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TR: 2018 Vanoise tour

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Brilliant day today in Pralognan. For a warm up we decided to skin up to the Felix Faure for lunch. Rando pass from Pralognan got us to the top of Genepi for 10. Then set off over the bridge and up the hill over obviously new snow. At about 2300m we had to add couteaux as the well worn track was starting to melt. Higher up was lovely chalky stuff. Big omelette in the refuge then a leisurely ski back down on spring snow. Transceiver practice on the side of the piste was not encouraging. Will have another go tomorrow.

Will keep looking at the forecast as we plan to leave for Peclet Polsett on Sunday.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Set off from Pralognan up Chaviere in warm 10c breeze towards Peclet Polset. (via SMS)
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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?
Now back in Pralognan with tour abandoned. We had planned to go:

Day 1: Ref Peclet Polset
Day 2: Col Chaviere, Ref Orgere
Day 3: Col de la Masse, (opt. Rateau d’Aussois), Ref Fond d’Aussois
Day 4: Col de Labby, Ref Fond d’Aussois
Day 5: Col d’Aussois, (opt. Pte de l’Observatoire), Ref Roc de la Peche
Day 6: Roc du Blanchon, Pralognan

...but it was not to be.

Everybody was jittery as we set off up the Chaviere Valley. The car showed 10c and there were remains of huge wet slides on both sides. We started up a road that had been piste-bashed. Occasional slides across the road had been tidied up but debris was almost everywhere. Some of it was more earth and bubble than snow. The road ran out at the Ref Roc de la Peche where we stopped for a hot chocolate. The guardienne warned of the avalanches ahead and told us to keep apart.

As we got near Ritort we could see huge slides all over the SE-facing slope ahead. As we regrouped we saw another come down right across our route. Quick change of plan and we crossed over the river under the more secure looking NW-facing side to see what was possible from the next bend.

More later. Off shopping now...
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@altis, such a shame plans have been scuppered.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Layne, thanks. We’re all a bit fished off now.

We carried on, safe zone to safe zone, as we inched our way up the valley. Finally we could see a route that looked like it could work. Trouble was now that the wind had picked up. As each gust arrived we just had to brace with our heads down, hanging on to our hoods. Several were blown over and we all suffered stung faces from the flying ice crystals.

There was a cheer all round when I announced the next waypoint was “pecletpo”. Once inside we found the wind whistling through the windows. Before dinner the meteo came through on a roll about 10cm wide and 1m long (like Navtex). It made for bad reading: warm temps continuing, snow and rain, winds over 100kph - for several days. What to do? Both options down to l’Orgere looked suicidal so we quickly ruled that out. Perhaps we could make it directly to Fond d’Aussois via the Breche. But then we might be stuck there for a few days. Finally we decided to just run away so Monday we just skied back the way we’d come - with a few new debris fields en route.

This morning the wind was rattling the shutters and we set off shopping in the rain. Later it turned to heavy snow but this afternoon has been clear and blue. The wind was still whipping snow off the summits. Very poor meteo for tomorrow so we’ll just have to see if we get any skiing in before we go home.

Obviously we’re all dischuffed to be just sitting here but there wasn’t much option.
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@altis, it's been a stormy season, right to the end.

It's a story to be told over beers in the future. Do you remember the year....
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...

Got any photos? Walked that route many times in summer - in fact was up that way last year. Would love to see what it's looking like right now. Is the Peclet Polset winter entrance under or up the stairs?
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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, sorry you had to cancel your trip,
I'm not an off-piste expert by any means, but my reading of posts from Henry Avalanche (Val d'Isere) and Davidof (Pistehors) is that it is very dangerous out there as the thaw sets in.
Glad you're all in one piece.
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
Feel you pain - we had to abandon our plans 29th to 31st March. We did a couple of half day tours but even then found ourselves backing off terrain and altering plans. Some scary conditions. Feels like touring season wont be able to start until a lot of slopes have purged
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Ski the Net with snowHeads
Thanks for the commiserations. Photos to follow after I get home.

Spent today on (and very close to) the pistes in Pralognan. Plenty of wind, which shut the top chair, and more snow. All pistes around the edge were closed for avalanche risk so we were pretty limited. Still had a decent day.

Plan to go to Courchevel tomorrow with transceiver, shovel and probe in case we get enticed off piste
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 snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
With a decent keyboard, some pictures and, eventually, some time to hand, I've managed to document our trip in more detail.

Our small group usually undertakes a week long tour around Easter time. Last year we tried day trips out of the Benevolo hut and, although it worked, it wasn't as satisfying as our normal moving on tour. We know the Vanoise Park well but I managed to find a corner that we hadn't explored before. Well, most of us anyway. Mrs A and I had been there on a short tour with @offpisteskiing there some 10 years ago and I based my ideas around that.

The Plan:
Day 1: depart Pralognan and head up the Chavière valley to the Refuge de Péclet-Polset
Day 2: head over the Col de Chavière, down the Povaret valley to the unmanned Refuge de l'Orgère
Day 3: head over the Col de la Masse, (possibly up the Rateau d'Aussois) and down to the Refuge du Fond d'Aussois
Day 4: day trip to the Col de Labby - or somewhere near
Day 5: head over the Col d'Aussois, up the Pointe de l'Observatoire and down to the Refuge de Roc de la Peche
Day 6: head up the Roc du Blanchon then back to Pralognan

Wednesday, 4 April 2018
Team Peugeot set off from Warrington at 8:30 in the morning. It felt quite leisurely compared to the usual panic to get going straight after work. We chose to pay £5 to travel on the M6 toll and save some stress. Good job we did as there was some serious hold up on the other route. Made it to Dover by 13:35 in good time for our 15:40 sailing which left a few minutes late.

Set out from Calais around 18:30 (local) and arrived at the F1 in Cambrai at 19:55. Team VW were slightly ahead and had already made it to the restaurant in the Ibis over the way. We had an indifferent meal served by inattentive staff so when the bill came we didn't quibble that four salads were missing.

Thursday, 5 April 2018
After our cheap breakfast both teams left at about 8:15 and had a very clear run down. We stopped for cheap fuel at the Carrefour in Chambery and got to the Lac Blanc in Pralognan by 18:40. The others were a little ahead and we quickly had the ready-prepared meal on the go.

Friday, 6 April 2018
The day dawned bright and blue so we chose the obvious warm up option. We arrived at the Pralognan lift office soon after 9 to purchase our 'randonneur' passes. These let you ride all the way to the top - just once. After that you're on your own. We took the cable car up Mont Bochor and then scraped our way down to Genepi chair. This took us up to the Barmettes refuge where we donned skins and set off up the Glière valley. It's a route we'd all done before and the conditions were good so everything went easily.

I have to apologise for some of my pictures. It seems that my camera's exposure is all over the place - possibly the result of a recent tumble.

After nearly two hours of skinning we turned the corner to see the north face of the Pointe de la Réchasse - and several other parties zigzagging their way up it.

Tempting though it was in these conditions, we had no plans to go any further than the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise just out of view ahead of the couple in front of us. There we shared a massive omelette before turning back the way we had come. The snow for the ski back down was in perfect condition - just slightly crisp at the top, quickly turning to cream verging on the soft by the time we reached the pistes again. With plenty of time to spare we had a go at searching for an avalanche beacon amongst some trees. This didn't go particularly well so we had another go in a more open area. This was better but it wasn't particularly convincing!

It wasn't a long day out but, none the less, ideal as a warm up.

Saturday, 7 April 2018
Tempting though it was to go skiing again, we chose to have a rest day - mainly to recover from the long journey. We pottered about, went for walks and took some photographs...

...and didn't do much at all. We did sort out what gear we were taking - very little - and who was carrying what.

Sunday, 8 April 2018
We loaded up the cars and headed across town to the start of the Chavière, setting off at about 8 o'clock. The car showed an external temperature of 10°C - not good at all. A short way up the snow-covered, and piste-bashed, road there was a barrier warning of avalanches ahead. We ducked underneath but were soon skinning along next to this.

In fact the fork on the left of the picture ran right across the road and had been bulldozed away. Similar avalanches had come down every few hundred metres and, even though it was still early, we were still jumpy. Very soon the 'piste' crossed the river and we started to climb the left hand, shadier, side. Avalanches were rarer on the side but most were still substantial. This one had brought down a number of fully grown trees - not a good sign.

Near Les Ruelles one had come down the other side and crossed the river, completely blocking it, until the water had melted a tunnel through.

Just after this the road zigzagged up the steep left bank - fortunately, no more avalanches - but the road was very narrow and, as I levelled out at the top, I met a piste basher coming the other way. I indicated that there were five of us so he waited until everyone had emerged. Time for an arty shot.

Then on along the freshly-bashed track towards the Refuge du Roc de la Peche.

We found the door locked but the guardienne soon heard us clomping around in the porch and opened up so we could have hot chocolates. It must have been the guardian driving the piste basher as there was an empty garage next door. We went through the process of introducing ourselves and explained we had a booking in a few days' time. All was sorted, including our funny diets and, before we left, she said we should travel apart over the next bit. We had been anyway but that was still not good news.

It wasn't long before we were crossing more debris. This had come down from the sunny side, crossed the river and had compressed the snow so much on the other side that there were now deep crevasses too. It wasn't getting any easier.

We progressed slowly up the valley, safe zone to safe zone. At each stop we'd gather and plan what to do next. Thoughts of just running away were always at the back of our minds. As we gathered at one stop - just after Ritort - we watched an avalanche slowly descend the sunny side. It left the brown streak to the left of centre.

We had planned to go up the right hand side but this seemed unwise now. There was steeper ground on the left but it was always in shade and, although it had avalanched, it didn't look too bad. We nearly gave up but, instead, chose to have a look round the corner so proceeded one at a time.

Just round the corner we found this so swiftly crossed back again.

Now we could see relatively safe ground ahead. We couldn't see the hut but we could see some aerials perched on a rock so that gave us a clue that it wasn't far. Trouble was that the wind started to pick up - gently at first but then with more strength. Some of the gusts were so strong that we just had to stop and hang on to our hoods and protect our faces from the flying ice. Three of us were blown over at various points. It was pretty desperate stuff. At least we knew it wasn't far but this last climb still took an hour and a half. We finally rolled into the Refuge de Péclet-Polset at 15:10 - a bit later than we had expected.

We were relieved to have got there without incident. Two guests were already there talking to the friendly guardian. Some two hours later we were most surprised when two more tourers turned up. A little later the weather forecast arrived on a tally roll some 10cm wide and over a metre long. We all poured over it with concern. It was very detailed but many of the subtleties were lost to our party because of our limited french. Suffice to say that it didn't look good. More snow was expected, temperatures would rise, the cloud base would be low and the winds would increase!!! We discussed what we might do while we waited for dinner.

On the wall was a custom 1:25K IGN map with coloured shading to indicate the gradient of the slopes. Our proposed route for the next day would take us down a long SE-facing slope that was coloured yellow for ~30°. The only other option would take us down the river bed but this was down a S-facing bowl with a red-coloured section at the bottom. We soon dismissed this as unfeasible.

We could cut through the Breche de la Croix de la Rue and run straight to the Fond d'Aussois. Probably feasible despite the long E-facing slope if we got down early enough. Trouble was the weather was set to worsen even more the next day. We could get there and find ourselves trapped on the wrong side of the ridge and have to exit into the Maurienne Valley. Been there, done that, paid the enormous taxi bill.

We could sit it out in the Pèclet-Polset but that would be frustrating, and expensive.

So, even before dinner arrived, we concluded that we had no option but to just run away.

After diner had been cleared away and we were settling into genepis a fox appeared just outside the window. None of your sleek little red/brown, urban foxes that we sometimes see mincing around here - this was a massive, fluffy grey/brown beast of a thing that was dashing about looking for food. It quickly covered much of the ground outside the window and then swiftly made off down the hill.

Monday, 9 April 2018
With little distance to cover we opted for a late breakfast and a leisurely 8:30 start. Unfortunately, this refuge has a habit of burning down and has been rebuilt several times. The current version is only a few years old but they still haven't ironed out some of the flaws. Many of the windows do not seal properly and were whistling all night in the wind and most of the solar panels were covered in snow that had been driven into the concave surface that forms the SW wall. Winter access is by the cave under the snow and ice.

As we set off down the hill we watched the guardian go out to leave more scraps for the fox.

The visibility could have been better but the snow was fairly hard so we had few falls and made swift work of the descent.

We called back at the Refuge du Roc de la Peche to say we'd changed our plans and probably wouldn't be back later then carried on along the freshly-bashed track. It must be heaving in summer but, this year, there'll be lots of rubble about and it won't look quite as pretty.

I'm sure there were some extra slides that had been pushed out of the way. Anyway, we made it safely back to town around midday. We unpacked, showered and gathered our thoughts. We logged into the Vanoise refuges website and cancelled our bookings. Our deposit from the Refuge de Fond d'Aussois was returned almost straight away but we lost our €100 for the Roc de la Peche (a private refuge).

We'd spotted that, in the evening, the local instructors were putting on their final torch-lit descent. It was a very intimate affair - I think they probably outnumbered the audience. We all had free vin chaud courtesy of the tourist office.

Our track was almost exactly the reverse of the day before.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018
We weren't sure what to do with ourselves. We didn't want to just pack up and go home. We could possibly find our way back to the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise and do some day hits but much of the ground up there is quite serious for us and the weather didn't look promising. In the morning the strong wind kept rattling the shutters of the apartment and then it rained as we set off into town to do some shopping. Later the sun came out so we went for walks in dribs and drabs while we pondered what to do next.

The weather now looks nice and sunny but this was only because we were in the rain shadow of the Vanoise Massif. The clouds were certainly black further south and east and the wind was still picking up the snow in big swirls from the ridges and summits.

We spent some time exploring the good exhibition in the Maison de la Vanoise. After diner in the apartment we watched a DVD, Vanoise des Hommes et des Montagnes, and were pleased to catch a glimpse of Claire from La Femma.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018
We decided to stay and ski, and with the avalanche risk up at 4, we chose to stay on piste at Pralognan. Conditions were still tough with falling snow and very strong winds.

This forced the closure of the Bochor chair up on the ridge so with other closures due to avalanche risk we were more or less limited to Genepi chair up to the Refuge des Barmettes. We still managed to use every lift that was open.

Thursday, 12 April 2018
Spirits lifted, we chose to travel further afield and arrived at La Praz in time to catch an early lift. Courchevel has been a favourite stomping ground for many years so we managed to zip about picking up the best bits with little reference to the piste map. Here we are on Indiens (a favourite from my very earliest days).

And later we tackled Suisses a couple of times. The off piste was particularly nice as few, if any, had tackled it earlier that day.

We covered nearly all that was available on the local pass.

Friday, 13 April 2018
Our last day of skiing for the season and it could hardly have been better. The weather over where we should have been was still grey and horrible. We chose to drive to Champagny-en-Vanoise (via Bozel 'cos the shortcut was closed) and had wall to wall sunshine pretty much all day. We started doing laps on the Verdons Sud chair and with fresh snow and the place pretty much to ourselves, found some exquisite skiing.

Then we decided to head over to Montalbert for lunch. This was possibly a mistake as we squandered much time swishing back and forth in the trees. Still, we had a good lunch in baking sunshine and then headed back to the Bellecôte glacier where we just had time for one run on some fantastic snow before heading home again. The others went down in the gondola while Mrs A and I used up the last of our time doing laps on the Borseliers3 Poma. I couldn't believe it. There were no tracks at all on the bottom section which had now turned to corn - absolutely sweet.


We were sad to be done for the year but happy that, despite our setbacks, we had gone out with a bang.

Saturday, 14 April 2018
We set off from the apartment just before nine, stopped off at Chambery again for diesel and made it to the F1 in Coquelles just before eight. The others were there a bit earlier an had booked a table in the Poive Rouge over the way. Good job too as it was very busy. Not surprising as the staff were good and we had a very good meal.

Sunday, 15 April 2018
Both cars were booked on the 9:50 P&O sailing from Calais and we had a clean run all the way back to Warrington for four.

Reports of some of our previous trips can be found here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

Last edited by snowHeads are a friendly bunch. on Tue 1-05-18 21:08; edited 3 times in total
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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.
Great adventure and story. Love your persistence!
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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
Excellent report.
Way more stamina than i ever had
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
What an adventure ! Navigating through Avy Alley eh!
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