Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering Reports 2006/07

17-21st April 2007 Ski touring in “Parc National de la Vanoise”

Many thanks to Alison Culshaw from the British Alpine Ski School, Chamonix for these ski touring reports from the Southern French Alps and the Austrian Silvretta....
Theo, Owen, Tim and Alison at 3000m on the glacial Vanoise Plateau
Whilst it was beginning to feel very summery in the valleys, the high mountains were still plastered in snow. We spent 4 days touring in the Vanoise, a destination that enabled us to stay high and avoid too much walking. We were rewarded with some excellent spring snow and stunning views to help complete another piece of the alpine jigsaw.

Starting in Aussois and heading clockwise meant that we made the most of the uplift and got some good long descents. From the lift system we headed over the Col d’Aussois and then had 13km of downhill into Pralognan la Vanoise (1418m). We had been reliably informed that you could ski to within a few hundred metres of the village and were not to be disappointed: although Zoë’s lift ensured we had time for refreshments before catching the last chairlift up. We then had an hour and a half’s skin up to the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise where a delicious curry was awaiting us. Full compliments to the guardian in the hut – some of the best hut food we have ever eaten!
Heading in to the Col de la Vanoise Hut to ski the Grande Casse South Face (in the background) the next day     

Timing was critical the next day to ensure a good ski off La Grand Casse (3855m), descend too early and it would be rock hard, too late and it would be like skiing through a slush puppy! We got it just about right, arriving on the summit just after 1pm, after the team used different techniques to ascend the long steep section, each striving to find the most efficient way to travel. I think booting got the edge over following the shallow icy skiing track this time!

The descent was fantastic and over all too soon. We had great spring snow all the way back to the hut, and I would rank it up there as one of the best ski peaks in the Alps. (See video footage)
The following day we continued our journey back across the high plateau, through the Col du Dard and up to the Dome de Chasseforet (3586m). Once again we were provided with a wonderful descent, initially off the north face, and on down to the Refuge de l’Arpont.
The hut was right on the snow line and provided some of the team with a venue for afternoon bouldering: others for a snooze in the sun.

As we took our ski boots off in Aussois, I had an underlying feeling that they would not be going on again this season. Temperatures were soaring, the snow was melting and it was time to head south and go bolt clipping!

Ski Touring in the Austrian Silvretta, 25th – 31st March 07’

We had affectionately named the area “Softcore Silvretta” before our visit due to the areas reputation for mellow ski touring terrain. Having been there in near perfect conditions it would be better nicknamed “Sensational Silvretta”! We completed a circular route from Ischgl, criss-crossing over the Austrian / Swiss frontier.
Perfect Fresh tracks in the 'Sensational Sivretta!'
Going to the area early season meant that it was very quiet and we didn’t meet anyone who was doing the same journey as ourselves. We used the lift system in Ischgl to give us as a short day to the Heidlberger Hutte. In hindsight it would be much cheaper, and more efficient, to use the skidoo service offered by the hut to get up the valley. However, that would have meant missing out descending in untouched powder as soon as we left the piste. This was a sign of things to come!

The second day took as over the Briete Krone and Piz Faschalba, uncomplicated ski touring peaks that gave us a good warm up for the trip. Again, we could find fresh tracks all the way to the Jamtalhutte. Prior to the trip I had been told of these great Austrian huts (with showers – yes the rumours were true!), but this one could be likened to a giant youth hostel!    

Day three included an ascent of the Dreilanderspitz. From the ski depot there was twenty minutes of interesting, but not too challenging scrambling along the ridge to the summit signified by a cross as on most Austrian summits.
By now we were getting a feel for the “softcore” element of the trip and found ourselves settling into a very relaxed routine; leave the hut at 8am, gently skin up for 3-4 hours, make ski depot, crampons on, scramble along a ridge, back down, skis on, make tracks in fresh powder all the way to the hut in time for lunch! I certainly felt like I was on holiday. Perhaps we were just very lucky with the weather and snow conditions.
However this routine was by no means monotonous. The peaks became more impressive, the descents got longer, the powder got deeper and the huts became cosier. The next two days took in the Piz Buin, Silvrettahorn and Schneeglocke, arriving at the Saarbruckner Hutte.
The crescendo just kept going and we couldn’t have asked for more on our last day. It is only a short trip from the hut to the top of the Kleine Seehorn, a magnificent summit with views back across the ground we had covered over the last few days. There were only 4 off us on the mountain that day, so we could have our choice of line in the unmarked snow. The highlight for us was probably seeing one of the others cross his tips, somersault and land perfectly on a 40 degree slope. I think he was surprised as we were!
From here it was homeward bound. The fresh tracks didn’t stop until we hit the rat track down to Oberpermuntverk. Our luck was truly in, as we did our last turn a bus pulled round the corner bound for Bielerhohe. It would have been a long walk without it. From Bielerhohe you can ski (skate and walk!) back to Galtur, but we opted for the piste machine!


6th April - Fine Spring Skiing in the West Highlands - Central Gully on Ben Lui Skied....

Thanks to Callum Horne of Perth for this ski report from Ben Lui today....and well done on scratching that 17 year itch - it's a long way down the Central Couloir when you peer into it from above!
"I spent an hour psyching myself up to do it. A bit off putting the audience on the summit expecting you to perform, when your really filling your pants, wanting to take your skis off, to walk back down. - A 17 year itch finally scratched!"
Meanwhile up here in Lochaber the afternoon skiing on sun warmed spring snow at Nevis Range continues to be pretty good. I skied Easy Gully again today which was a bit rattley and could do with a bit more sun to soften it up.
Ben Lui Central Couloir. Photo Callum Horne     Ben Lui Central Couloir. Photo Callum Horne     úSof and Laura enjoying the spring snow at Nevis Range today


31/3/07 Alpine Lochaber

A hard frost down to sea-level last night was followed by yet another perfect alpine day with many folk out enjoying the fine ice climbing on the Ben and skiing on Aonach Mor. I met up with Callum Horne from Perth and enjoyed dropping into a very friendly Easy Gully - being a bit rusty on the planks it still got the heart racing! This was at 1445 by which time the gully had gone into shade and ever so slightly iced up again - Callum had skied it at around 1300 and found better conditions then. The Buttresses on the East Face of Aonach Mor are fully in summer mode now and only some of the deeper gullies are holding snow and ice. Teams climbed Left and Right Twin in good conditions. Over on the Ben nearly all the classics were getting climbed again although the team on Stormy Petrel appeared to be having a fairly hard time and making a bee-line for the relative thick ice / safe haven of Psychedelic Wall!
Callum Horne dropping in to Easy Gully, E. Face of Aonach Mor     



15/12/06 Zermatt and Saas Fee Ski Conditions....

Early season conditions in these two high Swiss resorts are much better than the UK media coverage of the early alpine winter had led me to believe. Quiet, perfect pistes are open right down to the resorts and the off-piste skiing on the glacier from the Klein Matterhorn (pictured left) provided some excellent early season thigh burning turns!
Folk have also been skiing the Breithorn and Allalinhorn - the 4000m peaks accessed from the tops of these two resorts although we turned around on the latter due to unstable snow conditions on the steep summit slopes.