Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More powder skiing, and cheese.

After our first day in Verbier it started snowing. It snowed quite a bit at the highest elevations of the ski area, so we headed out once it cleared to check out some of the other easy to access, "sidecountry" at Verbier. Right off the bat we headed up to the top of the Mont-Fort, 3300 meters, 10,000 feet. The view from the top of Verbier is pretty incredible, and in the photo below you can see the top of the Mont-Fort Tram with the imposing Northeast side of Bec de Rosses in the background. I didn't ski the Bec while we were there, but in the future I'd love to take the big hike up there and see what its all about, but there was just too much good snow all around...The skiing "inbounds" at Verbier is great, but the resort was pretty skied up prior to it snowing, so it didn't get completely smoothed out. The hikes off the backside of the Mont-Fort, however, were quite smooth before it snowed and the endless terrain was really fun to get out and explore. The photo below shows just a little part of the area that is accessible, and your adventure is completely dependent on how far you are willing to hike. We skied primarily on the big faces in the photo below. Those pitches are about 2500 feet long....
Did I mention that the snow was incredible? Blower powder and faceshots were abundant, and I had a hard time not laughing out loud as we cruised the huge untracked powder faces.
In the photo below, Lynn crushes some low angle waist deep pow after negotiating the steep cliff riddled face behind her.
The skiing was really, really good. We skied as hard as we could and enjoyed every last minute of our time in Verbier.
Here, Lynn hikes past an old church way up in the mountains. There are a lot of old buildings and crazy scenes up in the Alps, the kind of things that you'd imagine you might come across while skiing in Switzerland. But we had a train to catch, so we didn't waste any time getting out of Verbier to head over to Chamonix to meet up with our friends Dave and Rosanna.
We packed up our stuff and got on our way to the steep skiing mecca of Chamonix, France. The train ride itself is spectacular. The train winds its way up into the heart of the Alps, going through tunnels, small Swiss and French villages, and past huge glaciers and valleys, eventually stopping in the bustling ski town of Chamonix. Its my first time here and the scale of everything here is pretty mind boggling. In the photo below, the Aguille du Midi is on the left, and some of the huge hanging glaciers that are common around here are visible in the middle and on the right. The top of the Aguille is 9,000 vertical feet above where this picture was taken to give you an idea of just how big these mountains are...
We didn't want to waste any time or beautiful weather so we got up early the next day and headed to the Grand-Montet to go on a tour out to the Glacier Grand. The backcountry skiing scene in this area is unlike anything I've ever seen before. People from all over Europe, and of all ability levels are out in the mountains going all over the place. I wasn't really ready for the masses of people you see walking all around on the glaciers in these huge mountains. The photo below is an example of the popularity of "randonee" skiing in the Chamonix valley.
Its no mystery why so many people are getting out there though. These mountains are so amazing beautiful that it would be foolish to not get out and enjoy them. In the photo below Dave and Rosanna hike up from the Argentierre Glacier on our way up to the Col du Passon. The peaks in the background are a stunning backdrop, and yes, some of those lines are skiable, when there is enough snow...
Lynn makes her way up the last bit of the hike to the Col. The glacial travel around here is pretty incredible and can also be quite treacherous. Most people carry an avalanche shovel, probe, beacon, rando rope, harness, ice screw, prusicks, rapelling device, ice axe, and crampons. Needless to say, my pack is a little heavier than usual...
This area is truly incredible, and we are psyched to be here, now lets ski some more pow...
Fortunately, the winds overnight didn't affect all the snow out there, and Lynn finds some more of the light stuff on our way to the Glacier Grand.
After skiing a little we strapped the skins back on and hiked another hour and a half or so up to the Col above the Glacier Grand. From there we got an 8,000 vertical foot run down to the town of Trient. We checked the map and found a cool variation down the mountain and got out of the main Glacier run that most people do. It was pretty much 2 Alaska heli runs stacked on top of each other, truly amazing. In the photo below Lynn skis out below the seracs at the bottom of the Trient Glacier, this kinda stuff is just your run of the mill, day out on the mountain here in Chamonix, but a completely mind blowing and new experience for me.
And in classic euro style we end up miles and miles from where we started. The run we skied is off the peak on the far left of the photo below, and now we're in Switzerland... From here its a bus ride to the train station to catch a train back to Chamonix. Lucky for us our friends have a Raclette cooker at their place and for dinner we ate cheese, and lots of it.
Several years ago while I was heli skiing in Alaska my guide told me, "you think these mountains are big, you should go to europe, it is way bigger than this.". I didn't really believe him, until now.

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