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TR: Maurienne Misadventures

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
TR: 2013 Maurienne Misadventures

Those who have been vaguely following our story will realise by now that we have developed a passion for the Maurienne Valley in the south of the Savoie, France. Last year our group completed a circuit of Mont Thabor and at half-term Mrs A and I had a week of lift-assisted skiing there. We were keen to return for more touring so I started looking around the Haute Maurienne at the head of the valley.

There is a classic route listed by Bill O'Connor and others that takes in the Carro and Evettes huts then on via l'Albaron (3637m) to the Avérole. This includes some quite serious skiing so I concocted a much easier route that takes account of our limited capabilities.

We planned to hire the same apartment from Nathalie in Termignon for the week. Then get a taxi as far as possible up the hill and ski on to the Refuge de la Femma. Then an easy day to the Refuge du Fond des Fours. Over the Col des Fours and Col Pers to the Refuge du Prariond. Then back over the Col du Montet to the Refuge du Carro. Over the Col des Pariotes, down the valley to l'Ecot and back up to the Refuge des Evettes. And finally out to Bonneval (possibly taking in the Ouille du Midi) and home on the free bus. Well, that was the plan.

Sorting out who was in the party took rather more effort. We lost Gilly (who was visiting her son on a work placement in China) but gained two of her climbing buddies - first John W and then, with a few days to go, Brian (the man behind Briton ski tows and Snowflex). We ended up taking two cars whilst Mrs A flew to/from Geneva so she could be back quickly for work.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013
I drove to Andy's near Holmfirth in Yorkshire.

Thursday, 4 April 2013
In Andy's Mondeo estate, we drove on to John T's house near Lincoln. No battery issues this time but we had to be careful driving over the moors as there was plenty of snow still left in deep drifts. Then straight on to the Eurotunnel - crossing at about 7pm. Ate an indifferent and expensive meal at the Billy-le-Grand Aire. Finally, we reached our F1 south of Troyes just after 11pm to find John W and Brian already in bed after a customer visit to the dry slope at Noeux les Mines on the way down.

Friday, 5 April 2013
On to Geneva via the Col de la Faucille (more snow) to pick up Mrs A. Unfortunately, the satnav cannot distinguish between roads with a toll and those with a vignette so getting in and out sensibly but without using the Swiss motorways was tricky. Why don't they just reclassify that little bit between France and the airport so that folks aren't diverted through all the back streets?

Then on via a supermarket shop in Chambery to arrive in Termignon around 4pm. Brian and John W were already there and had been to see how far they could drive up the road towards La Femma. It was a shock when they reported that there was a road block after only 600m.

For some reason Mrs A was in a bad way and was up all night being ill.

Saturday, 6 April 2013
Our warm-up day and the first chance for us all to ski together - all except Mrs A who stayed in bed. We chose to avoid driving and just use the lift out straight out of Termignon. This worked fine but it was disappointing to have to ride another lift down into Lanslebourg. The weather wasn't fantastic either with the visibility coming and going all day. Here we are in the gloaming:

Brian's professional interest meant we ended up riding just about every lift in the system. I think we managed to beat the bounds of the resort before stopping in the rotating restaurant (I kid you not) at the top of the run into Termignon for vins chaud. Towards the bottom of the slope we practiced a whole avalanche rescue. We were very conscious that there was a lot of snow about and the weather was quite unsettled.

Sunday, 7 April 2013
Mrs A was still a bit peaky but more-or-less ready for the off. Originally, we thought we would use a taxi but, with the short distances involved, we decided to shuffle up and down the hill in one of the cars. We started skinning from just before 7 o'clock when it was just beginning to get light. It was raining! From a mere 1431m we ascended via tracks and the road, all the while in mist.

Eventually, around 11:30 we reached the Bellecombe car park at 2307m just as the cloud began to lift. In the summer, a park-and-ride scheme starts here and mini busses take you on into the Vanoise National Park.

We lunched at around 1pm in the Refuge du Plan du Lac (2364m). There was no guardian around but there was a winter room and a toilet. The sun was beating down now and softening the snow. Along we trudged, sometimes down, but mostly gently up over 'whoomphy' and occasionally man-eating snow finally arriving at La Femma (2352m) around 6:30pm.

We were exhausted after 11½ hours of slog but jolly Claire was there again to welcome us. 24 years she's been there now - impressive!

Monday, 8 April 2013
With not far to go, we settled on a late, 8 o'clock start. The weather wasn't kind - no rain or snow but the visibility kept coming but mostly going.

The ski touring route marked on the map goes up the Ruisseau des Roches Blanches. I'd spied this the day before and thought that the next valley south (where we'd skied down on a previous year) would be better. When we got to the bottom it didn't look too bad so we decided to take it anyway. Sure enough we were soon zigzagging in a tight gully on uncooperative snow. Near the top we met a guide and 4 others going in the opposite direction. They must have been up early.

We lunched just the other side of the Col du Pisset (3000m) then set off north in very flat light trying to keep our height so as to carry us as far as possible across the flat-lands to the next hut. We should have checked the map again because we ended up at the top of a big drop that was barely visible in the gloom - dangerous! After the flats there was a nice steep-ish slope but with big, invisible, wind-blown snow drifts to catch the unwary.

We arrived at Refuge du Fond des Fours (2537m) at around 2 o'clock. Physically, it was a much easier day but the poor visibility had still made it tiring.

There is a new guardian who doesn't seem to want to cope with boots and skins drying. He was good at discussing possible routes but seems generally un-welcoming. Quite a change from the bubbly Emmanuelle who, Claire told us, was upset at being removed from the job. Shame.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013
With over 15cm on new snow in the night and poor visibility, the planned route over the Col des Fours looked overly optimistic. Instead we thought we'd ski down to Val d'Isere, catch the bus up to Le Fornet and then skin up the valley (avoiding the dangerous Gorges du Malpasset) to the Prariond.

Skiing down the lumps and bumps to Le Manchet was fun but at one point 3 of us ended side-slipping down a ledge that we definitely didn't want to fall off.

The sun tried to burn its way through the cloud which, along with the good snow, lifted our spirits. Trouble was, there was evidence of recent avalanches all around us. At the bottom of the Manchet chair Mrs A tried to con our way onto the lift but without success. From the top we could have made it nearly all the way to Prariond downhill.

We continued down the tracks and pistes into Val with avalanche debris occupying just about every other space in between. We found our way into the Sun Bar for chocolats chaud while we discussed what to do. Then it started snowing - heavily - great big wet flocons of the stuff. We were all feeling uneasy again when John T threw in the idea of bailing out completely. This quickly seemed the right thing to do.

Originally, I'd though that one option would be to get a randonneur's pass (€30 pfft!) and ski down from the Col de l'Iseran into Bonneval but this still seemed too dangerous so we started thinking about public transport and taxis. We phoned home for a list of numbers and started ringing around. No one was interested. Then Mrs A suddenly remembered that Nathalie also ran a taxi business. She had been very worried about us and was much relieved to receive our call. So about 3 hours later her man turned up to whisk us home by road.

We were sad to abandon the tour but we all knew that it was the right thing to do. Even the €450 for the taxi didn't seem to matter.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013
With a lot of fresh snow about we decided to play it safe and return to Val Cenis. We had a ball! Here are our lines next to the Mont Cenis poma:

And in a natural half-pipe:

Even late on, we were finding untracked snow:

And then we found a guy playing with a kite:

Baby Garmin had a bit of a hissy fit during the day:

With the good snow and clear weather we thought we might pick up the tail end of our tour so planned to be up early with a view to driving to Bonneval and skinning up to the Evettes hut for one night.

Thursday, 11 April 2013
It was raining - hard. We drove to Bonneval in hope but we were downhearted. On the way, the road was blocked by a snow plough while they bombed the slopes at the side. When we got there it had stopped raining - just - but the snow was all mushy and there was thick clag not much above us. We wandered down the Bureau des Guides but it was shut. They were still bombing the slopes around us. Eventually we found one of the pisteurs who was doubtful. He said he would go up but that the forecast was worse for the next day. We ummed and arred but soon gave up.

Brian had evolving family commitments so he and John W chose to head back to Yorkshire straight away. The rest of us mooched around old Bonneval for a while and then returned to the apartment to fester.

Friday, 12 April 2013
We needed another plan that was safe so chose to go the La Norma but take skins etc so we could ascend the last 200m to the top. We only realised when we arrived that we'd picked the last day of the season and everything was very quiet.

While we were waiting for the top lift to open we had a few laps on hardened corduroy where ear defenders wouldn't have gone amiss. I did find a route through the trees but the, initially pleasant, untracked snow quickly turned very heavy. At one point I was so buried that I had to take my shovel and dig out my skis from beneath me!

Still, the weather was kind and, after they'd finally got the top lift running, we got cracking on our summit bid. Somehow we'd managed to spook ourselves and it all seemed steeper that it really was. The snow was a bit dodgy having been blown by two big Gazex tubes above the slope and the drop-offs at the sides looked very vertical. At least we got in a few kick turns before we forget how to do them for another year.

Then suddenly we were at the top - 2918m:

Where we were treated to a fantastic 360° panorama:

But it was cold in the breeze so we quickly got on with the job of putting the skins and harscheissen away.

And set about returning from whence we came over, first icy, but then softer snow:

After lunch in the restaurant at le Melezet we set about more exploration of the resort and spotted this enormous gully:

After another loop round and a bit of cajoling we found ourselves at the top. It wasn't as steep as expected - something under 30° but the snow, although deep and soft, was quite irregular. There is a huge Gazex tube at the top to keep the slopes below safe. A nice run but there was a bit of a delay when I stepped out of a binding and tumbled down the slope. They're set quite low which is normally okay but a liability on slopes like this.

Excitement had, we pottered on down via the eastern edge of the system to more vins chaud in the sun at the bottom.

In the evening it was back to the Sabot de Venus (last night open until June) for another good meal.

Saturday, 13 April 2013
Termignon from just outside the apartment - bye bye:

We made a leisurely start back, first to St Jean de Maurienne for some shopping and cheap petrol at the Intermarché (€1.50 for SP95-E10) then all the way to Geneva. We tried to follow the instructions given here for avoiding a vignette but were soon off track. We followed the signs and our noses and got there eventually to drop Mrs A at the "Kiss and Fly". We found our way out to CERN and then back via the autoroute stopping for a meal at the Sommesous Aire (nice) to the F1 in Coquelles near Calais around 11 o'clock.

Sunday, 14 April 2013
We skipped breakfast and headed directly to the ferry for our 9 o'clock sailing. It was very quiet on board and breakfast was very cold and expensive. The remainder of our journey home was uneventful. Nearly all of the snow on the moors had disappeared and I got back to Warrington at 5 o'clock.

In many ways it was a disappointing week. We didn't complete the planned tour and, until the last day in La Norma, we only covered ground that we had already visited. However, we still had some excellent skiing and the recent spate of serious avalanches in the area only serves to highlight the importance of making the right decisions. Perhaps another year...

Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Tue 23-04-13 9:53; edited 2 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Fantastic report altis, thanks for sharing.
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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?
The report was probably a lot more fun in the reading than the skiing this year, thanks for writing it and hope you have better luck with the weather next time. I love the Maurrienne.
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Very good, thanks. back next year
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Fabulous account of the events.

Your writing is engaging and delight to read, it is a pity the creating the story IRL was not equally delightful.
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Enjoyed reading your report having been to Val Cenis just before you - our trip was a predominantly on piste family ski holiday which we thoroughly enjoyed - your trip sounds amazing! We skied down the traverse only a few days before you and it was still open but probably shouldn't have been as there was a large sheet of ice at the bottom. This ski area should win a prize for interesting dining experiences; not only the revolving restaurant in Termignon but the Relais du Col at the top of Val Cenis which you can take a snowplough ride to - great fun for the children!
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
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altis, every time I have been to the Femma in the last 10 years Claire says it is her last year...!

Did you fix any kitchen appliances this time? Happy
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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!
Thanks for those kind words HeidiAmsterdam. As someone who struggled to get through his English O-level, I really do appreciate your comments. It's really an aide mémoire so I can look back later and remember some of the details - but it's nice to make it entertaining too.

No offpisteskiing, there was no need this year - although we did win another free bottle of wine and the cheeseboard was bigger than ever - and we didn't have to share it!

For anyone interested, here's our route down and back:

And here's our struggle back and forth through Geneva:

We shared the costs of travel equally which worked out at £195 each. Similarly, accommodation and meals were about £310 each. Add to that a few lift passes, personal spends and the final meal but the total is probably still under £600 each.

We really don't seem to have much luck with the weather on our ski tours. Or do we just have unrealistic expectations?
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The best skiing at Termignon (in my opinion) is the trees on each side of the top lift up from Lanslebourg. It didn't look like you did those, or did I misread the map?
Also at La Norma the best (off piste) skiing when I was there was down the big slope to skiers left of the lifts and pistes - again I don't think you discovered that (there is a path to get back right again).
However in general you are much more enterprising and fit than me. I prefer to get the majority of my vertical from lifts
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That tree skiing is out of bounds now with a big fence along the top. There are some gaps and a few folks have gone thru but we're inclined to let the trees grow.

No, we didn't try the west face of La Norma. We were quite mentally tired by then so we wern't looking very hard. Perhaps another time.
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