Friday, April 9, 2010

Chamonix Steeps

My friend Dave told me that lines in Chamonix were steep. I knew that they were, but had never really experienced it for myself until now. Today we went up the Grand-Montet and headed back into the Argentierre Basin to ski a line that Dave was keen on skiing. When we got there we found that the wind and the sun had done a number on the recent snow, so we opted for the line that looked like it had the best chance of being good. In the photo below, Dave hikes toward the Col de Courtes, pretty much directly in the center of the photo.
So we skinned to the bottom of the first Bergschrund, and went immediately for our crampons and ice axes. This thing is steep, and not only is it steep, but it is also long. Apparently this line is 50 degrees for 2,000 feet, or so... This picture gives you a good idea of the pitch, about a quarter of the way up, just past the 2nd bergschrund.
At one point I took over bootpacking for a while and looking down was a little scary. Not only was I being followed by Giulia Monego and Jon Minogue, but the pitch we were on was unrelentingly steep.
Eventually we reached the top and waited for the other parties on the slope to make it to the top. Dropping in on top of them would probably have been a little rude, and might have sloughed on them pretty badly. While waiting for them to arrive I had a chance to get a shot of the whole run. This things holds its steep pitch all the way to the bottom. Falling is not recommended. Unfortunately the snow in here wasn't perfect pow, we had hoped that the wind wouldn't have screwed it up, but it had. The variability of the snow made dropping in on this thing a little more puckering than it could have been, but it was fun nonetheless.
If you look closely you can see Italian freeskiing sensation Giulia Monego making turns down the steepest thing I've ever skied. This line was a first for her, and coincidentally was the first true line I've ever skied here in Chamonix.
About halfway down my buddy Dave skis the chalk like he means it. The steep lines here in Chamonix are very commitiing and you aren't out of harms way until you're down on the glacier, and even then you're on a glacier which isn't the safest thing in the world either...
Having skied some "steep" lines in the Sierra, I thought that maybe I already had some steep skiing experience. Little did I know that I know pretty much nothing about steep skiing. Chamonix is the Sierra on steroids, probably about three times bigger... While my buddy Dave may have called the conditions today in the Col de Courtes "the worst I've ever skied it", it was still an eye opening experience for me, and definitely the longest steepest run I have ever skied in my life, I thought it was pretty sweet.

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