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~ 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!