Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Alpine Ski Mountaineering

Over the past few years I've been getting into ski touring and ski mountaineering - essentially using skis to travel up, down and through the mountains. As Bill Briggs once said (first person to ski down the Grand Teton in the USA) "skis are appropriate in the mountains". Take the Aiguille d'Argentiere as an example. This peak in the Mt Blanc range above Chamonix is 3900m and is popular in both summer and winter/spring.
Skinning up Aiguille d'Argentiere

 In summer most people will head up the cable car in the afternoon to walk into to the hut or a bivi on the edge of the glacier. Spend the night being cold, as you didn't bring a sleeping bag to save weight, or be kept awake by snoring hut companions. Get up at some ridiculous hour in the morning and slog up to the summit for sunrise in order to minimise the risk of getting taken out by rockfall, encountering dangerous snow conditions or falling into a crevasse through a slushy snow bridge. Then turn around and deal with the slog back down the glacier in increasingly hot conditions, back to town before the afternoon thunderstorms take you out.
Aiguille d'Argentiere summit

Alternatively, you could go on skis in winter/spring. We got the third lift up, skied down onto the Argentiere glacier and started our ascent at 10 am. After an enjoyable morning of  skinning and climbing we reached the summit at 13.30. A quick descent down good snow to the bergshrund to put skis on, then a really enjoyable ski back down the glacier to the lift station by 3.30. Provided you can ski I think doing peaks like this is much better on skis, much more enjoyable and much safer - its amazing how quickly you descend on skis, making it much easier to get the hell out of there if the weather changes quickly.

Summit panorama

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