Spring Ski touring in Chamonix
Warm conditions have brought full spring conditions to the Chamonix valley this week
Spring touring season is well and truly upon us, with warm temperatures bringing a daily melt-thaw snow cycle and shorts & flipflops being worn around town.
We made a decision on Tuesday to tour to something south-facing to hopefully time it just right for some softened snow on the descent. We decided on the Dent de Fenestral near Finhaut & Emosson in the end, joined by a few old friends visiting town this week it made for a very fun day.
After parking at the end of the Finhaut road the ascent kicked off with a skin up the road to Emosson Dam, with a couple of short bare sections requiring a walk, before breaking uphill on the walking path towards the Col de Fenestral.
At the start of the path there was 5-10 minutes of walking, but we soon got the skis back on for the rest of the way up. The ascent route was pretty obvious and reaching the plateau we could see the Col de Fenestral getting closer and closer. The snow was softening on the skin track already and was a little slippy, so beginner tourers may appreciate ski crampons for south-facing ascents at any time of day at the moment.
Upon reaching the col we regrouped, had a bit of lunch and checked out the amazing views over the Mont Blanc Massif while deciding on our descent route. Heading back down the way we came up would surely give excellent soft snow, but would be a less interesting route than going through the col which Colin had done in the past. So we took a bit of a gamble and went through the col before skinning to a second col on the SE side of the Dent de Fenestral - I kept skins on the whole time for a short but sketchy downhill ski to save some time.
From the second col the snow on the SE face below looked good but the entrance was quite steep and narrow, starting with a nasty step down. This meant that a skis-off down-climb was required to start and then a further down-climb to reach a good spot to put skis on - not too nice, but there were good footsteps in place already. Once everyone was down and had skis on it was time to ski properly.
The very first bit of skiing was holding soft, choppy snow requiring some nasty jump-turns to get down, but as soon as it opened up and mellowed-out the snow was perfectly smooth perfect spring corn for long, fast turns all the way with a few natural jumps and rolls to play on; very fun skiing, I just wish it had lasted longer!
A final steeper, smooth section brought us towards the treeline where I thought we would just be hacking through the trees to make our way out but they turned out to be pretty nicely spaced for some good skiing, through lots of little rolls and gullies, with increasingly heavy snow but still skiing fine even on our lightweight touring gear.
After hitting the road we got one final pitch of skiing before joining up to the walking track we climbed earlier for a bit of a walk down to the Emosson road and an easy ski out to the car. Beers in Vallorcine finished off the day nicely where we planned something just as fun for the next day!
Full details of this ski touring route can be found on the always excellent Camptocamp.org.
Follow more from Lorne in his ski blog.
NB: 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 back country decision making.
Location: Chamonix / Mont Blanc Valley