October ski touring in Chamonix
I hadn’t really planned on getting the skis out before the lifts started spinning in December. Until recently, I’d been more than happy to eke out the last bit of summer fun out of the season.
But as the days have grown shorter and colder, my motivation to get out and run or bike has been similarly diminished. Until yesterday that is. I spent most of the day at work sifting through winter photos of various resorts, add to that some gentle pestering by my friend Oskar and some fresh snow, and motivation was on the up again. Before I knew it, I was waxing my skis and rifling through boxes looking for all my ski gear.
Reports on the ski bum wire (also known as Instagram) had us cautiously optimistic. Oskar, Hampus and I made it up the Aiguille du Midi without incident. The exit onto the arete was little more than a person-sized hole in the snow, a far cry from the carefully sculpted and equipped ice palace it is in winter. We made our way down the narrow ridge onto the glacier with feline precision, clicked into our skis for the first time in 5 months and... hesitated.
It didn’t look like the light cold powder from the day before. To be expected, I suppose. On top of that, my main gripe with the Midi after the spring queues is that you’re straight into some pretty intense terrain, skiing without a warmup and usually about an hour out of bed. Oh well, we're here now, I thought. Oskar dropped in first, skiing like he’d left the oven on at the bottom. I skied the first few turns slightly more tentatively, the top of the snow a bit wind-affected but nice and soft underneath. After getting a feel for the snow, I let the skis run a bit and, a few seconds later, I was arcing long turns across the Col du Midi on nice packed powder. Joy.
Options this early in the season are limited as big open crevasses made anything lower down the Vallee Blanche pretty uninviting. Because it’s October and it’s snowed approximately twice lately, anything steep was more or less just rocks and black ice. Nevertheless, we were there and wanted to stretch our legs. We put our skins on and headed towards the Triangle de Tacul, specifically the slope below the Contamines Negri route. It looked like it could hold some low angle fun.
“Oh rats” I watched my helmet roll down the slope. It veered right and came to a stop below Pointe Lachenal in a dip around some crevasses. In a pang of laziness, I briefly considered leaving it. It was old and due for replacement anyway, plus it could make our fun morning out a lot more complicated if it was on a snow bridge. Skiing over for a closer look, it didn’t look that bad. As a precaution, I got the rope out and tied in. Oskar dug in and belayed as I sidestepped down, picked the helmet up and got back up out of the hole. An extra 10 minutes, not that bad, but a totally avoidable and rookie mistake. Don’t unclip the strap your helmet is hanging off! Maybe the value of this little excursion was in dusting off the cobwebs.
Back on the arete, another lap looked irresistible as the snow was a bit better now after a few hours in the sun. For a few turns, it was as good as any day in the winter. Back up, back down and up again, but not before another pre-season niggle. The toe strap on my crampon had broken. Not a disaster, I thought, until I remembered the catwalk that is the arete. We briefly pondered the problem: no duct tape, no zip ties but I had some slings. Choosing the smallest one I had I bodged it to my foot. It held just fine and I eased into a relaxing pace back to the lift station, cobwebs on my mind again. All in all, a good day out enjoying the first significant snowfall of the season.
Off-piste skiing and mountaineering are dangerous. The opinions expressed in these articles are very much time and condition-specific and the content is not intended in any way to be a substitute for hiring a mountain guide, undergoing professional mountaineering training and/or the individual's own backcountry decision making.
Remember to check out the state of your gear before you head out onto the pistes this season. The sports shops in Chamonix will provide anything you need for your next adventure.
Also see: Sports Shops in Chamonix
Location: Aiguille du Midi