Day 2 The start of the tour – Val Thorens to Refuge de Col de la Vanoise.
Saturday arrived all too quickly, I was so nervous and excited that I’d hardly slept. We departed for Val Thorens in the team bus, generously supplied by www.familyfriendlyskiing.com and kindly driven by Matt Foy. It was a strange feeling driving in the opposite direction of our final destination.
The weather was good, a clear cold morning perfect for the start of the day. The first climb of the day was amazing, an ascent across the ‘Glacier de Chaviere’, through the ‘Col de Gébroulaz’ to the highest point of 3434 meters about 320 vertical meters of ascent. The first section was a steady incline, it was only the last 100 meters that were steep, but our training paid off and we made the top without incident. It felt so good to get on the way after all the planning and training. The view from the top of the col was incredible, we could see all of the 3 valleys and mountains we all know so well. Suzz and I had to laugh as the mountain that stands proudly over us as we look out of our lounge
windows, the ‘Dent Du Villard’, looked so tiny in comparison to all the mountains surrounding it. It was breathtaking every where we looked.
With no time to hang around we had an amazing ski across the glacier, fresh tracks in boot deep powder, wide open plateaus with incredible views, it really was heavenly. As soon as we came off the glacier at about 2737 meters above sea level everything changed. The change in the snow was dramatic, obviously it hadn’t refrozen over night and much of it had become isothermal, which means very unstable and prone to avalanche. We had to ski each face separately to ensure we were safe, the snow so rotten we could barely make turns. We were sinking into the sludge and it was hard work to get out. With the help of Zoe guiding and Lee Townend giving technique tips we adjusted to the conditions quite well, but I think we will all admit how scared we were. As we approached the frozen ‘Lac Blanc’ Zoe shouted ‘just straight line it to the middle of the lake… Now’
as we did the mountain dropped away around us, avalanche slide after slide, we were perfectly safe of the danger zone but it was a stark reminder of how insignificant we were compared to the nature around us. We were a week too late as a friend of mine had skied this section a week earlier and had fantastic snow all the way. It was approaching midday and was super hot, we couldn’t hang around as we were going much lower and the heat would worsen the snow conditions. We continued our descent, but it soon became evident we would need to turn back and go a longer way around, as the snow was far too dangerous to continue on the aspect and steep terrain we were on. Nearly a kilometer of extra ascent in the heat of the midday sun really took it’s toll on my feet and energy reserves. Zoe did a brilliant navigation job and although the distance we travelled was far greater than the original itinerary we were grateful she was keeping us out of danger. The ski down to ‘Pralognon de la Vanoise’ was much safer but very tricky and involved navigating some mud banks and old avalanche debris.
We reached the bottom of the second section at 5.30pm, 4 hours behind schedule with the weather closing in Zoe was concerned we wouldn’t make the refuge before dark. I thought she was going to call it off there and then, but with a lot of team work and encouragement and coaching from Lee we made the grueling 887 meters of vertical ascent and reached the refuge in the dark at 9.30pm! For me this was the hardest section, I was completely exhausted and didn’t have the energy to continue. With Lee’s encouragement and the thought of the generous support we had received from sponsorship I made it through. I honestly cannot put into words how hard it was!
You can see the rest of the images from the tour here www.dynamicskipictures.com
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