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TR - Col de Siecle, Les Contamines

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Thought I might post a little teaser for those Chamonixites who haven't caught on to the virtues of the occasional trip round to Les C to escape the hordes.

Years back I came to skiing from a climbing background. I've always wanted to combine the two but honestly my ski touring/mountaineering experience is limited. Part of the issue is that my ski time tends to be split between family (mostly) who are coming along nicely but not yet ready for big off-piste adventures and friends who ski well but are a bit, well, lazy about uphill work. Anyway, in deciding to sink some roots in Les C, one of the attractions was the opportunity to tour more. February half term gave me an opportunity - we were skiing with another family and the Dad is a good skier and has a background in climbing, running and mountain biking but had never skinned anywhere. Ripe for conversion!

We booked ourselves on to a group ski touring day via the Guides Office in Les C, Chris hired the gear (Intersport in Les C) and we arranged to meet up the next morning at 830 for first lift. The other clients were a French couple and a solo French skier.

AT 835 we were scurrying across the car park embarrassed to be late but relieved to see that we weren't last. The rest of our party arrives 20 minutes later. "Bof" I guess. The female half of the couple turned up without a rucsac which prompted a little acerbic comment from our Guide which I interpreted as something about her not wanting to be dug out if she was caught in an avalanche but he doled out avy gear to those that needed it and could carry it (i.e. two of them) and off we went. If we are honest, there is always a bit of tension in a group of strangers about whether you will hold everyone up. Suffice to say we were getting more relaxed about that by the minute!

We made our way to the top of the Buche Croissee lift and headed round the back of the Aiguille de Roselette towards the Col de Siecle about 3 hours away.

The Col de Siecle is one of a group of cols which drop you back down into the forest at the head of the Monjoie valley.

We started off by the following the guide on a long slightly descending traverse across reasonably steep ground and firm snow. That was enough to show us that Chris and I would not be struggling to keep up with the group... Still the weather and scenery were lovely and we weren't remotely bothered by the gentle pace.

I was the only one with any touring experience so we started the climb with a bit of elementary instruction on skins, bindings etc then settled in for a very pleasant morning working our way uphill through a little powder, under blue skies but in the shade. Nice.

After a bit of fun learning the realities of descending a short steep slope in skin mode (and hauling yourself back up out of the snow on flattish ground with free heels) we carried on then did a bit of tuition / practice on uphill kick turns.

Couple of scenic shots:

We had lunch on the col itself with magnificent views across to the Mont Blanc Massif. The range we were on is similar to the Aiguilles Rouge in that it provides a balcony looking out on the bigger mountains.

Then time for the descent. Nothing too difficult but it is about 1200m to the valley. The top section is probably getting on for 35% but eases quickly. It was shady and fairly firm but you could break through the chalky surface and get yourself into a little bother if you didn't keep your wits about you. Our French colleagues were clearly not that experienced off-piste and the guide led them down carefully in big turns and traverses, coaching them a little as he went. We were left to our own devices Very Happy Actually it opened my eyes a little - frankly I wouldn't have thought to go touring with such limited off-piste experience/confidence but they managed fine under his watchful eye.

We traversed left to find a little powder, then spring snow as we got lower. Lovely. No action shots but this is the view back to the Col

The route passes a clutch of huts at the upper end of the Monjoie valley. Most of them are remote holiday lodges. One of the owners carries in beers to sell from his cabin and we enjoyed a well earned Mont Blanc beer before skiing down the Roman Road (track) and skating along the valley floor back to the telecabine car park. Excellent day out and the area is now well and truly reccied for future trips. There are several alternative cols plus options over to the Beufortaine down to Hauteluce and beyond. Of course the bigger stuff is in the Massif opposite but I'd be looking for a guide to introduce me to that area before heading out with mates.

Upshot is that Chris is talking about AT bindings and boots. Result!

Different day but here are a couple of shots showing some skiing accessible by a short walk from the Les C lifts:
Our objective was the right to left couloir dropping down from half height on the shoulder of the Aiguille de Roselette. Little tricky to see but there is a "gendarme" or rock pinnacle at the top of it.

We had just been let off the leash for a couple of hours at the end of the day after skiing with our families so time was a bit tight. We'd spent most of that time skiing 900m offpiste down to Hauteluce (gentle bowl, steeper valley wall, out through the woods and onto the resort run at the bottom).

We strolled along the horizontal part of the ridge having an "interesting" time scrambling over the little rock buttress. One of those moments when it occurs to you that you'd feel a right @rse if you fell and hurt yourself. We started to climb the ridge and the obvious line took us onto the sunny face where the snow became a bit thin and mushy with grass underneath. It all began to feel a little silly without a rope or axe so we cut into the nearer couloir. It wasn't that long a ski down it and out onto the apron but about 40 degrees and the combination of powder morphing into Styrofoam crust and back kept you on your toes.

All in all not too shabby. We'll go back better equipped at some point.

Anyway, hopefully a little flavour of Les Contamines. If anyone has a mind to bring their touring gear over for a day out do let me know.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
nice report, @jedster. I did an "intro to touring" day with a guide and was similarly concerned but when the young French couple who were the only other customers turned up without the touring gear we'd been told to bring, and the girl was both distinctly overweight AND overdressed in loads of downhill gear, I felt much happier. I enjoyed the skinning up but was fairly crap at the skiing down. Very enjoyable, though and stunning scenery and weather - cold and sunny. The boots were a revelation - so light and comfortable. Even though they were just "off the shelf" in the hire shop I only had a small blister on my shin at the end of the day and my feet were very happy.

Sounds like a very successful day - I love Les Contamines though I've only done the pistes. I start from the Belleville/Hauteluce side and never go right down the bottom so I don't know Les C village at all.
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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?
Cheers for the TR jedster.

I am hoping to get back in touring a little as the kids get older.

Interesting also as I've skied at Lec C.
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Sounds like a very successful day - I love Les Contamines though I've only done the pistes. I start from the Belleville/Hauteluce side and never go right down the bottom so I don't know Les C village at all.

Les C is quite spread around the valley and has its charming older bits and a big apartment development (Hammeau du Lay) which is fine but not really going to attract sightseers. The village centre is a short bus journey from the bubble stations so not obvious if you are coming from your side. What would be nice some time is to follow the advice I gave to UANN on his snow report thread about the Auberge de Colombaz. It is offpiste but not difficult and if you want you can ski down the summer road (horse sleigh track) all the way down. Well, assuming there is snow cover (needs checking from this point on). The Auberge is top quality savoyade food and the trip down drops you into one of the more scenic corners of Les C but still close to a lift back up.

We are going to be out in the summer and I'm thinking that we may trek our way across to Beaufort etc to see a bit of your neck of the woods
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.

we may trek our way across to Beaufort etc to see a bit of your neck of the woods

some lovely spots - let me know. there's a GR route "tour de Beaufortain", some of it seriously mountainy, some more like family hiking! I'd love to do the whole thing some time.
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