Snowboarding is only one of the reasons I love spending time planning routes on maps and venturing into the backcountry. Exploring the terrain around a ski itinerary – assuming there is one marked on the map – figuring out different routes up or down, trying to make the most of the terrain features and snow conditions, are all the other reasons. My splitboard is obviously the tool which makes the exploration possible. Hence the phrase you might have already read here a few times: Splitboarding is the answer.
Although my little mountain experiences might not be as significant as riding down the Mont Blanc or making a first descent on some peak in the Peruvian Andes or on a remote place like Baffin Island,(stay tuned, I am planning a proper splitboarding expedition later on this winter) their exploration component is where I get a big part of the buzz from.
The other evening Daniele and I were looking at the map to choose where to go and we decided to hike in an area which offers a number of different easy options, both in terms of proper signed ski touring itineraries and in terms of possible variations. We also wanted to sleep up there somewhere, either in a refuge or in bivouac. Sleeping in an isolated place like a refuge or a more basic mountain shelter is a wonderful experience.
Provided you are able to get a good night sleep, sleeping at higher altitude has a good number of advantages, especially towards the end of the season. In March and April the temperatures are higher and the slopes are exposed to the sun much longer than in January and February. As a result, the avalanche risk is higher, especially on south facing slopes and although the days are longer, the time to safely hike and ride/ski down is considerably less than the one available during January and February. Another pretty obvious advantage is that sleeping in huts and proper refuges allows completing long ski tours which, for their length or complicated and exposed portions, could not be completed in one day.
Daniele and I were not worried about higher temperatures and were not planning a multiday tour. We wanted to sleep at higher altitude simply for the pleasure of having a closer experience with the mountains. It’s great watching sunset and sunrise from up high on a mountain. The higher and more isolated the better.
We both have fathers who, since we were very young, brought us on holiday where we were camping by the sea, sleeping on beaches or walking in the mountains, sleeping in mountain huts. Those experiences clearly had a big influence on both Daniele and I and helped our fathers passing on to us their passion and appreciation for the natural world. Our fathers did a good job. 30 years later we are still walking and hiking around mountains with a sleeping bag in our rucksack looking for bivouacs.
When I graduated from University, Giovanni, Daniele and other good friend of ours, bought me a fantastic sleeping bag that I can use at temperature down to – 20°. It’s 11 years old and it’s still one of my most treasured possessions.
So we ask around and find out that the refuge de Bostan-Tornay is open. The same evening we pack all our gear, including our sleeping bags and the following morning we set off with the idea of staying there for the night. This was the plan.
We are now out of the trees, heading up in the valley. Snow looks and feels good under the skins. I can’t wait to feel it under my board. These are the Chalets du Bostan, we are at 1,500 mt. From here the refuge is only about half an hour away, easy peasy
ok, we are here but the refuge is closed!? If you are in the area and wish to stay here, don’t do what we did. Learn from our mistake and don’ trust the information centre. I recommend you call the directly the refuge to make sure they are open. You’ll find the number and other info here:
This is the bivouac next to the refuge, open all year round. We slept in it a few times. It’s very basic but it does the job. You only have to sleep in it after all! There are beds, blankets and pillows but it’s only a shelter so there isn’t any heating or light in it, so if you wish to stay you need to make sure you have enough food, something to drink, a good torch and a warm sleeping bag. We were pretty sure the refuge would have been open so although we have some food with us, we don’t have a huge amount of it. Even if Daniele eats normally 3 times what I eat, I am not too worried, I know he can control himself if the circumstances require him to do so. After all, he is a very dedicated, reasonable man.
Although there is another refuge just on the other side of the ridge behind us, the Refuge de La Golese, we don’t have a clue whether it’s open or not. I have to confess that saying that we are not impressed with the information we received from the tourist information centre in Samoens is an understatement. When we asked which refuges were open, the smiling lady behind the desk told us that the Bostan was the only one they knew it was open for sure (!!) and that they didn’t have a clue about all the others. Very helpful indeed. So we decide to go and check out whether it’s open. It’s only 1 hour skinning after all. Once there we can decide whether stay if it’s open (I doubt it), skin back to the bivouac or call the day, ride down and go home. A good example of what I call happy problems. It’s an amazing feeling being up here in such a beautiful environment, entirely on our own, having all this freedom. Sometimes I have the impression that this higher world with endless possibilities of moving through the mountains the splitboard gives me is everything I have always been looking for. It’s such a liberating experience. Although when I have to make my own decisions sometimes I feel tense, the mountain environment is definitely where I am happiest and feel most alive.
So what shall we do? We exchange a few thoughts and opinions about food, weather and general options for the next day and although the call of the wild and the desire to use our super warm sleeping bags in the bivouac are very strong, we decide to find a nice route in the middle of the valley – there is no proper ski tour itinerary signed on the map here – and head down.
We set off, choosing a line with a very gentle angle. The snow is good, a bit heavy perhaps but good. One of the many reasons why Daniele is one of my favorite people to be in the mountains with is because we are both as happy to be here on this type of easy terrain with this not excellent snow than we are on riding steeper slopes in powder. I think know what you are thinking – riding powder is always one of the finest things in life and never gets old. And we all agree on that. Bu for us, simply being here, on our boards, knowing we have earned every single turn we are making, is also an amazing experience which puts a big smile on our faces and make us feel very lucky
Turn after turn we are following a small stream of water which runs on our right hand side. I have been here before and I know we have to be careful not to go too low and cross it at some stage. I just can’t remember where! We decide not to look at the map and keep riding.
After a 30 minute walk we are back at the bottom of the track, it’s now almost 5pm. It’s the end of another awesome day spent exploring these tranquil mountains on my splitbaord with a great friend. What else could I ask for?! I am already looking forward to the next one