Spring 2020 in France was a strict 2 month lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I didn’t see a soul for 55 days except for the gendarmes policing the lockdown outside my house, freely handing out fines to the unfortunates for minor misdemeanours. As soon as lock down lifted I went back to my spiritual home in the mountains with my friends and skied the North Face of Aiguille du Midi. What joy to be back skiing after a 2 month hiatus. The post lock down season would be a short one for me with the lift only open at the weekends and a massive project on a scale that was hard to comprehend drawing all my energy. However we made some nice days, Tacul, Gervasutti Couloir, Contamine Negri, and Col de la Brenva to finish the season. Soft spring snow made for relaxed skiing and some cloud in the Brenva Cirque made everything feel very atmospheric, oh an a massive rimaye at the bottom made for an exciting exit onto the debris cone. The slog back up the Valley Blanche in desert heat wasn’t so fun but the bars were open that night for the first time and the cold beer never tasted so good.
As the year draws to a close I can’t help but reflect on what a vintage year it has been – if I was lucky enough to be your guide then thank you for making it utterly brilliant for me – check out the photos below and revive some of those incredible memories. With the shortening of the days I’m sure you feel the craving to get out in the mountains just like me. It’s time to start dreaming and planning your next adventure whether it’s some specific life goal or simply getting a boost catching some winter sun in the Alps. For winter 19/20 I will be guiding out of Chamonix from November to May and I still have some gaps in my calendar so if you having been dreaming of that place where the magic happens then don’t delay, get in touch before its too late. It will be a pleasure to spend time in the mountains with you again or get to know you if its your first time. firstname.lastname@example.org
December 1st winter kicks off on skiing the Toula Glacier with the opening of Skyway (Helbronner) on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. The Aosta valley has ALOT of snow right now with its huge option of early season touring and sidecountry. Mid-December I’m holding a 3 day avalanche awareness course for the new employees at Bluebird Cafe and Solocal who are Chamonix newbees. Aiguille du Midi opens on December 13th and Grand Montets is already open at the weekends.
January and February will be deep endless powder days based in Chamonix and Skyway including some Valley Blanche action. I am also guiding in the secret stash spot of Sainte-Foy for the second year running and can’t wait to get back for its legendary trees and easy access backcountry.
March and April I already have 2 steep camps with clients who are looking to access the steep and deep in the big mountains. Snow cover will be at its best and the longer days open up the classic ski touring possibilities. The mind boggles at the endless possibilities.
May sees the return of 2 clients hunting specific big lines in Chamonix which is always a great time of year for the high mountain.
Early December days at Skyway are some of my favourite
Avalanche awareness and terrain management course on Brevent
Deep endless powder days, Plan de l’Aiguille
Ice climbing in December and January
Teaching snow anchors & fundamental skills for crevasse rescue
Teaching how to build an ice screw anchor and equalise it
La Sentinelle ski touring meet was in Chamonix this year and Monte Viso in 2020
Good cop, bad cop at La Sentinelle
Traditional mountain food at La Sentinelle
Snow Sports of Great Britain ski test at Pila, Italy
Thats a 70k camera! Working as a guide and stunt skier for a UK film
Ski touring in the Vanoise national park
Bespoke ski guiding for Andrew
No rush for the powder in the Tarentaise, enjoying a backcountry picnic
Steep camp heading to ski Aiguille du Plan South Face
Returning for Aiguille d’Argentiere
Deep day on Mont Blanc early May
Riding giants, those dream lines forming the North Wall of the Argentiere glacier
Classic alpinism on the Midi Plan traverse
Dawn at the Vallot shelter on the way to Mont Blanc
Sunrise on Mont Blanc as we summit
Scrambling with stunning views
Classic Swiss ridges, this one done in a day hit from Chamonix
Sunset on the Matterhorn
Summiting the Matterhorn under 4 hours
The Matterhorn at sunset
Classic Italian Ridges easily accessible from Chamonix
Christmas as Skyway
A short film of Ross Hewitt and Dave Searle skiing lines on Aoraki Mount Cook 2019 including a new line on the Caroline Face, a descent of the East Face in deep powder and the second descent of the Bowie Couloir after Andreas Fransson and Magnus Kastengren’s descent in 2012.
In the words of Sam Smoothy ‘sometimes New Zealand can be a cold hearted mistress.’ She was certainly giving us the ultimate in cold shoulder treatment as day after day the South Island got battered by storm force winds as much as 75 mm of precip. The Wyn Irwin hut near Mount Cook village provided us with friendly and cosy refuge. Amongst the temporary residents were the guardian Cam Mulvey, Laura from the DOC Kia Preservation Project, Aussie Tim who was on the Plateau hut build team, Eifel from Singapore and Beau Fredlund from Yellowstone and endless banter passed the time and kept spirits high. It was a chance to adjust to the 12 hour time change, clear the mind and focus on what lay ahead, and do some trail running surrounded by the lakes and glaciers of the rugged Hooker valley.
Back in June Smoothy and myself had started talking about collaborating on some ski projects in the Southern Alps but a dry August had me holding back from buying a airline ticket. Finally in September the snow came and when I saw some activity in the mountains I pressed the button on a ticket. After beating around the bush for a while swapping messages we got to the point and started discussing a new line on the 1400 m Caroline Face. This had seen its first descent in 2017 by Grant, Mosetti and Briggs, a trip I had to pull out of at the last moment due to herniating the lowest disc in my spine onto the sciatic nerve root. A big glaciated face like this changes from season to season and when the door on one line closes others may open. To put it in context the West Face of Mont Blanc is similar in size and holds 4 independent ski routes which are rarely all in condition simultaneously. Since skiing 1000 m + faces is in powder is my thing, I still had an interest in the Caroline Face and the opportunities it holds for skiers. That said it pays to be careful who you speak to outside of the steep skiing fraternity as it makes the uninitiated uncomfortable as their pulse quickens, the blood drains from their face and they stare at your through glazed over eyes as if you are crazy. Its just a question of what you are used to and my last runs in my backyard where Couturier, Mallory and the ultra tech steep and exposed Aiguille du Plan North Face. In Chamonix anything is possible but in NZ you need one day when you won’t be ripped off the mountain by then wind catching the skis on your pack. Doesn’t sound like too much to ask right?
I was all set to fly solo, relishing the chance to do my own thing after a busy guiding summer. So it was a surprise bonus when Dave Searle asked what I was up to and bought a ticket too.
The breaks in the weather were small this spring, mainly too short to make a valley approach and ski the next day and It seemed unlikely there would be sufficiently weather window to make it worthwhile for local Smoothy to hook up. So when we saw a tiny couple hour window we jumped at the opportunity to fly into Plateau hut and get amongst the skiing. We landed there in -20C and bottomless powder that was going to make getting up anything a challenge. Here’s what we got up to.