Skiing in the French Alps

Schools in Geneva have a one-week mid-term break in February, and the ski slopes are normally crowded. I took my boys for a week skiing in the French Alps at Les Gets, which is a little over 60 kilometres from Geneva, in the direction of Chamonix. The slopes were even more crowded as usual, as it was also the British mid-term break, and Les Gets is a popular destination.

Looking towards Mont Blanc from Mont Chéry.

The village of Les Gets, visible in the valley below my younger son in the photo above, is relatively low at 1,170m above sea level, and the highest points accessible on ski are at around 2000 m. The photo above was taken near the summit of Mont Chéry at around 1,800 m. In the distance to the south-east Mont Blanc (4,810 m) is visible on the horizon. I stood on its summit in 2010 (Mont Blanc), 3000 metres higher than where I and my son are now standing. Below is another photo taken using the zoom lens.

Closer view of Mont Blanc

On another day, we ascended to the highest point of the Les Gets pistes, the ridge of Chamossière at around 2000m, with spectacular views of the Alps in all directions.

The view from Chamossière ridge.

The Arbis run from the top of Chamossière is a red piste, and almost certainly the hardest red piste in the resort. February this year was the second warmest since records began in the 1860s, and it was around +8 C under a hot sun in cloudless skies (for the entire week).  As a result, the snow was fairly firm, and icy on the steeper pistes because of the melting and refreezing overnight. Overall, snow conditions were quite reasonable, but this piste was icier than most. Because of the warmth, none of us wore parkas the whole week, and I didn’t put a pair of glove on all week either.

Descending the Arbis run from Chamossière. My younger son in the middle of photo.

When I put my skis on after climbing up to the ridgetop to see the view, I did not realize that my heels did not properly lock in because of snow built up on the bottom of the heel. When I did a hard turn on the icy slope, both skis came off and they and I slid quite fast down the piste. One ski was left behind me, and I slid faster to catch the other and then tried to arrest my fall. Someone else brought the other ski down to me, and I managed to get the skis on and continue. When I fell, I cut my hand in several places and it was bleeding quite freely. One of the disadvantages of skiing without gloves. I did not realize I had wiped the blood across my face, until I caught up with the boys, who reacted with shock to my appearance.

My older son is a snowboarder, I and my other son were on skis.

A viewing platform at the top of the Ranfoilly chairlift

We stayed in a chalet in the snow at 1500m quite close to the Folliet chairlift. We could walk or drive the short distance to the Folliet lift, and either ski down to the main telecabine or take the Folliet lift up to the top of the ridge. The boys figured out an offpiste route to ski around the edge of the forest to within about 50 metres of our chalet. So it was almost ski in and ski out. The final photo is a view from the front balcony of our chalet in the evening after a great day on the slopes.

View from our chalet

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Glacial Erratic Blocks in the Rhone Valley

Continuing our glacial explorations (see also The-pyramids-of-euseigne), we visited a number of enormous glacial erratic blocks in the wooded slopes above the town of Monthey in the Rhone Valley. These blocks played a pivotal role in the realization that there had been great Ice Ages in the past. There are eight blocks along a trail about 5km long between Monthey and Collombey. ( MT_Blocs_Erratiques_Web.pdf). The first and largest of these blocks, “La Pierre des Marmettes”, is now in the middle of the parking lot of the Monthey Hospital.

La Pierre des Marmettes

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The Pyramids of Euseigne

The Pyramids of Euseigne are one of the more bizarre geological features created by the last ice age. They are in the Val d’Hérens, one of the southern side valleys off the Rhône valley of Switzerland. The entire Rhone valley and its side valleys were under glaciers at the height of the last ice age around 23,000 years ago. An old university friend who is a geologist visited Switzerland at the beginning of the year and invited me to join him for an exploration of some of the landscape features created by the glaciers of the last ice age.

In the photo below, my friend is looking south towards the junction of the Val d’Hérens and Val d’Hérémence where two glaciers met and continued down towards us. The pyramids are located on the ridge separating the two valleys, We are standing on the remnants of a glacial lake delta formed by the damming of the melt waters of the joined glaciers. The glaciers retreated about 11,000 years ago when humans expanded north back into Northern Europe and Britain again.

The Pyramids are the remnants of a ground moraine created from finely ground silt and sand with embedded larger boulders. Some of the boulders protected the underlying compacted silt from erosion, forming protective caps.

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Méribel mountain views

Some photos of the French Alps from the Saulire on the mountain ridge between Méribel and Courcheval. The Saulire is at 2738m and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc in the distance 63 km away. And then a thousand metre descent which made for great skiiing.

Looking west over the Méribel valley towards Val Torens

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Snow on the pines

Thanks to the President of China, I spent a day in January skiing at Les Houches near Mont Blanc. Xi Jinping was visiting my organization, and we were told to avoid coming to work if possible, as the security arrangements were extreme. Juras and Swiss Alps were forecast to have low temperatures, low visibility and strong wind, so I headed up towards Mont Blanc where it was sunny and no wind. The temperature was still low at about -10 degrees C.

Mont Blanc seen from Les Houches

Mont Blanc seen from Les Houches

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Mont Pelvoux

Les Ecrins

I was cleaning up my photo files, and came across these photos from a trip in September 2012 to Les Ecrins, the southernmost part of the French alps, about 100 km south of Grenoble. There are a number of peaks over 4000m but our objective was to climb Mont Pelvoux, just below 4000m at 3946 m (12,946 ft). Bad weather in the Swiss Alps had led us to flee southwards looking for better weather. There was heavy rain all the way to Briancon, so we stayed down in the valley for the first night rather than climb to Refuge de Pelvoux in the rain. But that meant a big day the next day with a 2700 m climb to Pelvoux. We left at 3.30 am, amd climbed the 1200 m to Refuge de Pelvoux in about 3 hours, arriving just as the sun was rising. Continue reading

Skiing Mont Fort near Verbier

I chose a day with perfect weather to go up to Verbier to do some skiing. I did not have the boys with me and took the opportunity to go up to the summit of Mont Fort (3330 m) and ski down the Mont Fort Glacier (about a 400 metre descent to Col des Gentianes. From there its another 1500 vertical descent to Verbier. The glacier is usually well covered in snow and crevasses are not a problem as long as you don’t stray too far off the main route. But it is very steep and develops large moguls, that can be icy. I’ve done this descent several times, but never too gracefully. On this trip, I was skiing above 3000 m in brilliant sunshine, about zero degrees, no need for gloves or too many layers. In fact, I was sweating and got sunburnt.

Following are a few photos from the same trip.

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