
But there was a lot to love, that day, not least being out in the boomdocks instead of on the packed pistes. It also made my day seeing the look on everyone's face at the lift as we came out of the great white yonder, down from the col 200 metres away, sliding on skins across the snow-covered lake. It was, also, a magic moment when having transitioned back into ski mode, we jumped the massive queue using the &Joy on our season pass that takes us past all the shuffling punters, even the ESF instructors.
Admittedly, it wasn't ideal to be skiing in the resort, this week, as it is half term both for the UK and most of France. But it was a case of needs must. Lift-assisted access was the best plan as all the usual backcountry routes have either a) frozen crust/crud owing to the Baltic temperatures since the last snowfall or were b) wind blown crap or c) skied out by guided groups especially if there was any chance of cold powder on north-facing or spring transforming on the south slopes.
Of course, there are more groups, also, now doing slackcountry accessed by lifts, but as well as needing to pack skins they have to pay for a ski pass AND a guide. So this is still a less popular option. Thank goodness.
Our Plan A was to go off the top of the Yret chair but this was scuppered by every parking spot and even non-parking front-of-chalets spot being rammed in Monetier. So Plan B, we drove to Pontillas (always parking), taking lifts and skiing across to the Eychauda drag. From the ridge over the back it was pretty windblown, which was why we ended up doing Plan C, going over the Col de Mea.
It was cue for another cool moment as we skied past a couple having a romantic picnic on the ridge, who might have been thinking they had the perfect idea for Valentine's getting off the piste until we dropped over the other side into backcountry bliss completely off the resort map.
COLLISION DANGER AT RISK 5
Of course, reality hit again when we climbed up to the Cucumelle chair with that queue at around 3.30pm. This meant the pistes were rammed. Obviously for many people, half term is the only time they can go skiing with the family so good luck to them. And luck is what you need to get down with out-of-control Jerrys sliding in from all directions, testing your reflexes like some demented video game.
Yep, the twat factor was high with the danger of collisions at Risk 5. Give me the dangers of backcountry skiing, any day.