Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Europe trip, touristing, getting rad, etc...

Sure, it was all about the racing, but what about the journey?

I had some time to kill in Montreal, so I made use of their $9 bus (return to and from downtown. What a deal! It cost me $65 for a taxi from the deep south of Calgary to the airport!). I can happily say that I did not die while travelling over the crumbling concrete overpasses with exposed rebar and numerous concrete repairs. I wonder where all the transfer payments that Quebec receives are going?!!!

 I only had a faint idea of what I was doing and I wandered around the Old town for a bit. I was soaking in the culture and it kind of felt like I was already acclimatizing for Europe. I wanted to have a famous smoked meat sandwich and I found out that I was on the wrong side of town.

I started walking down Saint Laurant but I got hungrier and Mont (or should I say Hill) Royal was too distracting. I stopped at the next fast food place I saw, then bolted up to the top of the hill. I felt like quite the hero at sea level. A wonderful view of the city!
Pretty much everything I did after arriving in France was dedicated to preparing for the races. We had some time off after the vertical race and went for some exploration further up the valley.

Power day! I'm still kicking myself for not banging off more free lift access laps after my sprint qualification run. Doh!
The mythical Barre d'Ecrins on the centre-right. Classic mountaineering objective later in the season. And a good reason to come back.
With an afternoon start, plans weren't too ambitious (unless you are American. Nice work boys!). We settled on some short, easily accessible couloirs. Mini golf!

We managed to ski two mini couloirs before deciding to call it a day. We skied through the town of Ailefroude, which like the road down the valley, is closed in the winter. When the road opens, mountaineering objectives like the 4000m+ Ecrins massif can be more easily attempted.

 After the races, it was apparent that the bodies were worn down and some rest would be needed. We traveled through Briancon on the way to Pelvoux from Geneva and we were in awe of the old fortifications in the hills around the city. We also wanted to check out rumours of a fabled skimo shop in the city.

This bridge built under Louis XV connects two walled villages. Unfortunately we couldn't get into the higher of the two (on the other side of the bridge) as there was a drawbridge that was out and we didn't feel like rock climbing.  

Beautiful mountains. This is looking towards the Col de Lautaret where our next destination, La Grave is on the other side.

The lower of the 2 fortified areas, and a lovely cell phone tower.

No trip to France would be complete without a shath (or bawer) experience. 
We stuck around in Pelvoux for another day keen to ski some objectives that we didn't have time to do during the races. A couple of groups ascended La Blanche during the week while I was too busy enjoying my lunch.

La Blanche, a nice objective just above the top lift at Pelvoux. A 7euro backcountry lift ticket gave us a 1000m bump. 

We were able to ski right off the top over a steep rollover with chalky snow.
 I honestly did not have much of an idea what I was doing, but we heard that there was a 1000m long couloir dropping for a 1500m descent off the side of the mountain down to Ailefroude. In the above picture taken from the entrance of the couloir, you can see the summit of La Blanche, and the short climb to get to the entrance. Brad was feeling a little sick after given'er all week and elected to sit out.
Couloir Rouya Nord. I think there is also a Rouya Sud couloir that drops in earlier along the ridge. Don't quote me on that though!

Snow was crusty and scraped clean in the upper section before going into a crux barely wide enough for my skis and required calculated turns. The snow improved in the middle as the couloir opened up into a small bowl, and then funneled back into a couloir near the bottom.

A view from the bottom of the line. The couloir twists and turns so you can't see the bottom when you are inside it! We utilized the same valley bottom ski trails that we had been using all week for commuting, training, racing, and getting to lunch to get us back to the hotel. The hotel manager informed us that the region receives ~300 days of sunshine each year and the snowfall before the sprint race may be the last major snowfall of the season.
 The next day, we pulled out of the hotel in Pelvoux and headed for La Grave. I had heard that the Col de Lautaret was worth checking out, and that advice was confirmed when we pulled over the 2000m high pass. The north side of the col had some sunbaked slopes that looked to have some classic objectives, but we set our sights on a cool north facing bowl on the south side of the road.
We enjoyed a couple of laps through some smooth, settled, powder skiing really fast.

Classic high points on the opposite side of the road. That faint snow covered road snaking up the mountains leads to the famous Col de Galibier, a classic climb in many editions of the Tour de France, and also making an appearance in the 2013 Giro d'Italia. Or maybe the other side.

Okay, enough with the rockies style apron skiing. We noticed a short  mini  golf couloir that went up to a bench. I love mini golf and I was pumped up. Time to break out the putters again!
 We made it to La Grave in the evening and were impressed with the shear vertical relief and huge glacial features in the mountains above town. We also noticed that everyone in town was walking around wearing harnesses and carrying skis that would probably be more at home in deep Monashee powder. With the hotel manager's climate fact still in the back of our minds, we couldn't help but chuckle. We were expecting big things from the skiers in La Grave the next day!
Maybe we are terrible at reading maps, but we assumed that there would be more options for touring around the top of the resort. We only bought single ride tickets (well for me and Carla, who are under 25, single and multi ride tickets cost the same, normally they are 10 euro more). We played around on the high glacier just below 3600m (the highest that I have been in my life), and dropped down a south facing slope just for fun. We skinned back up before getting too carried away and I never even noticed the altitude. The full descent leads to a small town way down the valley, where I think you can bus to Les 2 Alpes, take the lifts up to the top and ski back to the top of La Grave.
 The ski stoke was waning (we joked that the birds hovering around were not feasting on the bodies of dead mountaineers, but on the stoke that had vanished) and we were regretting not pounding off a bunch of laps in a ski resort that pretty much consists of 2 Delirium Dives. How to do La Grave right? Buy the full lift ticket, do your research/hire a guide. The whole area is wild, uncontrolled, and filled with unlimited potential. Powder days must come with mixed blessings as soft slabs would be still lurking.
Well we enjoyed our run. Conditions were not too inspiring anyways and you have to be mentally prepared so you don't get in over your head. This picture is in the Lake zone, we skied the looker's left most of the 3 couloirs heading down to the lake. As a bonus, I got to find out how the Manaslus handle ice moguls. They are awesome skis. We definitely didn't see any conditions which warranted Megawatts or S7's.  Definitely want to come back sometime with more mountain and skiing skills ready to bang off multiple lift access laps of complex glacier runs and steep couloirs. 
Yes, there are tracks against the rock wall on the left side of the picture.  More info on the routes here.  Unfortunately, I found that website when I got home!

The hostel in La Grave is a funky place with lots of concert posters, monoskis on the wall and some jam band music playing in the dining area. The "random" in our room wasn't exactly happy to see us when we walked in though...
 Back to the Col de Lautaret to see if we could reignite the stoke from a couple of days ago.
Nobody was really keen to check out the objectives on the warm south slopes. I spotted a cool line from the highway on the drive to the pass on the cool north slopes. Brad was feeling sick again, so he returned to the car. Carla and I continued up the line. We climbed up good bootable snow until the upper couloir became steeper and the snow was  not as consolidated. The descent did not suck. 

Bluebird sky.

The line in the middle of the picture. Hard to spot from this angle. Excellent snow quality in the upper couloir. One of the coolest lines that I have climbed and skied (la Rouya was cool, but I didn't climb it!) because of the multiple features. The couloir is called Couloir N Oriental. More info here and here. (not trying to brag, but I think it's cool how there is limitless info on tonnes of routes...but not in English).  It is ironic how I can complain about not having enough information when the problem is that I am too lazy to sift through the multitude of information!
It was time to head back to Geneva to catch our flights the next morning. Driving back through La Grave, we were gaping at the huge sub alpine couloirs that drain down to the highway past the town. The road to Grenoble was beautiful.
You get what you pay for. 37euros for 3 people for this tiny space pod of a room, and toilets and showers in tiny closets down the room. Really, not that bad.

I can proudly state that I avoided paying to piss the whole time I was in Europe!
We skied some cool stuff, but it felt like we were hindered by tired legs and a lack of information. It is a great experience to ski in France, but it was reading week back home and I missed shredding pow and some fun lines with my brother and my friend. My legs were blown. When I got back home, it took me a couple of days of rest before my legs felt good again.

So I am not sure if I would stay and ski after the races in 2015, but if I did, I would plan some more rest days to be a tourist and create a list of nearby ski touring objectives beforehand. We were a little burned out both mentally and physically.

Anyways, here is my video summary. Still kicking myself for not getting a POV of my skiing and course recon on the sprint day!

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