Friday, February 8, 2013

Ecrins National Park Mini Couloirs

Well, it looks like we made it out of the US just in time as reports say there is a major storm smashing the East Coast as I type.  After 14 hours of traveling and a couple fitful hours of sleep on the plane, I was happy to see that my bags also decided to make the trip.  I met up with half the team in Turino, Italy where we all jumped into a big Fiat van and then drove across the boarder to Pelvoux, France.

It's a good thing I wasn't driving because for the entire two hours my neck was craning to look out the window at the increasingly stunning peaks of the high Alps.  Pelvoux is a quintessential European mountain town, surrounded by wild terrain and choking with what my wife would refer to as "cute cottages".

Last night, those of us that have arrived (half the team arrives today), huddled around the dinner table while the innkeeper brought out a nice French meal of potatoes, sausage, soup, and of course baguettes.  Then shortly after, we tried to catch up on sleep but I only managed a few hours before waking up intermittently for the rest of the night.

Fortunately, the cure for this jet lag was of course skiing!  We went to stretch our legs by poking around up a mellow road at the periphery of Ecrins National Park.  Unable to resist, we first climbed one mini couloir at the base of what I believe is Mount Pelvoux (3983m).  The snow was firm and at places just a paste over ice but it made for fun skiing and was my first taste of skiing in the Alps.

Luke had said at the outset that he was only supposed to ski "easy" for two hours, and no more.  An hour past his curfew, we were now standing at the crux of our second chute. This one, which we spotted from the valley floor, was reminiscent of Baffin Island (not that I've ever been but I've looked a lot of pictures and video!) with soaring rock walls over the snaking couloir.

Stymied by an 8 foot ice bulge that would be child's play with even a single tool we decided it was time to go back to the inn and rest up for the up coming races.  We vowed to return on an off day, but I doubt we will since there is just too much exploring to do.  Regardless of not finishing off the final section, we all thought this was one of the coolest places we've skied, and it was just a mini 1500 foot shot that really appears to be quite common place in this region.

So much to do and we haven't even started racing yet!

Walking to the goods.  Mount Pelvoux in the background
Scott Simmons at the top of the first shot

John Gaston enjoying some French hardpack

Part of the crew and our dead end mini shot in the background

Luke looking for #2 with #1 behind 

Ah ha!  I spotted this cleft in the cliffs and hoped it would go. 
Boo Ya!

So scenic

John pretty damn close to heaven on earth 
This stupid little ice bulge turned us around.  Stupid rando gear.  Even a whippet would have probably done the trick.

Heading back to earth

Scott tearing up the "dust on avy debris"
Tomorrow we preview the Teams Course in Puy St. Vincent in preparation for the race on Sunday.  Updates coming...