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France: Alpes inconnues 2014

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  • France: Alpes inconnues 2014

    Lots of snow here now (unlike early January, unlike some other places) -- even at low altitude like 1000 meters / 3300 ft (unlike late January when it melted away at least once a week). But rather
    warm.
    Like twice in the last week I got stopped with snow sticking to the bottom of my skis (not my skins). Tomorrow I'm thinking about which tour might be good for transformed/corn snow.

    I feel I need to get out during or next day after the storm in order to ski powder at an easily-accessable altitude. Sunday I got out for a loop tour and visited one pass and three summits, with lots of powder skiing along the way in bright sunshine with big views of pointy peaks.

    Alpes inconnues ?
    I mean (the vast majority of) the northern French Alps which are "unknown" to most visiting Americans - but beloved by thousands of French skiers -- who ski it classic "American" style: drive to a trailhead, put skins on, head up into the backcontry (and hope somebody else broke trail already?). So ...
    not Chamonix, not La Grave, (not even Val d'Isere)
    . . . surely the Chamonix folks want to have their own thread anyway.

    In between those two or three "known" places lie these other mountain groups:
    Aravis, Belledonne, Chartreuse, Bauges, Grandes Rousses + Maurienne, Oisans, Beaufortain, Lauziere, Vanoise, Haute-Maurienne, Tarentaise, Vercors.
    Each with its own distinct character. Ten "massifs" (with about twenty overlapping French-language guidebooks) together offering multiple lifetimes of backcountry skiing for local French skiers barely giving a thought to Chamonix or La Grave (e.g. See the reports on www.skitour.fr)

    I'm having fun exploring it too.

    Ken

    P.S. Looks like another pulse of moisture on Wednesday -- Let's hope it's enough to make it worth disrupting the corn transformation.
    Last edited by KenR; 24 February 2014, 03:27 PM. Reason: add link

  • #2
    KenR,

    Looking forward to future reports from you. How 'bout some photos to tease those of us in the drought stricken Sierra?

    ain't no turn like tele!

    Comment


    • #3
      Is Morzine in this zone? 'Cause I know a bloke that lives up that way... he's always raving about the skiing/boarding.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by KenR View Post
        In between those two or three "known" places lie these other mountain groups:
        Aravis, Belledonne, Chartreuse, Bauges, Grandes Rousses + Maurienne, Oisans, Beaufortain, Lauziere, Vanoise, Haute-Maurienne, Tarentaise, Vercors.
        Is it just me, or do those all sound like fancy cheese names?

        Comment


        • #5
          I can confirm that there are fancy cheeses in France.

          We await photographic evidence of the skiing, however.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by SkaredShtles View Post
            Is Morzine in this zone? 'Cause I know a bloke that lives up that way... he's always raving about the skiing/boarding.
            Morzine is in the Chablais mountain group. It's in the northern French Alps, in fact it's the "massif" which is the farthest north of "les Alpes du Nord". And it's not Chamonix and not La Grave, so I'd count it as in the "Alpes inconnues".

            I've done three backcountry tours in the French side of the Chablais (the eastern half is Switzerland). Skied the lifts at Morzine + Avoriaz at least one day -- I think I remember skiing over into Switzerland and taking a lift back into France. I've also done one ski tour on the Switz side -- some dramatic peaks there (e.g. Dents du Midi).

            I own one French-language guidebook for backcountry skiing in the Chablais, but haven't felt the urge to buy the other newer one (which might now have an English-language version). Since I'm usually based farther south, some of the other mountain groups have a similar altitude range, so I don't feel motivated to drive so far. The key advantage of Morzine and the French-side Chablais is that they're close to the Geneva airport.

            > raving
            Have to be clear about what people are getting excited about. I'll guess that the Morzine - Avoriaz lifts offer a good range of off-piste skiing/riding which most US lift resorts would envy - (as do lots of other places in France). I was not aware that the lifts there provided especially good access to backcountry tours - (for which some French stations are much better than others). So I'd think to do much good backcountry touring (like serious "EarnYourTurns") from Morzine, I assume this guy has a car.

            Also Morzine is not very high altitude, so it's not the first place to try when we're having trouble getting a good re-freeze for safe touring or corn-snow formation (and lack of re-freeze has been a major problem in Europe for about the past four years).

            The big advantage of France over say Austria for backcountry ski touring is the wider range of altitudes to choose snow conditions, so Morzine is not an example of that.

            Ken

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Dostie View Post
              How 'bout some photos to tease those of us in the drought stricken Sierra?
              I'm more into refining my GPS tracks into secret stashes than taking photos these days.
              But here's some from a couple of weeks ago in the Beaufortain mountain group.

              On the other hand, here's evidence how warm it's been: February road-bike ride in the French Alps.
              Which does show why I try to spend lots of time in the southwest quadrant of France -- because it offers so much else great to do other than backcountry skiing.

              Ken

              P.S. Or maybe this will somehow better help the drought-stricken:
              Sierra Eastside re-imagined

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by CSG View Post
                I can confirm that there are fancy cheeses in France.
                We await photographic evidence of the skiing, however.
                For more and better photos - and trip reports - and news - about backcountry skiing in "les Alpes inconnues", the best English-language forum and blog is
                PisteHors.com
                . (and David's annual summary of avalanche accidents + conditions in France is masterly) .

                So why am I posting here?
                It's because of my respect for Craig Dostie. Couloir magazine was at the heart of my backcountry skiing life for so many years. I was lucky to actually meet Craig once at the Virginia Lakes parking. But the days of print magazines are over, so now it's great to see this website.

                And I sure wish the southern Sierras would get more snow again. A good snowpack starting mid-April is about the only thing that would lure me away from spring skiing (and climbing and road-cycling) in France then.

                Ken

                P.S. "Beaufortain" is indeed a special designated cheese region -- and cheeses from the Beaufortain massif are highly regarded, but I don't think there's a specific kind of cheese with that name. "Chartreuse" on the other hand is famous for a rather different source of calories. The other mountain groups have no special food or drink associations that I know about. I guess the classic food of the Alpes du Nord is "tartiflette" (one of my skis which I bought used has a round sticker on it "In Tartiflette We Trust"). And the special drink is "genepi".
                Last edited by KenR; 26 February 2014, 07:14 AM. Reason: comment about food names

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by KenR View Post
                  ...

                  Also Morzine is not very high altitude, so it's not the first place to try when we're having trouble getting a good re-freeze for safe touring or corn-snow formation (and lack of re-freeze has been a major problem in Europe for about the past four years).
                  ...
                  Re: not very high. Correct. The highest point in Portes du Soliel is just over 2000m which it can rain up to any month of the year. No there is nothing "inconnue" about it, even if you never heard of it before. Great biking though.

                  Re: "re-freeze has been a major problem in Europe for about the past four years". You make joke right?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Got out yesterday and found some nice skiing in the fresh snow. Went to a medium-size ski station which still has a good percentage of poma surface lifts - bought a lift ticket.

                    Generally not as much fresh as reported by MeteoFrance. And generally got skied out the day before, while it fell (which I sort of expected). But a little hiking and very little skinning proved rewarding, with an initial steep shot followed by a decently long moderate run - (and then a rather long nearly flat skate-and-pole back to the lift). Snow a bit heavy (? perhaps more from wind, since the initial shot was W-facing, and the lower snow was fluffier).

                    Then I worked out a different exit from another moderate OB run -- higher exit so that (some other day) Sharon could enjoy the fun section without the steep narrow bump run needed to go all the way to the bottom.
                    Then basically repeated the first ride, but found a different entry point. But still a bit steep and exposed initial shot for with Sharon sometime. So after the long slog back to the lift, went back up and followed tracks and found two other lower entry points mellower (one with no hiking). There are some advantages to getting out the day after the storm and easily seeing where the locals went.

                    Today more snow expected, but mostly not till later in the day, and it's rather cloudy and not enough low-altitude fresh snow yesterday -- and I spoiled so I prefer my above-tree line backcountry touring in good visibility. So this morning instead I'm going cross-country skiing -- La Feclaz has a wonderfully fun trail network for skating ... curves, rollers, great grooming. Sharon loves it too, so we go there lots (also XCski at Les Saisies + Bessans).

                    Ken

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Good powder today, more than a foot in the region I chose. Morning visibility questionable, so again bought a lift ticket at a medium-size ski station - (fewer poma surface lifts than the previous station). Weekend day, and in easy driving range of larger valley cities, so definite competition for untracked and less-tracked with local skiers. Findings ...
                      a) no lift lines -- so I was finished early, which made me afraid of ...
                      b) driving / traffic: Saturday during French school holidays is supposed to be a terrible time to go to the ski stations, but with careful timing and a little route strategy, it was no problem - (same thing Sharon and I found a week ago on a nice powder day).
                      c) checked out the popular backcountry ski trailhead not far from the lift -- not many cars. I guess showing that I'm not the only one deterred from the labor of trail-breaking by forecasts of questionable vis.

                      Looks like it's going to stay decently cool for a couple more days, so time for some skinning.

                      Ken
                      Last edited by KenR; 1 March 2014, 10:08 AM.

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                      • #12
                        skiing dramatic peak on lunch hour

                        report on PisteHors of skiing the Dent de Crolles on lunch break from a full day of work.

                        The Dent is highly visible from the A41 autoroute (interstate highway) driving north from the city of Grenoble - looks like a giant molar tooth. The town of Crolles happens to be the location of an integrated circuit fabrication (where some Americans have sometimes managed to get assigned).

                        The (sometimes) skiable S face with a narrow 40-degree section is highly visible from the valley. I've dreamed of skiing it, but it's never happened. David has skied it more than once before, so now he's able to just knock it off over lunch. I'm very impressed and envious.

                        Also new on PisteHors:
                        summary of France snow conditions this season

                        Ken

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          isotherm 0C forecasts on MeteoFrance - strange?

                          In the last year or so, MeteoFrance (the primary national weather service) started doing something I love -- posting forecasts of the altitude of freezing temperature (0 Centigrade / 32 Fahrenheit) for different times of day for each mountain group and ski station.

                          Problem I soon discovered: The 0C isotherm altitudes for the ski stations often make no sense to me. Maybe I just don't get it. As I'm writing now, forecast for a ski station at about 1100m altitude shows a forecast for Dimanche - Soiree (Sunday - evening) of Temperature 1C/0C and Isotherm 0C altitude of 2000m.
                          Now to my non-weather-expert mind, if it's 0C at 2000m in evening, then it ought to be significantly warmer than 1C at 1100m altitude. (In early morning I could believe there's an inversion, but not likely in evening).

                          Another day last week at sunset in similar location w similar Isotherm 1800m forecast, I was actually there on location at sunset, and observed refreezing on the snow surface at 1300m and my car's thermometer at 1200m reported 1C.

                          ... Another Isotherm forecast ...
                          From the "Bulletins d'estimation du risque d'avalanche" page for the same mountain area -- also on the MeteoFrance website.
                          Isotherm for Dimanche Apres-midi (Sunday afternoon) forecast altitude 1000m.
                          (The MeteoFrance ski station forecast of Isotherm for Dimanche Apres-midi is 1500m.)

                          Same weather organization, same mountain group, same time -- different forecast numbers?

                          Maybe if I were a weather expert I'd know two different definitions of Isotherm 0C ?

                          Any ideas?

                          Ken

                          P.S. Anyway for the next few days I'm going to try giving more confidence to the Isotherm numbers on the "risque d'avalanche" page. Because it would be too scary to think that I was partly relying on avalanche hazard forecasts from somebody who didn't understand and have some ability to track and estimate Isotherm 0C / 32F.
                          Last edited by KenR; 1 March 2014, 10:06 AM. Reason: add link for MeteoFrance

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Got out today for a NW-facing tour in a favorite winter area of the Beaufortain. Parked at 1100 meters, skinned up to about 2000m (following a track) -- stopped because the clouds never cleared away. Snow above 1600m was decent skiing but definitely heavy. Below 1500m was pretty bad -- just survival skiing.

                            Lesson learned: Stop dreaming of favorite winter tours when it's not a serious winter here. Plenty of snow (another 8-10 inches forecast by tomorrow afternoon) -- but without the cold. After a couple of winters when those slopes lacked snow, it was so great to see them covered, so I wanted to believe it would also be good skiing, but No.

                            I got out the French guidebooks this evening and seriously looked for higher-altitude N-facing tours that require more driving and/or lifts to reach. Found there's no shortage of them. With today's nudge, I now have a list.

                            Ken

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Looking for higher-altitude tours did pay off today with some turns in deeper-than-predicted fresh powder today. But did not pay off in actually doing a tour. The Toponeige guidebook recommended using a lift to access several tours.

                              So I drove to yet another medium-size ski station, and it was snowing lightly on the way (and had been snowing down low during the night). First I discovered that this ski station was not very aggressive about plowing their access road weekday mornings (and I was not making an early start). I guess this is because their main business is from families who stay the whole week -- so as long as those customers can get their cars up or down on Saturday "change day", they don't see a problem. So there was one time when I had to back down and retry rolling up one of the steeper sections.

                              Then the village was choked with parked cars, because it's the French school holidays. And they hadn't plowed the main (non-wide) street of the village much either. Indeed most cars had a three of days of snow on the roof - so I guess the main customers don't see a problem with that either.

                              Fortunately I found a free space out past and above the village. Still snowing and bad vis, so I just took a little nap in my car -- no point in starting out on a tour until I can see something.

                              Woke up, seemed a little brighter (though still snowing) - so I bought a lift ticket. Riding up to the top of the main lift at 11:00, couldn't help but notice there was this narrow couloir under the lift with only a single set of tracks so far. I decided that should be my first run of the day. Turned out that up around 2500 meters / 8000ft altitude there was a solid foot of fresh (more than predicted) - (if I'd known I wouldn't have taken that nap). So I took another lift ride up and skied it again. Even though lots of people riding the lift had seen me ski it (and some of them even called down to me) -- nobody else thought to ski it before I went back again.

                              Imagine that happening between 11 and Noon on a powder day at Chamonix or La Grave ?!

                              Then the visibility got worse, so I skied a long outlying groomed trail that goes to the start of one of my possible tours, so at least I got that into my GPS. And that's as close as I got to a tour today.

                              Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny - really this time.

                              Ken
                              Last edited by KenR; 4 March 2014, 09:29 AM. Reason: fix some wording

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