Sunday, 13 March 2016

Best 2 weeks of skiing this season in Portes Du Soleil

LtoR: Brian, Cassie, Jackie, Jim, Si & Dave

We are tired but very happy people after a couple of weeks of the best skiing in fresh deep powder snow we have seen this season. For most of the second week we’ve had clear blue sunny skies with a low freezing level and sub-zero temperatures that have produced the most perfect deep powder snow in a mountain fresh sunny climate, THE most perfect conditions it is possible to have.

Groucho kitten asleep in her box on our balcony
It coincided with a visit on the first week from Jim, Si and Cassie’s friend, who is an outdoor pursuits instructor and expert skier and wanted to find the best off-piste powder, stretching our off-piste skiing to our limits, fantastically enjoyable but very tiring! The second week was a week’s holiday for nine of our friends from Solihull Mountaineering Club, staying at Si and Cassie’s: Jo and Mike, Alex and Rob, Lawrence and Nicola, Roger, Mike and James. So we have used the perfect conditions to the full and had an amazing, adventurous time skiing every day almost from dawn to dusk with good friends having very memorable snowy days. There’s almost too much to tell and too many good photos to put here, so I’ll try to be brief, but bear with me…..

Jackie cutting fresh tracks in powder on Mont Chery
Week 1: the snow was good, but much more was forecast, the two of us went out through French and Swiss resorts picking out the best runs and completed 36 in a day under sunny skies – Jackie complained!

Cassie takes a tumble in the powder on Mont Chery
Next day it was snowing heavily, already there was 5cm of fresh snow but the visibility was poor, we planned not to go out but it was Si and Cassie’s day off, it was Si’s birthday on Friday so they invited us out to ski with Jim and another friend of theirs, Dave, who owns 3 chalets and seems to be endlessly on his phone sorting out staffing and client problems. He’s a nice guy and, in between off-piste madness cutting fresh lines through trees and steep terrain we sat on a chairlift chatting, ‘What do you do here?’ he asked, ‘well, nothing actually, we’ve just rented an apartment and we go out skiing and enjoying ourselves’. ‘Cool’ he said and his phone rang again with another problem but he took his frustration out on more manic off-piste. Jim was on form and Si was go-for- it as usual. Cassie, Jackie and I just tried to keep up! After lunch we were joined by Leanne and Drew but we headed back as they all skied down to Avoriaz to a disco bar with the intention of an evening of drinking and dancing in Morzine. We didn’t fancy that, but got back very tired and wet, but to tea and cake!

'You put your left leg in...' Cassie, Jim & Jackie off piste on Mont Chery
Next day Si, Cassie and Jim were late up, it was still snowing heavily, there was another 10cm or so of fresh snow, so we walked up to our local lift and had some amazing runs in fresh powder. When it’s as good as that we don’t need to go anywhere else, skis sink to half calf height, it’s light powder and turns cut very easily and there’s so much untouched powder. The phone rang, Si had a giant hangover, but Jim and Leanne wanted to go off-piste over Mont Chery so we packed up, got in the car, drove through snow covered roads, parked by the lift in Les Gets, got up on the lift and out into very poor vis in really heavy snow. We were about to sit down on a chairlift when it stopped, as it turned out, for the rest of the day so we caught a drag lift up but could see so little that we abandoned it and headed home. We met Si at the bottom of the lift, who had finally made it out, looking white like the snow. ‘Not for us’ we told him, ‘have a great ski’.

Saturday off-piste skiing in La Grande Terche, St Jean
Next day it was clear in the morning but more heavy snow expected by 1:00pm, so we were out early, back to Mont Chery to try out some of the amazing off-piste there. Jim and Cassie joined us, no Si, he still had his hangover – and it’s his birthday! We all did some nice easy angled off-piste we knew and then challenging steep off-piste Jim had found. ‘There are no friends in powder’ he said and set off first to cut new lines in fresh snow. It was fabulous, but the weather forecast was right and it started snowing heavily again. Cassie headed home to do her shopping and we headed home too in deteriorating vis but Jim stayed on his own enjoying the powder.

Cassie and Jackie on steep off-piste in La grande Terche
The following day, Saturday, was the day our friends from Solihull Mountaineering club were coming out, but they weren’t arriving until 6:30pm. We were helping them to clean the chalet and do the airport transfers but there was plenty of time. There was another 15cm of fresh powder, it was snowing hard so we, including Jim, all went over ‘The Terche’ (our resort in St Jean) until about 1:00pm. 

Cassie skiing 'Les Vous' black piste in La Grande Terche
The powder was AMAZING! We did the most challenging of the off-piste in the resort, cutting numerous fresh lines down steep terrain and had the most fabulous time. Lunch, chalet changeover, off to the airport to collect them all and then we stayed for dinner. The start of a busy week (if last week wasn’t busy enough!)

An indication of how much snow had recently fallen
Mike R, Jackie and Jo off-piste in Les Gets
SMC day 1: It was relatively sunny, there was 5cm or so of more fresh powder (how much had fallen in the last week?) it was about -4 degrees at base and the snow was in perfect condition. We lost Lawrence on his snowboard before we even got up the first lift. How did that happen? We just didn’t know, but after waiting 20 minutes or so and no way to contact him we had to head off. It was a great day of skiing but with 10 of us of different abilities it was difficult to stay together without having to wait a lot and modify plans to suit. 

LtoR: James, Mike D, Mike R, Jackie, Jo, Rob, Alex, Roger
We met an unhappy Lawrence later after getting his phone number. He’d had a bad day and the 10 year gap between snowboard holidays really showed with twisted shoulder and knee. We skied together a while and made a note that big groups don’t work. It was snowing again and there was another 15cm of fresh powder again the following morning.

With Rob and Alex in La Grande Terche
SMC day 2: We split into smaller groups and Jackie and I went over ‘The Terche’ with Rob and Alex in beautiful sunshine and fabulous snow. It was minus 2 degrees at base, no wind, a fabulous fresh, sunny climate and superb snow. We skied our resort out and had a great yet relaxing day with a stop off at our favourite piste side bar for a hot chocolate. 

Brian, Jackie and Alex in 'The Terche'
Alex, despite her MS skied really well and seemed to have found hidden energy and had a massive smile all day. We all met up with Lawrence and Nicola at a piste-side bar and enjoyed huge vin chauds in the afternoon sun. Life doesn’t get any better than this! The others did the long ski tour through Super Chatel, Morgins and Champoussin that we did with Simon and Diane a couple of weeks back and had a great day.

Nicola, Rob, Alex, Jackie, Lawrence and Brian at a bar in 'The Terche'
Jackie, Jo, Mike R and James skinning up towards Abondance
SMC day 3: Brian got one of his ‘ticks’. With Jackie, Mike R, James and Jo we put the skins on our skis and, with the snow deep and very low in the valley we skinned up from St Jean to the Col de l’Ecuelle and then up to Abondance ski resort. It was minus 4 degrees at base and there had been another 15-20cm of fresh snow overnight, so we took Si and Cassies 4 wheel drive to get up the road to the start. Si and Cassie drove up half hour later after dropping the rest off and caught us up as we arrived at the top of Abondance. 
Jo, James and Jackie pause for a breather on the way up
It took us just under 2 hours, in part skinning through fresh snow at half calf height. The top lift of Abondance wasn’t running so Brian couldn’t ‘tick off’ one of the black runs he hasn’t done, but we all skied the other runs in the resort including an on and off-piste route right down the mountain to the bottom. 

Nearing the top of Abondance. Jo is followed by Jackie. Two small figues on the very right at the Col are Si and Cassie catching us up
Removing the skins from our skis, now with Si and Cassie
It’s not often there’s snow all the way down as its altitude is fairly low, so we had seen it at its best. Finally we caught the drag lift back up to the top (the one Jackie climbed up before it was open) and had a fabulous, long off-piste ski back down to St Jean, avoiding the path we used to ascend and skiing across open hillside and through trees in superb deep powder.

At the top of Abondance. Mike R, James, Cassie, Jackie, Jo and Si
Sillyness in the bubble. Brian, Jo, Jackie, Mike and James' shoulder
Skiing back down in deep powder. There are two Jackies in this photo!
Our off-piste route (RtoL) over Mont Chery
SMC day 4: Another day and another ‘tick’ for Brian. This one was to ski off-piste from the top of Mont Chery in Les Gets, down the ridge line of the mountain to a subsidiary peak, Mount Caly, then over and down to the restaurant we found when out walking with Denise (Brian’s sister) and Paul several weeks ago, then ski off-piste down the hill to cross the road and catch ski lifts and runs through Les Gets before returning to the car at Mont Chery. 
James, Jackie, Mike R and Jo on top of Mont Chery with Mont Blanc in the distance
Walking to the top of Mont Caly with Mont Blanc in the distance
The day was clear, cold and sunny with spectacular views across to Mont Blanc. We arrived at the restaurant to see its terrace facing the Mont Blanc chain and all the amazing views. We didn’t see that last time on our walk with D&P – sorry! 

On Mont Caly with Mont Chery summit in the distance
At the restaurant on Mont Caly that Denise & Paul will recognise
The igloo that was there previously had had an extension and was now twice the size and we were amused by Mike R’s antics climbing inside. After hot chocolates and lunch we clicked the skis back on and headed down through pristine snow, putting in fabulous ‘S’ turns in the deep powder as we glided down in roughly the right direction over open hillside and trees towards the ski lift on the opposite mountain. 

And this was the view of Mont Blanc from the restaurant that we didn't see last time. Note the extended igloo
Jackie and James sliding through perfect powder
We stopped a few times to check our direction and had to carefully cross a couple of roads and a stream, but we made it, got the lift and a few ski runs and met up with others from our group at a bar at the top of the Nauchets lift in Les Gets and sat outside at tables and chairs on the piste enjoying the afternoon sun and expansive views. We met up again in the evening at Si and Cassie’s as they had invited us to dinner with everyone else and an evening at theirs. It’s great to spend time in the evening with them all and Cassie’s food was excellent, but it felt odd to be served by our friends Si and Cass but not have them sit with us!

Jo bringing up the rear with the restaurant and the igloo in the distance
Pause for a breather, our 'S' turns in the snow behind us
Oh yes, there was a stream crossing to negotiate
Meeting up with the others. LtoR: Mike R, Jo, Mike D, Roger, James and Jackie
Aaaah, soon to be married Jo and mike D
One of the last runs of the day, an unpisted black
Dinner at Si and Cassies: Mike R, Jo, Rob, Alex, Mike D, James, Roger, Jackie, Lawrence & Nicola
At the bottom of Barbossine. James, Mike D, Mike R, Lawrence, Roger & Jo
SMC day 5: Another clear, sunny day, slightly warmer at 2 degrees at base, but the snow was still in fabulous condition. Jackie and I decided to have separate days, I went on a long piste tour with James, Mike R, Jo, Mike D, Roger and Lawrence, Jackie went on a ski with Alex over to Chatel, while Rob headed off up the hill behind Si and Cassie’s to climb the excellent via-ferrata on elephant rock. Our long day was to head over to Chapelle d’Abondance via ski lifts and piste skiing, one of the outlying ski areas that needs a free ski-bus transfer at one point. James and Mike R had never been there before and were keen to ski this last area that they hadn’t been to. 
Lunch in Chapelle d'Abondance
It’s a long way and, to do it justice we needed to move quite fast, but the group was big making progress slower than was comfortable, so it meant some really good pistes not on our direct route had to be missed out. One fabulous piste that we did do was an unpisted, lumpy black called Barbossine. The snow was still soft and forgiving so most people enjoyed it although Lawrence found it challenging on his board and Roger reckoned he got down OK but it wasn’t pretty! At the top of the next lift I had another ‘tick’ I wanted to do, a black unpisted run under the Tronchey lift that has never been open this season or the last one we were on. If it’s ever going to be open it’s now, with all the snow and as the lift got to the top I was looking in eager anticipation, but it was closed!!  Onwards to Chapelle. 

Skiing with Mike D & Jo on Friday. The snowman had climbed onto the roof!
Time was pressing as we got the bubble down from the Super Chatel side of Chapelle, but we needed to get the bus to the main Chapelle area. Already we were discussing the way back and, rather than coming back to here to have a long trip up and over Super Chatel, option 2 was to catch the bus back to La Linga in Chatel, which would cut the journey time. The bus arrived and Roger said ‘but that’s going the wrong way isn’t it? Le Linga is the other way’ ‘No, we’re going to the main Chapelle area first’. ‘Oh no, you mean we’re going further away?’ says a dejected Roger. Our time in the main area was very limited, so we only managed a few runs before having to head back, one of them a steep, fairly icy red that most people found hard, but Lawrence at last found his mojo on his board and really enjoyed it. ‘Am I the only person that enjoyed that?’ he said with a broad grin. 
At the top of Swiss Wall on Friday with Jo
We waited at the bus stop in amongst a load of schoolchildren and when our bus arrived it briefly stopped, we gathered our skis and then it drove off without even opening its doors! What do we do now? We ended up catching two free ski-busses back to Le Linga and had to text Cassie and Si to ask for a later 17:15 pick up as we’d be late. ‘That’s OK’ she replied, ‘I’m coming to collect you, Si’s had a bad fall today and hurt his shoulder!’ Oh no! So our day was long and hard but everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, Jackie and Alex had a lovely day skiing together and Si was at home looking very pale and drugged up. He reckoned the pain when he did it was 9 on a scale of 10 and it was now about a 6. Not good – no skiing for him for a while!

Friday lunchtime in Avoriaz. Mike D, Lawrence, Jo, Rob, Alex & Jackie
SMC day 6: James and Mike decided to go for another skin up to Abondance and then take the bus and ski back to Avoriaz, so I dropped them up the hill and then went off to meet the others at Ardent. It turned out that Roger and Lawrence were going to ski together, Rob and Alex together and Jo and Mike D together. We asked Jo and Mike D if they minded if we joined them, which they didn’t so we had a great day piste skiing with them, heading off to Les Crosets and Avoriaz, skiing a number of black runs, including (Jo and I only) the notorious Swiss Wall. 
My little off-piste tick by the Mossettes lift
I also managed another little ‘tick’ by skiing off piste off the side of a black run down from the top of the Mossettes lift, a route I’d spied a while back that turned out to be a very nice route with only one steepish bit. The powder snow by now had started its transition under the heat of the sun to much harder frozen snow, so cutting edges is more difficult and existing tracks can catch you unawares, so it wasn’t perfect but still very nice. Mike D didn’t want to do it so just Jackie and Jo followed me down. We all met up for lunch in Avoriaz, having the world’s best hot chocolate with cream, and then again at 16:30 in the Happy Hour bar for a final beer.

Today on top of Abondance
The next day was Saturday and we were up at 5:00am to get down to Si and Cassie’s for me and Si to take everyone back to the airport while Jackie and Cassie started cleaning the chalet for the next guests. It was sad dropping them all off at Geneva airport, we had a great week, but there was work to be done. The chalet was all sorted by just after lunch and we headed back home for a chilling day.

On top of Abondance, the red run of La Grande Terche in St Jean just visible in the distance through the haze
Jackie finishing the crusty black run at Abondance today
Today is Sunday and we had planned a chilling day, even buying stuff for Sunday brunch and a newspaper for a laid back Sunday. I could only get Friday’s Daily Telegraph which cost 4 Euros, but it was relatively recent news so that did. We woke up slowly this morning, Jackie getting up to feed the cats and then we had coffee and read until about 10:00, getting up for our brunch. How pleasant! However, glancing at the computer I noticed that the top lift in Abondance was running, something that doesn’t happen very often. It would mean I could tick off a black, red and a couple of blue runs from it and we could get to it by driving over the Col du Corbier into the Chatel valley. 
Ready to avalanche in Abondance. We very nearly skied down that on Tuesday but saw the cracks in time
Groucho kitten ready to climb in through our window
I’m afraid I spoilt Jackie’s lazy day and straight after brunch we got organised and I drove the 14 miles over the pass, parked the car and headed up on the bubble. At least I didn’t suggest we skin up from St Jean as we had done before! It was another sunny day but with rising temperatures the snow was becoming quite soft and the powder had now turned to solid crusty snow, so off-piste was now fairly unpleasant. From the top lift we did the pisted blue runs, which were deep powder last time we were there after our skin up. This time they were fast, very enjoyable runs that headed down to that lift, then we were up again for the red and finally the black. We weren’t really looking forward to the black as it was unpisted and we knew the snow would be crusty, but it had to be done! It was hard and difficult to turn in, but we did it (I fell over twice, Jackie didn’t!). The lift attendant had watched us come down and asked what it was like. We told him and it was just as he thought it would be. At least I could tick it off!! We did a few more runs but had to go back down in the bubble as the run back was closed. The sun had got to work and it was already very broken with earth showing through. We only did that last Tuesday and it was good all the way down! The sun is so strong now, so we expect conditions to gradually deteriorate. However 4cm of fresh snow is forecast for Wednesday, so you never know!

That’s it for now, Jackie’s roasting chicken for dinner, the film Strictly Ballroom is on the TV, we’ve just had tea and cake, Groucho kitten has just been down for her afternoon biscuits and the afternoon sun is shining through the window.


  1. Wow! What a fantastic couple of weeks you've had- lucky Devils! Glad you re visited that fabulous restaurant and with views of Mont Blanc too! Sounds like you are having a really great season and no injuries yet! Take care x

  2. Glad you have had a lovely time in the snow.
    Now us non skiers need more info on the cats and dogs in the area. Hee, Hee.
    Love from us X

  3. great fun! nice to relive it all through your blog x