Mont Oreb, North Couloir

After making it to the Midi at 8am on a windy day we only made it as far as the mid station before they informed us the top was closed for the day and we had to think of another plan. Luckily Jesper and Mikko had a Plan B, the North Couloir of Mont Oreb. After ditching the glacier gear and 60m ropes we originally planned on using we got into the car and headed to Buet for the 1500m climb to the summit of Oreb.

As we were nearing the top of Buet we turned off the skin track and headed along the traverse to the top of Oreb to find the entrance of the Couloir. Ross and Tom skied this line a month or so ago and had difficulties entering the corniced couloir. After we were convinced we found the right line Jesper went in on a rope to test the snow. After he was convinced it was a ‘go’, he quickly took off the rope and skirted away from the looming cornice just meters above his head. Making the first turns above the large cliff you then traverse in to the main couloir.

Once we were in the couloir we were welcomed with cold fresh snow and a fun and fast 700m of descent. With some pockets of unstable snow we went one by one and played it safe in the flat light enjoying every turn.

A quick ski down the river back to Le Buet and we had a round trip time of 6 hours. A fun day and a great line given the conditions!

Early season steeps. Tour Ronde playground

Winter 2014 has not seen a great start. Chamonix saw some snow in early November but we are still waiting for a top up. With the recent foehn winds and relatively high temperatures the snow line has been going up rather than down. That being said there is good skiing to be had. With the Aiguille du Midi set to remain closed until the 20th of December it requires a short trip through the tunnel to La Palud to ski off the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche.

Last Wednesday Jon Luckhurst and I hiked up and skied down the East face of the Tour Ronde. It was in excellent condition and only required a small down climb half way down the face to avoid some big rocks. We were treated to cold blower powder but it was a trade off with high winds and truly Baltic temperatures!

Knowing that the Gervasutti on the Tour Ronde was skied that day by the likes of Briggs, Grant and Kilian (who reportedly lapped it 3 times!) I was keen to go back and ski this classic steep in good condition, direct from the col and better than I skied it in the spring.

 

The Gervasutti Couloir

The Gervasutti Couloir

Tim Oliver and Sleigh were psyched to get ‘radical’ even if it meant braving more arctic temps and an early season 350m bootpack at 3500m.

 

Setting off from the Torino refuge we knew it was going to be busy. Seeing crowds of people heading towards the Tour Ronde and Cirque Maudit we were a little apprehensive of what we would find. Upon arriving at the bottom of the couloir we saw 7 people booting up it. After digging deep and catching up with them only 4 were going back down, the others either skiing the North Face, which was in excellent condition or traversing to the east face via the summit. After a short wait for Sleigh we started off. Two skiers had gone down quick and steady on what looked like good chalky snow. The other two side slipped all 350m of the couloir and were a constant annoyance with the never-ending lumpy sluff. After some fast combat skiing I managed to get ahead of these two and exit the couloir as fast as I could. Fighting hot aches in the shade I awaited the other two before we headed back to the Torino for a sandwich in the sun.

 

Overall the conditions are good up high. Not sure how tracked out the east face was but people were up, skiing and climbing everywhere. It looked more like a spring day off the midi rather than the start of December! The Vallee Blanche is in desperate need of some snow before the midi opens to avoid a long and nervous walk out.

Couloir Poubelle – Grand Montets

Skiing E.N.S.A and Bellim on sunday had me in the mood for more couloirs, and after some more snow on sunday night and a good powder day up Flegere on Monday I thought that the Poubelle could be a good choice. Easily accessed from the Bochard gondola at Les Grand Montets you ski the 50 m towards the obvious roped off couloir. It is possible to side slip in which someone had done already but with the ropes in the bag and our harnesses on we thought it would be quicker and definitely safer to rap. After a 30m rap we had our skis on and it looked good. Slightly choppy boot deep light powder on a firm base.

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After  a few initial turns the couloir became narrow and it was very icy.

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You could see that the people who skied it before side slipped it so we did the same until it opened back up and we could make some turns!

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There was a small rock step just after the dog leg, this was made tricky by the ice underfoot and the slight exposure below.

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Into the main straight of the couloir we could make some nice turns in the deep cold snow. Although it was well tracked it was still a great ski and gave me and Ally some practice in making quick jump turns in variable snow conditions! There was a lot of sluff that would follow you down and build up around you if you stopped, it was light snow so it didn’t really affect your balance.

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Ally making some nice turns down the main section of the couloir.

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Me mid turn. The last time I went down this couloir was last January on a snowboard and it was more filled in. Some more snow fall and it should be better.

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Skiing this aspect of Les Grand Montets offers some amazing views of the Mont Blanc Massif.

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The couloir opens up after a couple hundred meters and joins on to the Pas de Chevre. This huge open powder field gave us some great skiing before we hit the main route towards the moraine banks and the exit couloir to get to Montenvers.

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Another short rap from a tree on the way down but it is shaping up nicely for a ski to town, just need a little more snow.

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Below the Dru is an amazing place to be!

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The route is in red.

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What a great day, even with a hangover! Thanks to Ally for the company and Photos. Always good to have someone with the same idea of what a good days skiing is!! Couloirs all the way! Lets see what tomorrow brings. Maybe 4 Couloirs in 4 days.