Val d’Isère, Oct. 2015 — We’ve been walking up the trail above the L piste towards the Ouillette lake, just up from the Laisinant, for nearly two hours. On a summer’s day, this takes no longer than an hour. But the snow that fell for nearly 24 hours yesterday is making our progress much slower on this Autumn afternoon.
The last time we headed out to the back of the Col Pers we trekked through blizzard and skied on frozen-over chopped up snow. After several days of sunshine and warm weather, the conditions today were mercifully kinder and incomparably more pleasant.
Just further on from the Val d’Isere classic Tour du Charvet, the Tour du Mont Roup has been on my list of short treks since the beginning of the season – for several seasons, in fact. I got close a few times but weather conditions and other circumstances kept getting in the way, until yesterday, when guide Chris said the words: “Right, today we’re going to the Mont Roup”.
Yesterday’s miles of skinning are already a distant memory. Today, we’re skiing; just skiing. After a less than auspicious start – from the top of Bellevarde down the Super-Santons on yet-untransformed snow and amid brown grassy patches – we headed back up the hill, then through the jardins de Borsat, across to the Charvet and down a depleted but good couloir du Mont Blanc. Once again, with snow being in limited supply, guide Chris ushered us about the mountain in an attempt to avoid crowds, and mostly, as usual, he succeeded .
The north-west wind was still blowing in big gusts over the hill. Overnight it had pushed snow around and further sculpted the upper layers into crinkled sheets. Banks of clouds were sweeping across the surrounding peaks. As the morning began to unfold, the main question was to figure out which parts of the mountain would be most sheltered. In the end, we opted for Glacier Pers. The upper lifts had remained shut because of the wind, so from the Signal drag, we began the long traverse behind the Rochers Pers and above the Lechoir.
We were knee-deep in powder, sometimes almost up to the waist, and the tips of our skis occasionally blasted big chunks of snow over our heads. We knew there would be fresh stuff up in the Iseran area after yesterday’s near-uninterrupted snow falls, but that much snow, well, this was an unexpected treat.
Of course we weren’t the only ones eager to taste the powder, so the drill this morning was to keep moving. This meant fewer photo opportunities, as Chris ushered us around to make first tracks down the Combe du Signal, followed by three runs down Pays Désert and finally across to the Col Pers. It was already busy around Pers by that point but Chris miraculously produced some untracked expanses down the Grand Torsai area, just above the gorges de Malpasset.
The promised snow only started falling earlier this morning, with clouds coming down low in resort and closing visibility for most of the day. Stuff on the hill had hardened overnight in a lot of places and the lack of sunshine meant it wasn’t transforming into soft spring snow. It was ‘survival skiing’: you couldn’t see where you were going and the legs took a prolonged battering on icy slopes. But we saw a small herd of chamois just above us in the Chardonnet bowl, standing quite close and not as shy as they usually are. It made up for everything else.
There was a lot less snow on the hike up to the Col de la Sachette today than a few days ago, but at least we could see where we were going and the sun came out too. Surprisingly, there was some lovely untracked – wind-blown – powder. On our way back, Andreas took us over to the Aiguille Percée, along the corniche, and down to Tignes again on transformed spring snow – a few times.
Last week’s snow falls seem a long time ago but there is still some powder to be had if you’re prepared to get up early and break a bit of sweat on skins. This morning, Chris took us to the further reaches of the Pays Desert before hiking over to the Col Pers and across to the Lechoir for some fantastic skiing.
Le Monal is a magical site in the spring. On a sunny winter’s day, it’s an almost unreal wonderland. Last week I walked to the UNESCO-listed site from Sainte Foy following the last-minute cancellation of a planned ski tour to the hamlet.
Today I am back on skis with local guide Nicolas Borrel who took a small group of us to Le Monal via the upper part of the vallon du Clou – the stream that flows down from the small lake of the same name, through Le Monal and eventually into the river Isère 1,000m below.