|North ridge of Aiguille Grive|
I was more worried about falling on that vertical wall than the police catching me, but both were real concerns. And then I caused an avalanche. This is a story about my four day trip to Les Arcs, France. With my friend Jarmo on the trip, I knew that our days would be packed full of the most difficult skiing we could find. We ended up climbing a mountain or two every day and skipping lunches because we were too busy skiing. Just the exercise I needed!
I am an outlaw. In violation of French laws and local regulations. I have not taken the national park educational course that teaches how to avoid disturbing the local fauna. The ski patrol or the even the local police could come at any moment and throw me into jail. And apparently they are very eager to do so, because it gives them an excuse to go skiing some good powder while catching such a big criminal. Even if I know how to behave in the delicate environment.
|Climbing down, carefully|
|A small amount of climbing was needed to get to Les Grandes Pentes|
|I do not know what the scissors are doing in this sign. But just to be safe,|
I'm not taking anything out of my pants to pee at this spot.
Two Kilometers of Vertical, on Every Run
One route that I wanted to do but did not have time (or guts) is the Couloir en S. This is the most famous of the ski runs off the Aiguille Rouge. It is also 1900 meters high, but starts with a healthy 45 degree couloir for the first few hundred meters, with a need to switch between couloirs in the middle. It would have been interesting. Maybe next time.
|Views on the off-piste run from Grand Col, near the Refuge de Turia|
The route that we did try started straight down under the lift as well. After a few hundred meters we took a long traverse to the left, crossing three ridges and the Arandeliéres bowl in the middle. The route is shown on the right in the picture. The traverse is airy; the slopes underneath are rocky and steep. But at the end of the traverse there is a wide area that usually has plenty of untracked snow. Definitely worth skiing, close enough to the lifts for added safety. Avalanches and falls are a danger in this area, but it does not require quite the same self-sufficient expedition setup like the other side. Avalanche danger was only moderate or small when we were visiting Les Arcs, and having checked with the ski patrol this route was OK except for some rocks. Those rocks did some damage to my already suffering skis, however. It is hard to predict when you will hit a rock under a seemingly deep powder cover.
|Off-piste under the Aiguille Rouge lift|
Aiguille Grive, 2732 m, sits right next to the top of the Transarc lift. An 40-minute hike is needed to climb the 150 meters to get to the top of the main ridge of this mountain. From here you could ski back to the ski area or take one of the backside routes towards the cross country ski center in Les Lanches. The first route that we did here is shown in the picture below. We started from the top lift station (the first marker), climbed to the top of the ridge on Aiguille Grive (second marker) on the obvious route, then skied down to the bowl slightly to the right first and then down.
|Climbing to the Aiguille Grive|
|Holy weather near the Notre Dame de Vernettes|
Another run that we did here started from the top of the Grand Col chairlift. We traversed to the skier's left, skied the steep slope and crossed a bowl, and then climbed up for half an hour to reach a ridge that we followed for a while, and then skied its steep right face (the one facing Aiguille Grive). This run ends at Les Lanches.
A bus stops at Les Lanches every half an hour to take you back to the ski area. Get off at the bus stop between Peisy and La Villaret; the slow Lonzagne ski lift will transport you back to the rest of the ski areas. Like the other routes, this route is also difficult to navigate and there are dangers if you end up in wrong place. Hire a guide for this trip.
|The start of the Les Lanches off-piste, near the Grand Col ski lift station|
|Lac des Moutons, descending the west face of Commune de Haut|
|Views from the ridge between Combe de Commune and Combe de la Chal|
Avalanche Run on Aiguille Grive
On the last day I did not have time for a major tour, so I went up on the Transarc and climbed a part of the Aiguille Grive, then traversed the face under the peak to reach the north ridge. This took about 40 minutes of climbing, and at the end I was on top of a very steep ridge. On the lowest part of the ridge there was a passage towards Vallandry. I did not take this route, but climbed a bit higher to ski back to the Grand Renard slope running towards Les Arcs 1800.
At first I had attempted to climb the rocks at the very top of the ridge, but found them too smooth to make progress with my ski boots. I reverted to walking in the snow just below the rocks, which turned out to be easy. Even if at places I felt like sinking into the snow.
|Sunshine on the north ridge of Aiguille Grive|
|Climbing a steep ridge. The other side is a cliff.|
The run from the ridge is not very high, under 100 meters. But no one had skied it before, so the snow was fresh. And the slope is steep. So steep in fact that when I skied it, the uppermost layers fell away in a series of avalanches. Small ones, I could feel them but it was clear that I was not in trouble. (And I was close enough to rescue forces should they be needed in the case of a bigger avalanche.) I was more concerned about hitting rocks under the snow which might send me cartwheeling.
|Avalanche! Well, a small one.|
Nevertheless, this small ridge was my best run on this trip. I wish I would have had time to do a couple more climbs. The ridge had space for dozens of attempts on fresh section of snow. In addition, I had chosen the least steep route on my first attempt, and the other ones would have been more interesting. And with some training, I could have skied at a higher speed, making the runs look better. As it was, we had an airplane to catch and had to leave.
|Entering the Les Lanches route from Grand Col. Steep.|
Vegetable soup at the Cafe Bulle on the slopes costs 3.50€, half of pizza or a sandwich costs under 6€. These prices are reasonable for a ski area in France. Dinners at Les Arcs 1800 range anywhere from 10€ to 30€, depending on the choice of the restaurant.
|This exciting environment needed just ten meters of climbing to get to|
(but with two meters of soft snow, those ten meters took ten minutes)
|I am either about to fall, or I am testing my new 3m long skis|
|Views from the Helsinki-Geneva flight on FlyBe|