Today we skied 4 hours with Alpine Experience. Our guide Wayne is Canadian, but he first visited Val d’Isere 37 years ago and has remained here. We skied with his wife Jill and daughters Millie and Katie, and another regular customer Paul.
Alpine Experience usually wants customers to have skins and touring bindings. So I made the right call in 2015 to buy my DPS Wailer 112’s with Look touring bindings. Liz had to rent, and she was on Movement Vertex skis, 161cm but only 84mm underfoot. Even though Val d’Isere is a prime destination for off piste skiing, the majority of touring skis seem to be in the 80-90 mm range. Like most old school guides Wayne believes proper off piste skiing in variable snow is more a function of skills than equipment. I aspire to good technique but will gladly seek out any equipment crutch that makes life easier for me. As it turned out we never used the skins or put the skis in uphill mode.
This was the first time I had skied the Wailer 112’s on a non deep powder day. Returning to base on pistes with spring snow they were just fine. Many people like Mammoth Snowman prefer powder skis for spring conditions.
With an early start the initial pistes moving from Val D’Isere to Tignes 2100 via Toviere were west facing and therefore solid frozen granular. This was the only part of the day where the Wailers were less than ideal.
We then rode the Palafour and Aiguille Perce lifts. We first skied an off piste lap skier’s right of the lift.
The overnight freeze was very light, so Wayne wanted us to stay where the surface was more frozen and thus supportable. In the distance there is a fog bank and some haze, possibly from blowing snow. The Grand Motte tram and the chairs headed up there were closed for wind with only the underground funicular for access.
Next time up Aiguille Perce we took the sometimes narrow step up traverse to Vallons de la Sachette.
There are a couple of couloirs dropping off to the right, but walking up the ridge further leads to a traverse into a wide open bowl.
We need to traverse through that line of shallow avy debris to reach the smooth snow beyond.
Here we are skiing the last vestiges of powder that fell 4 days ago. We are farming tracks next to those Wayne and his family skied Saturday.
Jill crashed when the run emerged into sun and there was an abrupt crust.
So Wayne told us to ski to Jill and stop. Liz on that first pitch, Paul above:
Then we traversed a bit right into more shade. Millie went first here.
Wayne told her to stop when the snow became more difficult, which was about 5 turns into the sun. I found that the snow became gradually heavier but was still manageable so I continued until I finally hit some crust and crashed one turn short of the last of the tracks from Saturday. Looking up from there:
Wayne is at right and he had the rest of the group move over there, where the snow was more springlike but also more supportable.
Liz skiing from there:
Lower down Vallon de la Sachette is wide open smooth intermediate skiing.
Snow was not fully consolidated but on the Wailers I could ski fluidly and stay on top of the snow. From here we traversed out to skier’s right, where we came out on the Sache piste at 7,300 feet, just above the intersection where you can go left to Tignes 1550 or right to Tignes 1800. Vallon de Sachette continues much lower but Wayne knew that soon it would reach the level where there was no overnight freeze and become very difficult skiing.
Overall Vallon de Sachette is a prime area for good powder or smooth corn. It is usually sheltered from wind, most obvious on a day like this where it was windy nearly everywhere else.
We rode the gondola and Aiguille Rouge chair out of Tignes 1800, skied to Tignes 2100, rode the Toviere gondola, then skied to La Daille, concluding our guided tour about 1:30PM.
Liz and I decided to have lunch and then ski the rest of the day as we knew the next couple of days were going to be problematic. We rode the La Daille gondola to La Folie Douce, which is a lively lunch spot.
I wanted to check out a couple of sectors we had not skied before. We took the Tommeuses lift to Toviere and skied to Val Claret, where we waited maybe 10 minutes for the underground funicular. I expected bad weather up there at the 10,000 foot base of Grand Motte, though the wind was only moderate by Mammoth standards. We skied the remote Genepy piste, which under cloud and wind all day had hard snow above 9,000 feet. View back up from about 8,500:
There is plenty of intermediate off piste on either side under the right conditions. By now it was completely overcast, even lower down.
Lower down you better know where you are going if you ski off piste to skier’s left. This pic looks across Fresse to Genepy from Toviere.
The Genepy piste is the blue line, broken where there were a cluster of skiers, hard to see in the pic at this resolution. The red line is a good looking north facing off piste option. But if you drop in earlier on the black drainage you are in big trouble!
Genepy merges into the Pariond piste, where we skied to the Tufs lift up to Toviere. We skied to the Marmottes chair, which rises to Bellevarde. Here’s an Olympic art object:
The car and license plate are vintage 1968 (Grenoble Olympics), while the Bellevarde downhill course was used for the 1992 Albertville Olympics. But Val d’Isere local Jean Claude Killy was the star in 1968.
The Bellevarde downhill run was closed due to wet slide exposure so we descended Epaule du Chevret. View of Val d’Isere midway down its steepest section:
Liz skiing there:
Fortunately the visibility was better than it looks in these pics. This section becomes gradually more steep and bumpy the lower you go. Traffic was not bad even though it was nearly 4PM. I suspect many beginner and low intermediate skiers take the gondolas down from Solaise or Bellevarde to Val d’Isere.
We skied 9,500 vertical in Val d’Isere and 13,300 in Tignes. The thick overcast lasted through Monday with a few more wind closures. The predicted storm arrived in force Tuesday morning. I managed to get a bit of a cold, so it was an easy call to take these two days off. We have extended our hotel two extra days, departing Saturday. We are likely to remain in this immediate area through Monday with all the upcoming snow.