St. Luc/Chandolin, CH: 03/10/17

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St. Luc/Chandolin, CH: 03/10/17

Postby jamesdeluxe » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:24 pm

Day 7
After my deep day in the woods at Vercorin on Tuesday, I shifted my sights toward the main event of this trip: the three highly-regarded ski areas in the Anniviers Valley (pronounced Ah NEE Vee Ay). Zinal and Grimentz are lift connected and I spent a day at both, Weds and Thurs, unfortunately, the weather didn't play along as I'd hoped for -- really overcast with tough visibility more than half of the time, occasional spitting rain on the lower mountain, combined with terrain that was 100% above treeline. While the skiing itself was actually pleasant on wet powder, it was difficult to do anything but stay between the sticks lining the groomed trails. Luckily, for my visit to St. Luc/Chandolin, about which the germanophones on Alpinforum have been raving for years, the skies finally cleared up for the first time since Sunday.

Heading down into the valley, it was nice to see something other than steel gray overhead:
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Arriving in St. Luc:
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My Citroën enjoys a parking space with a view:
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All of the Val d'Anniviers areas have high-speed lifts to deliver you from the base to the actual ski area, but once at elevation, it's nothing but Poma platter drag lifts.
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As you've heard me say for most of the ski areas on this trip, the trail map doesn't show how big this place is -- between St. Luc and Chandolin, which are interconnected across a shared ridgeline, it's six miles across:
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Time to ski:
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There's only snowmaking on the lower trails like this one:
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Some of the Poma lifts are very steep and they definitely take their toll on your legs by around 2 pm. I can't imagine what the lift lines are like during peak periods. Even t-bars can load two people at once, but platters are one at a time.
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A few warmup runs:
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You can see the returning Poma line up against the blue sky:
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Unbelievable amounts of offpiste:
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A quick stop at a buvette:
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Conditions were absolutely spectacular with the sun warming up everything to the right consistency, but the untracked offpiste didn't turn to slop. I finally made it to the top of St. Luc to try the signature groomed run all the way down into the village: a rollercoaster ride that's 4,400 verts and almost five miles long:
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Finally below treeline:
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In short: an absolute knockout of a ski area and it certainly helps going on a sunny day. Definitely a place where you'd need local knowledge or a guide to maximize the offpiste, avoid terrain traps, etc.
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Re: St. Luc/Chandolin, CH: 03/10/17

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:20 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Conditions were absolutely spectacular with the sun warming up everything to the right consistency

First warm day after all the cloudy/snowy ones, so no firm snow in the morning I suspect?

jamesdeluxe wrote:Definitely a place where you'd need local knowledge or a guide to maximize the offpiste

So how much of your day was off-piste? By pics etc. I'd guess quite a bit. Would you need guides only for the far out routes o also for some of the terrain between the pistes?
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Re: St. Luc/Chandolin, CH: 03/10/17

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:18 am

Tony Crocker wrote:First warm day after all the cloudy/snowy ones, so no firm snow in the morning I suspect?

Due to the way the terrain is laid out on the St. Luc side -- almost 360-ish across what looks like a huge volcano crater, similar to Alp Trida at Ischgl but far bigger -- you can follow the sun across facets very easily from bell to bell. Never hit anything resembling refrozen hardscrabble until later in the mid-afternoon on the lower north-facing Chandolin trails back to the village.

jamesdeluxe wrote:So how much of your day was off-piste? By pics etc. I'd guess quite a bit. Would you need guides only for the far out routes or also for some of the terrain between the pistes?

Since I only had one day to survey the entire complex, which is a very tall order, maybe a third of it was spent cherrypicking low-hanging fruit near the trails. Whether at ski areas or on the frequently challenging switchbacks and cliffside roads (often only one car wide) leading to the ski areas, the Swiss take a very minimalist approach to signage. There are very few "deadly avalanche terrain ahead!" warnings that we see in our North American nanny state, so I made a point to avoid obvious dumb mistakes. From what I could see, due to the crater topography mentioned above, a lot of the offpiste consisted of 1,000 to 1,500-vert shots that could be ruined by terrain traps if you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque -- which would be a lousy way to end a fantastic powder run.

Also, since you're riding platter lifts all day (which are otherwise a plus because they spread out traffic and look less visually invasive than chairs or gondolas), the adductor muscles at the top of your thighs get especially worked doing a death grip on the frequent steep sections. I assume that a guide would be helpful to figure out strategies to minimise dead legs for non-iron men like me.
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Re: St. Luc/Chandolin, CH: 03/10/17

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Mar 14, 2017 10:07 am

Ischgl-sized? Seems I would want 3 days there, and a guide for the first one. I thought a native speaking American journo like james might be able to rustle up a knowledgeable local to show him around.
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Re: St. Luc/Chandolin, CH: 03/10/17

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:29 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:Ischgl-sized?

I don't have hectare comparisons but an interesting statistic is that St. Luc/Chandolin only has 60 kilometers of trails whereas Ischgl has 238.


Tony Crocker wrote:I thought a native speaking American journo like james might be able to rustle up a knowledgeable local to show him around.

If I'd had more than one day slotted in for St. Luc under sunny skies, I would've done that. Oh well, now that I've done the initial reconnaissance, you can safely put a Val d'Anniviers visit on your Alps to-do list.
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