Saturday, March 10, 2012

Discovering Engelberg, a great resort with a great terrain!

It was certainly quite a challenge to get to Sörenberg! First, the road we first intended to use was closed due to winter closing forcing us to do a 100km detour. To add to the pleasure, our GPS couldn't point down where was the town so we had to use some really small scale map on which most of the town weren't listed. Then, on the way, we got lost and ended up in the Swiss country side. 

We eventually got to Sörenberg at 9h30-10h00AM and we both wondered why it wasn't more obvious to go there since it was relatively big. It is certainly a great ski area for family since the amount of beginner-intermediate terrain in quite extensive. Even if most of the area is more family oriented, there was also some fairly serious terrain just under the tram.
Unfortunately, due to the wet-snow avalanche danger, these slopes were closed and we weren't able to ski them.

We made our way up and finally found some great snow even if it hadn't snow in a while. It was another great day under the sun, with cold powder and terrific view! 

From there, we drove towards Engelberg from which I've heard some great things. We made the drive towards Engelberg without any problems this time! As we got there, we were both stunned by the location. This mountain village is located at the end of a valley on a plateau with huge mountain everywhere around. 

The history of this location dates from the 13th century so we were certainly not the first one to like the view! We randomly picked up the Angels Lodge as our crashing place and it happened to be own and operated by a fellow Quebecer that pointed us all the best must run to do in Engelberg! It was certainly the best place we've stayed of our Swiss tour with the sauna, hot-tub and boot-drying place!!!

Even if the village is quite tourist oriented, it has been able to keep a cool lay-back feeling. We both went to bed figuring that if the resort was just half good of what we expected it to be, we would be sold!

It was, in fact, REALLY good. The orientation of the mountain preserves the snow much longer that in much of the resorts that we've skied on this trip. The terrain both inbound, the slackcountry or the backcountry was really good.

The powder was still dry even if the temperatures were way above 0 degree.

We unfortunately had to leave after only one day of skiing because we've been offered to fly around the Mt Blanc by Antoine, my Dad's friend. Engelberg was certainly my favourite resort I've visited in Europe. This is certainly a place I will put quite high on my list as a must-return destination for my next Alps trips.

We drove back from Engelberg straight to Geneva. Antoine as a pilot, has kindly offered us to fly near the Mt Blanc. The temperatures were summery-like with high around 20 degrees! We certainly couldn't had picked up a better day to fly! The plane was fairly small but it was great to have a view from above. We left from a small airport near Chambéry and head straight to the Mt Blanc.  This huge massif is certainly not any smaller from an airplane! We didn't flew around it but we went over some of the major french resorts which were packed due to the french spring break.

I was really impress to see how many avalanches has slid in the recent days with the warm temps. Good timing not to be touring around!

We left today to head back towards Frankfurt from where we are both flying tomorrow. On the way, an accident delayed our train and after running around in Basel, we eventually just catch our train to Frankfurt. My Dad will be flying to Montreal and I am leaving for Seattle. 

From Seattle, I will then be flying to Anchorage where I will be joined by Amelie. With more than 700 inches so far this year at Alyeska, it will certainly going to be quite good for skiing!

The end of a great European journey and the start of another great one!
Stay tuned, 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dry powder despite the summer-like temperature!!!

As planned, we went back to the 4 Vallées. This time, we parked on the Verbier side to get a faster access to the top of the Mt Fort at 3330m. 
From there, we had a really terrific view of the backcountry that was accessible from the resort. 

There was literally thousands of tracks that were heading to the slackcountry. Even if there was that many tracks, we were not surprised to see most of the skiers hiring a guide even if there wasn't any major on the hazard for this run. The options that required just a little hike cut the number of skier drastically.
The nice visibility pushed us to head towards an area near the Mont Parrain. To get to this area we had to ski on a small ramp that has seen some sun and froze overnight. My Dad said it was one of the sketchiest place he has get himself into. I've certainly seen him skied with more confidence before!
We finally put our skins under a really hard sun. The temperature was well over 0degrees and it was really hot on the way up!
We kept on climbing and finally get to a north facing slope who had some nice and dry powder. Even if it wasn't deep, it was great to be able to get some nice soft turn in such a warm weather! 
We eventually made it to the top of the Rosablanche Glacier to realized we only had about an hour of so left before the lift closed. If we didn't make it in time to the lift in Nendaz to get back to Verbier, we would have about 70km to drive to get to our car! There wasn't any time for some pictures and I kept pushing my Dad to hurry up by telling him that he would have plenty of time to rest on the chairlift!
We eventually made the about 2000m vertical run in time and finally got to Verbier in time. 
We came back for more backcountry since we only scratch the surface of what was laying behind Verbier the following day. As we got closer to the top, we realized that we wouldn't be able to get the visibility we were hoping for. After waiting for about 1h15 for the cloud to burn off, we made the decision to stay inbound. 
The resort was certainly tracked since it hadn't snowed for days, but on the north facing slope the snow was dry and on the south facing, it was some nice warm and soft spring-like conditions. We moved around this big mythical resort and I was certainly impress by some of the lines that has been skied when the conditions were better. 
Hopefully, I will be able to ski it one day in some great powdery conditions! 
We aimed the following day to a smaller family-size resort named Champex-Lac located in a valley nearby Verbier. This small resort only features 2 chairlift and one draglift. For what it lack in infrastructure, it certainly compensate with it's great steep terrain. The run located just under the main chairlift is one of the longest steep fall line I've seen in a while. Since it is not straight north facing, the snow had been warmed and wasn't so good to ski. 
We then made our way to a nearby north facing slope located in the Val d'Arpette valley. We had to climb to about 2500m to find some dry powder since the weather had keep on being over 0 degrees in the past days. You certainly had to believe that it was still possible to find some dry powder higher up and my Dad and I were both surprise about the quality of the snow we found. 
The warm temperature from the past days has released multiple wet avalanche from slopes at all orientations and just a slight difference in the orientation of the slope was enough to make a difference from crust to dry powder.
Since we have stayed around Martigny for about a week, we figured it would be nice to try some new areas (even if there was plenty of terrain we hadn't skied around!) and we left to head towards Simplon Pass. 
Located in between Switzerland and Italy at about 2000m, we thought it might be a great place to give a try. I've also seen couple of tours that were starting from there. It took about 1h15 to get there from Martigny and we were………. really disappointed when we finally got there. 
Most of the snow has been wind hammered and the conditions looked really rock-solid. 

We agreed it wouldn't worth trying to give it a try and we drove to completely changed area and started our drive to leave the Pennine Alps and get to the Bernese Alps (just north from them). 
To get there, we had get the car on a train to travel under the mountain. There is a somewhat car-ferry service that travel from one valley to the other to save some long travel. It was the first time I tried that and it was really nice and cool! The 4-5 hours became a 25minutes train ride for only 20$!!!
As we got to the other valley, it was again very warm and we enjoyed a little snack under what now seemed a nice summer sun!
Hopefully, we are going to be able some nice snow around here. It had (apparently) snowed a tiny bit in the past days. 

We'll see what we can find!
Auf wiedersen