Powder in Verbier’s Hidden Forest

It’s a funny season this. A slow start when I think, that in good years, I could have skied deep powder for 2 months by now. But funny indeed when I think about all the wonderful skiing we have done whilst the media writes we have no snow. Verbier is at 90% average snowfall at this point in the season. Everything is relative. So while we are used to deep powder runs of over 1500 meters on a daily basis, now we “only” get 1000. Bummer! ;-)

average snow hight

90% of normal snow hight today in Verbier

We have not been confronted with a massive high pressure system this early winter. Low pressure systems have swept over us on a regular basis. Conditions change rapidly as temperatures fluctuate wildly, winds blow 20cm snowfalls into 50cm cavities in the couloirs, making for exciting zone and scene choices each morning. Sometimes the weather forecast helps, but mostly I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and point my browser to current conditions rather than forecasted ones.

If you’re following local politics, you may have heard about the new laws prohibiting professional ski instructors to take their clients into some of the Verbier classics like the Attelas couloirs, the lovely NW face of Mt.Gele and Back Side. Due to their lack of training in avalanche and glaciated terrain, they are restricted to slopes below 29 degrees when the forecasted risk level is at 3 (most of the winter when powder is everywhere) and any glaciers (our Heliskiing terrain). In addition to being a professional, Swiss trained mountain guide, I’m also a certified Swiss ski instructor and love to help you improve your technique. Since I wear both hats, I can take you into these classics, plus lots more! And using years of proven techniques, I help you appreciate the joys of movement over these creamy hills, couloirs and faces in and around Verbier.

Here’re a few shots of the past few days showing those rapidly changing conditions. Have a fine day outside!

Finding the Christmas goods

It’s been a challenge, finding soft snow when none exists at lower elevations! That lovely base which grew above 2200 meters in November on the main alpine ridge, extending from the St.Bernard pass, through to the Simplon and on east, into the Graubunden, saved those of us willing to travel to ride. Duncan and his son Max have been keen to find that good snow. We skinned to the monastery at the St.Bernard pass, rode boot top powder, then visited the chapel and treasury to look at 1000 year old bibles and trinkets. We helied to 4000 meters to ride creamy snow down to 2200 meters and endured 200 meters of breakable crust from the rain event of 10 days ago. Courmeyeur offered excellent off piste runs to the funkiest little restaurant serving super savoury food to worn out snowboarders. Our split boards took us up to untracked powder, corn and crust. Cervinia offered the best conditions around with a full-on, lift accessed, winter base. And the high off piste around Verbier gave us a taste of the powder still to come this winter.

But that’s changing now, as I look out my window to the 20cm of fresh snow, and still falling. It’s cold! -13 and windy at the Col des Gentiannes. The forecast calls for snow all day today and tomorrow with total accumulations up to 40cm. That would be a fresh start indeed. Can’t wait to get the new Coombacks and Kingpins into the fresh stuff.

Wishing you all a fine and cosy holiday season!

Early Winter Steep Skiing

After weeks of beautiful autumn weather, interspersed with periods of heavy precipitation from the south, the main alpine ridge splitting these Alps from the Italian south side to the Swiss north side, has a snow pack that has matured into a seemingly end-of-the-winter stable snow pack. Gilles and I had a look at Hannibal’s Couloir on the Mont Velan, and found it to be in perfect condition! And this is one of those typical late spring itineraries too. It was steepish, firm, chalkey snow in the SW couloir, then primo powder on the lower moraines back to the car.

Snow: Skiing: What is it that attracts us to this idea, this lifestyle, this culture of skiing? I do love winter so. Why is that? The excitement of what is to come? Snow? It changes, therefore is always different, leading to the unexpected. It’s really never the same. It’s so incredibly playful.  You never know what you’re going to get. Full of surprises. Always wonderful in bright light, completely blind in a white out. Now that’s uncomfortable!

It’s a funny start to the winter. But then again, I guess they all are. At any rate, the more season starts I do, the more I realise every season start is “funny” (interesting- tantalising- refreshing- new- unpredictable) and for me, it’s the skiing over this 3D surface, which truly keeps life interesting. It’s like flying, yet so much more, because one is constantly refreshing Earth’s contact with each turn. One is re-checking-in with each turn and with the weightlessness between turns. It’s this perpetual touch and go with the ground, requiring continuous monitoring of one’s place on Earth, coupled with the knowledge that I could blow it at any moment and fall into the pillow I’m floating on, that keeps me young.

You? (comment below the photos?)

End of Indian Summer – Early Winter – Avalanche Awareness

Our indian summer is coming to an end. A deep depression moved over us yesterday, starting with strong Foehn winds of over 200km/hr., then depositing 27cm of fresh snow here in Verbier last night. What a change, and it looks like winter is on its way. Yabba Dabba Doo!

We profited with this last blast to hike into our Val de Bagnes with Cherries and Stephan. These two have been getting close to mother nature for years from their base here in Verbier. Stephan is a professional mountain guide and Cherries a professional accompagnatrice de montagne. Going out hiking with her is a while new experience. She stripped the bark off a tiny root for me to eat, which provided an amazing amount of flavour and water. Picking tiny leaves and flowers, she was a wealth of information on so may aspects of our environment. It was overwhelming. They have started taking people far and wide, to not only hike and climb, but discover the wonders of nature. Their latest, the Selvaggio Blu on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, looks like one of the most dramatic hikes around. Send them a note to get on next year’s wonderful trip in the spring.

I will again offer a series of avalanche courses starting in late November and early December. Have a look at the avalanche awareness page for some preliminary dates that may work for you. It’s real fun, hands on stuff, that helps you understand how the snow pack develops over the winter and what to look out for. Hope to see you soon in the snow!