Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Tagging up with my girlfriend, we left Grenoble chasing the snow sun in Villars, Switzerland. Located in the Vaud canton, about 65km from Lausanne lay the Villars-Gryon-Les Diablerets-Glacier 3000 resort.
With a high pressure system in place for a few days and some bright sun on the forecast, we took off thinking more about the sunscreen than the down jackets. Even if I do prefer the cold powdery snow, I actually really don’t mind skiing slushy snow in the resorts when the spring shows up!
We started our discovery of the domain in Villars and headed out towards Glacier 3000.
I don’t think the trail map accurately represents the ground that really separates those 2 places! I also don't think that was my greatest idea ever! Linking those two fairly distant resort together in a day forces you to sit and use a lot of lifts. One would be better serve into making its idea in the resort he really would like to ski than to try to check them all out in a single day!
Good thing that there wasn’t much people there since crossing from one resort all the way at the top of the other resort can take quite some time! There is also quite a big difference in the resort style when you compare the terrain available on the Villars and Diablerets side to the Glacier 3000.
For Villars and Les Diablerets, it is more traditionnal slopes cut through trees or open field as there is some really good alpine freeriding opportunities to be found on the Glacier 3000 side.
Certainly that the most spectacular view is at Glacier 3000, we even had the chance to score some nice cold-snow turns there!
After riding there and back we went to Gryon to check out the afterski of the first day of the Telefest organized by the Worst Crew. There was a pretty cool ambiance there and a lot of people showed up for the live one-man band!
We met a lot of the same people the following day at the tent festival where free-demo gathered around 150 persons trying different ski boots and binding.
Part of the festival was also the Televasion. It was a discovery tour of both the resort and the slackcountry. We took off with on the tour and even if the skiing was good, the best part was the lunch.
In a traditionnal alpine chalet that was originally used for the summer pasture, we were serve wine, cheese and soup. We both had way to much food and with the warm sun shinning strong, it was kinda hard to leave! After almost 3 months of almost non-stop skiing, I start to almost enjoy as much to relax and drink wine than to ski!
We left Villars to go back to Grenoble after 2 days that were way too short!

With the high pressure still in place, I rallied with Nicolas Attal my friend who lives in Valloire to check out the nearby Valfréjus. Located near the border of Italy, Valfréjus was one of the first resort in France to open for the season and got spanked with snow from the storm coming in the pasta-land side all season long.
 Valfréjus is not really what one could call a ‘’resort’’.  There is certainly some other activity than skiing, but don’t expect Rolex shopping here! With only 3 majors lifts, it is nothing but a major ski-hub. But for what it lacked in impressive number, Valfréjus got something that cannot be put down in number: nice terrain, real alpine feeling and awesome view.

For 28 euros, you get to a 600m vertical of nice alpine terrain. I don’t think there is that much to do when you don’t have any visibility since all of the interesting turns are made above treeline.
I was also fairly impress about the speedriding skills that some fellow were showing up. Speedriding is like paragliding but with a wing a bit to small to fly. People were flying down and putting loops in the air.... Something just got put on my bucket list!

An other great discovery in the Maurienne valley!

I certainly like resort skiing but with the Chamonix-Zermatt traverse already plan at the end of our season, a bit of touring wouldn’t hurt to get my legs in shape!

With Amelie, we left towards the Rocher Rond in the Matheysine massif just southeast of Grenoble. It is really hard to separate what I call a great outing from what people in Europe call a great outing.

I like to ski down steady 30-45degrees gradient slope with my skins on, they don’t mind bushwacking or hiking with their skis on their pack for hours without any chance of skiing.

I like to climb straight up and ski down, they don’t mind long, long, looonnnnnng approach just to get to a summit with a view.

I climb to ski, for some skiing is a mandatory pain required after the quick skin up.

But for once, I was able to find a great tour that looked like providing a steady gradient up and a good spring-skiing destination.
After hiking for 5 minutes, we started to climb on some hard refrozen snow. We were quickly joined by a local stinky farmer’s dog that would eventually climb all the way to the top with us.

Our progression was slow with the packs loaded to test how it will be on the coming Cham-Zermatt traverse. As we gained elevation, we could more easily see the smog coming from the valleys around and especially from Grenoble.
I really like this city, but I can’t convince myself that it is good for you to live there on the long run with so much pollution.

We timed our climb and ski down perfectly since the snow was nice and soft all the way down! It is one of the best tour I’ve done around Grenoble and I was really surprise not to see any other tracks on the mountain...
Looks like spring is here now...
Hope winter will make a comeback!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Impossible not to LOVE the Dolomites!

We drove across northern Italy and finally made it to the mythical Cortina d’Ampezzo located in the hearth of the Dolomites. It is also part of the Dolomiti Superski which consists of a massif network of 450 lifts (yes, 450 lifts!!!) linking 12 differents ski areas!

It is also probably the best place to get the latest fur coat, so hurry up, you’ll have competition!

From the Cortina downtown, you have access to two different sides that you can’t easily connect during the same ski day.

For our first day, we headed up on the Faloria side.
We were told to stay on the slope because off-piste skiing is strictly forbidden. Proper backcountry skiing is allowed but skiing next from the slopes is not permitted. Unfortunately for us, the Forcella lift that gives access to most of the good backcountry options starts on the Cristallo side which was not running. You needed a proper certified mountain guide to have access to the goodies.

We cruised the groomed runs on the resort and enjoyed the view of the surrounding peaks. I would have thought that Cortina would have been packed but there wasn’t mostly any lift line anywhere!
Next day, we headed on the other side towards Tofana.

It’s on this side that you would find most of the famous runs of Cortina and where the women World cup is held every year. Even if this is not an awesome snow year for the Dolomites, you can still get some really good condition inbound.

From the top of the lifts, after a short 10 minutes hike, you have access to the Bus de Tofana.

From the col, you can ski down a wide couloir and catch the lift back for another run. After seeing the amount of tracks, I would guess that it is probably the most commonly skied run! I was (again) really surprised to see that it was still not that hard to find some untracked snow on which to carve turns!

We skied the chopped up snow and the 15-20cm of fresh snow that was still left to ski.

For our next run, we decided to go towards the Canale della Colonna which would translate to the Couloir of the Column. You just need to take your skis off at one of the slope and hike up around 100m. Conditions on the way up were good and not too sketchy.

The snow in the couloir was fairly packed. Nothing deep here but not hard to ski.
We missed the phrase in the guidebook saying: ‘’Do not be tempted by a direct descent. A rappel is required.’’ We realized soon enough when we saw what the couloir looked like!

Since we weren’t too far from the piste, we bootpacked our way up. I used to think that with skins you could make it out of most of situations but in the Alps, I now start to think that rope, harness and climbing equipment are mandatory equipment!
Even if The Cinque Tori area is located a few kilometers out of Cortina, it is part of it.  It don’t have that many lifts but it really looked like slackcountry was much more tolerated than in the heart of Cortina.

After skiing around for half a day, I stopped by the Rifugio Lagazuoi where we were planned to sleep that night to have a chat with Guido Pompanin, the owner and caretaker of the hut. Located at the top of Mt Lagazuoi at 2752m just a 2min walk from the tram, one couldn’t dream about a better place to stay overnight! Guido was really nice to talk to and being the sun of the guy who built the rifugio, he was really knowledgeable of the area and awesomely generous of his time.

He explained me a few options that we could easily do this afternoon and that wouldn’t be too sketchy.  We skiined for about 15minutes and got at the top of the 700m long Canale della Nonna. The snow was just perfect for couloir skiing. Not too deep, firm but easy to ski!

With the temperature warming up, we decided to stay on the piste for a few laps before making our way back to the Rifugio for a celebration beer!

After the celebration beer, we went sweating a bit in the sauna. From inside the sauna, we had a terrific view of the surrounding mountains which was quite a change from the naked dudes view you usually have inside the sauna!

I was pleased with the view from our room but it was nothing compare to the sunrise the following morning!

I really think that every one should have the chance to see the sun rising above the clouds with peaks sticking out of the sea of clouds!

If you ever make it to the Cortina area, make sure to put the Rifugio Lagazuoi on your sleep-over list!

The clouds eventually rose and the weather turned bad. We drove towards Alta Badia which I’ve know for its also World Cup event. It was also snowing heavily, once we got there, but it quickly stopped.

Alta Badia is also part of the Sella Ronda tour. This tour consists of linking different resort around the Sella massif on skis. Most of the people do it during one day and it is something that apparently everyone that goes to the Dolomites does.  We found the slope on which the World Cup is held every year. It is a really steep slope on which I would really not like to have to race! But beside this slope, it is fairly flat. It is probably one of the flatest resort I’ve ever skied. There is really countless intermediate and beginner run... There were also much more people around the resort. I can easily imagine it being PACKED during the holidays.

Since you can easily see which lifts are part of the Sella Ronda, we headed out a bit out of there to hopefully have it on the quiet side. We drove by Passo Pordoi where our diesel froze a few year back and went to Marmolada.

Marmolada is the highest point you can get by lift in the Dolomites. That we realized translate into alotofpeoplewanttogothere!

The view, as one can imagine is pretty stunning, but the best point in my opinion are the slackcountry options available. Since there is one run that is control on the glacier, everyone use it leaving pretty of room for some nice turns.

With a soon to come return to Grenoble, we drove south to San Martino di Castrozza. This is the most southern point of the Dolomiti Superski and what we figured would be a bit closer to drive back to Grenoble.
We stayed on the slopes and got a short day in before having to drive back home.
The last days haven’t been super deep, but I am really stoked about what I saw and all the options that are available here. It is for sure a destination that I look forward to come back!

One thing that I am really looking forward to do is to come back only with a daypack and travel around the mountains by using the lifts and the bus system. Probably not on the Sella Ronda but a trip that would involve backcountry and slackcountry options around the mountains. The fact that you can buy card points and that depending on the lift that you are using get charge only on what you use, make this option really interesting...

Now, sitting at home in Grenoble dreaming about it...
Sun and warm weather are on the forecast for the coming days...