Search Blog

Blog archive

Zermatt Ski Safari

~ Friday 16th March 2018

Written by Mark Walker

A ski safari "par excellence" and for me, pastures new. Sensible use of lifts achieved a ridiculous amount of descent and with a little skinning, a pretty special glacial descent into Zermatt. “Classic” doesn’t come close…

As we headed to Nax for a cheeky warm up it was clear to me the week would be a ‘right laugh’. Riding high on a few lifts plus a little boot packing accessed a truck load of cracking powder off M. Noble. Having filled our boots (literally!) we hopped back in the vehicles and drove the short distance to Tasch.

Discretion appeared to be the better part to valour as we arrived at the Klein Matterhorn. Pretty high and pretty poor vis. Glacier skiing is pretty traumatic when you can’t see your nose! The pistes gave access to Cervinia and a short, comedy and equally traumatic taxi ride had us drinking cold beer in the sleepy Antagnod.

Champoluc seems to have the right number of lifts in exactly the right places. Our team donned skins and pulled a few laps off the Saleroforko and Rothore. A few of the crew were still getting used to their kit. In many ways it was the perfect place to learn with diverse but not overbearing terrain and excellent snow. A couple of lifts accessed the Battforko and we descend to a rather fine hotel in Gressoney la Trinite. Excellent service and fantastic fodder awaited.

Using the lifts back to the Battforko a 400m skin had us enjoying a second breakfast at 3060m. It was pretty atmospheric up there but the cloud lifted as if on queue, revealing an immaculate north facing powder descent to St Jacques (1300m). A James Bond run for the last couple of hundred meters had us drinking top notch coffee and ‘stand your spoon up’ hot chocolate in the sleepy hamlet. A negotiated lift in the proprietor’s pickup truck soon had us on the lifts once more heading to Alagna.

We had a morning to fill before heading to the Gnifetti hut…this wasn’t going to be a problem. With the blue bird day and plenty of North facing powder the obvious choice was the Salsa. A two minute wander off the Gemschore had us descending a couloir into the main valley. An adventurous 1800m descent all the way to Merletti had no shortage of challenges. All good stuff. We passed on the coffee this time (I missed the restaurant!) and using the lifts for a final time a 400m skin in rather blustery conditions had us sitting pretty in the hut at 3600m. Erika, the hut guardian, was a total legend. With only us and a comedy Spanish team in situ she bustled around making us feel very much at home. The sunset was pretty amazing but then again I always say that!

As we fell out of the hut in the morning it was difficult to know how the day would go. Forecast cloud and strong winds preceded a period of significant instability in the evening. We pressed on into the ‘ming’. On arrival at the shoulder above the Lisjoch it was still looking doubtful. Over a tactical coffee we prayed for a weakness. It came, and a tentative 200m descent revealed the Grenz Glacier in all its glory. Magical! Bordered by seracs and rock running off Liskamm and the Dufourspitze, the Grenz was the magic carpet to Zermatt. A 2600m descent followed. We didn’t see a soul until the piste at 1900m and there was no sign of any tracks until we cruised passed the Monte Rosa Hut at 2500m. Awesome... A fitting end to an incredible week!

Atomic Backland Ski Touring Boot - second season

~ Wednesday 7th March 2018

My first impressions of the Atomic Backland Boot were really good. Probably designed by someone who'd had a good look at the old Dynafit TLT 5 and 6, it seemed to offer the same light weight, great skinning comfort, a proper crampon toe-lug, stiff enough to ski a medium ski, and a big plus in the amazing heat-formable shell - it's still the best-fitting boot I've ever had straight out of the shop (I have very wide feet and every other boot has to go back several times for shell work)

A big weakness of the TLT boot was the ankle pivot. After 2 seasons mine developed a lot of play in the joint as the metal slowly wore away the cuff material and there was really nothing you could do about it. Atomic seemed to have seen this and used a plastic bush - the "Frictionless Pivot" - hoping to avoid wear on the cuff, and with the option of replacing the bushes. After only one season however, my boots have a fair bit of play.

Luckily the ever-helpful La-Haut in Sion were able to find me some new pivots (plus new cables and velcro straps, which had also fallen to bits!) The pivot comes apart with a 16mm socket and a Torx T25 bit and the new bits go in easily enough.

Tighten everything up and....

Still a fair bit of play. It looks like, despite the bushes, the cuff material still wears away, meaning the outer bush now moves in the cuff. Oh well...

Winter Room Haute Route

~ Thursday 1st March 2018

The Chamonix-Zermatt "Haute Route" is probably the most famous multi-day ski-tour in the world - it's usually called simply The Haute Route. Completing it is a real challenge needing fitness and good weather, but in the main touring season the huts will be full and it can feel busy. The idea of the Winter Room trip is to attempt the journey before the huts open, when the classic route is often totally deserted. This year we didn't quite make it to Zermatt, but we definitely found an adventure on the way!

We started up the Col du Passon with a few other people, but everyone else turned left and skied to le Tour, leaving us alone in the high mountains.

Day 2 dawned windy, cloudy and snowy. Not ideal!

Still, we had a great ski down the Val d'Arpette.

A quick taxi and a careful journey through the Verbier lift system got us out into the wilds again just as the weather closed in - tricky conditions down to the Prafleuri hut.

Despite having a quirky coin-meter electricity supply the hut proved un-heatable - it was a relief to get moving in great weather the next day!

No tracks at all along the Dixence valley.

The Pas du Chat is a key passage on the route - steep and serious ground, which feels very remote with no-one else around!

The weather started to break on Thursday so we avoided the Pigne d'Arolla and escaped through to Arolla in the morning before making the long climb to Bertol in the afternoon. We now had only a short stage through to Zermatt - if the weather held!

Sadly, after a promising start, the clouds rolled in and despite a patient wait on top of Tete Blanche we eventually had to admit defeat and return to Arolla - which wasn't that easy at first in zero visibility.

The descent from Bertol is a good one and went some way towards making up for disappointment in not making it through to Zermatt.

So again the Winter Room trip provided adventure. Despite a "failure" of sorts - if success means reaching Zermatt - we had a great week, with good skiing, good fun and a real team spirit. Thanks everyone for making it work!