Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rest Day Summit: La Blanche

Today was the individual race for the juniors and cadets so the rest of us had some time to preview the courses for our upcoming events, relax, or go exploring.  All of us except Micah Thatcher, who is our team's sole junior member.  He put in a gutsy performance that saw him determined to finish in spite of a broken ski and boot.  

Originally, today I had wanted to do something irresponsible like climb and ski Mount Pelvoux.  But, with the new snow, I downsized my aspirations and just wanted to get a good view of it.  After a really poor night's sleep, I almost sulked and napped in the hotel all day but Mark Smiley and Scott Simmons were as usual "up for some skiing".  

We ate some more croissants, gathered our stuff, and walked down to the Pelvoux resort to check out the vertical course which will be raced on Thursday.  

For those interested, John Gaston, Tom Goth, Marshall Thompson, and Max Taam will race the individual race tomorrow and Luke Nelson, Greg Ruckman, Scott Simmons, and myself will race the Vertical on Thursday.  

We moseyed along for an hour, practicing technique and experimenting with Greg's pack of skins to see which length and width functioned best.  After seeing about half the course we decided to turn em around and see how the new snow felt.  

With 16-20 inches of new low density powder everywhere, it felt great...even on race skis.  

Back at the base, we took advantage of our lift tickets that came with our race entry and rallied up the chairs.  From there, we took a poma to the top of the resort to check out the highest and most exposed climb of the individual course.  I also hoped to finally catch a view of the spectacular Mount Pelvoux.  

This portion of the race promises to be incredible as the typical double track narrows down to a single along a knife ridge.  If it's close here, passing will be nearly impossible.  

At the top of the course, we chatted with a French mountain guide who was building the transition zone and evaluating surrounding objective hazards.  We joked about the weather, hiring him to take us somewhere, and talked about big wall climbing in Yosemite.  We asked what the peak on the skyline above was named and he replied, "La Blanche."  Ok, we were going to try and get close to La Blanche.  Maybe stand on it.  Maybe ski it. 

With Mark working towards his AMGA ski mountaineering guide certification, we were more than happy to let him break trail all the way to the summit as we were "resting" in preparation for our upcoming races.  Also, since he's an aspiring guide, I told him we'd pay him half of the nothing he was going to get before. 

He took the deal and charged ahead.  

Just below the steeper summit block, Scott quite rationally hesitated since we should have been resting for the vertical race.  I told him the summit was closer than it looked and estimated it would take another easy 10 minutes.  Tempted by wild views and the glory of fancy foreign named summit, we plunged forward.  

A solid 30 minutes later, we were hooting and hollering and genuinely happy to feel very alive, sharing a gorgeous summit in the French Alps.  I smiled a lot and took pictures until my camera battery started to die.  Then it was time to ski nearly 6000 feet back to the little village of Pelvoux in search of food and drink.  Along the way, we also found amazing light powder and laughed at our good fortune. 

Now, sitting in the commons room of the inn, sated with drink and French food, I'm also quite content to have had another small but very memorable adventure.  Especially, since the expectations were so low at the outset.  It's always worth at least taking a look. 

Here's a glimpse into ours...

Checking out the final climb of the Individual course.  La Blanche is in the upper left. 

From the top of the course, we were on our own.  We talked to a guide setting the course about what to do.  Then we realized we had our own guide, Mark Smiley!
Mark setting the skin track to allow me and Scott to be better rested for our upcoming races

More Mark and La Blanche 

Other than the few minutes before and after this photo, the day was nearly still, sunny, and perfect.

The Crete de l'Aguler (Whatever, it's a cool looking peak)

Scott about to summit La Blanche 

Andy and Mark really really happy

Pelvoux on the left and the Ecrins massif to the right.  On our first day, we toured up the valley between the two. 

Endless dreams...

Scott Simmons, looking big and gnarly like the summit cairn

Mark Smiley dropping in with nearly 6000 feet of powder between him and our hotel, Le Relais Du Pelvoux
Tomorrow as mentioned is the main event, the individual race.  I'm psyched to get out on the course and cheer our guys and gals against the likes of Killian and co.  I'll update results and observations tomorrow pending a functional internet connection.

And as a bonus, I saw this today:

Captain America and his side kick Greg Ruckman.  Or is it Captain America and his side kick Scott Simmons? 
And we wonder why this sport isn't more popular...

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