Early Winter in Verbier

Returning from South America and my trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, I was ready to enjoy a little downtime around the house. However, the weather had other plans as the snow came early this season, and I quickly found myself skinning up to the peaks behind my house and enjoying skiing incredible fresh powder. The temperatures were fluctuating wildly, as they do this time of season, giving us snow, then rain, then snow. Though this may be disappointing for some people, it’s actually a great foundation for our base of snow.I was fortunate enough to have the time to enjoy the fresh snow outside and the rainy days by staying indoors.

On December 6th, @gilleslekieur and I skinned to the top of Mont Fort and skied directly off the back of the summit in some of the most amazing conditions I’ve ever experienced back there. The snow was not so deep as to make us worry about getting knocked down by big slough slides. And with the fluctuating temperatures, the avalanche danger had come down to a level 2 out of 5. We were both on K2’s new Crescendo ski, with a massive 132mm under foot. Experiencing the sensation of boundless weightlessness as I let go of the ski at the end of each turn, soaring effortlessly into the next on this steep slope backside, was incredibly liberating.

Sharing this early, profound, and challenging skiing experience with a close friend and fellow guide brought immense satisfaction. Throughout the day, we exchanged smiles, fully aware of the exceptional nature of this shared adventure.

We ascended another 400 meters to reach the col above Fionnay and experienced a wild and wonderful ski down, watching the Ibex and Chamois scamper across the bare slopes above us.

Truly, it was a day to remember.

Haute Route Ski Safari

Whenever I disappear into these hills with a group of like minded souls, I come away realising that my time spent with these people is the most important part of my experience. 

I skin up, breaking trail in a total white out, looking at the terrain above me, wondering where my skis will take me, gradually, one step at a time, conscious of the sound of the steps behind me, instinctively feeling my way upward, listening to my left ski as it guides me to where I want to go. The reward of climbing a steep slope without the need to make a kick turn because my skis have married the slope, effortlessly up. Lucky to be with like minded people, who dare to stick their necks out and commit to 7 days in the high mountains, knowing that it could be quite shite, sahara sand, storm force winds, thick fog.

We started in Chamonix, finding excellent spring snow for our warm up day. Then quickly changed our first two days to one, traversing through the col du Passon and onto Trient Hut in one day, a big day as the cloud ceiling went from blue bird, enough to warm the snow climb, then lower down to snow and sepia light with the 3rd sahara sand event of the winter. Next day, over the col des Ecandies, cramponless on snowed-over rocks, hanging hard on the fixed ropes, to Verbier, canceling our plan via the Valsorey, so sad to get weathered off that route. Still reading the forecast as heavier and heavier snow is forcasted, high avalanche danger, visible, weak bridges over crevasses becoming invisible, total whiteout, snow, fog to the top of the Rosablanche, summiting, then catching one ray of sunshine, shining it’s white light down upon us as we ski on lovely white 15cm of fresh snow, then dark again all the way to La Tzoumaz, plan D, go to Italia! The amazing Bezzi hut, 5 course meals, Pierre Georgio’s hospitality, and the forecasted bluebird powder for two days of magnificent ski touring, then back home to Bagnes, finishing with an amazing day helisking off the Petit Combin in January-like deep powder!!!

But I got ahead of myself, because my point was, that being with 5 people, like minded, sitting around a table, every evening, talking about life’s experiences, accomplishments, face plants, family and friends, that’s what this is all about. Taking what you get and running with it. It may not be the Haute Route you thought it would be, but my goodness, the places we’ve been, the suffering we endure (for short periods of time) and the people we shared experiences with , this is what I love about trips like these.

Thank you so much Steve, Ross, Lincoln, Karl and Johan for such an amazing adventure. “Every day felt like two.” So many experiences crammed into 8 days. I’m so happy to have this day off to reflect… Peace Man.

Winter 2021-2022 start in Verbier

Lucky us to have gotten snow relatively early this year all the way down to the valley floors. The skiing was deep this early December. The avalanche danger was a high 3 because the layer on the ground had turned to facets. This is not an unusual situation. It happens when we get early snow in the autumn then cold, dry weather afterwards. Because the ground is relatively warm, around -.1, and the air is cold, -15 in the alpine areas, this shallow layer of snow grows into faceted crystals that can’t support the weight of new snow. As the winter progresses, it gets covers with new lawyers of snow which eventually bond to each other and create a bridge over this weak ground layer. When we have a lot of snow, this bridge insulates our impact on this weak layer. So you’ll understand what the avalanche forecasters have been writing about these past two weeks:

These avalanche prone locations are to be found especially in little used terrain and at transitions from a shallow to a deep snowpack.

The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF today

The weather forecast calls for sunny weather for another week, then possibly more snow and higher temperatures. 

Fi and I skinned above Bruson the first week of December. Still not much coverage, but a warm and cold spell gave us a thin base of ice to keep us off the ground.
The skiing was actually surprisingly good!
A week later, we got close to a meter in a few days, even low down, which was a huge bonus. The tree on Place Central looked beautiful.
The off-piste skiing was simply perfect when the weather cleared.

Fantastic Multi-Sport Corsican Ski Safari during lockdown

Ski Safaris are always a super exciting time for me. Before leaving, I would have spent days researching and planning the trip. Most often, we’re heading to an area I’ve never been to before, so I’m as amped as my clients to discover new horizons. The forecast was calling for heavy snows in the Alps, and variable weather in the Mediterranean. So we thought we’d take our chance and head south!

This trip to Corsica in the middle of the pandemie was even more tantalizing! We knew we could travel to Corsica after getting a PCR test. There were no quarantine restrictions going to or returning back home to Switzerland. Whether or not we would actually be allowed to waltz right back in across the border in a week’s time, left me with a tiny morsel of curiosity.

Nearing Corsica!

Arriving at L’Île-Rousse on the ferry from Livorno, Simone and I were gripping the Ferry handrails, craning our necks to study the wind force and direction. We planned to start the trip with a little afternoon kite surfing since we had just the half day. Simone had brought his foil board, which turned out to be a bonus. The winds were light in the little bay of Algajola, a 20 minute drive from L’Île-Rousse. He had a good full-on session, while I flailed with my North 12m kite as it slowly deflated with a faulty airport valve. I’ll be getting on a foil next so I can ride with him in lighter winds!!!

Simone on his foil, enjoying the light winds of Algajola.

We drove south to Corte to base ourselves in the Restonica valley for some ski touring. The valley was insanely beautiful to us, coming from the Alps. The road weaves and winds its way up the valley, way, way above the steep river below. Cows were leaving a country style mess on the road . It was a challenge to not drive off the cliffs as I drove, wanting to see all the sights. We skinned right from the the van, up through sparse woods, then put on ski crampons to get over the frozen spring snow to Lac de Melo below the Breche de Gloria. Above, the sun started heating the snow, making the last climb to the Breche very agreeable indeed. Standing on the main east-west ridge dividing Haute Corse felt inspiring. The ski down on mature spring snow was a blast! It’d gotten warm in the Alps earlier, but there was nothing like flying down these vast couloirs, skiing mature spring snow on all aspects. This snow had been sitting there since October so it was super nice to get on such fine corn snow.

Over the next 7 days, we meandered up and down the valleys of Haute Corse near Corte and discovered the wonderful granite, climbing, e-biking and kiting on the beaches near Calvi. We used the e-bikes on our last day to approach Monte Cinto, the highest peak on the island.

Ski Safari, gotta do it!