TR: #vterinthealps, part 2 (culture, pow, and one seriously decadent meal)

If you missed part 1 of the story, click here

words by J. Auerbach

Saturday April 4

We had been planning on riding Saturday and taking Sunday as a rest day so that we’d be fresh when we met up with Arnaud on Monday.  But, the weather on Saturday looked pretty shitty with nair up fairly high, and thick clouds above that.  It really did not seem to be the day to be up in the mountains.

After hemming and hawing about what to do, we decided to turn it into a “cultural day”.  We got ourselves some coffee and breakfast, moved rooms1, and then hit the road.

First we took a trip to the picturesque village of Gruyères and paid a visit to the H.R. Giger museum where we saw some, ah-hem, interesting pieces of art2.

Next, we continued past Bern and down around to Thun.  Why go to Thun?  To see some professional soccer3, of course….it happened to be the site of the closest match we could find: FC Thun playing host to FC St Gallen in the Swiss Super League, and les supporters de football among us really wanted to see some live football4 while in Europe, so why not?

We consumed some delicious sausages and beverages outside the stadium, and then headed in to our seats.  The stands were pretty empty, but at least they were covered5 and the match was an entertaining win for the home team6.

The day is summed up nicely by this photo montage from Mr. Stephen Waud

Culture! (photo credit: S. Waud; )

and this photo from Mr. Jason Chung

SW, JA, and RK (photo credit J. Chung)

After the game, we made the long drive back to Martigny7.  When we got back to the hotel, I took a look at the weather and it seemed that there would be a decent amount of snow coming fairly low that night.  Some of the crew really wanted to make sure not to tire themselves out before the intense week that we had ahead of us, but with the prospect of fresh snow and clearing skies we finally came to a compromise to go hit Les Marecottes in the morning for some pow laps before driving across the border to Chamonix later that day.

Sunday April 5

We packed the car and drove up to Les Marecottes for what would be our second and last real lift served day of the trip.  As we arrived at the base of the télécabine8, things were looking pretty socked in. But we were there, so we bought the ticket, took the ride, so to speak, and we headed up.  Just as we approached the top of the télécabine9 the skies above us were looking surprisingly clear.  As we got to the top of the télésiège10, it was looking really nice, and we were getting stoked.

Jason and Roger are stoked (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

The place was absolutely empty and we were able to get some fluffy first tracks.  Some small slides that we were able to release right under the lift reminded us to proceed with caution, but we were still able to get in


S Waud goes deep right under the lift (photo credit: J. Chung)


Josh likes easy-access, no competition pow (photo credit: J. Chung)


Roger's turn (photo credit: J. Chung)


Sending it (photo credit: J. Chung)


Sending it off a small rock (rider: J. Auerbach; photo credit: J. Chung)


shreddin' it (rider: J. Auerbach; photo credit: S. Waud)

Then with the snow starting to get warm,  visibility sporadic, and us wanting to save our legs for the next 5 days, we decided to call it quits.

We took the télécabine back down, got in the car and headed for France.

When we got to Chamonix we were able to check into our hotel early and then go into town to do a bit of laundry, eat some food11, and get some skis waxed.  Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the next day, rest up, and get ready for dinner.

Besides our days with Arnaud, the only other thing that we had planned well in advance  was one seriously heady meal.  Jason had made reservations at the 2-Michelin Star Albert 1er12 for that evening.

(photo credit: R. Kappe)

We ate some amazing food, drank some amazing wine13,  and really enjoyed the gluttony of the thing.

le menu (photo credit: J. Chung)

(photo credit: J. Chung)(photo credit: J. Chung)

(photo credit: J. Chung) les fromages (photo credit: J. Chung)

(photo credit: J. Chung) (photo credit: J. Chung)

smiley faces (photo credit: our waiter)

I probably won’t have a meal like this again for quite some time, but it was a damn enjoyable experience, and a great way to prepare for the next 5 days of intense physical activity in the high mountains!

Monday April 6

Feeling a bit groggy from all the wining and dining, we still managed to get in the car, make a quick stop for espressos and croissants, and be in the Flégère lot in time to meet Arnaud before the first tram14.

SW in the lot (photo credit: J. Chung)

While the weather was calling for clear skies, there was a North wind shutting down many of the other lifts in the area.  This caused Flégère to be quite a busy spot that morning.

Arnaud evaluated our original plan of Le Col de la Floria as too risky given the fresh snow,  and so we, as well as many other people, climbed up to Le Col des Crochues

Heading up to Le Col des Crochues (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

AJ was pretty stoked to get to the top.

SW and RK top out (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

From there we descended a bit,  traversed over, and put skins back on for a climb up the couloir to La  Pointe Alphonse Favre.

Descent du Col des Crochues (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

The couloir was definitely getting some sun and we witnessed one good release come past us as we were putting our skis on our backs.  We did not linger long and quickly climbed up and out of the colouir,

J. Chung boots up the top of the couloir (photo credit: S. Waud)

and then made our way up the ridge.

Stephen is having fun (photo credit: A. Bayol)

We got to the top, climbed down a bit, and found a good, safe spot to change over and have some snacks.  I think everyone was pretty happy to be there.

SW, RK, and JC enjoying being up high in the Aiguilles Rouges (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

When we are all set, Arnaud headed off across the slope to lead the way down the Glacier du Mort.

Arnaud leading the way on the Glacier du Mort (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

He brought us to a small drop15

sending it "gracefully" (rider: J. Auerbach; photo credit: A. Bayol)

after which we were really able to open it up through the cold, dry powder.

cold smoke (rider J. Auerbach; photo credit: S. Waud)

coming out the flats (skier: S. Waud; photo credit: J. Auerbach)

Yep, that was fun.  Just look at the smiles on these guys Chung and AJ are happy to be here (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

From there we got some more nice turns, but the snow was starting to turn.  Eventually we got below tree line where it was getting quite hot.

take off them layers (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

We then had to maneuver and shimmy our way through a bob-sled track with questionable coverage, many stream crossings, and several hesitant skiers.  Quite the adventure16, but after a total descent of about 1500m17, we at last made it to Le Buet.  Too bad there was no train back to Chamonix for two more hours.  Guess we’ll just have to hang out and have beers in the sun18.

Eventually we packed 5 people into a tiny automobile and managed to get back to Chamonix.  No big dinner plans that night, just some pub food at the MBC19 and early to bed, because the next day we’d be heading up into la haute montagne for several days and nights of adventure….


to be continued.





TR: #vterinthealps, part 1

words by J. Auerbach


Since I moved to Europe two summers ago, I’ve been trying to get some Vermont folks to come over to ski and ride in the Alps.  I never had any success with it last winter, but this fall it seemed like I had finally gotten Roger, Steve, and Jason to commit to making the trip.  Due to other responsibilities, and them not wanting to miss midwinter back in VT1, we planned the trip for the beginning of April… perfect time to do some big mountain touring.  The fact that my students would be on spring break at the same time made it work out pretty well for me as well.

We weren’t exactly sure what we wanted to do except some vague notions of going hut to hut and doing some “real ski-mountaineering”, and so I, as the “local”, was put in charge of figuring it out.   Many different ideas of places to go were bandied about, but in the end we decided the best was to stay as flexible as possible to whims of weather and snow.  Still, we decided it would probably be good to get a guide for some bigger objectives.  While all strong skiers/riders, we admittedly could still learn a lot about mountaineering and high alpine terrain management.  So, I got in touch with Arnaud, a guide de haute montagne in Chamonix who I had been out with last season.  We got some dates booked with him and eventually (after a couple months of discussing different ideas) settled on 5 days around Chamonix with a couple nights up in huts, and a few objectives that would be pushing our limits a bit.

But, before we get to that part of the trip, we need to go to the beginning…  Those guys planned to arrive Wed, April 1 and we had no concrete plans from then until Sunday the 5th.  A few days before they arrived the weather models started calling for significant snow that week.

up to 2 meters says Morris!

But, as often seems to be the issue in the Alps2, it was uncertain how low the snow line would drop.  When they arrived on the 1st, things were gloomy looking in town and it seemed like the snow had stayed solidly above 2000m.  That meant no trees3, and a critical avalanche situation in many upper elevation locales.

What to do?  What to do?

Wednesday, April 1

When they arrived, everything was still up in the air.  After putzing around town a bit, eating lunch, looking at maps and forecasts

baguettes, guide books, and café (photo credit: R. Kappe)

and cramming all our gear into the “minivan” that we rented

packed "minivan" (photo credit: R. Kappe)

we decide to head into the Valais, and post up in Martigny for a couple nights, figuring that we’d at least be in striking distance of several areas where we’d be able to ride fresh snow.

Along the way, I suggested we use the afternoon for these guys to see a little Swiss history, and so we stopped at the Chateau de Chillon.

still white on them peaks (photo credit: R. Kappe)looking from a chateau (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

bottom of the castle (photo credit: R. Kappe)

Creative Commons:

I’d say everyone was impressed4.

We got to Martigny, settled into our hotels and figured out where to have an early dinner before the three jetlagged amigos passed out.   Why not go for the full Swiss experience on the first day?5

fondue! (photo credit: R. Kappe)

After dinner, we retired back to our quadruple-singled bed hotel room6, still unsure of where to ride the next day.  Those guys, having spent the previous night on a plane, were out pretty quick.  I still had some work that I hadn’t finished up before I left for vacation, and so went down to the lobby for a while before getting to be at a more typical hour.

The next morning, I tried to get as much conditions beta as I could7.  It didn’t look like the snow had come that low, so I decided we should go to Verbier/4 vallées, where we might not be able to see very well8, but at least we’d have some options to be on fresh snow and not rain crust or glop.   Plus, it’s the resort that I’ve had the most total days at around here, so I at least have a decent familiarity navigating the place.

Thursday, April 2

We drove up to Le Chable, parked the car and started making our way up the lift system.  The tram to Mont Gelé was not running, and the first run down to La Chaux was not too promising–questionable visibility and a hard snow surface.   We took the jumbo up to Col des Gentianes hoping to go to Mont Fort, but it looked completely socked in.  So far, not having much luck.

We decided to head down to Tortin where the visibility looked decent, and I know a few spots that tend to hold snow.  After a lot of traversing we found some nice snow in that bowl, and started to enjoy ourselves.

not great visibility, but we'll still have fun (riders: R. Kappe and J. Auerbach; photo credit: J. Chung)

here we go (rider: J. Auerbach; photo credit: J. Chung)

Next run we took the gondola up and traversed out into the Col des Mouches. Here we found some nice fresh lines that we could open up on a bit and have some fun.

definitely having fun now (rider: J. Auerbach; photo credit: J. Chung)

After being met with bad weather and mediocre conditions while heading towards Thyon we went back for seconds in the Col des Mouches.  Not quite as fresh as before, but still good turns to be had.tasty! (skier: S. Waud; photo credit: J. Chung)

Back up at the top of Col des Gentianes, Mont Fort was still socked in and the visibility was getting worse lower down as we took a big traverse.  We decided to use a break in the clouds to get a short stretch of fresh turns before catching the surface lift back up and trying to make our way down the other side in what had become near 0 visibility.  Following the dayglo piste markers9,  we got low enough that we started to be able to see again.  One more lift ride up and then we rode all the way down to Verbier where there was some pretty sloppy snow towards the bottom.   We headed over to the Pub Mont Fort just before happy hour and settled in for some food and drinks.

pub Mt Fort, cheers! (photo credit: R. Kappe)

All in all, not the best day ever, but it definitely didn’t suck.

Friday April 3

Friday was looking like more questionable weather, possibly with periods of sunshine and a bit of snow overnight.  Steve and Jason having come with only their touring skis were really keen on doing some skinning rather than banging out laps all day.  I came up with the suggestion of going to Champex where we could ride some north facing trees if the snow had come that low and/or go for a tour up the Val d’Arpette.   We bought a single ride up, which seemed like a good idea from the base and was confirmed when the piste-accessed terrain10 seemed to be dust on crust.

quick break in the clouds (J. Chung, S. Waud, J. Auerbach; photo credit: R. Kappe)

Ride the piste deep into the valley.  Skins on

skins on (photo credit: S. Waud)

and here we go.

Roger (photo credit: J. Auerbach) Jason (photo credit: J. Auerbach) Stephen (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

So up the Val d’Arpette we went sticking to a very mellow line that would be safe in most conditions.   Turns out we got some sunshine as we were skinning and boy was it getting warm.

headed up valley (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

 Saw another party heading up one of the Couloirs looker’s left, but that seemed like maybe not the best idea on that day.

couloir on left, our objective straight ahead (photo credit: J. Chung)

I was going a bit too fast for those low landers 😉

only the best for these slow pokes ;-) (photo credit: J. Auerbach)

but we eventually made it to the Col des Écandies, being careful and spreading out on the few steeper pitches towards the top.  Rest up a bit, have something to eat and drink, snap some photos

J. Chung takes a break in the Col des Écandies (photo credit: J. Auerbach)first human powered ascent of the trip... success! (photo credit: R. Kappe)

and then time to go.

Boy was the snow nice up high.  We got to make some really big, fun turns as we slowly worked our way skiers right and down the valley enjoying the nice coat of fresh snow.  Lower down things got a bit stickier and challenging, but we made it all the way deep into the valley and with a bit of skating eventually rejoined the piste and descended back to the car.   All in all a successful day that exceeded expectations.  Some of us may have gotten a bit much sun, but everyone had fun.


stay tuned for part 2….