Ken Roberts - - Ski Backcountry

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Switzerland + France trip April 2007 


  • tours with Georges in some new areas of the French Alps for me.

  • meeting Nick from UK and climbing the Dufourspitze (15,200 ft)

  • famous tours + views around Zermatt: Castor peak, Schwartztor descent, the Margherita hut at 14,937 ft on Monte Rosa

  • meeting + talking + exchanging addresses with Italian + Swiss skiers on routes + at huts. There's lots more ski tourers more easily speaking English now.

  • at last getting to do some touring in the Haute Maurienne region of France.

see photos at

my lessons:

  • in France + western Switzerland, even if temperatures during the winter have been high and lower-altitude snowpack is low -- if precipitation has also been high, there can be a decent snowpack at higher altitudes in the second half of April.

  • France + west Switzerland offer access to so many different kinds of skiing opportunities at higher altitude, it's not difficult to get to some fun skiing even in a "bad" snow year.


My first days, my strategy was to drive high in France: to Bonneval + Bessans around 6000ft in the quiet Haute Maurienne valley. Stayed in two huts, did three well-recommended tours on peaks along the France-Italy frontier: Pointe Francesetti (11,234 ft), Petite Ciamarella (11,641 ft), Alberon (11,929 ft). (Ciamarella is kinda tough for skiers, next time I might try nearby Pointe Tonini by way of Col Tonini). Despite warm temperatures, still had enough snow to ski out to 6000ft on non-South-facing slopes.

Prediction next was for moist weather in France, so I talked with Nick (from the Lake district in UK) on mobile phones about the possibilities for escape, and he said he wanted to drive east to Zermatt. So I drove there too, and met him for the first time at the Monte Rosa hut. Next day we climbed the Dufourspitze (15,200 ft) -- he's a pretty good climber and got me all the way to the (non-skiable) summit.

The West ridge is a pretty good mixed rock-snow climb -- solid rock had excellent holds and plenty of exposure -- though it adds a couple of hours to do it and come back. I've heard there's also a Dufourspitze North ridge climb from Silbersattel: quicker because of lots of fixed ropes -- for those who just need to get to the top of the highest point in Switzerland. -- Or for those who just want to focus mainly on skiing, there's the Nordend summit (15,117ft)

Then Nick needed to get out and away, so we skied and hiked back to Rotenboden and took the train down to Zermatt. Next morning I took the lift up to Klein Matterhorn, climbed Castor by the straightforward West face route and skied almost from summit -- definitely a fine experience.  I skied down the Schwartztor run to the Gorner glacier, met three Belgian ski tourers along the way, and climbed on skis to the Monte Rosa hut (again).

Next day I did the other big Monte Rosa ski tour and climbed to the Signalkuppe -- on top of it is the Capanna Margherita hut (14,937 ft, highest hut in the Alps). Marco the night before had said the views from the Zumsteinspitze were nicer, so I climbed that one first.  Early in the day I'd met three Italian skiers and we kept up a similar pace climbing most of the way -- then it was fun seeing lots more skiers up high in the sunshine -- many were coming up from the south in Italy. Then I found myself enjoying the long + moderate + pretty + varied ski back down the Grenz glacier. Hiked up to catch the train (again) at Rotenboden, shuttle train back to my car in Täsch, and still had time to . . .

drive back to France and met Georges. And went back to the strategy of driving to high trailheads. Our first day we skied the Grand Bec (11,145ft) in the northern Vanoise region: interesting climb with fine summit views, then an excellent long ski run with 35-degree sections and lots of variety -- I think we got down 5000 ft of vertical before the snow ran out -- followed by a pretty walk back to the car thru little mountain villages - (though next time if the valley road were mostly clear of snow I'd use my skates or a bike to link the start + finish).  The next day we drove high but found the upper section of the Col Glandon road was temporarily closed for avalanche control to shoot down cornices, so we improvised and chose a lower trailhead and found a nice summit (9100ft) among the highest peaks of the Belledonne massif.



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