OE staffer James Lloyd learns the hard way.
It’s a Saturday afternoon in April 2015 and the phone rings. It’s my brother in law Hector. “It’s my 40th birthday later this year and I’d like to do the Haute Route”. The Haute Route is a high mountain ski tour from Chamonix to Zermatt that takes about 6 days to complete. It’s possible to stay in mountain huts and be led by a professional mountain guide.
Hector was also inviting his friend Mike along, so we would be a group of three plus the guide. There was however, one major flaw in our plan. Not one of us had ever done any ski touring. I had bought some boots with touring capability and had put touring bindings on my skis (Rossignol Soul 7’s), so thought I’d be ok.
We decided to head to Val d’Isere and Sainte Foy for a long weekend in early December, to test our capabilities as well as the gear we already owned.
It’s my 40th birthday later this year and I’d like to do the Haute Route. The Haute Route is a high mountain ski tour from Chamonix to Zermatt that takes about 6 days to complete.
Kicks and Skins
This proved to be a useful thing to do! We arrived in Sainte Foy two weeks before the resort lifts open for the season. We gathered around my friend Jonny, who lives in the Alps, paying close attention as he attached ‘skins’ to the base of our skis. Skins have a weak adhesive on one side, and fake sealskin on the other. The hair on the sealskin faces in one direction, allowing you to slide the ski forward but not back. This allows you to shuffle up incredibly steep slopes.
Now we had our skins on we were hoping to skin up to the top of Sainte Foy. We made our way up a steep skin track, to practice ‘kick turns’. A kick turn is a way of turning through 180 degrees on a steep slope, without getting your skis tangled up and most importantly with out sliding all the way back to where you started. At least, that’s the theory. Try putting your right foot over your left foot, but turn your right foot to face in the opposite direction. Now try to do this with 1.8 meters of ski on each foot, on a 40-degree slope. It’s not easy! As Mike found out, it can also be painful. We had been skinning for about an hour and half. Mike was hot, so took his gloves off and continued up the mountain. On one kick turn, he caught his bare hand with the very sharp ski edge. The snow around him very quickly turned bright red, blood pouring from his injured digits. Thankfully, it looked worse than it was, and with Mike patched up and his gloves back on, we decided discretion was the better part of valour and headed for the car.
Bootcamp and Burgers
The next day we drove to Val d’Isere to skin up to the Le Fornet cable car. This is only 400m of ascent, but would be a good test. We skinned for 2 hours, had lunch and then decided to take the afternoon off. We still had a last, big day planned, so some skiing around the resort would be a welcome break.
On Sunday morning, we returned to Le Fornet. Conditions were fantastic, so we planned to skin from the bottom of the cable car to the top of the Col De L’Iseran. This was more than twice the amount of ascent as the previous day, but would give us a good sense of whether the kit we owned was up to the job. I soon found out mine wasn’t! 2 hours later and, try as I might, I just couldn’t keep up with the others. They had lightweight touring skis with technical bindings and proper touring boots. My equipment weighed around 2 kilos per leg more than theirs, which was proving to be a massive hindrance. Eventually, I did manage to reach the Col, but couldn’t have gone much further. We skied back down to Le Fornet, and took the bus in to Val d’Isere for a well-earned Billabong burger.
My first experience of ski touring was hard going, but great fun. I now have some much lighter kit and can’t wait for the Haute Route trip.
Transport and Accommodation
We flew with Easyjet from Luton to Geneva, and rented a car to give us maximum flexibility.
We stayed with Skivillaroger (www.skivillaroger.co.uk) who have a lovely chalet with access to many ski resorts in the Tarentaise valley.