Arturo had the great idea of doing Vallée Blanche while we were in France. This is a treacherous run (as in many ways to get seriously injured, or to die at the bottom of a crevice or killed by an avalanche or serac slide (big piece of ice/snow breaking off and falling on you), so we booked a guide, Frederic Drouet
Here is a description of the Vallée Blanche descent from his site.
We did 2 runs
#1 Petit Envers was 17km of skiing, 9500ft down (2900m) until we got back to the road in town (17km run, just over 10 miles). It took us 3h44 including hiking back up to a road where we could finally go back down again. It was pretty trivial snowboarding-wise but of course went around plenty of dicey terrain. The end was less fun (from the hike up) as the path down from the little rest stop after the hike up, got worse and worse as we got lower in altitude and warmer temps.
#2 Grand Envers is supposed to be more challenging, but honestly it was still easy on a snowboard, outside of a part where we had to cross an serac avalanche field filled with ice in different size blocks. On that 2nd run, we finished it in just over 1h, and stopped at the glacier ice tunnel for a quick visit, before walking up the stairs to the cable car to the cog train back to town.
Frederic was right that taking the train was not actually faster, from fork off point between the 2 points, both took just around 1h25, including waiting for the train 20mn, but honestly the train route was more fun that given day since boarding all the way back to the road on crappy icy snow at the bottom, was not fun enough to do twice (or even once that day). For comparison the 2nd time it took just 1h to get from the to of aiguille du midi to that forkoff point, close to the glacier, stairs and train.
We met around 08:10, rented some crampons for the first walk out of top visitor center since it's a slippery and steep-ish ridge before you can bind in and ride down:
We then went to Aiguille du midi's cable car and took it to the top. Thankfully there was no line:
Time to put the crampons on and head down:
Then, time to go down, we were not the only ones:
lots of ice blocks and seracs that could detach and fall on us, our uide had to keep track of them
pretty, but more stuff that could fall on us :)
sadly a bigger group had one person who strayed a bit, feel into a crevice and had to be pulled out and rescued
Eventually we got to the bottom on top of the glacier. Easy, but more boring snowboarding :) (and some pushing with poles)
some people walked up the glacier in snow shoes
Eventually the fun was over and we had to unbind and hike up for 15mn or so, up to a resting/lunch cabin
It was then time to continue riding down all the way to town. Sadly it was less fun snow, even narrow and icy at the bottom:
then we crossed the cog train
eventually we got to the end of a small ski resort, back to the road
Short video of the first time down:
Here are some pictures from Fred:
Arturo was ok enough after one run, especially given that the bottom kind of sucked, but I was up for a 2nd run (Grand Envers):
by then, it started getting tracked
Grand Enver was more pristine though since it's harder for skiiers
a piece of that fell earlier that day, and gave us an ice field to cross (kind of hard)
we finally got to the bottom, another track from the one earlier that day
Before too long, we got to the ice cave, small cabins at the top of the stairs, and cig train:
then time to climb up the stairs back to the train
nice to have ridden down this
Now, the *very sad part* is that the glacier used to be as high as the top of those cabins, and now the bottom of those cabins is nowhere close and still requires a lot of stairs to get down to it, and it's getting worse every year with global warming :(
Longer video of the second time down:
And that was it, great 2nd run. We spent a bit of time in town to enjoy the sunset lights and dinner:
A huge thanks to Frederic Drouet for keeping us safe and guiding us that day.
After Bourg St Maurice, we took a bus to cross the train track sections that were unusable, to a train, to another train, to Geneva, where we got yet another train (Swiss this time), and another train, and a bus to get to our hotel in Verbier. Needless to say it took all day...
Switzerland was pretty expensive, restaurants were kind of reaching the outlandish pricing range, so we took a deal to have the dinner of the day at a mere $25/day. It wasn't great every night, but it was simple enough and onsite, so that worked :)
Getting to Tignes and Val d'Isère from Bourg St Maurice is not that obvious. Many days have busses that leave at the wrong time, getting you late to the resort. This is why we went on a Saturday when the bus got us there early enough for opening time.
leaving before sunset
nice weather when we arrived, although it was quite windy
packed powder in places
but half of Tignes had pretty icy snow that was no fun to run.
We ended up crossing to Val d'Isère where the snow quality was much better:
you can see the fierce wind blowing off that mountain peak
Tignes however had another face pointing on the right direction, so we headed back for that, after trying their funicular that is dug inside the mountain (and nicely avoids all issues with wind):
direct to the top, no problems
Arturo found a friend
We then went on the other side of Tignes where the sun had been softening up the snow and the top snow hadn't melted. It was actually quite good with nice views:
still lots of wind, but the resort didn't shut off for it
It was then time to come down on the Val d'Isère side to catch a better bus than the Tignes side, and that got us home. This ended up being our best (and only) good ski day in that region:
On our last day before leaving for Switzerland, and after another day of no skiing due to conditions, I was hopeful that Tignes would open. It was a nice day but with extreme avalanche danger. Sadly the road was not well plowed, so trucks got stuck on the way up. Our bus never made it to the top, we had to finish on foot (actually, it did make it, maybe 1-2H later for what we walked in 10mn).
the road was not cleared or ready for cars or busses yet, it was a mess
the lift we were hoping for, that we waited hours for...
quite late, they started moving snow around to clear the roads
they were actually trucking the snow away
kind of fun to watch
Sadly, we watched the rest of the day waiting for them to open something. First, noon, then 13:00, then 14:00, and still nothing by 15:00, well actually by 15:00 they had opened a couple of lifts that we couldn't easily get to, just as we were boarding the bus to get home :(
by 14:00-ish, after refusing to sell us tickets when there was no line, a single person spent 1h+ dealing inefficiently with a long line
as we were leaving by 15:00 in the first (and maybe only) bus of the day that was going to take us home, we saw a lower lift that had just opened, Sigh...
Yeah, this was a frustrating day, even more so that ParadiSki had enough things opened that day and we had no way to get back to it until it was closing :(
We had our hopes up, arriving during a snowstorm that made it hard to even get there, but sadly it was a warm snowstorm, and everything below 2000m got rained on.
The next morning, we showed up at Les Arcs 1600, and they warned us that just about everything was closed. The bottom was for avalanche danger and crappy wet snow, while the top was closed for avalanche danger and high winds, so we just went home.
what a shame given that quite a bit of snow did fall, even at town level (although it was wet with rain on top)
The next day, we tried again, and only the bottom boring part of the mountain was opened. The top was closed due to wind again, closed as in we never ever got to see les Arcs 1950 and les Arcs 2000 during our 6 days there :( Still, bottom o fthe mountain without rain is better than nothing at all, so we went for that:
ultimately it's an old badly designed mountain setup that doesn't account for bad weather, and segments itself as soon as wind arrives
Bourg St Maurice
The main train station
a little bit of very wet powder
one of the few bottom lifts (below freezing level)
more wet powder, not great but better than nothing
cable car to La Plagne, the other side of the resort we never reached due to winds
By the afternoon, wind was still too strong to get to Arc 2000, but at least we got nice views:
After a nice day at Tignes, we came back to ParadiSki the next day, and sure enough wind soon became a problem again :(
I made the mistake of thinking the weather would be good enough to attempt a crossing to La Plagne to see the other side of the resort, but by the time we got to the cable car, the only ways to cross were closed due to wind and not scheduled to re-open. We then wasted time going back and undoing the long crossing we had just done, just to be told that the way up to les Arcs 2000 wws also closed due to wind, and that we weren't missing much anyway because virtually everything up there was closed, you guessed it, due to wind. What a crummy unsheltered resort...
Needless to say that by then I was really starting not to start this resort, so much time wasted...
early morning, things were looking open, but it didn't last
we made a beeline for the cable car to the other valley
we made it across to where it was nicely raining, and came back to our side so as not to get stuck
nice village down there
back to Arc 1600, the boring part of the resort, but what was open
Arturo seems always happy, no matter what :)
I got more on the pissed off side, called it a day and went back home
what a shame everything was closed, the views were otherwise nice
And on this not high note, that was it for ParadiSki. If I had not made the wrong call of trying to go to val d'Isère on our last day, and getting stuck there without being able to ski at all, we might actually have seen a bit more of ParadiSki on our late day, but considering how unreliable this resort had been, I expected it would fail us again that last day, when in fact it had portions of it open when Tignes and Val d'Isère were virtually fully closed. Sigh...
On Jan 3rd, I took a train to a train to a bus to a train to get to Bourg St Maurice. This ended up not being an easy rip since I was done right during a big snowstorm that disabled the rail to our destination. I did get there eventually, but it was much more work than planned.
The rest of Bourg St Maurice is not much to see, just a good base to go to ParadiSki (les arcs), and have Tignes/Val d'Isère be about 1h away by bus. Sadly, the weather was crap as in warm crap. It rained on the bottom slopes (up to 2000 meters) while the top slopes were shut down for wind most of the time.
I ended up only skiing 2.5 days out of 6, pathetic :(
At least we got to enjoy some dinners and a side trip to Annecy on another day where all ski resorts were shut down due to the winds...
The TGV trip was nice, too bad that train couldn't take me all the way to the destination
then down to a regional train
and the snow version of it after bridging disabled tracks by road
Kirkwood has just opened 5 days prior and didn't have a huge base, but had enough to ski on. It's just that all the creeks were not coverd, so some places had difficult crossings.
Arturo suggested that we go for a day trip given that we had to get our epic passes for the upcoming Europe trip. The fact that they had 19" forecast didn't hurt either. Sadly, this turned into only 7" the rest being rain. Still 7" is better than nothing :)
chamoix was dicy at the bottom
still a few rivers
the wall looked enticing, but was only open to ski patrol
hopeful people, like me, but it didn't open
the drain was bad
more stream crossings
And that was it for the day. Not my best day at kirkwood obviously, but a good enough day for early season. Tnanks to Arturo and Louis for getting us there.
Neither Arturo nor Johannes had gone to Heavenly this year, and it was about to close most of its lifts after this week, so Arturo offered a day trip there, which we both graciously accepted. We left around 05:30 and arrived by the nevada border by 09:30, parked, and took the gondola up because the connecting california lifts were already closed.
how's that cindaquil?
we actually stopped at mid station for a look, which I had never done :)
We then had to follow the sun and started down at stagecoach and went up to dipper as things got warmer, and eventually moved to sky express. The snow was spring snow, we had to avoid the ice in some places and sticky slush in others, but overall the snow was good on groomers and ok elsewhere. And for snow, there is lots of it.
lots of things were closed of course
Thanks to Arturo for getting us there, that was fun.
It had been several years since I last went to Mammoth, and I was looking forward to finally going there with fresh powder. I carefully watched the forecast several days early including saturday when the storm was hitting the resort, to make sure that the top of the mountain would stay closed and I'd get fresh tracks the next day if I went.
I got up early (actually I woke up before my alarm) and by 04:45 started getting ready. Got to Palo Alto Airport at 05:15 and then started loading up the plane, parked the car, and got in the air by 06:00 for a beautiful easy flight:
By 07:15, I landed at KMMH, taxied to parking, found my rental car waiting for me on the tarmac (courtesy of Hertz), but sadly it was a 2 wheel drive with crappy tires (the front tires were not even M+S, they turned out to be crappy summer tires). Driving up to the resort, blowing past several chain control signs, took virtually all the driving skills I had. While I was barely able to drive up in the snow, I knew if I ever had to stop, it would be super unlikely that the car would get traction to restart at all (especially uphill), so I drove slowly with some distance with the car in front of me so I never had to stop when the traffic slowed down. Maybe in hindsight I should have gone to Eagle Lodge at much lower altitude, but powder-wise this was not a good idea, it was the wrong side of the resort and the top connecting lifts would be closed for a while. Yes, I should have had chains, but Hertz refuses to give or rent you chains because they're worried you may put them on wrong :(
Despite the driving challenges, I arrived at the main base around 08:15, had to find a far away parking spot and walk to the ticket counter to get my pass. I eventually got to the slopes around 08:40, which wasn't too bad.
snow all the way up to the base
the top of the mountain stayed closed until about 11:00
strangely, there was no line at the gondola
that's because everyone got out at mid station waiting for the top to open (that took 2H)
every other lift had 15mn+ lines
and more lines
while the gondola to the top wasn't open yet, but that's a lot of tracks down for a few ski patrol runs. Mmmh...
sadly, the 2ft of powder were pretty packed by the wind
line at the mid station gondola. It was better go to all the way back down and get it there
Gondola towards top of cloud nine had a bit of powder (only enough for one run though)
snow was good up high, but by 9000ft the powder quality went way down :-/
hike up the ridge to santiago bowl/hemlock bowl and chair 14
The next morning, driving up was easier, the road was mostly clear. I also only drove up to Mill's Café, which put me at the lifts I wanted and is actually easier to get back to, than the main lodge. Some people actually camped there:
The next morning was already spring skiing. Not bad, mostly no ice or slush, which is good, but virtually no powder left anywhere:
During those 2 days, I got some nice pictures of the surroundings:
airport I went to
looks nice to ride :)
this reminds me of heavenly]
On the way back, saw one of the Alaska planes bringing in a load of passengers:
good way to see the mountain
Mill's Café where I parked, and main lodge at the end of the road
I hiked up the hill to ski down that face a couple of times
I arrived a bit late on tuesday thanks to the Tesla supercharger being down. I had to drive around Folsom, and by then I was worried that Carson Spur would close, so I went around via South Lake Tahoe.
When I finally got to kirkwood, all the charging ports had ICE cars parked in front of them. Doh!
I Emailed vail about it, and thankfully they fixed that a day later:
The first day, I only got on the slopes just before 14:00, got a single ride on Cornice, and then it closed for lightening :( The snow was super wet and not run to ride though. Technically it was snowing, but it felt more like rain...
The next day, we had snow all day until 18:00, which fixed the crappy snow underneath. It was cold and very wet, but the snow was good. Back side opened by 13:30 adn was worth riding too. The wave didn't open though, which was great for the next day:
damn, that's a lot of snow in that drain under cornice
big rock skier's left of the wall, filled with snow
snow and snow and snow
backside, here we come
The 3rd day was finally the blue bird:
enough snow on the wall, you can get down anywhere
so many tracks, too many people :)
I went down eagle bowl, again, no one :)
the wave opened early in the morning
choose your way down :)
again, too many tracks :)
fawn ridge was beautiful
I lapped it 5 times and got fresh tracks each time
chute off the wall, snow had been blown off
By 14:00, the snow was however starting to turn. Somewhat slushy in places, and funny thing was other places had powder that was icing up (palisades), so I counted my blessings for all that snow with no crowds and went home: