Chamonix 2018 went down as one of those all time seasons. Sometimes when you in the midst of it all skiing routes and planning the next one, there is so little time to see just how good it was. But putting these clips toegther made me realise how lucky we were. Even more so because in the preseason and about to depart for New Zealand’s Caroline Face, I got injured with a sequestrated L5-S1. Hobbling around Cham in mortal agony with a paralysed sciatic nerve that caused my glutes and calf muscles to wither and die, a successful ski season with around 15 North Face runs seemed a very unrealistic goal. Thanks to all those obsessive ski bums who I shared those turns with, those that sacrifice it all, coming from round the World, to ski down Chamonix’s big mountains.
Its been a while since I posted a blog and thats mainly because after a few dry years it started snowing in Europe early December and kept snowing until the end of May. That meant it was a pretty full on 6 months with very little time to put ‘pen to paper’ so to speak.
I started the winter with a herniated L5-S1 disc which caused muscle wastage, power and recruitment speed in my leg. For example if I tried to stand on my tip toes my left leg would sink until my heal was on the floor. Thanks to the Osteo/Pro-runner Carlton Rowlands I mannaged a fast comeback. The recovery went from the lows of skiing down the Midi arete in December and taking my skis off midway, unable to handle the vibration without nerve pinching and having uncontrolled leg movement, to basically doing my stuff and not holding back.
Mid winter also included 2 months of ski guiding and the IFMGA ski guides test which I am happy to report went smoothly for me. 3 exams down and all thats left is the final alpine test this August which I’m now fully focused on.
With a lot of my ski partners injured or retired, I did a lot of solo missions and decided to leave my camera at home and take the gopro out for a change to capture a few of my powder turns. I’m a very impatient person so taking time to make good edits while getting ready to go out the following day is not my strong point but it gives a flavour of how good the skiing in Europe was this year. These are all edits from the high mountain and arguable the most fun skiing was in the trees early December with an incredible base over the spines and ridges before the Christmas and January rain.
Here’s a few of the memorable days:
Col de la Verte with Drew Tabke
Mallory with Tof Henry, Arthur Ghilini, Nate Wallace and Chris
Mallory with Tof Henry, Jacob Wester and Babs Charlet
Pain de Sucre with Dave Searle and Guillaume Mars
Midi North Face – Col du Plan with Jacob Wester, Bird Early and Andre Dalkarl
Midi North Face – Col du Plan with Miilet de Papy
West Couloir, Aiguille du Midi with Miilet de Papy
Oreilles de Lapin with Michelle Blaydon
Cosmiques Couloir with Jesper Petersson
Rocco with Tof Henry, Benjamin Carvallo, Raimundo de Andraca, Galo Viguera
Rond with Tof Henry, Benjamin Carvallo, Raimundo de Andraca, Galo Viguera
Para Face with Cedric Bernardini, Luca Martini, Jamie
Cosmiques Couloir with Jacob Wester, Andre Dalkarl and Michelle Blaydon
Droites SW Face, solo from first lift on Aiguille du Midi, -30C morning!
Cosmiques Couloir with Michelle Blaydon
Oreilles de Lapin with Erik Wallner
Aiguille de Mesure NE Face, Aiguilles Rouges, solo
Solo skiing from the bend of Couturier in flat light as the cloud rolled in, then an afternoon sun run on Z de Papy the same day
Early February powder run on Col de la Verte from where it got rocky mid height
Solo run finding the complex line on Z de Papy
Skyway, Rond and Para Face with Jesper Petersson and Guillaume Mars
Solo training on the an icy Rond early season with a loaded arete
South Face of Tour Ronde into Brenva Glacier before Christmas with Michelle Blaydon and Morgan Sahlen
Col des Courtes with Tof Henry and Andre Darlkarl
Shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul with Michelle Blaydon, probably the best top to bottom snow quality I’ve ever come across
Pre-Christmas Couloir Cache into the Brenva Glacier with Tom Coney
A solo mission hitching through to Skyway, under the cables, Marbree and then back to Chamonix via the Valley Blanche. Marbree was so sick until I hit a rock and broke my 2 day old ski under the foot. It happened to be my left leg that took the shock which was recovering from the disc herniation onto the sciatic nerve route for that leg. After more than a little worry I’d suffer a setback, I woke up fine the next day. Lucky, very lucky.
Today I wanted to get out and put some miles in my legs. On the back of the pre-Christmas Scottish Winter Climbing season and very little road biking this summer they are even more spindly than normal and we started the ski season with a fair bit of touring. So with great snow conditions I have the chance to get some strength back. I left the SLR at home in order to go light and enjoy the skiing more but had a little point and shoot.
I was joined by Max Turgeon and we kicked off on Brevent to take advantage of the fresh snow on the lowers. Cold, sluffy blower was lying in wait and we had a lot of fun playing with sluff.
The plan praz couloir. Max skiing below.
After Brevent started to warm up I switched to the darkside and had some sweet runs off the Plan going flat out. Then as the sun came round I decided to head up the Midi and do a Rond or Cosmique. For a change I went for the Cosmiques which is always lush in the afternoon sun, all to yourself, no one trying to kill you with rocks from above, and overhead blower so cold I wished I had a gimp mask.
Only 2 or 3 tracks today.
Me enjoying the warmth of the sun after the cold on the Midi. My leg muscles were well warmed up by the time the para came round and it felt good to finish the day on such a good slope arcing out the GS turns.
After a wicked day skiing powder in the Rocco and Rond we rushed home to get bivi gear and food together, then raced up the valley to GM to catch the last bin up on their last opening day. All the lines that were in condition in the Argentiere basin had been skied several times by the team so Luca, Sylvain and myself decided to go to the Aiguille d’Argentiere to ski a variation of the classic Barbey.
In the pre-dawn we skied down from our bivi and started to skin up the Argentiere glacier. Luca wanted to take a ‘short cut’ up a direct line on the morraine rather than skin round the usual way where there was already a skin track. It didnt appeal to me so I went my own way. My stomach was giving me jib and struggling to get a tour rhythm I had frequent stops to take photos as the sun hit the North Wall of the Argentiere basin.
Arriving in the Milieu I could see a pair way up ahead and realised I had been faffing a bit too much. At the rimaye I caught up with the others only to find it was a guide and client wearing a Luca look-a-like kit. With them no where to be see and no phone reception I assumed they had kit problems and turned back. With only half an hour to the summit I was at least going to go that far. On the summit ridge at 9 am a cold wind was blowing from the SW so I couldnt wait around long. Sure the boys had bailed out, I wasnt psyched to play with the cornice on our intended route and decided to go down the Barbey. Once onto the East Face it was much more pleasant being sheltered from the wind and I shed a couple of layers. I felt sorry for the teams skiing the Milieu which looked destined to remain bullet hard all day in the wind. Traversing right I joined our intended line and was able to put in some big GS turns in the untracked pow. Lower down this line hits a big cliff so I cut back right into the Barbey where conditions were disgusting – it had been skied late on a previous day and the slope trashed as the wet snow was set running. An hour later I was over Col du Chardonnet and back at the Lognan end of season party by lunchtime.
I am the little dot near the top of the headwall. Luca’s short cut cost them one hour!
Monday saw the usual gathering of steep skiers at the Midi hungry for those oh so ephemeral routes that come into condition for just a few hours of perhaps one morning a year before the sun strips the snow off them. There is the usual stress with the potential for everyone to pile into the same place. A French team go into the Mallory which looked good but only 2 small snowfalls have covered the glacial ice on the upper slopes. Col du Plan’s ice is also showing so Luca Pandolfi, Sylvain Reynaud and myself head to the Rocco. This is the Rond entry to the Cosmiques, often rocky but good right now and a variation that I hadn’t done.
Luca scoping the entry
Looking down the Rocco into the Cosmiques
The big Italian completes the stability test!
Me waiting on the arrete
Me following the trough left by 2 160 snowboards on my 191 skis. The guy above dropped his pole which hit me in the face – thanks!
You can see the sluff from the guy skiing above coming over the rocks. We really started to like these guys!!!
Luca approaching the step.
Looking back up at me. Think I will rap now there is no snow and I have newish skis!
Start of lap 2 skiing down the North Face side of the arrete. The speed flier standing next to Luca sadly paid the ultimate price on his last run. When we came round the traverse his body was being recovered by the PGHM in the avalanche cone. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.