2013 Serre Chevalier Mountain Blog
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The Journey out - a nightmare !
Wed 13th March
So after the crazy amounts of snow here in West Sussex, (each year I seem to be saying "never seen so much snow) we left for France on the Wednesday instead of the planned Tuesday, which I had deferred the previous week as we had so much to do.
It was always going to be a gamble and we left home at 04:20 for a 06:50 Eurotunnel.
Operation stack was in force from junctions 8-9 on the M20 and we were diverted off on to the A20 - arrived at Euro Tunnel and the train departed on time.
Disembarked at 08:30 local time and were doing really well, though did see a sign advising of traffic jams - we went over the A1 and then a few kms along the A26 total gridlock, and we were stuck in the French equivalent of Operation Stack except the damn French have let all cars etc go headlong into it without any warnings or diversions!
Many of the truck cabs were empty as they had evacuated the drivers - the ironic and frustrating thing was that the roads were really clear, though there were some very impressive drifts and cornices on some of the big cuttings, worthy of the mountains here!
We were stationary for five hours and when it started moving it was stop start traffic jams with no logical explanation, tempers getting a bit tense as a few lorries tried to stop cars going up hard shoulder, that was frustrating as it was the damn trucks that so obviously caused this, although they just happened to be on the wrong place at the wrong time, it did seem that many were just blocking the road waiting for various autoroute inter sections to open up rather than hacking on down.
Think it was the A29 / A26 where they were parked up in three lanes rather than drive on down to Reims. We had a bit of an RN tour as we were going up the hard shoulder saw a pompier come down one of the slip access Roads, so checked the GPS to see what the options would be, at first he said interdit but told him how I wanted top go Cambrai, St Quentin Reims and he let me off ! Roads were a bit gnarly and lucky had snow tyres, in the end the RN was blocked with snow and we has to go back on the A26 north of St Quentin.
The only positive was that by nipping off the autoroute via that open access route/gate I did not have to pay the full amount for the Calais to Reims stretch of the peage, but was not a great saving in the overall scheme of things!
We've done it!
Friday March 15th
As many will know we've been coming to Serre for the past five years. We've always stayed in the same apartment, over the years we have ended up knowing a few of the other residents, and we entered into discussion a few years back with a couple who said that they would be selling as they would be retiring. So we kept in touch expressing our interest.
Last year we firmed things up a little more, visiting them in the summer and made an offer. We then signed the equivalent of an exchange back in December (when the Euro was 1:24). The only issue was that we'd had two sales fall through on a property we were selling back in the UK to fund this.
We eventually had to take a hit on the UK property, and then damn solicitors spent ages getting ready for exchange with the pound all the time plummeting against the Euro, so think we've the money we lost could have bought a new VW Sportsliner van!
But today (Friday 15th March) we signed at the Notaire and we are now owners of a fabulous apartment.
So will bore you all with photos later on!
And have two snow kites with me to really try and feck myself up, so news on that as and when.
Also maybe have a certain celebrity kiter coming out as well, more on that as and when it might happen, but trying to work out the mountain equivalent of a pier that he can jump over :)
In terms of location, we're only three hours from the Med and we have France's largest lake only an hour away where a fair bit of kiting evidently goes on, and then there's the cycling!
The Giro d'Italia is coming over this way May 17th, Col du Galibier, though as a few locals have said, it could well not be clear of snow!
Saturday March 16th
Spent the day yesterday doing the rounds of the hardware / diy stores. When the French sell an apartment they strip it of everything such as light fittings. Though have to say we're very lucky in that the apartment is in superb condition, and apart from some filling and painting there's not that much to be done, though painting can wait till some mates come out and bring some paint as it is ludicrously expensive here, what would cost £15 back in the UK is nigh on £40 here!
Still have no beds, just the mattresses we bought in IKEA on the way up to here as we couldn't fit anything more in the van! ow have table and chairs so at least we can sit down.
James (Surfladle) and Pippa arrived last night and came up to the apartment in nigh on a mini blizzard armed with champagne.
Been snowing all night though not uber heavy so looks like fine powder as it's pretty cold and not the usual wet snow you can get at resort level in March. We have the equivalent of oyster cards for our lift pass so we can choose when or if we want to ski depending on the conditions, and today think we'll be in the trees, again!
And just lovin the forecast :)
Sunday March 17th
Started snowing around 8 o'clock last night and has not stopped.
Start to the day was a bit of a wake up call as I could not get any traction with my snow tyres getting up a little slope here to the garage, in fact I ended up sliding back not once but twice, and thought I was going to end up modifying a panel on the side of the van!
In the end left the van down at the bottom, and then let some air out of the tyres, that seemed to do the trick, but in hindsight think it was black ice under 5cms or so of snow, as I slid arse over tip walking back down!
Picked Pippa and James up and headed over to Monetier where we more or less (as usual) had the pistes to ourselves, was quite tracked out and must have been very icy over the last few days as the skis quite often went through the powder to the ice.
As it continued to snow many people packed up, and more and more fresh became available. Trees were similar in that they had obviously been well tracked and even 15cm was not enough to stop you going through to the crud below.
In the end we went over and did another run (Tabuc) and I skied the trees and at times ended up exercising the sphincter muscle a little thinking what am I doing here on my own on some quite steep open sections that was not too smart as they were obviously quite avalanche prone hence the clearings, but I was more than aware and skedaddled back into the trees even though the open sections were very tempting!
In fact run was so good went back and did it again finding better lines, with each run the powder getting better as hardly anyone was up there and the wind filling the tracks in.
After that nipped back to our apartment for lunch and whilst the others chose to rest their legs in anticipation of first lifts tomorrow, it was rude not to nip back up the hill for another run, and snow was getting pretty deep up there, so tomorrow will be interesting. Doubt very much whether the top sections will be open for a few days as with the amount of wind and snow that's fallen will be pretty loaded.
Monday March 18th
Has been non stop snow for 36hrs now, going to have to dig our way out down to the van, then dig the van out, and then see what lifts are open!
In the end took us 45 mins to dig the van out this morning (both of us working), then once we were out of our car park we had to then get down to the main road, only trouble that was downhill, and I ended up sliding down thinking I was going to slide out into the main road and get hit by a car, so my only option was to stuff the van into a snow drift to stop, that was then another twenty minutes digging the van out, I then put the chains on.
As for the skiing today pretty bonkers amount of snow, only one lift open and I've never seen so many "good" people in snow holes :)
There is nothing like a work out first thing - that is working out how to get the van out of the snow and down the road.
Picked James and Pippa up eventually, and headed for Montetier, about 30 mins behind schedule. But no rush - the lifts (I mean lift) didn't open until 10am. But, still there were no queues but after an hour two enough people had been down the unbashed pistes to start making them quite lumpy. Soooooo it was case of following Baylis through the trees - which meant full straight lining and the occasional bale out into deep snow and an abrupt stop in 4 ft of heavy snow. Had to take my skis off twice and swim for it...
The Dogs Blog
Well...what can I say but Oh My Dog I'm back..And I am not stuck in the blue kennel on wheels while they whizz around on long planks. We now have a warm cosy abode where I have my bed (though I usually sleep on theirs, tee hee), my water bowl and a view of the mountains. Except today all I can see is whiteness, unless I jump up on the seat to see over what appears to be a wall of white. And here's a problem - I am emprisoned by the white stuff. I can only go down a narrow couloir between the snow and our apartment which makes walkies a little limited. But....while they are away in the blue kennel, I am snug as a bugger here. I can put on my zumba DVD for a little work out and then sip a little wine from his winebox. When He comes back and says, "You look a little wasted Pooch?" I just grin and think, "Hey, when did you last look in the mrror, dude?"
Tuesday March 19th
Picked Pippa and James up after I had my snow tyres checked out as I was none too sure after how much grip they had after yesterday's scares, but garage mechanic said they were all in good condition and on the right way (thought maybe back in UK had put them the drive tyres on the rear).
We drove up to Monetier and once there the lift queque was huge, as I think word had got out that the lift pass is was discounted as there was only one lift working, or that Monetier was the one place offering good skiing, anyway was not going to use my Oyster card, not least as I would have been charged the full amount, but because I had left it in my other trousers. So might have missed a good day, but as we're out for another five weeks we're not about to start queing for an hour or so!
We still have a fair amount to do, though can't go to Grenoble and get beds etc from Ikea as the Col du Lautaret is still shut, so it was back down to Briancon to order the washing machine that will be delivered with the fridge on Thursday.
And to make our mountain abode complete, I bought what all real Mountain Men must have, a huge snow shovel, and then set about clearing a pathway up to the apartment from the garage below, that was certainley one way to get a sweat going. At times I disappeared up to my waist whilst digging a way up, then having to use the shovel across the hole to lever myself out of it!
The Dogs Blog
Finally, He has done some work and dug me a way out of here. I now have my very own Jack runs and I can go through white tunnels like a modern day escape from Colditz - or Cold-it's as I call it.
But it didn't seem that He and Her have had enough entertainment today as they did not go skiing. So they decided that Jack Tossing was a fun (and for me) new extreme sport - resulting in a flight through the air and a landing in supersoft white stuff for moi. Wheeeeeee.
I should have objected but it was actually the man's bollocks like being a bird crossed with a polar bear.
Who needs zumba?
Wednesday / Thursday March 19/20th
Col du Ikea and Ancolie
Been doing apartment stuff for the past couple of days - yesterday looked quite cloudy and maybe white out, so we decided to head to Turin and Ikea where we spent ages getting beds, chairs, sofa bed and heaps more stuff, when it all came together did not think I'd manage to get it in the van!
And had the cheapest of lunches, two pizzas and two cokes in Ikea for four Euro!
Then once back home we spent nigh of five hours putting various items of furniture together before heading off down to Mojo's for a well earned drink and dinner in the Petite Pont with Pippa and James, then back to Mojos' afterwards.
Then today we had the washing machine and fridge being delivered, and the guy turned up at 08:45 so we managed to get the washing machine up through the snow and ice as it was still frozen, take the old dishwasher out etc. I gave him a tip and then he took some tolls out of his van and then proceeded to come back up to the apartment and plumb the washing machine in!
The rest of the day was spent putting together all the furniture and more hooks on walls (can't have enough hooks), and we're just about there!
After we'd finished putting everything together and then getting all the cardboard boxes back into the van it was off to the dump, and surely this has to be the most scenic dump in the world!
Also in my logic was that the recent snowfall still needs to stabilise before really venturing off piste etc, and this has been confirmed twice to be today by very experienced people.
There use to be a great little Ski Randonee (touring) shop in Briancon, but today noticed it was closed down, then whilst going to the bricolage I found his new shop which was great as I needed a new clip for my poles, and we had a quite a chat about various options.
Then later I touched base with the son of the guy I bought our apartment from about a few days next week, so he's coming round Sunday to chat about options for Monday and Thursday, he was given some accolade last year of guide of the year or something, he's a major climber doing stuff in Himalayas, finding new routes and the like.
So more or less finished the apartment, so might well go skiing tomorrow!
I now know how to make a bed. Literally. Frame, slats and all. I have also spent a happy hour or so shopping in the Briancon bricolage. Who would have thought it? Not exactly Harvey Nicks...
The Dogs Blog
Road tripppppppppppppp!!! In the blue kennel on wheels yesterday for what I thought would be a Very Big Adventure. Turned out to be just a Very Big Shop called Ikea. Then, back here, I have never seen so many boxes unpacked and hammering of things - nor heard sooooo many swear words.
But, now, we have beds and a sofa...all the more for me to lie on (and shed my little white hairs, tee heeeeeeeeeeee).
And, whoohoo, I thought you would like to know that have my appetite back - after a few days of fasting (well, a dog should stay lean and mean in new situations in case there is the need to flee). Also, a couple of days ago, I ate half a beer mat at my favourite bar in all the world, Mojos. Followed by some saucison. And some cheese. Now if the pisteurs were to join in the new sport of Jack Russell tossing, they wouldn't need dynamite for controlled avalanches - one fart and all the snow on Cucumelle would be history.
Friday / Saturday March 22-23rd
Goodbye to Pippa & James, hello to Famille Bingham
Friday was a glorious day, so decided on going up the hill to see what conditions were like. It was great on piste but a tad heavy off piste which is normal for this time of year below 2,000m.
When we get the right conditions then the potential for classic spring snow is looking great, though we just need a few more days of sunshine producing the right freeze / thaw conditions, and as it's been snowing on and off the past couple of days that's not going to happen. And at this time of year precipitation falling at resort level often means snow overnight and then turning to rain mid morning onwards as the valley warms up, though it is still snowing up top!
Pippa and James left yesterday and Bing & Tracy avec Bingla's parents (Dave & Wendy) made it down here in very good time from Calais in nine and a half hours, and that was with a few delays at various peages!
They are staying above us in the apartment we used to rent when we stayed out here, plus the apartment immediately above us with a great terrace is also available for rent and I know the owner very well, so no problems with accommodation this summer or next season!
Couldn't be bothered to go up the hill yesterday even though the lift pass was heavily discounted for us (25€) as it was a Saturday (transfer day) as we use a sort of Oyster Card, where we get discounted day rates (37€ vs 44€) and various other promo deals. We would usually have season passes but we were not too sure when we would actually be out this season. So we're being more selective on when to go up the hill depending on conditions.
After Friday's glorious sunshine I was hoping to get the bike out, but we awoke to very heavy snow, which was quite wet and slippery which again saw the van going for a little slide down the steep hill!
The snow disappeared very quickly and I opted for going out X-country. After I did my ACL I bought some X-country skis & boots thinking that if I would not be up to alpine skiing the following season after my op at least I might be able to do X-country. Last season the snow cover in the valley was so poor that X-country was not an option anyway, and I was fit enough to ski downhill anyway!
What I learnt yesterday, being only my second outing was that melting dank snow makes it damn hard work, and almost frustrating as you try to get the gliding going, not helped by my obvious poor technique. Going from here in Villeneuve up the valley you are very slowly climbing so the return leg was much better, and couldn't help asking myself was it because the temp was dropping so together with a slight descent I was gliding that much easier?
In the end it was quite a tough workout and I was very glad to see the end coming into view, so much so that just as I was stopping I lost concentration and fell over, which is quite easy as the skis are the width of your average computer mouse!
Sun (sunless) day March 24
A sunless snowy day, so Le Gav and I decided not to pay for a lift pass (we didn't get saisonnaires this year as, last December, when you get the special season deal, we were not sure exactly if we would be out here for long enough!).
I was persuaded to hire cross country skis - which I have only tried once before, two years ago, and remember falling over, mostly from laughing so much. Now if you think balancing on a tray (snowboarding) or planks (skis) is challenging enough, try very long matchsticks (cross country skis). But, the fact that we took Pooch with us, meant that Le Gav would not be going at break neck (legs, ACLs, etc) spead.
We made it to Monetier and back in one piece - and whoohay - I actually enjoyed it and I am going to buy the hire boots and skis for 100 Euros. Guess I must be an old fart, then....
The Dogs Blog
I am writing this between snores. Having spent a couple of weeks as a couch potato (apart from being thrown unceromoniously into powder), today He decided that I needed more exercise. And at my age (nearly 13, that's 91 in your years), when most other old dogs spend their days on the hearth in front of a warm fire, or are already pushing up daisies, I find myself running through the white stuff.
Fortunately someone had made a Jack track, which They used for sliding their long thin sticks on their feet. But I had to keep up a fair pace not least because I quite feared one of those long thin sticks coming up behind - or, more to the (rather sharp) point, up my behind.
There is now a plate of saussicons on the table - all for me? Just what the vet ordered.
Monday March 25th
A very big day in La Grave
Went over there yesterday, and was a very big day!
I've been skiing, snowboarding LG since 1997 and yesterday I think was my most demanding / exhilarating / sphincter busting day ever !
With my mate Bing over we both wanted to do more interesting stuff so a guide would be necessary, my dear friend Per is away in Turkey (ski touring) so this time it was all a bit of a fate, as the guy I've just bought an apartment from here in Serre, his son is a guide too. We met last summer when we came over to make the offer etc
Now Bing is a very, very good skier and I did think I might find the day a bit of a challenge as often in the group there are a few slower than me, but yesterday it was Mathieu, Bing and I and the pace was very quick. Mathieu was having to ski hard as Bing was stuck to him like glue, and that does not happen to often to guides with clients!
Viz did come and go, first run was a warm up down Vallon to P2 and snow was not too bad though a little cut up. Then we went up on the glacier though they had not opened the drag so we skied the glacier down to Chancel and then on down to P1 doing Patou on the way. The traverse was pretty tough with bumps a plenty down towards P1 after the traverse.
Then it was back up and up on to the Glacier and the lift opened up, so we skied some nice lines up there doing around five runs before skiing back down the glacier to Chancel and on then cut back over the ridge on to Vallons and then down to P2 (thank God) and then went back up to lunch at P3.
Not exactly too sure of how many runs we did after lunch, but we did do Trifide 2 which was pretty awesome, I've done Trifide 1 a fair few times but 2 is in another league, though think I'll pass on Trifide 3.
Then it was the big one, skiing all the way down the Girose, powder was great, though started turning as we made our way down, and it did get heavy, and my legs were screaming, viz was a little bizarre at times as "they" skied off into the cloud I was getting a tad nervous that I'd loose them!
Then became very technical at times, heavy snow, avalanche debris, rocks and trees all to contend with, and my legs!
The guide and my mate said I'd do so much better on fatter skis and better boots ( I was in my touring boots and Scott Missions ), so maybe a new quiver is needed!
Once at the bottom I looked as if I'd been for a dip in the stream I was sweating so much.
A great day, and we have some good GoPro which I'll edit down tomorrow.
When we were up at P3 having lunch I did comment that I was probably one of the oldest guys skiing up there, and with the narrowest of skis, I remember when Missions seemed quite wide !
This is the Couloir we skied on the last run down from 3500m to 1300m
Some work, some cycling, some X-country, some sun, and loads of snow
After La Grave Tuesday was quite mellow, though fast!
We skied with Tim & Mel from Mojos and The Binghams inc Tracy. Pistes were in superb condition in blue sky sunshine.
Then Wednesday I did a fair bit of work and allowed myself a quick cycle up to the Col du Lautaret, damn cold on the descent though!
Thursday we did have a guide booked, but we postponed as it was snowing so heavily. In the afternoon I took a few people out for cross country and that was very tough in the 40cm of fresh snow!
Last Monday I was skiing in La Grave, and it was a very big day.
Although powder was good higher up it started to get very heavy below, and I was finding it very hard work compared to my mate and the guide. They both said that I'd find it a lot easier on fatter skis. I was skiing on my Scott Missions at 89 wide and have always found them very good in powder and crud and cold tracked snow but not too good in heavy powder :(
Over the next few days I went to various shops to see what was on offer, as it's the end of the season there are many bargains to be had, both on new skis and ex rental demo skis.
I did find some 110 Black Crows that I was going to "test" for the day to see how I got on with them, but then later on the way home I stopped off at The White Doctors ski shop.
White Doctor used to be known as The Ride Doctor and is run by "Bob" who used to be one of Rossignols top designers, he designed the first twin tip (Scratch) and the Bandit and has been running White Doctor for the past seven or so years here in Serre Chevalier. Though you often see his skis in many other resorts.
Again you have the option to test free of charge for the day, we had a long discussion with Kevin and I went for some TW10 186 Twin Tips with a waist of 104 with a fair amount of rocker.
Yesterday (Friday) was my first day on them, powder in the morning was not too bad and we stayed in the trees, and as soon as I started skiing I was blown away with the difference. I was straight lining, doing drops and other stuff that I would never have chanced on my Missions (as much as I love em), my mate(s) were amazed at the speed and attitude that I had developed in such a short space of time.
And they were such good fun to ski on, just felt so good.
So back to the shop late afternoon, and I shelled out for them with my mate also then getting some on the basis of just seeing me ski on them!
And now the good bit, they were ex rental, but had only been used a couple of times, and the cost was 250€ - I did not want the weight of the rental bindings so skis only were 200€ and he mounted some Salomon S12's on them making it a much lighter setup for 320€ - that's skis and bindings!
Today Tim came out on his, and he too was blown away, and he does have a fair few sets of skis such as Mantras, Nordica Steadfasts and I noticed just how fast he was ripping, we both think we're around 15-20% faster through the powder / crud etc skiing fall line far more than we would normally dare do, and that's the crux these skis give you far more confidence / security !
Talking to Kevin today about them I commented how easy it seemed and not so hard on my knee, and he said that Twin Tips are much more flexible and soft, which is good for the knees. Plus have to say I did not notice the extra length at all.
And as we are now Serre Che residents it's sort of cool to have Serre Che skis.
Easter Saturday - heavy powder, but fun!
Maybe we left it a little too late, but still a good day.
Decided on doing one of the Serre Che off piste itinerary routes (Montagnolle) that not that many had done, probably as they knew how heavy it would be towards the bottom and so it was. That said was some very nice untracked at the top.
And we went and had a look at my cliff that I went over a couple of years ago, Tim was very impressed!
After that managed to find various stashes but overall was heavy and down towards the bottom of the pistes to get back down it was real velcro which was quite tough on the knees as you came to almost a sudden stop.
Easter Sunday - client manages to get lost :)
Oh you're going to love this :)
The Dogs Blog
Listen up, I have hot dog news. I can ski. Oh yes, and off piste. Admittedly I need some extra kit, namely a man and
a backpack, and then wheeheee I'm off gliding over the white stuff.
It's like, as we say in the canine world, Every Man Has His Day.
On Sunday, I thought we were chasing after Easter bunnies, whereas, in fact, we were going for a very very long walk on a Baylis Gastro Tour. Well, it was a walk in the park for me (though quite an uphilly woody one) while They shuffled along on their long planks at zero miles an hour.
However, The One With All The Gear, called Tim, was going a lot faster while we stopped to take a photo or two. And, surprisingly, when we came to the turn off into the woods he was a way ahead going a different way. He was, it seems, marching to a different tune, ie he was wearing headphones so he couldn't hear us shouting.
This is when you humans could do with a sixth sense.
Anyway, it was quite a while (almost 3 hours) until we reached a restaurant way up in the mountains called The Chardonnay (I thought for a moment that we had made it all the way back to Essex). Here, I had a bit of an epic gastro omelette and then rolled around on my back on the nice scratchy mat.
Then I sixth-sensed that He was getting anxious. The One With All The Gear had still not appeared so that was a bit or a worry.
And apparently He wasn't exactly sure how we were going to get back seeing as there was only the very steep touring path up and, as yet, no ski tracks down.
And then there was the small question of moi...would I be able to keep up with them?
Well, what do you think? Do I look like a greyhound (obvs when I have been fasting for a few days, I could pass as one which has had its legs cut off). This is when She came up with the idea of putting me in the backpack.
I was getting a little embarrassed at being trussed up and everyone laughing when The One With All The Gear finally
arrived. But as we were ready to go and noone (including moi) was sure if They could get me back in the bag we decided
that he did not have time for any lunch because we were off. Which made him a tad growly like a dog who has had it's bone taken away.
But, bowzer wowzer, once we got going I could see the logic in this skiing thing. We flew down. That is, until, He fell headfirst in some deep white stuff and I thought I was going to be tossed out of the bag and into the powder.
He also came very close to some tree branches so I thought I was going to be scooped out and hanged up by my collar like a very undignified tree rat.
But, finally we hit the main track where there were lots and lots of other slower people on snow shoes, cross country skis and walking, sometimes getting in our way. So He shouted ,"One, two, three" at me as we came up behind them and I started to bark to make them move. They all thought He had some sort of claxon until they saw me in his backpack.
Or, rather, His ADS bag as in, Arsy Dog Siren.
Pont De L'Alpe Col de l'Aiguillette Col du Chardonnet Refuge Chardonnet Nevache
Monday April 1st
We woke to clear skies so decided that we'd go back to the Chardonnet refuge but from this side of the valley.
We parked up with numerous people already ascending with some large groups of people on snow shoes as well as other ski tourers.
I was hoping for this as this would at least add an element of security as we'd not be the only ones and hopefully there would be some tracks to follow!
We soon caught up most people, and then as often happens various people go their different ways, and we were on our own. We did stop for a chat to a couple who seemed to know what they were doing and I confirmed with them our route.
On my phone I have detailed mapping software of our area, so combined with the GPS you can see excatly where you are and the route!
Once at the first Col had to really make sure of the route, as we had to climb further up and as I was doing this a group of ski tourers came down, so had a chat and they had climbed up from where we were going so we were on the right track as it were.
I was a little worried as to what we'd find at the top in terms of getting off the ridge as there can often be steep exposed sections / cornices prior to the main descent, but there again these skiers had come over and people on snow shoes do this tour and in the end it was quite a gentle drop in once we'd got the skins off and back into downhill mode.
The snow pack was dire with just about every time of snow, but on the whole it was very heavy soft snow so we did not exactly score any dramatic lines and we also knew what we were in for below the refuge having done that yesterday, and we were not disapointed.
We must have looked like a couple of beginner skiers just out of ski school as we descended down through the sludge.
Friday April 5th
The Dogs Blog
We had a lazy morning mainly because They came home late and a little tipsy last night, so He With All the Gear, now known as Mr Kit, dozed off on the toilet and He With All The Gadget,s now known as Mr Gadget, fell into a coma on the sofa. So we were all, as they say in the canine world, Man Tired this morning.
Mr Kit had to find all his kit (and there was a mountain of it) as he was leaving us. Meanwhile, Mr Gadget decided to move all the beds around so there was a lot of banging and swearing. It's beginning to feel a little like the canine film, Reservoir Men.
Then we had a road trip via watching some kites, to La Grave for the end of Derby day where. apparrently for the first time in 25 years the finish was all the way down to the bottom. There were around 1000 entrants but not all started as there was a delay mid-race because of the weather. The smell of testosterone made my eyes water - and confused my nasal passages. I actually got lost among all the sets of gnarly ski legs and I had a small panic moment. Lucky I found Them again and we went to the Edelweiss where I entertained everyone with my flying into powder film.
April 6th - 9th
Spring has not yet sprung
Weather's been a bit dreary with low viz and light snow, not enough to warrant paying for a lift pass, so we've been doing cross country and getting quite a work out at times.
Though had a beautiful day Sunday when we should have done something but my brother arrived Sat PM so was not feeling too good in the morning. That said we did get out to do a little cross-country (again) this time up from the Villar D'Arene valley leaving my brother in the Cafe at the Col du Lautaret talking to some friends Matts and Therese.
By the time we finished x-country it was like the M25 with loads of ski tourers coming down the valley from various routes and refuges that were accessible from there, many Swiss and Italians.
Then Monday Elaine and I were hoping to do some touring in the morning and then I was due to go kiting in the afternoon, but low cloud and snow put paid to that idea. So I went out on the bike and did a gnarly ride over to another ski station in pretty foul conditions.
Then yesterday we went up the road to the Col D'Izoard, though not all the way as conditions were pretty foul, but when it's raining low down in resort that means one thing up top!
And today we have a blue sky day!
Best day of the Season
Wednesday April 10th
Pow might not have been "epic" and lines skied not in the La Grave "awesome" league.
Though what a morning, after the first run I said to the Mrs "think this is the best morning ever!"
I did think that to possibly be a little over the top statement. Then we hooked up with Tim and Mel from Mojos, and what did Tim say (having spent nigh on eight seasons here)....... "Think this is the best morning ever!"
I now have to edit down the vids, but basically loads of accessible off piste, place deserted, and when you did get back on piste they too were empty and in superb condition, some had been pisted, others had a couple of cm of fresh, a delight to ski.
Snow started to get a little heavy, so we retired for lunch, and have had lunch on the terrace in shorts & T.
And that statement "best day of the season" we heard uttererd by a couple of guys who have been out here since December!
And guess who finally turned up ?
Thursday Puy St Vincent Lew hits the slopes
Took Lew* and Lilly over to Puy St Vincent yesterday - always an interesting drive if you take the back road from here in Serre.
Lilly was "new" to the mountains and was giving snowboarding a go, though she is a wake boarding instructor, so we hooked up with a family friend who is an ESF snowboarding instructor who was on lunch break and she had a gratis hour which was enough to get her going!
Meanwhile Lewis snowboarded on all my kit, and Lilly was on my wife's - and all this in the rain, so skiing was hard work in the velcro snow as temps were in double figs
The whole resort was empty, crazy!
Anyway first lifts today (Friday) to take advantage of the rain that fell as snow higher up the hill and we can see fresh snow on the trees, though will not be as good as Wednesday!
* He's stopping off at ours on his way down to a world cup event in Leucate and we hope to do some kiting here
Friday powder not as we know it :)
Just back down the hill for a spot of lunch and conditions were surprisingly good, though "powder" if you could call it that was not in the same league as that of Wednesday, think we'll just call it fresh, though as the morning progressed that 10cm of fresh was rapidly turning to soup, and always a challenge for the technique in heavy snow, and as you can see from my rooster tail, not exactly light powder being thrown off the back, in fact other half being lighter skis the sludge pretty well.
And as you can see NO ONE around
In the afternoon Lew and Lilly came up the "hill" and zoned in on the "park" !
Ripping on the Snow Kite, well sort of.......
Saturday 13th April
Finally some classic Spring snow conditions
Sunday 14th April
So have been out here since March 15th and have only done three or four tours, but no classic spring skiing to speak of, as we just have not had the right freeze / melt conditions. However the forecast for yesterday and today was looking good, sunny yesterday with temps dropping overnight and then a good freeze, that said had to be up early to be sure.
We left the apartment at 07:50 and by the time we drove past Pont D'Alpe that was rammed with people going up and then the parking where we park for Galibier was crazily mobbed, never seen it so busy, must have been because the forecast was so good for ski touring and there have not been that many good days, plus was a Sunday, and holidays for the Marseille region!
Anyway as I hoped, 90% of all the French feckwits merrily went up in the direction of Pic Blanc leaving Elaine and I on our own. Just don't understand why, think they all want to bag a "summit" or something, and the descent back down from Pic Blanc having done it a couple of times is not that memorable.
Had to do a little navigation at times to be sure of the route, even though this was the fourth trip up there, just that there are a few gulleys, and if you're not careful you end up going down, only to have to climb back up, anyway all was perfect, at times a little hard on the hard icy snow on traverses, not quite crampons, but not far off!
Elaine didn't fancy the last steep section to the ridge (she did the same last time) so she stayed down whilst I skinned up to the ridge which then looks down on to the Col and below to the tunnel entrance and Henri Desgrange monument.
We then skied down to the tunnel and had a snack in the snowhole at the base of the monument, letting the sun just do some more work on the snow.
And we timed it to bloody perfection with a superb spring snow descent, if the snow started to become a little heavy you just skied a slightly different aspect / angle of slope to the sun, that made it all the more fun sussing the snow.
I was on my new Black Diamond Factors which I picked up for a good price yesterday, along with some Dynafit compatible soles, and used my K2 Mount Bakers for the first time since I did my knee, and when I was in the shop yesterday, turned out I had one of the back binding settings on max (Dynafit have two on the back), that might have been the cause of the knee!
So superb classic spring snow descent, not really been waiting nigh on four weeks!
As ever was all over quite quickly :(
Once back down and after lunch, though there was only one more thing to do, so go the bike out and cycled up to the Lautaret, though cramp was kicking in big time towards the end as I was joined by a Belgian !
And for Strava fans GPS tracks etc of both of today's climbs
The Dogs Blog
Spring is finally here - and I have shed my coat all over everyone (Tim returned to the UK as He With All the White Hairy Gear).
Meanwhile, we have had two more house guests - He Who Jumps Piers and his Wow girlfriend who travel around in a red kennel on wheels (and even seem to sleep in there). Yesterday He Who Jumps Piers hit the snow park, literaly, jibbing the rails on a snowbard and generally hot dogging.
Here, in the picture, He Who Jumps Piers has also shed his coat. He and I do some alternative hot dogging (well, I was hot) in the morning sun, sharing a pain au chocolat (except I only got a measly crumb) in front of the apartment while comparing our dare devil extreme sports - his kite surf pier jumping and my off piste skiing and deep powder diving.
If you missed those death-defying leaps (mine that is) on YouTube - see Pooch In Powder:
Compare with He Who Jumps Piers:
Don't go into the mountains today - it might save your life !
Wed 17th April
Was speaking earlier this morning to my mate, a guide in La Grave about conditions as there's been loads of big slides due to the "severe" warm weather and the Briancon / Montgenevre road was closed yesterday for a while with a big slide near Vachette, for those snowheads that were out a couple of years ago on the off piste week that was the route we did down off the back of Montgenevre!
As has already been reported and my daughter told me this morning (she's in Tignes) the road to Val was hit as well. And yesterday above Trolles they were blasting all the wet snow and she said it was great to see all the slides then coming down.
The isotherm is at circa 3500 today so huge volumes of snow up high not freezing hence everyone is on standby, for those that have traveled over the Col du Lautaret and seen those tunnels that are never used, all traffic is now being directed through them as that is when they are used when conditions are like this.
In all the years I've been over this way I've never seen those tunnels used!
So my comment in jest to Per was oh well think we'll pass on ski touring today, and that's when he said if there was one day to keep out of the mountains to save your life today was it!
Though wet soggy pistes should be ok !
This afternoon we went for a hike up behind us. The path was so steep, the it sort of faded out as it reached some very old pasture terraces, then we hiked up some more through trees and rotten snow to some old ruins using navigation on my smart phone, was about 500m in total.
This is the view from up there over to the pistes (in front of us)
And then zoomed in on Couloir de la Balme, where you should be able to see how the whole lot has gone!
This one blocked the main Montgenevre / Briancon road for a while on Tuesday, the whole lot came down from the very top!
Couple of Chamois in the back garden
Friday April 19th
When we moved into the apartment the seller came up with us after we were at the Notaires to go through everything with us, and he kindly informed EDF about us being the new owners and whilst having the usual hassle dealing with them, seems no different to the UK, after three calls he was able to give me the new client number!
Then I must have missed something in translation, or simply forgot as it was a wee bit of a momentous day, but I thought EDF would contact me, so was on lookout for documentation either being sent to UK or Serre.
Last Friday went out for a "little" bike ride, track log here, and came back to find no electricity!
Cut long story short, I'd been cut off, as I then found out I should have rung them.
Could not get through on any English speaking numbers, and my brother tried but as EDF charge for you to call them he ran out of credit, so I then had to go to his up near Grenoble only to hear that their system was down Friday PM and they could not do anything, and it was the same again Saturday!
So it looked like no electricity till Wed at the earliest!
Oh and guess who put the electric shutters down on the apartment!
So ended up spending the weekend up at my brothers missing the late season snow that fell on Saturday, plus I did not even take my bike with me.
That said we ended up making a rather large rustic* coffee table, the table being 900 x 65 out of one piece of maple, spending all Saturday trimming and planning all day, and then Sunday all day making the legs any carpenters will know what it's like to take a huge "plateau" of wood and turn it into a table!
Come Monday managed to get hold of them, and set the account up, then had to rush back to here, to put in a call for an emergency connection, and was all up and running by 16:00 !
Quite different to the UK where you expect at least three or four months of "red letters" before they do anything!
*NB that is not the finished state, will be made to look more "rustic" and aged!
Tough ride to Sestriere
Tuesday 23rd April
Tough old ride today, not helped by the cold.
Cycled up and over the Col de Montgenevre and then down to Ceseana and then up to Sestriere the back way taking in the Category 1 climb via Bousson, it was so quiet hardly any cars going up that way, though in hindsight should have descended back down that road instead of the main route down as the Italians do live up to their reputations as complete cocks when it comes to driving, as they all think they are God's gift to rally driving it seems, so different to 20km away in France where the drivers give cyclists more room (respect) but still not as bad as drivers you come across back in the UK !
Once up in Sestriere it was like a ghost town as the resort was shut !
Track log here
Not too sure what to do tomorrow, have the ski touring kit ready and will check the weather at 07:00, might well do Galibier again, as I'm on my own!
First HC (Hors Catégorie) climb of the year
Wednesday 24th April
Did pack all my gear ready to go ski touring this morning, but was none too sure as it was very cloudy as I went to bed, so not a good sign as it does not usually freeze overnight with cloud cover this time of year, and sure enough at 07:00 this morning temps were way above freezing, so back to bed.
Did not mention it yesterday, but I came across some old retro skis that were being thrown out of an apartment block.
I could see that maybe they were "dumped" but as I started to load one set into the van a woman looked out from behind the window gesticulating to me, but she was in fact saying take what I wanted :)
So this morning I went back to see if some that I did not take were still there, and sure enough ended up with two more pairs. So could well end up trying to make a bench / chair out of them.
After that and getting the bread with Pooch, she's now guest of honour in the Boulangerie, time to get ready for a ride.
After yesterday's long ride, thought I'd just go for a climb, and identified the Col de Vars as the "target".
Not too may Cols are open at the moment, so I drove down the valley from Briancon and parked up just below Mont Dauphin Fort.
From there it's up the mountain all the way, no let up, just under two hours of continual climbing.
Spring snow at its finest
Thursday April 25th
Mate (Per), who is a guide was round last night with the family for dinner and we were talking about ski tour options for today as weather was looking promising, so he suggested a route that he saw when he drove over from La Grave and thought it was looking good for snow, departing just by one of the tunnels down from Lautaret.
I got going by 07:45 and by 08:15 as I parked up there were already loads of cars (locals are all on holiday here), at the Rif Blanc tunnel and I could see a fair number of people going up.
I did take my ski crampons out of the garage and put them in the van, but made a wrong decision of not taking them as it turned out the snow was very icy. That meant I had to take a steeper line than most, which meant I was passing quite a few groups going up all who had crampons, so lesson learnt for this time of year!
Loads of avalanches from last week everywhere, some on slopes less than 20% !
Descent was superb in classic sugar spring snow, great finding the right aspect to ensure best possible spring snow, then traversing out if it started to get too soft to find another line.
Going up I passed this couple who lived in Nevache and he had an enthusiastic Collie on a lead, later I heard this shout to turn round to see that the Collie had obviously pulled him over!
On the descent the Collie went ballistic, you can see it in the video and hear the sound of his paws on the sugar spring snow!
I had just about made it to the bottom when I heard these shouts, turned out it was my mate Per and his wife Josefine going up, he shouted at me to put my skins on and join them, but I had sort of bolloxed myself on the ascent, had a blister and I'd left Pooch (my dog) in the van that would be rapidly turning into an oven if I went back up!
He rang later saying how good the descent was, and as they were a lot later, they took a different line down to what I did, taking the more W'ly facing slopes (which is affected by the sun later) having traversed under the Pointe, whilst I pretty well followed the blue dashed line which is the main randonee route up.
Forecast is now for rain in the resort here in Serre and snow at altitude, but probably rain all the way up here. So plan is to ski with Josefine in La Grave on Monday as she finishes in the guide bureau at 10:30.
Mind you when in the Mountains how to make God laugh, make a plan!
Rain and rain, and raining up top...
Friday 26th April
Not looking too good, think I'm going to have to finally get painting :(
This is how the table is getting on!
In the end did another ride in the afternoon, after some painting!
Putting off the painting!
Saturday 27th April
Was raining a fair bit overnight and early morning, but I awoke to almost dry weather, so decided rather than paint, even though I did set the room up, to go back out on the bike, and drive South to Lac Serre Poncon to do a loop around the lake.
I was hoping it would be drier, though dry for 60% of the ride, the last 20 or so km was very wet!
As you can see from the photos cloud was at around 1200m.
The Tour de France will be have a Time Trial on July 17th on part of the route I cycled back on (the last 10km).
No it's not low tide, but in the winter they let a large percentage of the water out to generate electricity, knowing that the melting snow will fill it up!
Sunday 28th April
Awoke to the cloud hovering around 1500m and looked like rain, so thought I might actually have to get the paint out as legs were too tired for yet another bike ride!
And then, ironic or what, I thought let's have a look at the webcams (something I never do here) to see what it is like up top!
Oh yes, I'm having some of that I thought!
And twas almost eerie going up the Vallons sector as I could see no one!
And the playground was looking superb!
To be honest, only had an hour or so before weather closed in and snow was very "heavy" off piste, but kept at it trying to get my heavy snow technique better without too much sitting in the back seat!
After Vallons I then went into other sectors and they were deserted as well, was actually thinking to myself would not like to have an accident as no one was around at all, and viz was going.
So skied all the open sectors, and all the "lifties" were in good spirits to say the least as it's their last day!
Back home for some lunch, and I just might look at the Webcams to see if an afternoon session is worth it!
Suppose I better come home?
Monday 29th April
Never went back up the hill yesterday as the weather never cleared, so opted to watch Jonny Wilkinson give a master class to young Farrell!
Forecast for here is not too good and quite depressing with heavy rain, so not good for cycling and certainley not good for ski touring which I what I was hoping for this week!
Loulou my daughter is having her ACL operation this Wednesday so will return either Wed or Thursday, so Bull Friday night!