Wheres the snow?

It all started on the 6th November. Winter came…..so early….a record in fact, 70cm of snow in two days, you could feel the excitement in the air. ‘This is it, This is the ONE, this winter is going to be amazing’….. The dump of snow was perfectly timed for the Grands Montets opening weekend, if you didnt mind a bit of wind and storm with your snow! The lifts at the bottom of the Lavnche bowl were not open, so with skins in bag Alex, Pete and myself dropped in with zero vis…. bottomless blind powder. Amazing. Then, all of a sudden we popped into clear sky’s and a beautiful last pitch of skiing before the skin out. The clear sky was temporary! Lap after lap there was no one there. We had the place to ourselves. It’s great when they don’t open all the lifts!

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But then…..that was it…..a confused super high pressure weather system sat on us for pretty much 8 weeks….blue sky’s and sunshine….for 8 weeks! Sounds lovely, and it was beautiful….just not great for skiing! Another record for the least amount of snow at the start of a season.

Undeterred we have been heading out when we can to make the most of what we could find…

As it was early season, a little light reminder of how to ski should be in order. First of all we thought a little foray up the Tour Ronde would be nice. The plan was to ski over from the Italian side and climb the normal route up the south east ridge with the intent to ski the same line down. After a bit of early Bergschrund negotiation we were heading to the ridge and in a short time we were at the summit. It’s a truly magnificent summit. 360° views up the Combe Maudit, down the Vallée Blanche and across into Italy. I could have sat there for hours. We peaked out heads over the west face and looked down into the formidable looking Gervasutti Couloir –  a long, consistently steep couloir which runs down to west side of the mountain. A big tick on any steep skiers list and certainly more steep and serious than anything I have ever skied. Pete said it looked it the best condition he had ever seen it and that we would get so many points for probably being the first people to ski the line this winter….it was only the 8th December. We left the summit and traversed the mountain round to the west side. As I was down climbing the rocky top section of the couloir I had a sudden stark fright that I was actually going to try and ski this beast. I carried on down past Pete, maybe 30m more, who had stopped to clip in at the top of a narrow section. If I was going to ski this I would need all the width I was allowed! The snow was lovely, soft but not deep, predicable and forgiving. Clipped in, I watched Pete, gracefully as ever, glide down and past me to a safe stopping point. With encouragement from below I took some deep breaths and started my tentative descent. Ski in control, plant the pole, hop and turn….easy….stay focused and in control I thought  to myself swearing repeatedly with terror. It was amazing….I was doing it, skiing the Gervasutti!

The bottom section is the steepest. Pete lead the way to find the rap points to get us over the Bergschrund, all I had to do was just concentrate on the skiing. With one rap down and the ropes plugged into the second I set off to see how big the schrund was….it was pretty big….. I was standing about a meter back from the edge….I was at the end of the rope…. all of a sudden there was a raging roaring noise and the world disappeared below my feet as the schrund collapsed. I gripped the ends of the rope tight looking at the slippery, icy, double Italian Hitch knots on my Carabiner (I had forgotten my belay device) and hoping they wouldn’t slip. I came to a crashing stop up against the new headwall of the schrund. Iv stopped, I thought, nervously giggling to myself …..now what… I was literally just before the knots in the end of the rope. The collapsed schrund had blocked up the gaping hole beneath me. My skis could just tickle the snow, I gave the snow the best kick I could and it seemed solid enough. Undoing the knots I tentatively lower myself off the remaining ropes, at the last minute lunging for the downward edge of the schrund. Nothing else collapsed. I stood up and smirked at Pete, he smiled back. He slid down the ropes further to the right. Pulled them free of the anchor and jumped a narrower section of the schrund. After a quick skin we were at the Torino lift slurping on thick hot chocolate and feeling very proud of ourselves.

The high pressure went on. The conditions got worse but we still ventured out…

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