Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The day the snow turned sandy brown!

Not sure how well you can see the sandy tinge to the snow

Now here’s a funny thing, we went out skiing today on brown snow, not really brown, but a light sandy colour. Overnight we had a light dusting of, what looked like sand, we noticed it on the car this morning and assumed someone may have been sanding some wood nearby and had deposited a light dust on the car, but looking down from the chairlifts we could see the snow was a light sand colour. It was particularly emphasised on the pistes where people had skied and disturbed the top layer, to reveal bright white snow beneath, churning up the top layer to a slightly deeper shade of sand. It became ‘creepy’ later on when mist descended (despite the forecast predicting clear skies) and we were in an unfamiliar area, having caught two buses to La Chapelle. 
Here's another picture of sandy snow with white skied bits
Through the mist it looked as though we were skiing on very light coloured sand dunes, of the type we expect on tropical islands (and incidentally off Northern Scotland by Picton), giving quite a surreal experience. We don’t know what caused it, but the light winds were coming from the south-east, the direction from North Africa, so we suppose it could be desert sand carried across on the wind, a phenomenon not unknown in the past, but we can’t find anything on the news about it.

Jackie skiing through fresh powder
Someone not-so-lucky being lifted into a rescue helicopter
It’s half term this week and therefore pretty busy, so we’ve been selecting our skiing area carefully to avoid the crowds and have been going to more isolated areas, requiring more planning and travelling, but also giving much more variety. Getting up and out promptly has been the order of the last few days, as locals on holiday travel by car, filling up the car parks at the main lifts early, but we’ve managed well and only been caught in a lift queue a couple of times.

A nice mountain picture? Look closer at the zoomed in section below....
Can you see four skiers, one of whom (on the left, halfway down) is throwing up a powder trail as he skis? The second person is to the right and a bit lower, the third person is near the bottom about three quarters of the way across the picture and the fourth is just left of a large rock near the bottom right hand corner. Now go back to the big picture and work out where they are on that mountain. We watched them ski down from the very top and this was the best picture I could get with our relatively basic camera. It's still very impressive and they must have had a fantastic descent, well worth the effort of getting up to the summit
Jackie in front of a couple of piste grooming mchines
Our ‘getting off the beaten track’ led us to Morgins, a quiet Swiss resort that we can get to from our usual local car park within 9 or 10 lifts and pistes, taking about an hour. We did some runs we had done before and then, looking at a noticeboard showing an old area piste map, we spotted a red run not shown on our modern piste map. We could see where it should go on our map, but no piste was marked, so off we went to see if we could find it. Halfway down a blue run an opening through some trees had a small ‘closed’ notice, barely visible so, ignoring it we followed a couple of previous ski tracks through the trees and onto a narrow but brilliant ski track that twisted and turned down, eventually joining another piste, which went back to a lift out. 
Jackie on the 'lost piste' of Morgins
It was THE run of the day, offering some pretty exciting skiing in a very isolated area with no-one else about, so good in fact we went back and did it again! Disappointingly we went back again the following day to find a piste grooming machine had gone through overnight and groomed it into a proper piste overnight, making it remarkably easy and much less inspiring. We think they must be keeping it for only those in the know, but in the day since we first found it and were one of only a few people down, by the next day it was really skied out – but by whom?

Husky dogs take a break from pulling sledges
And here's a close up showing them having a well-earned rest!

Jackie putting the 'skins' on her skis
We’ve finally managed a bit of ski touring, getting out and using our ‘skins’ to ‘skin up’ or walk up hill on skis. The ‘skins’ we use these days are not animal skins, but a man-made material that is adhesive on one side to stick to the base of skis and provide friction on the snow one way to stop the skis sliding back downhill, but slide easily uphill. Normally they are used to access remote areas, not serviced by ski lifts to give a true mountaineering experience, the kind of thing we have done several times in previous years when we have toured hut to hut in remote mountainous areas, but this time we used them to skin up a piste, just for a bit of exercise. 
And off she goes up hill
Jackie did ask ‘why’, when we have perfectly good ski passes to avoid having to walk up hill, but I told her it would be good for her, so off we went! We only did about 2km and 410m of ascent up a ‘blue’ piste, keeping to the edge to avoid downhill skiers, but it was good exercise and we saw so much more than we would normally, taking lifts and pistes to get to an area in our local resort that we wanted to tour through, not to mention how many people said “Bonjour” as the easily slid down past us!

We’re hoping for a bit more snow in the next few days as higher temperatures have removed most of the snow below 1100m (we’re at 900m, so can see mostly green around us now), there’s still plenty about, several meters deep at higher elevations and loads of great skiing, but a new covering, particularly to cover the sandy coloured layer would be very welcome, but we’re not complaining!

1 comment:

  1. The Day the Snow Turned Brown....... sounds like a sequel to something - I'm not witty enough to think of it currently! Hee hee! xx