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Haute Maurienne Skiing ....Where, we hear you ask...

By Andy Townsend, Head of Snowsports.....Rain is running in mini rivulets down the windows of the patisserie as I stir my café au lait for the hundredth time. This was supposed to be a late season ski touring holiday, instead it had turned into a few days of dodging the weather, making plans, and changing those plans whilst watching the remaining days of our holiday get washed away with the never ending rain.

The offending weather system was stretched across the central Alps and was dumping wet heavy snow with strong winds on all our possible itineraries. Instead of skiing we were getting frustrated in the valley. A chance meeting with British Mountain Guide, Andy Teasdale had let to our third or fourth coffee of the day. As I stirred my cup, I pondered why Andy was looking so relaxed; he had a group of clients for a ski touring week, so why wasn’t he pouring over maps and avalanche reports trying to find somewhere to ski?

With a scrape of his chair Andy stood, zipped up his jacket. “Right, thanks for the coffee, I’m off to ski in the sunshine of the Haute Maurienne, tata” and with that he was gone.

Where?

It took us a little time to find the Haute Maurienne on a map, but sure enough the area lies to the south of Val d’Isere and the Gran Paradiso and was forecast to miss the incoming weather. A quick trip to the map shop and we were on our way to Val d’Isere with a loose plan for a tour.

We left the car at Le Fornet, a small village above the main ski area and rode the cable car, first in thick cloud and finally breaking through in brilliant sunshine

Another couple of ski lifts and we were at the top of the Gran Pisailes Galcier at almost 3400m. A faint skin track headed away towards the skyline and as we slid along this the final clouds melted away leaving a magnificent vista dominated by the mighty peak of L’Albaron 3637m to the south, whilst behind us the main peaks of the Alps were blanketed in thick, dark clouds.

After this short skin we ripped off skins and buckled up boots for our first turns with visibility in a whole week. Following the line of the summer road we swooped down the Col d’Iseran to the small Savoie village of Bonneval-sur-Arc, a descent of almost 2000 metres. As we settled into the small Club Alpin Francais hut, right in the centre of the village we had to reflect that as a first day it hadn’t been too tricky and with a pizza restaurant less than a stones throw away made this one of the best unmanned huts in the Alps!

The following day was a leisurely start, waiting on the hut’s sunny terrace for Philippe from the pizza restaurant to give us a lift down the road to start our ascent to the Refuge d’Averole. He turned up very fashionably late in a pick up truck with the passenger seat occupied by the biggest, hairiest dog I’d ever seen. The plan was for Philippe to drop us as high on the road as the snow would allow. Obviously he forgot this plan and rammed his 4x4 truck into the snow bank and began churning his way uphill with us bouncing happily in the back of the truck. We said farewell to our driver after a pretty determined piece of snow driving and with only a couple of kilometres to the hut we started to make a plan for an afternoon ‘bonus’ loop .

We were met outside the hut by the guardian, who was very pleased to have some more end of season ski tourers. Feeling like we should do our bit to help we agreed to have lunch before embarking on a short tour. What followed was one of the finest alpine lunches ever, dried meats and cheeses followed by the biggest ham and cheese omelette I’ve ever seen.

Feeling pretty stuffed we embarked on a tour to the summit of the nearby Ouille d’Arberon 3554m, which gave superb steep skiing right from the summit before the slopes became more gentle and the snow softened to give easy fast spring snow skiing back to the hut in time for another large hut meal!

Leaving the hut early the next morning was a bit of shock, cold and hard under foot we struggled to keep warm as we climbed steeply to the foot of the summit rocks of L’Albaron. Keen to keep warm we swarmed up the fixed ropes onto the summit and briefly took in the view of the surrounding area.

A cold wind nudged us to keep moving and we began a long and rocky scramble down the east ridge. The ridge was quite a surprise, technical and interesting, it kept going and going. The chilly wind was constant and we were keen to get off this technical ground as soon as possible. Eventually we were able to cunningly weave around the last gendarme and down climb to reach the snow at the col. Basking on the sheltered windless side of the ridge we gently warmed up before skiing the steep and powdery descent to the Refuge des Evettes. Having been on the move more or less all morning we were tired and hungry when we arrived at the hut just after 1pm – time for lunch, and the guardian’s recommendation: an omelette of course, this time with potatoes, Savoie cheeses and cream! Another delicious lunch followed by an afternoon nap restored us and our appetites in time for dinner.

We left the Refuge des Evettes in an early morning mist with bright sunlight above promising another stunning day. Our route north to the Refuge de Carro crossed 3 cols and traversed 2 large glacial plateaus with a reputation for tricky crevasses and difficult route finding. In reality we had good snow cover and the crossing was made quicker than thought, so with time to spare we looked for another bonus loop. A quick skin up to the mini summit of l’Uja 3379m gave us another 300m of height gain but more importantly the chance to ski a continuous slope directly to the hut. The west facing glacier had helped keep the snow cold and with little direct sunlight the top half was untracked powder – bonus loop indeed! We didn’t quite have the slope to ourselves - as we left the summit we noticed alone ski tourer following our skin track. Our descent was over all too quickly and we arrived to find the hut deserted, like an alpine ‘Marie Celeste’. Instead of a welcoming Guardian we were met by a bucket of snow stuffed with beers and a note saying that the guardian had gone for a ski and would be back shortly. As we sipped our beers on the terrace of the hut we watched the skier who had followed us rip down the powder and skid to a halt directly in front of us.

“Hi I’m Cedrick, the guardian. Do you fancy some lunch? An Omelette perhaps!”

The touring options from the Carro hut are quite extensive but sadly the following morning we were out of time, a ferry booking for late that evening couldn’t be change so before dawn we clicked into our skis and began the slow skin back to the slope above Val d’Isere. We arrived on the col overlooking the pistes before the lifts had even started up for the day. Now I love touring and skiing untracked snow but ripping down a freshly groomed piste with no other skiers is a secret pleasure. We left neat tracks in the corduroy snow from 3300m right to the bumper of our car 2000m lower and were changing in the carpark as the first ski buses began ferrying in the day skiers. A quick coffee and pain au chocolate and we were on the road headed north, a late night crossing and we arrived at my parents’ house just before 11 o’clock. Mum was of course delighted to see us, she happily fussed around the kitchen preparing cup of teas:

”Are you hungry? I could quickly knock up an Omelette”

For details on the Haute Maurienne 2018 course details, visit www.glenmorelodge.org.uk.

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