SKI TOURING: JUST AN UPHILL SLOG?
30th March 2018 | Ian Davis, Paradiski
Last modified on November 27th, 2020
No. There is far more to it, especially if it means skiing down the north face of the mighty Bellecote at 3417m. PlanetSKI skins up.
As I stood at the bottom of the Colouir de Pépin on the north face of the Bellecote in the Paradiski area of France a wave of emotions swept over me – relief, excitement, pleasure and achievement.
I looked back towards the slope I had just come down.
In the last few hours I had also felt exhaustion, apprehension, fear and down-right terror.
I had seen some stunning alpine views and skied some fabulous slopes.
I had been scared rigid and deployed my years of experience to survive.
I had also skied some of the finest powder known to man.
Welcome to ski touring.
Advanced ski touring.
o, what had preceeded my arrival at the base of the Colouir de Pépin on Day Two of my three day adventure?
Day 1: The Introduction
Ski touring is becoming increasingly popular as people put skins on the bottom of their skis and walk up the slopes.
It is done for a variety of reasons: fitness, escaping the crowds, earning your turns, accessing remote parts of the mountains, fashion or just simply the novelty factor and an excuse to try something different.
People have been doing it for decades but it is now growing sharply in popularity.
So much so that the rental company Intersport has expanded its range of touring equipment and some of its major shops in resorts where the sport is growing.
And it was to Intersport that I headed to get kitted out.
Touring skis, skins and avalanche safety gear (transceiver, shovel and probe).
To gain some early elevation on our first day we made the most of the La Plagne lift system to whisk us to the Bellecote Glacier the highest part of the Paradiski.
Then it was a short boot pack up to the summit of the Roche de Mio Bellecôte at 3,268m.
Being able to ascend to such a height using the lift system gave us an exceptional amount of vertical to enjoy with minimal effort.
But we are touring, so let’s squeeze a little more out and go find some fresh tracks.
A 500m descent and a traverse across the Cul du Nant Glacier brought us to the base of the Dome des Picheres, skins on, jackets off and time for a little effort.
Scaling this peak is a steady climb, on reaching the top we were rewarded by views across the Paradiski, Three Valleys and to the north there is The Grande Motte peak above Tignes.
While refuelling and taking in the view we became aware that there was a stomach wrenching cliff to the north, it was the infamous North Face of the Bellecote.
Little did we know that Day Two would bring us face to face with its offerings… but more of that later.
Our descent took us south back across the Cul du Nant glacier and its expansive terrain allowed everyone to pick a fresh route.
This was unfortunately where PlanetSKI’s Alf Alderson fell badly.
He damaged his knee ligaments and had to be helicoptered off the mountain.
Alf reported his accident in an earlier article on PlanetSKI:
A steeper section through a gully, equal to a tricky black run, brought us to the Refuge de Plaisance.
From here it was spring conditions down to the valley at Laisonay.
After a short descent on the cross country tracks we arrived at Champagny le Haut where a free bus delivered us back to Champagny for a well-earned après beer.
It had been quite an introduction.
Day 2 – Is that as steep as it looks?
Our guide, André Bianchini, must have been impressed by our the exploits of our first day as he decided to stretch our legs a little further.
In fact a lot further.
André is a veteran of the ski guide world and one of the most relaxed guides I’ve had the pleasure to ski with.
His eye was always focussed on our safety and but he wouldn’t waste time with unrequired instructions.
He also used a tactic of not really giving us the full picture of where we were heading.
In hindsight this was a good thing.
If he had explained the plan for Day Two I don’t think I would have left the breakfast table…
After arriving on the lifts at the Bellecote glacier we were familiar with the short boot pack and decent onto the Cul du Nant Glacier from Day One.
Today’s entrée was the climb up the Pas de Genét, its opening gambit is a reasonably steep coloiur that focuses the mind and perfects one’s kick turns.
At the top we were rewarded with views across to Grand Bec and La Grand Casse.
It’s a gentle tour across the Glacier du Midi de Bellecote and around the Glacier des Picheres and this brought us to the top of the North Face of the Bellecote and the main event of the day – the Colouir de Pépin.
On arriving at the summit and I gathered myself and asked one of our number if the colouir was a steep as it looked.
The response of “Yep, you’ll need your big brave pants on for this!” didn’t exactly fill me with joy.
Skins off, helmet on and clipped in ready to go, a short slide over the cornice and into the colouir.
I was asked how I was feeling… unfortunately my response isn’t printable due to its obscene nature.
So, how was it?
Amazing – the top section is about 45 to 50 degrees in steepness and after 50m of hard pack snow we were into a 1,000m of descent in deep soft powder snow.
The gully started to open up and after some tight turns to control speed we hit a wide-open powder field to the valley allowing us to open up the gas.
We arrived at the village of Bois de Chabottes and there was a welcoming bar to calm our nerves and celebrate the exploits of the day.
We had survived.
From here it’s a short free bus ride to the Vanoise Express back over to the La Plagne area and its pistes back to our base in Champagny.
It was a sensational experience to tour and ski this route, it wasn’t a day without its moments but, sun tanned faces and tired legs were testament to a great and unforgetable day on the hill.
Ski touring at its best.
Day 3: Vanoise National Park Sunday tour (stroll) for lunch.
After Day Two our final day was a stroll in the park – literally.
The Vanoise National Park sits between the Tarentaise and the Maurienne valley.
We accessed the park at Pralognan la Vanoise and took a steady tour up through the valley for around 3-hours which brought us to the Refuge du Roc de la Pêche.
The Refuge is a welcome stopping place whether it be for an overnight stay or for lunch.
Before we slid back to our starting point we enjoyed ‘Boite Chaud’, a hot box of cheese served with charcuterie and potatoes.
If one has spare fuel in the tank you can carry on up to 2,474m and the Refuge Peclet Polset.
After lunch it was a pretty straight line decent back to the valley floor and the end of an exceptional few days of ski touring.
So, are the ups worth the downs?
Earning your turns is a rewarding experience, you get to ride places that are less visited, take in the views on the ascents, refresh, recharge at the summit before tearing up a fresh line on the downhills.
Getting kitted out:
Ski touring is a dream for equipment aficionados the opportunity to purchase new kit fill some with joy and others dread.
You don’t need to go all in, for winter 2018/19 the rental shops of Intersport are introducing a touring range, if you choose one of the premium rental services you can chop and change between piste and touring equipment.
It is worth taking a rucksack that allows you to attach your skis, for some sections you maybe on foot and having your skis safely attached to your pack allows you to freely use your hands to scramble up any steeper pitches.
It is advisable to hire a mountain guide on your outings, they will normally be able to provide you with the correct safety equipment which will include a transceiver, shovel and probe and instruction on how to use them.
Our top tips:
Get a guide – you get taken to the best routes and conditions in a safe manner, with instruction if you are new to ski touring.
If you want to give it a go without a mountain guide, La Plagne has a small free booklet called Ski De Randonnee which clearly shows 7 short routes that are within the ‘inbounds’ area, these are secured routes to make your intro into ski touring.
Start Steady – on a short non-taxing ski tour which will allows you to familiarise yourself with your new equipment.
Learn what to do it if goes wrong – get instruction in the use of avalanche search and rescue techniques.
Learn what all those straps are for – before you get onto the hill work out the best way of strapping your skis to the outside of your pack.
Rent your kit from Intersport – premium rental service allows you to alternate between piste or touring equipment.
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