La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

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La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Mon Feb 27, 2012 1:01 pm

There are two defining features of La Grave at the moment. The possibilities and the reality. The terrain potential here is of course legendary. The reality is that the snow at the moment is very unusual and unforgiving. After some warm days (when I was up in Chamonix) the temps cooled down refreezing things that had been soft and leaving cue ball like snow in many places up top.

On our first day Pelle, our guide and the owner of Skiers Lodge here wanted to take us down a south facing coulier. An unforecast strong wind played a bit of havoc up top. After going up both pulse gondolas (what a weird lift concept), we took a warm up lap on the upper poma which covers 400 m of vert. It is a very odd design that started life as 2 pomas in one with some odd mechanics. Now the first portion is unuseable since the glacier has retreated and they pull you up that pitch with what almost looks like a smart car on tracks. Anyway, after a short hike we headed right past the top of the upper lifts of Les Du Alpes - which were not running due to the wind. While you would think that with the steep vertical over here that the wind would drop off once decending... You would be wrong. The wind was howling down the first several thousand verts of our decent and was keeping the south face solidly frozen and or sastrugi (2-3 feet deep wind ridges at first).

After a seemingly endless series of falling leaf sideslips Pelle ended up changing his mind away from Larama to Olympic coulier. Olympic is a tight little chute with rock walls that shoot up on either side by hundreds of verts at times. It's probably only upper 30's in degrees of pitch and it had warmed nicely to corn and spring snow. Apparently it is rarely skiable. About half way down we had to go on belay to rappel down a short waterfall that was appearing. And then skied another short ice waterfall near the bottom. After several thousand verts of the nice snow in the coulier we popped out into the shadowed valley with rock hard snow for our 7 kilometer traverse. Foretunately there is enough snow still to ski all the way into St Christophe, a tiny little town perched on the side of a mountain. The single cafe was very busy from other skiers who had come down different routes on the back side. After finally getting lunch there we had to wait for a bus to drive us an hour back to La Grave. A one run day due to getting gear, ice side slipping, rappeling
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:14 pm

My Nook Color seems to go weird when my posts get very long...

I should note that the avi beacon prep consistes of a 10minute video and a short conversation. No 3hour training and practice like most of North America.

For day 2 we stayed on the front side of La Grave, eventually getting 4 runs in.our "warm up" run consitsed of over 4,600' down the main valley back to the lower gondola P1 station. Certainly the first time I have ever loaded a moving gondola while climbing up stairs :shock: . The snow is a mix of cue ball in spots, minor sastrugi on occasion, and some honest to goodness chalky snow. In fact more of the latter. Of course that only holds until a certain elevation where all aspects are simply refrozen ice and frequently bumps as you appraoch the P1 station.

Our second run was down the glacier to skiers left of the upper poma and then a zig zag route after that; though somehow goinv right past the coulier where Doug Coombs lost his life. The top of that area is nothing worth noting to get there, but it is a pretty exposed, long, "sketchy" coulier that they fell into.

After a delicious lunch at the cafe at the top of the upper gondola we did a route that included a section called Rock Garden. Getting to it involves about 3k of traversing down the skiers left of the main gut to the left of the upper gondola. This run finally added some pitch, perhaps 40 degrees.

Our final run after hitting P1 yet again was a long run down under the hanging seracs of the main gut
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:23 pm

(More wigging out by the nook....)

We skied the final run all the way to the town of LaGrave. That includes a section that is literally a hiking trail in the summer (aka super narrow). None of the snow had softened even at the very bottom.

Tuesday is also supposed to be cooler and Pelle, our guide seems likely to take us to a ski place over by/in Italy cor the day. Then things are supposed to warm back up with the potential for spring snow on some of the Couliers here. I certainly hope [-o< . Still interesting enough for a couple days so far, but getting a bit skunked on the surface conditions for the moment.
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:27 pm

One day at a time sorting through my ~1500 pictures ;) Here are some pics from our first day at LaGrave over the backside and eventually down Olympic Couloir.

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Just a basic lifestyle at Skiers Lodge... Don't worry, you'll sleep with no problems...
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Some days Snowcat pulls, other days 'smart car on steroids' pulls
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End of the hike at the top (for the backside anyway)
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Hanging out half way down after much frozen falling leaf
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Leader of the pack Pelle Lang
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Pelle's wife Ayse heads down Olympic
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Olympic is probably ~3000 verts total as a couloir... and that's after the 2500 to 3000 verts of more open bowls above it.
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Rappel ! or maybe just Belay!
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Which since nearly every road sign in France has "rappel" as part of it you might wonder what the original word means... "Reminder".. I guess they like to 'remind' you of the speed limits, not to pass, etc... as you drive around.
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A second short belay over ice at the very bottom
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Looking back at it
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Opposing Mtn...
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:34 pm

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These guys have to be dedicated given the tough multi-mile uphill hike to the base of this ice
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7K of valley floor to traverse... mostly rock hard snow too
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Leads to skiing directly into the Village of St Christophe
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With only a couple other skiers around vying for lunch at the single cafe
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Did I mention it's scenic over here?
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Day 2 pics to come soon.....
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Mon Mar 12, 2012 11:06 am

Day 2 was not exactly cold, but it was cold enough to keep the snow frozen solid... Here are some pics.

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Pointing out something on Glacier De La Girose
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Scenic views of the town
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Make up for the frozen brick snow surface
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"P3" or Les Ruillans
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If you ever go to LaGrave you better be prepared for and good at traversing
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Somewhere near the top of Rock Garden
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Glacier skiing
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Playful pup at P3
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This is what I keep referring to as the 'smart car' on steroids for pulling skiers up to the upper poma.
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Seracs
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3 of these guys went top to bottom (P3 down)
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Mon Mar 12, 2012 11:19 am

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The upper poma and its one groomer
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Mike from Winter Park and your's truly outside P3
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Brother with a view to the NE
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Pulse gondola
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Contemplation and Introspection
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Mar 12, 2012 7:19 pm

Perhaps I did better with snow conditions in 2008 than I thought at the time.
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:35 am

Great pix, too bad about conditions.

Where's the feature article?
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Tue Mar 13, 2012 6:03 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Great pix, too bad about conditions.

Where's the feature article?


Thanks. The Snow did get better the next few days I haven't written up yet (bit of a warm up, not new snow)... though still less than ideal in some spots.

I'm having enough trouble finding time to write it up as basic TR's! Maybe if Admin asks nice I'll do a slightly different take on the whole week as a feature :-$
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby jasoncapecod » Wed Mar 14, 2012 5:42 am

I thought Europe had a good snow year?
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby jamesdeluxe » Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:48 am

jasoncapecod wrote:I thought Europe had a good snow year?

I think it was the Alps more to the east that got hit.
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:33 am

EMSC, like me 4 years ago, is in France when it has not snowed significantly for a few weeks. The big storms this season were in December and January from what I recall. Coverage is better this year as EMSC skied under the La Grave lift to the valley floor, which we did not in 2008.

Where my trip was better was the south side run into the valley draining to St. Christophe. We had good skiing in the upper bowl and perfect corn in Le Rama couloir. We had the same icy 7 mile traverse out of that valley, and with lower cover had to walk down the final 500 vertical to the village.

Feature articles, even if written promptly, are published when admin thinks they will draw the most interest. Typically but not always that is in September/October when most people are planning destination trips for the upcoming season.
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby Staley » Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:52 am

As I thought I'd be in France this year, I paid a bit more attention to snow reports than normal (although I hardly kept up on a day-to-day basis). The big storms were in December/January, leaving most of France with an excellent base. However, the main thing I noticed is that temperatures seemed to increase greatly after many storms, basically ruining the snow. I don't know if this is normal for France, but it seemed like there were a lot of great pow days, followed by a lot of days with really miserable snow conditions.
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Re: La Grave, France 2-26 & 27-12

Postby EMSC » Wed Mar 14, 2012 4:16 pm

Staley wrote: The big storms were in December/January, leaving most of France with an excellent base. However, the main thing I noticed is that temperatures seemed to increase greatly after many storms, basically ruining the snow. I don't know if this is normal for France, but it seemed like there were a lot of great pow days, followed by a lot of days with really miserable snow conditions.


Add to this set up a 2-3 week super cold snap for much of Feb (coldest temps in Europe in decades) and high winds at some point during said cold snap (according to the guides)... Then a short warm up at lower elevations followed by these 2 days of just-cold-enough to keep things frozen down low.

What does that equal? Super firm surfaces up top for the most part and icy, refrozen down low.

Fortunately we did have corn in Olympic Couloir itself after the frozen falling leaf parade up top and the final pitches into St Christophe were warm and soft on day one; but just locked-in firm on day 2 at La Grave. I'm getting ready to post following days TR's soon where the temps warmed back up enough to soften some things and also release just enough of it's cold grip up top that it began to ski more like chalk than brick...

So mostly good base depths and coverage all the way down to the low elevations (except where wind scoured of course), but surface conditions less than ideal.
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