It’s been another incredible week of skiing in the Espace Killy! With high winds and the associated high avalanche risk last week we had to think very hard about where and when to ski.
On Thursday two good friends and myself headed off to ski the Col des Fours route (last skied with Andreas back in January) as we thought it would have been fairly sheltered from the high winds earlier on in the week and we could be in with a chance of finding some fresh powder.
The initial skin up was a little harder than usual as we were the first skiers to head up in that direction for a few days so we were forced to make our own skin track. The winds had also created a few suspect looking windslabs which we had to avoid towards the final ascent of the ridgeline. We decided to bootpack the last section to avoid traversing across an exposed south facing slope. We made the summit of Col Des Fours after approximately 1 hour and 30 mins which considering the conditions and our short diversions was pretty good going.
At the summit our worst fears were confirmed and the top section of the descent was completely wind scarred which made for an interesting ski on the first pitch. However, once we cleared the next convexity we found some absolutely fantastic snow with only a few tracks on. The snow was light and creamy and after the first pitch was an absolute joy to ski! The rest of the ski down was absolutely fantastic and made even better knowing we were skiing what was surely some of the best snow in Val’disere that day! We took a quick stop at the Refuge Des Fours for a drink out of the now flowing natural spring and headed back down to the Manchet Valley for a well earned lunch and a beer or two!
This week we have had some very warm temperatures and as such we have been able to get our first taste of this years spring snow. On Friday we decided to head up to the Grande Motte to ski the 3500 couloir which boasts approximately 1200 vertical metres of some of Tignes finest skiing. As with any spring descent timing is EVERYTHING. Too early and the snow is as hard as concrete, too late and you dramatically increase your chances of triggering a wet spring avalanche. Couloir 3500 is pretty much bang on south facing making timing even more critical. We were at the top by 10:30 just as the sun was beginning to soften the top section of the couloir at which point we decided to go for it.
The couloir can be accessed several ways but we opted for the ‘chimney’ route that involves a small down climb in a very narrow rock formation without skis on. We then carefully clipped in at the top of the couloir on a very icy narrow ledge, once done we were ready to go. I made the first few turns on the top steep section and was pleasantly surprised that the snow had softened significantly on the top layer and was very enjoyable to ski. The next five minutes were a complete thrill of very steep turns on some fantastic spring snow.
Once out of the main couloir we opted to head skiers right down to the Refuge de la Leisse which give you a much longer descent but also a longer skin out. The lower section isn’t as steep as the top but by the time we reached the lower slopes the snow was starting to turn fast and allowed us to open up our turns and ski hard. The final few hundred metres were exhilarating skiing at mach ten in perfect spring conditions!
Once at the bottom of the valley the real hard work begins. Skiing 3500 requires about a one hour and a half skin back to civilisation. After a quick breather and still high from the rush of our descent we headed back towards Tignes. The route takes you back to the bottom of the Leisse lift via some spectacular scenery and over several frozen lakes at the base of some pretty intimidating looking mountains.
Having skied 3500 for the first time I think it goes down as one of my favourite descents in the Espace Killy and certainly up there as one of my most memorable days of the season!