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TR: Maurienne Meanderings

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Once again, our group of five booked the services of offpisteskiing for our annual dose of ski-touring. We okayed his suggestion of a circuit of Mont Thabor which lies between the Maurienne valley and La Grave so he set about planning a route that carefully involved huts of increasing altitude and finally an attempt on Mont Thabor (3178m) itself.

As is the way of these things, the weather had other plans.

Thursday, 25th March at Manchester Airport, problems with EasyJet's (or somebody's) computers meant that they couldn't reconcile all the bags with the passengers. After much huffing and puffing they eventually unloaded everything onto trolleys and we all had to get off and identify our own - all except one of our party who forgot to identify her skis! The delay meant that we were nearly two hours late taking off for Geneva. Once there, our Alamo car (courtesy of Snowheads and the magic Holiday Autos link) was still ready and waiting but, with the delay in Manchester and the subsequent disagreement between the satnav and the passengers on the back row, we didn't arrive at Le Relais de la Diligence in Bramans until gone 8pm. However, Arnaud and Francoise had managed to delay dinner without any fuss and we had a pleasant end to a stressful day. Over the next few days we grew to like and respect this hard-working couple enormously. This stunning Gite gets a big recommendation from us.



Friday, 26th March and off to find some piste skiing to warm up. Trouble was it was raining outside and the cloud was down low. We settled on Val Cenis which was nearby and, we knew, offered some tree-lined skiing. We didn't last long before we dived indoors near the top of the Telecabine for an early hot chocolate. Back outside again and the snow seemed to be coming down even harder:



We battled on but, by lunch time, we were all soaked and started wondering how long our enthuasiasm would last. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, everything started to lift:



We were treated to some wonderful powder skiing all around the pistes by the Mont Cenis drag. Each time we got to the top we just wanted to go round again. Eventually we had to give up and headed back to the restaurant at the top of the Telecabine for vin chauds. We lingered as long as possible in the pleasant sun but, finally, we set off down to the road with the pisteurs following along behind at a tactful distance. It was gone 6 o'clock when we got back and Francoise asked if we had been skiing all that time. Of couse, we said!



Saturday, 27th March and our choice this time was Bonneval-sur-Arc. This is a tiny resort right at the end of the road. Well, in winter it is! In summer you can drive on to Le Fornet in Val d'Isere via the Col de l'Iseran. We pottered about a bit and - given that there was only one mountain restaurant - decided to head back to town for lunch. Unfortunately, despite all the ouvert signs, many of the restaurants in the town were actually shut and only after much clomping up and down steps did we find one open towards the bottom of the town. But the meal was good and reasonably priced. While we were there two Brits also on touring gear turned up with a guide from Val d'Isere. In the afternoon the visibility worsened and the wind got up so that the upper lifts were shut. We also noted a number of small wet slides about. We tried to make the best of it but finished early - with no descent photos either.



We realised that the plan to do a circuit of Mont Thabor was looking increasingly unlikely but, when offpisteskiing turned up later, we were suprised to hear that he'd been looking for alternatives even as far away as Switzerland. The bad weather had affected most of the Alps so we'd just have to keep listening to the forecast and take it a day or two at a time.

Sunday, 28th March was predicted to be fairly clear so we set off from Valfrejus (using a very reasonable 6 euro randoneurs pass) towards the Mont Thabor hut. The isolated blue Le Jeu was shut to normal traffic but we followed it anyway. I guess folks would normally slide along it but the recent top coat made for heavy going:



Later on it steepened up to offer some wonderful skiing and give us the opportunity for more lessons from the ever-resourceful offpisteskiing:



At the bottom we donned skins and headed left up the valley. What we hadn't bargained for was a rando race going in the opposite direction so, every so often, we'd have to dodge out of the way while a racer came past:



It was quite hot work and we were thankful to reach the Refuge de Mont Thabor soon after 2pm. We thought the place was going to be nice and quiet but then 26 squaddies turned up unannounced. The guardians were completely unfased and carried on smiling as though this were quite normal. Soon after 6pm three more appeared - the French guide and two Brits from Bonneval. Turns out they're Air Force trainers and they were raising money for the Army Benevolent Fund. You can read there blog here. Anyway, the forecast for the next day was good so we all planed to make an attack on Mont Thabor.



Monday, 29th March - all except the squaddies who were back off down the hill. They all had enormous packs and obviously had little experience of skiing but were all keen to give it a go despite their frequent falls:



First we skied down to the Col de la Vallee Etroite where the wooden cross had rime that had been peeling away in the heat:



Then down a bit more, on with the skins, and then up, up and more up. But the views were fantastic:



For once we were blessed with a relatively clear view from the summit. But it was 3178m and bitterly cold in the wind so we didn't linger long:



Fortunately, someone had the forsight to build a chapel nearby and we were able to shelter for lunch:



Then back whence we had come - arriving at the hut just in time to see that the squaddies had been replaced by an enormous party of school kids. Fortunately, they were very well behaved - better, I imagine, than most British kids.





Tuesday, 30th March and the weather was as bad as predicted so we opted to head straight down from the hut and just get in some piste skiing in Valfrejus.



Visibility was pretty poor all the way down and we nearly missed this handy bridge. I don't know what happened to the exposure. Perhaps all the damp finally got to my camera's aperture diaphram.



Back in Valfrejus there were few others about and we found lots of untracked powder all over the place. We just went round and round the same drags with offpisteskiing giving us lots of different off-piste-skiing exercises. Eventually, the weather cleared a bit and we had a ball:



That night we returned to the Diligence for the comforts of a hot shower and wonderful home cooking.



Wednesday, 31st March turned out to be not quite so bad so offpisteskiing planned an out-and-back to the Col de Sollieres via the lifts at Val Cenis again. It was cold but relatively clear and gave some good views:



Hello, who's this putting in a line for us?



At the col, the weather was still good so we put in a bid for Mont Froid (2822m) - or rather the old fort near the summit where the climb up and down the remains of a wall was a bit assez difficile. As usual the cloud ensured we had no view.



Then we went back more-or-less the way we had come and finally got a few laps in resort to get some sort of value out of our full-price lift pass.



Thursday, 1st April and the forecast was for an okay day followed by a clear day so a plan was hatched to drive all the way down to Bonnenuit near Valloire and skin up to the Refuge des Aiguilles d'Arves. Around the same time as we arrived at the car park another van appeared and a very weathered-looking chap starts sorting himself and his dog out. offpisteskiing goes over to pick up some local info and discovers that he is the guardian and he's carrying our dinner in his two rucksacks! We head off straight after him up the track through the woods:



The way up is fairly steady but with the odd obstacle to cross:



We get to the hut just after midday so, after dumping a load of gear, we go back out and, with the weather clearing, put in the beginning of the track for the next day. Back at the hut we have the place to ourselves - despite it being the beginning of the Easter weakend.





Friday, 2nd April dawns as clear as a bell so we're soon off up our tracks from the day before:



Just after 11 o'clock we make it onto the Aiguille de l'Epaisseur which, at 3230m, offers stunning views of the Aiguille d'Arves. We'd seen these distinctive three pinnacles several times before on other holidays so it was pleasing to be so close to them now - an Aiguille of three 'alves so-to-speak.



With good reason it's obviously a popular ski-touring destination and there were several parties steaming up the hill behind us. We had to wait for the last of them to move over to the side before we headed off down the almost 1000m of near perfect slope below us. Then, to avoid returning to the hut, we bore left over a steep lip:



We must be getting better as, not many years ago, we'd have demolished a slope like that! Then onward and downward through ever softening mush - lingering as often as we could to spin out our last - and best - day:



Then finally back down through the trees again to the cars:



Ah well, that's another holiday over.



Well, not quite! On Saturday we made good time back to GVA but then there was a long queue for the shuttle bus back from the car hire. Once inside the airport we queued for over an hour to reach the Easyjet self-service machines then entered a huge snake to the measily three baggage drops. Eventually, we were hauled out of the queue to some emergency baggage drops. Then we queued for ages to get through security, walked up and down past all the shops and straight out to the gate where we just caught the tail end of the queue for boarding. We spent 2hrs 42mins from car park to plane with no time wasted. I think we'll avoid GVA at weekends in future.

Finally, a very special "thank you" is due to offpisteskiing for turning what could have been an awful week into something highly enjoyable and worthwhile.


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Wed 7-04-10 12:11; edited 4 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Superb
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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?
great stuff always fancied getting close to the aiguilles d'arve
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 You need to Login to know who's really who.
You need to Login to know who's really who.
Brilliant!
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
altis, wonder if GVA was busy as it was the easter hols or if it's always that bad???
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 You'll need to Register first of course.
You'll need to Register first of course.
altis, excellent report and great photos. What do you use to frame them that gives some of the EXIF info in the frame?
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Most of the folks in the queues were returning Brits. It's possible that Easter Saturday is a popular day to return but the GVA probs seem to be entirely of Easyjet's making. There were only three baggage drops and no other desks had any serious queues. Matters were not helped by folks joining the queue even though their flight was more than two hours ahead and no check-in was available.

The frames were done in Paint Shop Pro using a couple of scripts what I wrote. One pulls out the EXIF info and creates a CSV spreadsheet which I can then tweak in Excel. Then another reads the spreadsheet and manipulates the pictures. Trouble is, it takes two or three minutes of heavy churning per photo and it has a habit of crashing. With nearly 300 photos to go at I have to leave the computer running while I go and do something else but keep popping back to look.
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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!
Were the top lifts at Val Cenis closed on the Friday or were you just staying near the trees for visibility? Some quite good off piste there if you ever go back. Also a few good descents including a couple of steep couloirs at Bonneval (one arriving about 2 or 3 km down the road): but it wouldn't sustain interest much beyond a day. Some really good off piste descents outside the main bowl at Valfrejus too, with a short climb to left or right. And obvious good steep descents in the bowl.
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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.
Yep, all the more remote stuff was closed. I'm not surprised. There was a lot of very wet snow coming down and the avy risk must have been very high. While we were sat in the restaurant at the end we could hear lots of bombs going off as they tried to clear it. The viz was awful too - for much of the time much worse than my first photo suggests so we were very glad of the tree runs.

We definitely want to return to the Maurienne - especially if they offer their 85 euro lift pass again:

http://www.maurienne-tourisme.com/forfait-ski-maurienne-sans-frontieres_uk.asp

There are some fantastic little resorts and the whole scale of the place is perfect for touring. Some of us are even thinking of going back in the summer for some walking.

More info:
http://www.maurienne-tourisme.com/images/zoom-carte-smsf.jpg
http://maurienneskiresorts.co.uk/ski_area_list.php
http://pistehors.com/backcountry/wiki/Ski-Areas/Maurienne
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
Ski the Net with snowHeads
Yes, the Maurienne lift pass has been going a few years now - fantastic value. If you want a good local guide then Zeb Roche is wonderful, but he is usually booked up for the next season by the end of summer. We ski with him all over the place (Verbier, Dolomites etc.) when he isn't on expeditions, climbing Everest etc.
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 snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
brilliant stuff - great to see a report from one of the lesser travelled valleys of the alps Cool
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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.
A few photos from my day at Valfrejus this season:


not sure which of us this was.


top of a couloir.


and bottom.


Last edited by And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports. on Sat 17-04-10 12:58; edited 3 times in total
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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
Very few!

But cool anyway.

Wink

Edit:
Ah, that's better!
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
3 now - I could add more if required but those are my favourites.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Excellent. I like the last one best.

More art please.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead

Stuart landing a small jump (still Valfrejus)
I'll have to download more onto Mediazone if you want more!


Edit: OK, done


climbing up wind-scoured snow, left from top of main bowl (good descent behind from there, but even more choices from climbing bump top right of bowl)


some nice gentler slopes too (this is looking downhill -the camera can confuse!)


looking back towards a good gully - still Valfrejus.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Thanks for the link to this. Great great photos and excellent report.
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