It’s 9:30am, I am alone on a long chairlift on my way to Flaine, enjoying the sunshine and the tranquility of the morning. It’s been a while since last time I sat on one of those chairs. Looking at all the beautiful ever green trees below and around me, listening to the birds singing, I notice something different in the air and whatever it is, it doesn’t feel like it belongs to a winter morning. I can’t believe it’s already March. Where is the winter gone? In just over a month the resort skiing season will be officially over and this and all the other lifts will stop running. Needless to say, that is hardly going to have an impact on my riding, you know me – no lift, no problem! The thought that worries me the most with the arrival of the spring is the snow melting but that is only part of the natural cycle and as such, has to be accepted. Besides, spring skiing is a lot of fun! The air is warmer, the days are longer, the snow can still be very good and there are a lot less people around. A very big plus for a crowd freak like me
Talking about lifts, when I sat on this chair only few minutes ago I was thinking that since the beginning of the season I must have used my season pass for a full day on the ski slopes less than 10 times. I am not surprised. Okay, my geeky side can probably argue that this winter the snow cover has constantly been about 1,5 mt below the average snow cover, but I know far too well that there is another, more important reason. The truth is that over the years my passion and interest for the mountain environment has slowly developed and drifted in a direction which each winter led me a little further away from people and resort boundaries
For many years I remember how badly I wanted to be on a different program, dreaming about finding a way to leave the ski resorts and their crowds behind. I almost felt trapped at times. What I didn’t have at the time was an efficient tool, the knowledge of where to go and how to do it and probably even the confidence to do it. Now I feel I am in a different place in my life, as an individual in general and as a little mountain explorer and I feel I have all these things. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling
The appointment with my good friends Adelaide and Arno to ski the Desert de Plate is at the top of Flaine, Les Grandes Platiers, 2,480mt at 1:30pm, in front of the arrival of the Telecabine. Any normal person would do what my friends are going to do, take the lift up, a 5 minutes journey. Adelaide is actually working till 1 and Arno told me he has a work appointment in Flaine at 12 so they would not have the time to do otherwise. Once I get to Flaine, having the whole morning free and being always ready to give my legs a good workout, I decide to start skinning from here. I am at approximately 1,600mt and I am going to skin up to the top at 2,480mt. Not a bad workout, that’s for sure
Despite the fact that the simple idea behind ski touring and ski mountaineering is to ski away from people and ski resorts, where the sports of snowboarding and skiing can still be an adventure, there can be times where the two areas merge together. Although I don’t think there is anything wrong with that in principle, I know that the area I am about to step in is probably where the tenuous parallel between the two worlds endures its heaviest strain
A perfect example of what I am trying to describe is skinning up on the side of the ski slope, precisely what I am about to do today. Have you ever skinned or walked up at the side of a busy ski slope? Probably not. Lucky for you, you don’t have the chemical imbalance I have in my brain
Believe me, to say the least, it’s an interesting and very colorful experience. You see people of all ages, good skiers, completely hopeless ones, endless groups of ski schools trying to get into various snakes shapes, some snake components are shouting (not sure to whom? and why?), some have headphones and are listening to the music, some seem to travel at light speed and some others, winning the continuous fight against gravity, barely move. There are even some who, although have their skis in snow plough position and travel at a relatively low speed are so concentrated that can hardly notice anything around them – it’s bloody hard being a beginner, let’s face it
As I skin up on the side of the slope, quickly getting into the rhythm of skinning, my thoughts start to randomly drift away as they usually do. Despite how incredibly different one from the other all these people look and ski, they all have one thing in common – they all made a common decision of embracing gravity and travel in the same direction, down the mountain. Around here I seem to be the only one going up, which is probably why somebody occasionally stops by and starts observing me, with the same look you would observe some strange creature you have never seen before. The puzzled look in the children eyes is the type of look which leaves no room for imagination. It says – why are you doing this?
So to avoid stopping and having to exchange unnecessary comments, a couple of times I find myself saying: “..pas d’argent pour le forfeit.. c’est a vie!” without interrupting the rhythm of my legs. I don’t blame these people. Chances are that a good number of them only ski once a year and have never seen anyone doing what I am doing. The contrast between their speed and mine is obvious. My thoughts are now drifting towards a new topic, speed
I never understood why, generally, something or someone fast is considered cool and something slow is considered not cool. Who decides that? I have no shame in saying that I have never been a speed freak, quite the opposite in fact. I like to eat slow, drive slow (Oscar rarely travels faster than 70mph – 110km/h) and do everything else I want to do slowly, including skinning up a slope. The general approach I try to follow in my life is that regardless what I am doing, eating, walking, driving, etc. I always try to enjoy the journey rather than rushing to the destination. I want to have the time to enjoy the landscape, look around. Besides, I have to confess that the majority of the time I am not even sure where I am going so why would I rush?!
Another thought suddenly comes to my mind. Although this colorful moving human show has been reasonably entertaining for a few minutes, it will not stop anytime soon. The incessant work of chairlifts and telecabines will keep bringing hundreds of people to the top and then gravity will easily do the rest which means that I am going to have to deal with this assorted crowd for as long as I am going to be skinning on this busy ski slope, so probably 2 hours, even more. That doesn’t sound a great prospect for the next couple of hours. It’s lucky I am on my splitboard is my next thought. Have I already mentioned that I think it is not just the most amazing mountain tool ever been conceived? That is an understatement. To me, it represents a portal to access another world, a world always able to put a big smile on my face every time I step into it. What I find fascinating is also that the time I spend in it helps me putting into perspective the majority of the stuff that happens in the other world I usually live in
Immediately, the couple of hours skinning on the side of the slope I have ahead of me become a perfectly acceptable thought, something I can easily deal with. I am excited again. Yes, I will still have the hordes of skiers next to me but in a way I will not. You see, when I am on my splitboard it’s almost like I step into a different dimension, parallel to the one everyone else seems to be in. I am not sure you are still with me..anyways, I just got to the top of Flaine and like my friend Stilo would say, the view’s so nice
And so is Arno. Nice one mate! Arno is a top guy, it’s awesome to have him with us today. Together with his lovely wife Jess they run Alp Adventures, their own company: http://www.alpadventures.com/
We are off. I am behind Adelaide, Arno and Sam. The order is irrelevant. We are all about to enjoy some good untouched snow, peace and quiet, lots of space, and great views. Knowing I have been working hard for over 2 and half hours to get here, makes the thought of the descent even more exciting and definitely very rewarding
I would like to take a photo with no one in it so I let them go ahead. I also would like a minute by myself to better appreciate the dramatic and rapid change of mountain environment I have been through over the past 15 minutes. From skinning on the side of a crowded not very interesting groomed ski slope to the silence and the untouched beauty of this landscape. What a contrast. I would not like to be anywhere else right now
I will definitely come back up here to hike and ride this face. Given its south/west aspect and the time of the year, I will have to get here early in the morning. I am so happy I have always been a morning person. It really helps when you have a 5am start!
It’s now 2pm and even if the snow is getting heavier every minute, it’s still great fun riding this awesome terrain. There are so many little features to play with and we have so much space for ourselves. I think this shot gives you a pretty good idea of why I love being in this mountain environment so much. This is a perfect example of the amazing dimension my splitboard gives me access to
This is why this white desert is one of my favourite places to ride around here. I can go almost anywhere I like.. the feeling of freedom you get riding this plateau is incredible. It definitely offers no shortage of terrain to play with. The math is easy today – 4 friends, 4 tracks
The group switching from skiing/riding to touring mode in front of the refuge. Even if it is open only in the summer months, you can still sleep here in the winter. I have never done it but it’s on my list for later on this season. I hope I’ll have the chance. One of the obvious consequences of a thinner than usual winter cover is that the spring touring season will most certainly be shorter than usual this year. In a normal winter, there is enough snow here to complete the tour until the beginning of May. We’ll see what happens this year
I can do this tour several times every season and it never gets old