Thursday, January 29, 2015

A chainless RV is a useless RV!

For the next two weeks, I planned a trip around the Alps with my good friends from Quebec. We rented a RV from a guy about an hour from Grenoble. I picked it up and drove to the airport to pick them up. We were trying to build up from our previous misadventures of 2011.
The boys landed in Geneva according to the plan with all their luggages. 
The best snowpack and weather forecast seemed to be in the northwestern part of Ticino (the Italian side of Switzerland). 

With the recent explosion of the Swiss franc, it made sense to load up on supplies in France. After a 2 hours grocery, we were finally all packed and ready to roll.
The road conditions were certainly not the best with some snow falling in the plains of Switzerland. The boys were not paying much attention since they were catching up from their previous sleepless night. We eventually stopped near the northern entrance of the Gothard tunnel on our way to Airolo.
The following morning, we drove the last kilometers that were separating us from the good snow and at the end of the 17km long tunnel, the snow was there.

We were fairly excited and figured the Val Bedretto valley will probably offers us some good options. After a few kilometers, we stopped to put the chains on. 

First one got on in a minute, but we weren’t able to put the second one on. 
We tried for 30 minutes moving the RV back and forth and taking the chain on and off. 

We eventually took the already put on one to compare the two to realize that the chain that were coming with the camper have been previously broken and badly repaired. We unsuccessfully tried to repaired them and had to set up for another option. 

We spotted some ski tracks coming from the Val Canaria and with not that much time to look for another option, we put the skins on and started to hike up. 
Being new to the area, we didn’t had much idea of where we were going and eventually spotted a treed ridge on which we thought it would be nice to make some turns. The wind was really strong at the treeline and we figure it wouldn’t be interesting to go any higher. 

Snow was fairly crappy near the top, but it got better a bit lower down. 

After a few good turns, we try to figure some good skiable tree run on the way down, but it was mostly a tree-smashing-marathon, that needed to be rinse with some mulled wine (gluhwein)...

We tried to get some new chains the following day, but there was none in town. A garage offered us to order them and to come pick them up by the end of the day. Since the snow coverage was getting thinner and thinner going down from Airolo, we bought a single ride up and figured that it would be nice to give a try to the backcountry near from the resort. 

As we were going up in the tram, Jeff realize that his skiboot looked weird. We then realized that the top-piece was broken. After a quick fix, we left him and headed out to check the snow conditions. 
We had to look for some wind protected aspect to find good snow. Anything that the wind could have hitted was hard and crusty. After poking around, we eventually found some good snow on which we managed to carve some nice turns. 

After a few good laps we went back to the RV to go buy some new chains. 
The following day, we all had in mind to go check out the Val Bedretto since it was our original plan. With beefier chains, confidence was maximum. We drove until we found some snow, stopped to put the chains. Start driving and after about 2m (that is 6feet), one of our new chain broke...

We were all bummed and pissed. We drove back to the car dealer to expose our point and he said that he would return them and if he gets a credit (which can take around 2-3weeks, it would send it by bank transfer... We haven’t heard from him yet...

We went back to the area located lookers left of the Airolo resort to make some more turns. We found some good openings through the trees and manage to get some not super deep but smooth turns. 
A bit sick of not being able to drive on the road around Airolo, we left to try something better. 
After a long internet stop and some debates during which Jeff bought some new boots, we figured that driving towards the Swiss Valais could be a good option.
We stopped near Gruyère (home of the famous cheese) and figured that we would finish the road the following morning. 
As we were driving towards Martigny, we saw some nice looking lines on the Fribourg Alps but we ignored them since we thought it would be better in the Valais just 30-40km from there. 

As we were entering into the valley, we realized that we probably made a mistake and that it would have been better near the Fribourg Alps. We drove up to the Col de la Forclaz, since it is one of the higher point from which you can start skinning. 
Even then, the snowpack was less than 30cm and most of it was unpack snow. 
We skinned up anyway even if rocks and the surroundings were really not looking good. 

We eventually stopped on the first plateau, got some panoramic photo and eventually start to ski down and try not to ruin our skis. 
We made it down safely following our skintrack and then drive down to Martigny to try to make a plan. 
With some major snowfall on the forecast for the nearby Chamonix area and dry road, we figure it would be better to drive there and wait for the snow to come. 
With all the weather forecast calling for a major dump, hopefully it would be right for once!
Snow is on its way!!!

Friday, January 23, 2015

You can’t win them all!

I’d heard snow conditions were crap in Grenoble, but I just couldn’t have imagined how bad it was. With report of rain all the way to 2500m, it was quite a fairly depressing view all around the city.
For the first time in 10 years, I didn’t ski for my birthday and stayed home drinking spiced up coffee under the warm sun!
Snow was nowhere to be seen around....
The problem was not only for France, but Switzerland also suffered from a late winter start. Most of the mountainous country was seeing about half of the snow they usually get.
A storm was forecasted to start warm with  rain, changing up to 15 cm of snow expected in the northern Swiss Alps. It sure wasn’t the best forecast ever, but when you don’t have much, you bite at whatever shows up!
With Amelie onboard, we drove to the resort Meiringen near Interlaken about 4 hours from Grenoble to see if the forecast could be wrong the best way possible!
It was supposed to be a small resort with some nice slackcountry options.

As we got to their main ski base, one thing was sure : it didn’t snowed 20cm overnight! 
Actually, it rained fairly high up and the wind scoured the ridges.
Damn, the forecast wrong, but in the worst kind of way!

After cruising around the resort, we eventually found some good snow on wind-loaded  aspects. The main problem about this resort is that it is fairly flat besides some steep aspects (that didn’t had much snow). More family than skier looking for steep and deep must
Anyway, it was still fairly nice to ski in the shadow of the famous Eiger!
Back to Grenoble, some snow fell in the nearby pre-Alps mountains. With reports of more than 50cm of new snow in the Vercors, we figured it would be good!

Amelie and I had to go check it out! . After debating about which option to choose from, we left aiming for the Roc de Cornafion.

We parked at the Conversarie, near Villard-de-Lans and left the car into a really thick fog. We followed an already put on skintrack.
As we were making our way up, it was clear that the snow that was reported was fairly exagerated. With no base, rocks were showing up pretty often in the skintrack. 
We eventually stopped as the slope was getting steeper. We both didn’t like the idea of skinning into an unknown terrain without knowing what was hanging above us. The future got us right since 4 days after we skied this gully, an avalanche came down and unfortunately killed one teenager who was doing a tour without a beacon. The snowpack is really not the greatest this year.
We got some fairly decent turns near the top, where the snow was deeper, but eventually started loosing confidence after we both hit bottom rocks and stomps.

As we were going down, we even had to take our skis off and walk down because it wasn’t really skiable...
By the end, I was mostly doing alpine turns because I was staying more near the surface than by doing tele turns...
With some snow on the forecast and the arrival of some of my friends for an RV roadtrip, I hope skiing will get better!