Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

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Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:05 am

After all the trip reports in Alpinforum that raved about Val d'Anniviers, just east of the 4 Vallées (Verbier), I decided to go to the Valais region in western Switzerland for an eight-day visit. My flight arrived early Saturday in Geneva; I got my rental car (a brand new Citroën with literally five kilometers on the odometer) and drove east along Lake Geneva. On a sunny morning, it was breathtaking and borderline dangerous as I almost drove off the highway staring across the water at the dramatic mountains that come right to the lake's southern edge.

Within 90 minutes, I was in the Rhône Valley and pulled into the first of several locals-only ski areas I plan to hit on this trip, Mont Noble. Good thing that my car has a hotshot GPS system as there are only signs on the Autobahn alerting you to the most well-known ski regions, not the many under-the-radar joints. In fact, there are no signs that direct you to any of these ski areas until you're literally in the village near the mountain. The skiing was good; I enjoyed several nice 2,700-vert runs, but a storm moved in and it snowed hard for the next three hours. Visibility was poor so no reason to post photos.

Skies cleared out overnight, 7 am from my window:
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Here's the view from the valley floor:
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It's a huge wine region so there are grapes growing on both the north and south slopes:
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After a half hour of twisty driving through the Hérens Valley, I came upon the Pyramids of Euseigne -- more impressive in person than in the pix:
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Funny that I'd never heard of them. I was wondering if they're manmade; however, according to the My Switzerland website: The cones were created at the end phase of the last Ice Age, about 80,000 to 10,000 years ago. When the glaciers retreated, enormous piles of debris were left behind, which contained boulders. While rain and meltwater eroded the area surrounding the boulders, these rocks served as protective caps for the soil underneath them, enabling the formation of these well-known natural monuments. Looks like something you'd see in southern Utah, not Switzerland. And being Swiss, they built a tunnel right under them.

About 20 minutes later, I arrived in the cute village of Evolène:
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... and booted up next to a family that was excited to hit the slopes.
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You glide down to a little ticket shack and then continue further to the lift:
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An old slow double takes you from the base to the bottom of the ski area, 2,500 verts in 22 minutes!
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About halfway up, people were shralping the low-elevation powder, which apparently hadn't yet turned to mank in the sun.
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Top of the Chemeuille chair -- it's all surface lifts for the rest of my day:
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Looker's left:
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Time to hit some powder before the sun cooks it.
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The only disappointment of the day -- the summit t-bar was already closed for the season:
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Once the February vacation period is over, the smaller ski areas start putting lifts into hibernation. Too bad, I was looking forward to the upper terrain. I complained to the guy next to me, who wasn't happy about it either.

A not uncommon sight in French-speaking regions: older couples in matching ski outfits, which would get you thrown into fashion jail in North America:
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Time for a quick outdoor lunch with the requisite Euro disco blaring in the background:
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It's kinda comforting to see that francophone 20-something smokers haven't gone the way of the dodo bird over here:
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The sign on the right reminds people not to throw cigarette butts in the snow -- "one cigarette butt can pollute up to a square meter of snow!" You hear that, Admin?
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At 12:30, I decided to get moving to my other target ski area about 20 minutes away, in a box canyon at the end of the valley.
The snow was still decent on the lower mountain before I ducked into the trees on the trail back to the parking lot:
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Gorgeous view:
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Arolla is right on the other side of the huge ridge that you see in the Evolène photos, but it was much colder: mid-winter temps.

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Nothing but old Poma platter lifts there: the main one had a rocket-launch effect at the beginning:
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I love how they zig-zag through the terrain -- this one had a few steep sections:
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And like at Evolène, the summit lift was closed for the season, ugh. Several people were putting on skins here to access the upper terrain:
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About six inches of nice leftovers on top of a refrozen base -- you'd hit bottom every five or so turns:
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Another Poma with a 45-degree curve -- a shame that people are too spoiled or soft nowadays to accept these.
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With light getting flat, I headed down for a mid-mountain afternoon break:
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These refreshment/food huts are called Buvettes:
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Madamoiselle tending crêpes:
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While I was relaxing outside, an entire family (parents and three kids, including a five-year-old!) arrived after skinning up.
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As the rest of the group went inside, the mother shifted everyone's bindings into downhill mode and removed/stored five pairs of skins: badass!
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Still life: beer and a lemon tarte
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Re: Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Mar 06, 2017 7:48 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Time to hit some powder before the sun cooks it.

Fraser's reports say things are finally looking up in the Alps. I bet you're glad you missed that week at the beginning of February.

jamesdeluxe wrote:And like at Evolène, the summit lift was closed for the season, ugh.

I would never have contemplated this in early March either. Now that we know, it's worth investigating for future trips.
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Re: Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:07 am

Tony Crocker wrote:Fraser's reports say things are finally looking up in the Alps. I bet you're glad you missed that week at the beginning of February.

We've gotten 2.5 feet over the past 36 hours and northern France has even more. Yesterday was a classic Alps above-the-treeline whiteout, vertigo included. Still snowing but supposed to clear later today and stay sunny the rest of my visit.

jamesdeluxe wrote:And like at Evolène, the summit lift was closed for the season, ugh.
Tony Crocker wrote:I would never have contemplated this in early March either. Now that we know, it's worth investigating for future trips.

Keep in mind that these places are the Swiss equivalent of Baldy/Waterman, so they're operating on a completely different business/operations plan than the well-known resorts that you generally visit here. It was a shame to have missed out on the upper terrain at these mountains -- especially the beautiful 3,400-vert runs off the looker's right of Arolla's summit lift -- but as you can see from the pix, there was enough available to keep me entertained.
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Re: Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Mar 07, 2017 9:16 am

It's not the Baldy/Waterman issue at all. They have unreliable snow but I've skied Baldy as late as May 31. If there's snow they will be open as there is a huge local population base.

This is more the Taos/Crested Butte/Telluride/Red Mt./Whitewater situation where you depend upon destination visitors who lose interest as winter is waning and thus they close completely in early April with huge snowpacks.

Since these Euro areas similarly close lifts on a scheduled basis, it is obviously possible to inquire in advance to see what that schedule is. I would routinely do that for an April destination but it would never have occurred to me in early March. Until now.

In the Alps in spring I would more expect lower terrain to be abandoned, with lifts from the valley towns to be upload/download to the open ski lifts/terrain higher up. But you learn something every day.
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Re: Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:01 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:This is more the Taos/Crested Butte/Telluride/Red Mt./Whitewater situation where you depend upon destination visitors who lose interest as winter is waning and thus they close completely in early April with huge snowpacks.

For the record, what I heard about how Evolène and Arolla close certain lifts after the February school holidays was from other skiers I spoke to (two to be exact), not marketing or operations, so who knows what the truth is.

Even though the vertical drops would be impressive to North Americans (4,100 feet for Evolène and 3,200 feet for Arolla), I'd be shocked to learn that a lot of destination tourists are skiing these areas. The renowned 4 Vallées is just to the west and the Anniviers Valley (lesser known than the 4 Vallées, but well regarded) is just to the east. The Hérens Valley has three comparatively small ski areas that are all powered almost exclusively by surface lifts; thus, they're aimed at locals (i.e. driving up from a relatively short distance) or a very small contingent of off-the-beaten-path weirdos like me and the Alpinforum nutcases.

In short, I don't think the Taos/Crested Butte/Telluride/Red Mt./Whitewater comparison is appropriate. As you've pointed out before, there are aspects of the Alps ski scene that don't have precise stateside equivalents.
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Re: Evolène & Arolla, CH: 03/05/17

Postby Mark Wall » Tue Apr 25, 2017 9:06 am

Looks like it was a great vocations!! your pictures reminded me of our Christmas stay in Austria in 2014. We couldn't ski much because I've had a surgery 3 months before, still was amazingly beautiful around with this Christmas atmosphere. My 8 year old son was super happy to travel, to ski and to make new foreign friends. My wife was really obsessed with the place to stay and we had a real fairytale house 8) . Browsed in Internet and found an article about European property investment https://tranio.com/traniopedia/tips/cosy-cabins-and-snow-glazed-slopes-austrian-alpine-ski-resorts-to-live-and-invest-in_5294/. This idea doesn't leave my head: why not to invest in ski resort in Austria or elsewhere in Alps?
Life is short for bad days! \:D/
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