25th March – Our last day of off-piste snowboarding. Our friend Jeany was staying with us for the week and we had had 3 large days exploring the local areas when on the Monday it started snowing heavily. As mentioned in previous posts “And just when we thought winter was done” Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 we had some amazing snow that came off the back of 3 weeks of glorious sunshine, which we didn’t think was going to end (well Rob didn’t anyway…) Monday we were hitting our local Prodain tree runs and ridge runs. The previous photos show how much snow we had.
On Tuesday, we woke to an overcast day, but with another 20cm of snow overnight… We had pushed poor Jeany too hard for the past 3 days and she had opted for a day off to rest the legs. This would change our plans for the day. Some off-piste adventures into areas we hadn’t been before? Why not. A review of the Avalanche report for the day suggested that the new snow on the old snow base would be reasonably stable. Any avalanches would only be the fresh snow on top, which while still not ideal to be caught up in, was certainly a lot better than the unstable packed layers that had been existing until the hot weather either slipped the snow back down to the grass/dirt/rock layer or solidified the snow layers into one.
As Julie had been eyeing off Pointe de Ressachaux, Rob had been eyeing off the large north face of Pointe de Chesery in Chatel. We had seen a few people riding it during the season, but not many compared to a lot of the other popular off-piste runs in the Portes du Soleil ski area, so we were a little hesitant. This was a good opportunity to test out our knowledge that we had learnt with our 2 day Avalanche course with Avalanche Academy.
First job was to review the local avalanche report and weather as mentioned above to find out which areas we shouldn’t be riding. North faces were ok today, putting the Pointe de Chesery north face as an option (first tick). Next step was to kit up with our bags, shovels, probes and transceivers. All were in working order (tick). Next was to cruise on across the resort with a little warm up and ride down from the closest chair to review the face. When we arrived the early morning overcast cloudy day had cleared to beautiful blue skies and the new snow sparkled. Not a single person had touched the face yet. It looked massive and really steep. We stared at it for quite some time discussing the lines we could possibly take from the top. Looking up at it, it looked near impossible and Rob was about ready to pull the pin (the big wuss). Jules mentioned that we could just start walking up there and see what it looks like from up close, and if we didn’t like it, we could ride back down the ridge line (lines picked, tick, and back out option, tick).
By the time we had made it back to the ridge line after our inital reconnaissance to start the boot pack, we had seen two people skinning up the hill in front off us and a third past us as we put our boards on our back. Hmm, maybe no first tracks for us, but considering the nerves we had, it possibly wouldn’t be a bad thing. It can give a bit more confidence when you see tracks on the fresh snow to see how it is behaving.
About a third of the way up the ridge we were passed by another 4 people on skins. As far as boot pack vs. skins go, we were definitely losing. Our boot deep slow plodding was quickly past by these people gliding on the surface. Maybe we could sell our jumpy and buy these split boards after all. Or even take up skiing… (right, Andy?)
Halfway up we were joined by a third boot packer. Our friend didn’t have any avalanche equipment, helmet but probably had about 60 more years experience than us, a fantastic purple 70’s ski clothing and sunglasses. He had his skis thrown over his shoulder and was moving quickly, but then decided to sit behind us and let us do all the hard work putting the initial boot pack in. Close to the top while Julie and I were catching our breath our friend opted to put in a few stomps for us. Just a few mind you, just to show us he still had it.
Whilst on the walk up we were peering over the cornices into the bowls and they didn’t look as scary as they had from down below. In fact they looked like a lot of fun. As we got to the top, four of the skinning team had dropped into the bowls and cut some beautiful lines and the snow looked amazing. Two had come back down the ridge line and the three of us boot packers had been joined by another guy on a split board with skins at the peak.
The four of us kitted up ready for the descent (well actually only 3 of us, as our skier friend only had to throw his skis on rather than our faff). The other snowboard bombed off to the first bowl, which hadn’t been touched, where as we opted to go for our line that we had plotted from the bottom. Our skier friend swooshed off in perfect skier swoosh, swoosh style. It was amazing. Steeper and deeper but the snow allowed fast control and massive powder turns. So much fun. So much fun we had to go and do it all again. Straight away. Which was maybe slightly more amazing as we had the confidence to give it everything, but we had one minor failing that we had opted to do it without eating our lunch. By the time we made it to the bottom of the second run, we could barely talk and felt really out of it. Next time we eat before we bonk (apparently a cycling term that we learnt a couple of weeks ago where you exercise too much and become weak and light headed.)