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TR: Vanoise Vacation

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Another April and another chance to go ski touring. This time our group declined the opportunity to contribute to the offpisteskiing pension fund and, instead, opted for a home grown tour. This was to be our first trip without a guide so we chose to visit some well known country and keep some easy objectives with plenty of bail-out options. That's how we ended up in Pralognan with a plan to circuit the Pointe de la Sana in the Vanoise National Park.

Problems with the weather in the Maurienne last year taught us the benefits of flexible accommodation. Through some sleuthing, Mrs A managed to find us an apartment for up to 6 belonging to the Hotel du Grand Bec for 8 days at only 350 euros.

Flights were with Jet2 from Manchester to Chambery where we hired a car using the Snowheads magic Holiday Autos link. Things didn't work quite as expected though as, despite booking a Ford Mondeo Estate (IWMR), we ended up with a VW Tiguan (IFMR) which, although fancier, is a good deal smaller. It took a lot of rearranging to get all our bags in the boot and those on the back seat found it snug.

Sunday, 3rd April 2011
Anyway, we made it and here we all are on the balcony on the first morning looking forward to exploring the *cough* extensive Pralognan ski area. Guess who saved 100g by leaving his braces behind!



First stop was the top of the Genepi chair to have a look at where we expected to head off the next day. There is certainly some pretty scenery around here.



Then all the way down to the bottom again to test our route home. Then up the cable car and the big 6-man chair to the top of the resort to look for a bit of 'interesting' skiing. On our second run down we kept left in the softer stuff off the edge of the piste. We were almost back to firmer ground when Bridget took a head-long tumble. We didn't know it at the time but she managed to break her humerus just below the shoulder. We tried to get her down but soon realised she was in too much pain so called in the professionals.



Kerching - that'll be 320 euros please. In fact they were happy just to take her name and address on the assumption that Snowcard would pay up quickly. They were also quite generous as they could have charged the off piste rate of 640 euros! But that was just the start of it. Then there was the medical centre at the foot of the slopes, then the private ambulance (plastic required) to Moûtiers hospital, the 2.5 hour operation and four days recovery at over 1000 euros a day. Thank goodness for insurance!

This left the rest of us in something of a quandary. The plan had been to start the tour on Monday but we didn't want to just set off leaving Bridget to the care of the hospital. Eventually, the news came through that she would be operated on Monday morning and we could visit in the evening. We decided to start a day late and drop the day trip to Pointe de la Met.

Monday, 4th April 2011

We needed something to do that was vaguely on the way to Moûtiers. Some of the party had already been to La Plagne this year and there was little enthusiasm for Champagny so we opted for Courchevel instead. We parked up at 1650 near the scene of the fire earlier in the year and set off in the gloom.



The weather was warm and wet and we weren't really in the mood anyway. But we wended our way as far as La Tania where the straw-covered mud provided some amusement.



We also took a turn in the avalanche park (now under the Biolley chair) and reminded ourselves how difficult it is to locate transceivers when there are several going off at once.

We finished early and, even then, the only link open back to 1650 was the track under the altiport. On the chair up the other side we saw a big wet slide had come half way across the Roc Mugnier piste. Things were not looking promising.

Still, down at Moûtiers, we found that Bridget's op had gone well and she told us to go off and enjoy ourselves. On our way back to the apartment we stopped off in Bozel for a swift half and a chat with offpisteskiing. Simon was very generous with his advice and said that, since the forecast for the rest of the week was good, Monday had probably been a good day to miss.

Tuesday, 5th April 2011

Take two:



We had planned to use the Edelweiss and Genepi chairs to get us most of the way but they didn't begin until 9 o'clock so we had a fairly relaxed start. We got to the lift office only to find that neither would be working all day! Instead we had to use the cable car and then ski down to the mid point. By the time we got to the top of Genepi it was nearly 10:30. Still, we were in good company. One of the other tourers looked as though she was in her 80s.



The soft snow from here on made for slow progress so it was nearly 1pm when we reached the Refuge de Col de la Vanoise. This was much later than we expected and there was still some way to go. Progress across the col was unbearably slow but we suddenly had to snap to again for the steep descent to the Pont de Croé-Vie.



Although the gradient was very gentle, progress up the valley was even worse. Every so often there would be a 'whoompf' and the snow in a 5m radius about us would drop perhaps 100mm. More frequently, an oval about a metre wide and nearly the length of the skis would drop a bit further but the real killer was when one or both skis would disappear up to knee depth and require something like a kick turn to get them out again. It took three hours to cover the five and a bit kilometres to the Refuge de la Leisse. It was gone 6:30pm when we arrived and we were all bushed.

The guardians have recently moved on so for the time being visitors have to fend for themselves. Luckily, a solitary Frenchman had arrived long before us and was able to get the stove going before we staggered in. The facilities are good and we soon had some food inside us and were off to bed. Those going out late to clean their teeth were able to see a fox having a good mooch about. If we'd left a door open he would have been in.

Wednesday, 6th April 2011

A combination of tiredness and first day packing issues meant we weren't away until 8 o'clock - far too late really. At least navigation wasn't much of an issue as we just followed the valley for a way. Although there were plenty of tracks crossing it, because of the warm weather we opted to skirt the big lake just in case.



Then it was just a big rising traverse - although steep in parts. In the background is the Grande Motte with the pylon for the cable car on the skyline and the Leisse piste dropping towards us.



We were heading for a col sans nom where the blue line on the map crosses the ridge but when we got there it seemed easier to go for the lower col (marked 2999m) nearby.



On the other side we traversed back and then had a wonderful run down to the lumpy meadows at the start of the Tour du Charvet. This was the highlight of the trip.



It was already gone midday so it was with some trepidation that we entered the narrows for the lower 2/3. Avalanche city or what! So much had come down already that there didn't seem to be much left to go. We tried not to linger but it was flippin' hard work fighting through all that debris - fortunately, by now, quite soft. I wish I'd taken some photos but my mind was elsewhere.

We 'escaped' at about 1pm and John announced he needed to eat so we just sat around in the sun having our lunch. No sooner had we started again up the next valley than we bumped into offpisteskiing again. No doubt he was just checking we were okay Wink

It's probably only 3km up to the Refuge du Fond des Fours but what with a drinks stop and all the soft snow it took us over three hours. Still, it's a lovely spot. You can't quite see the lights but Andy is looking down on the flesh-pots of Val d'Isere miles below.



Thursday, 7th April 2011

By now we were all thoroughly exhausted so we opted to skip any attempt on the Aiguille de Méan Martin and head directly to the Refuge de la Femma where we knew our cheese board was waiting. This is a route we had done before but somehow we'd all forgotten this steep pitch soon after the hut (mid left of photo). I think the big thing in the background is the Aiguille de la Grande Sassiére, way to the North of Val.



Then it was the long level and gently up that we remembered.



At the Col du Pisset (3000m) we were treated to a display by the Patrouille de France (French Red Arrows) as they dropped multi-coloured smoke all over Val. Then we dropped down towards La Femma by a more-or-less direct route. More fine skiing although perhaps we were a little early to catch it at its best.



We had lunch within sight of the hut and then rolled up before just 1pm to spend a leisurely afternoon on the balcony trying to avoid getting burnt. Our Frenchman from La Leisse was already there but he was catering for himself in the winter room. We had the run of the main hut until these two snow-shoers arrived having slogged it all the way from Termignon. It looked like very hard work. Sam must be over 6 foot with legs up to her armpits but, apparently, even she was disappearing up to her crotch in places. They must both be fit - two days before, a large party made the same trip but didn't get to the hut until 10:15.



I managed to earn us free wine with the meal by fixing the dishwasher and then finding a leak in the plumbing and talking through the job with a Scottish plumber who was coming up from Termignon a few days later. I hope he managed it okay - everything was in the most awkward position imaginable.

Friday, 8th April 2011

We planned to cross the Col de Pierre Blanche on the way back to the Col de la Vanoise so aimed to be off by our normal time of 7 o'clock. Well we nearly managed it! Poor snow cover meant we had to head off in the wrong direction and do a big loop up onto the shoulder behind the hut.



But, try as we might, we couldn't avoid the grass.



Even when we got to the shoulder, route finding was none too easy with lots of 'features' to negotiate.



After nearly 3 hours we'd only managed to travel about half the distance and half the ascent to the col so we decided to abandon the idea of crossing it. We gave in reluctantly, but to carry on could have put us in an awkward position.

So we descended back to the valley. Luckily, we found a ribbon of, now very soft, snow that went to within a 100m or so of the track. If we'd carried on any further there would have been some serious walking to get to the valley bottom.



It was now 11 o'clock and the snow was well soft - and pitted where the snow-shoers had come up. It's just 7km down the track to the bridge over the Torrent de Leisse but it took us an utterly exhausting 3 hours to cover it.



At one point we seriously considered diverting to the nearby Refuge du Plan du Lac where we knew there was a winter room but we opted to press on anyway. Although we wanted to keep moving we needed food so we stopped by the bridge.



By now there were plenty of bare patches so we opted to slog up the snow caught in the zigzag path that winds its way up the east-facing slope. I did the first stint at the front and in 1.5 hours we'd ascended only 200 metres! In the background is the valley we had spent all morning descending.



Later, the route turns into more of a traverse but, instead of gradient, we now had debris to cope with - at least it was soft and could be beaten into submission. Ahead is the Grande Casse and round to the right is the Leisse valley where we'd headed three days previously.



Even on the col itself we still had a fight on our hands.



But at least we were treated to some fantastic views as we rolled in to the Refuge de Col de la Vanoise (RHS) just after dinner had started. In the distance, in the middle, is Verdons and the Saulire of Courchevel.



The two young guardians didn't mind at all and couldn't have been more welcoming. In fact, all the guardians were fantastic despite us being difficile - one is vegetarian and one gluten-free. I think the relationship is a little different if you travel without a guide.

A young couple turned up at nearly 9 o'clock. I had a fondle of her TLT5s and it was love at first sight! The 32km Transvanoise rando race was on the next day and they were setting out part of the course.

Saturday, 9th April 2011

There were 14 others staying and some of them were having breakfast at 4:15. We had planned to have a shot at the Pointe de la Rechasse (nice views of where we'd been) but it really wasn't on the cards. We were all too exhausted. Fortunately, the guardians didn't mind us having a lie-in and, although they normally shut at 8, they said we could leave when we were ready.

The intention was for a leisurely amble back to Pralognan but the ruts and the rock-hard snow made for some hard work. We met lots of folk with ropes and ice-screws heading in the other direction and they gave us some quizzical looks. On guy asked if we'd already been up the Casse but I had to shamefully admit we'd only come from the refuge! There were many more course setters too with sacks full of flags.

We lingered in the Barmettes for several coffees while we waited for the pistes to soften...



Then past the pretty hamlet of Les Fontanettes...



And finally to the bottom where they'd been fighting hard to keep the place open.



We arrived back at the apartment to find Bridget was home and in one piece. We had a leisurely afternoon drying everything on the balcony and then packing ready for the trip home.

Sunday, 10th April 2011

Here we are trying to squeeze everything in, or on, a frosty Tiguan. The apartment is on the middle floor of the pink building in the background.



The trip home went without a hitch. Snowcard had arranged a wheelchair for B even though she could walk quite happily. What she really needed was a porter for her bags but we managed between us. Chambery is getting ever busier and the poor design of the check-in is really starting to show now. Still, it's much more pleasant than GVA.

Battery issues meant that little Garmin stopped for part of the way round but this is a log of most of our trip.



All in all it was more of an experience than a holiday but I'm sure we'll be back for more next year.


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Tue 19-04-11 14:55; edited 5 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
altis, That's a great report. Sounds an amazing experience. Thanks for posting.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Brilliant. A fabulous read. Thanks.
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You need to Login to know who's really who.
altis, great report.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
altis, nice work Cool
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You'll need to Register first of course.
altis many thanks for the good read and the excellent pictures makes a good change from has this been the worst snow year ever!
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
nicely done!
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
altis, Top TR!
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 You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
altis, Touring is sooo not my bag BUT I have loved reading this report. Thanks so much for posting it - A really great piece
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Ski the Net with snowHeads
altis, great report. Thanks for sharing it with us.
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
Good report thanks!
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
altis, thanks. A much enjoyed trip report. I really don't have either the courage or the skill to do it myself but am very happy to tour vicariously!
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Great report. Hope Bridget mends quick!
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
A proper week in the Mountains!!
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
altis, Epic !! Happy
Hope B's recovery is going well!
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Thanks for all the kind comments folks.

And hey, it wasn't an epic 'cos we always got in before sunset Wink

We did find it exhausting though. Not helped by us losing an hour the weekend before and another on the way. Andy brought with him a dreadful cough and cold that he never got rid of and passed on to the rest of us. Good job we had a dorm to ourselves most nights! Oh, and we're all the wrong side of 50 now - John is even over 60. We're still not recovered now and it's been a week. The thought of mechanical uplift is definitely appealing!

The snow seemed to change from hardpack to glutinous porridge all in the space of an hour somewhere in the middle of the morning. We should have been up very early and setting off with headtorches but we just didn't have the will to do it. I'm not sure there was anything else we could have done to make life easier.

We've spoken to B a couple of times this week and she's doing fine. She's very stoical about these things. Useful, as she broke her collar bone after falling off her bike only a few years ago.
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