Sunday 26 December 2010

Happy Boxing Day

 Powder snow, freezing temps, sunshine and no one around...

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Early winter skills: how to escape snow-bound UK

Heavy snow across the UK and Europe didn't stop our first Mountain Tracks group arriving for their Early Winter Skills course. Great snow and excellent guiding and instruction from Olly, Claire and Roddy gave everyone a taste for skiing the deep stuff including a run down to the dam and down the Chamois back to our chalet. A great start to the season... Thanks to Delia for the photos.

photo: Delia Cox

photo: Delia Cox

Saturday 4 December 2010

My first snow...

It was a beautiful day today so we took a walk through Zinal and found that the young calves had been let out to play and get their first taste of snow.

Thursday 18 November 2010

A wintery scene...

More snow has fallen this week and in between the storms we've had some beautiful blue sky days. Things are looking good... especially as more is forecast for next week.

Monday 15 November 2010

It has begun...

Blue sky and beautiful snow - what a way to start the season. Zinal opened on Saturday with such good conditions it seemed rude not to make a few turns.

Not all the runs are open, of course, but there's skiing between 2900m and 2200m. Weekdays from mid-November to 18th December it's for race teams only. Thanks to the hard work of the director of the lift company, Pascal, major international teams flock in to train and compete. We've got the Bulgarians - Dobre doshal! - staying with us this week. It's a good chance for them to practice their English as well as their GS-turns...

Sunday 10 October 2010

Hazy days of autumn

We've had a week of wonderful warm sunny days, the leaves have started to turn and the slopes are a mix of reds, yellows and golds. The weather is perfect for walking and yesterday we went round to the Moiry dam. As we sat having our picnic it was hard to imagine that within a month these slopes will be white and that we will be skiing in Zinal just the other side of the hill...

Thursday 2 September 2010

Col de Milon

One of our favourite walks is up to the Cabane d'Arpitetta (2786m). The refuge is in a side valley at the bottom of the Weisshorn and is dwarfed by this 4500m peak. It's encircled by glaciers that spill down on every side adding to the scale of things. The refuge makes a great destination in itself and has a wonderful terrace for lunch with a view. Today the weather was really good so we decided to carry on up and across the Col de Milon (2990m) into the Tracuit valley.

It's a bit of a scramble and the north facing side is slippery (it's snow-bound for much of the summer) so we were grateful for the chains, but the views are stunning; it makes a wonderful - though long - round-walk from Zinal.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Aletsch revisited

Having spent 6 days ski touring across the upper parts of the Aletsch glacier this spring, it was great to come back in summer and view the whole thing from a different angle.
From Brig the Furkastrasse passes through several villages from where cable cars reach the many walks with views over the Aletsch. You can buy a walker's lift pass for the day, but it's a slight mystery that there's not better info online giving the options available to you. After all, this is one of the country's absolute highlights - definitely up there with viewing the Eiger or the Matterhorn, but without being as commercialised (which probably explains the lack of information). The best of it is that the crowds dwindle rapidly once you leave the restaurant/bar/view points and hit the trail.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Movie making

You can tell we're dreaming of winter when we start putting together video clips of last season. At least the music is summery...

Tuesday 27 July 2010

New Moiry Hut


Last weekend was the official opening of the Cabane de Moiry extension. The footpath up from the end of the reservoir was packed with walkers of all ages. The route takes just over an hour and climbs 600m, and while some carry on across the glacier to the surrounding peaks, the hut itself makes a wonderful half way point for an easy day out. 

It was built in 1924 and after nearly 90 years it's had a CHF 5.8 million make-over. The original building remains and a copper coated rectangular extension has been added to the south. Improvements include a new kitchen, a fantastic dining hall - lined with panoramic windows that overlook the glacier - more sleeping quarters and flush toilets, cunningly engineered to reduce their impact on the environment and on the people who use them (just smell the old ones from forty paces and you'll know what I mean).

Saturday 1 May 2010

The B-O tour

That's B as in Bernese and O as in Oberland, obviously, though after 6 days sweating up huge peaks and skiing back down to the cosy comforts of a bunk in a hut with no running water, it's also B and O in the olfactory sense. Just to rub it in, the view from your window is of Europe's biggest glacier, the 23km long Aletsch, which is reckoned to contain 27 billion tonnes of ice and is at one point about 900 metres deep, so it's not strictly a lack of H2O you're faced with, just that it's much too cold and hard to wash in. As explains, "It is not only the length but its thickness which is impressive". Quite.
It makes for some great skiing-between-crevasse shots too.

From the highest train station on the continent, at 3454m on the Jungfraujoch, via a tunnel through the Eiger, we headed up the Louwihorn, followed by the Gross Wannenhorn, Gruenegghorn and Aebeni Flue, before leaving the ice-cap at the end of the week through the Loetschenluecke for a long ski out back into spring-time.

Literal high-point, 3962m on Aebeni Flue; metaphorical high points, too many to mention. It's another world up there, accessible only with a bit of effort and all the better for it, though we could have done without the Konkordia hut's soul-sapping access ladders which take you 100 vertical metres up a cliff. Definitely not what you want after a long day and double-definitely not what you want if heights are not your thing.

Thankyou Klemen, our giant guide from Mountain Tracks, who led us safely through the week and found us some great skiing, and thanks also to fellow mountaineers Bonnie, Nora, Simon and Steve, in particular, for Jelly Babies at unexpected moments.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Haute Maurienne

It should come as no surprise that the Haute Maurienne is rather lovely and has some cracking skiing. One valley south of the Tarentaise - Val d'Isere, Tignes and all that - and bordered by the magnificent Vanoise national park, it's bound to be good.

Bonneval, at the head of the valley, is the most intact example of an old stone-built village you could hope for. Some of the buildings have been superbly converted into very nice places to stay but don't plan on driving to the door unless you're travelling by donkey.

If cross country skiing is your thing, you could hardly improve on the 80km of trails around Bessans where you can also shoot stuff (it's a biathlon centre). But why bother with the valley floor when there's great access to big peaks and glaciers in every direction? The pictures show our climb to the 3356m Signal du Grand Mont Cenis, followed by the descent - wild glacier, cliffy gullies and then open meadows - which brings you neatly back into the ski domaine and back to base after 1800 vertical metres of excellent skiing, and not another soul: we didn't cross another ski track all day. Also good were a couple of routes from Bonneval - a slightly hairy entrance into the Vallonet after booting up from the top chairlift, and the traverse across les Cordettes - an immense open snowfield - followed by the descent following the Andagne stream down to the valley floor. 

Back down the valley, starting from the resort of Aussois, is the classic descent from the Col des Hauts on the southern shoulder of the Pointe de Bellecote, down into the valley of the Ruisseau de Bonne Nuit. It would certainly be 'good night', forever, if you were caught in one of the monstrous avalanches which thunder down this stream bed. If it's safe to do so, you can ski right down towards Termignon, but when it's not feasible you can cut round through the forest and out onto a track back to the road. Whichever way you go, it's an amazing descent in return for just about 500m of booting or skinning. For guiding throughout the valley, Regis Burnel is your man. 

Sunday 21 March 2010

Just down the road...

How much great skiing can you have on your doorstep before it gets just plain greedy? Within an hour and a bit by road, there's all of the following, though I don't think it looks like this anymore since temperatures went up by about 20 degrees and the monsoon set in. Still, thanks for the memories. 
And in case you want to check them out for next season, we skied Belalp, Lauchernalp, Anzère and Bruson and posted about it here in the TimesOnline.

Friday 22 January 2010

Smile for the camera

Had a great week with family and friends. Mega ski photographer Mark Junak came to stay and very kindly took a few pictures (including those below) while we showed him the area. All photos: Mark Junak

All photos: Mark Junak

Wednesday 20 January 2010

New Zinal chalet

Hot off the press: the beautiful 8 bed Chalet Yayla in Zinal, recently built by friends of ours, is being made available to rent, self-catered. Here are a few pictures, with more to come soon on
For now if you're interested in renting it, just contact us:

Friday 1 January 2010

Happy new year

When full moon coincides with new year's eve in Zinal, the place to be is on the 'plat', the flood plain above the village, with the moonlight reflected off the mountains making it bright enough to see colours by. Sledging, hot punch, toasted marshmallows and a roaring fire followed by Chinese lanterns drifting skywards against a backdrop of fireworks over the village.
Our lovely Christmas guests cunningly arranged a very early start home today, allowing us to hit the first lift in Zinal. Lots of great snow and a chance to try the Scott Stunt skis which are of approximately waterski dimensions and go like the clappers. Very nice but I think I'm more of a Pure-ist (see below) for anything other than super-deep untracked snow. Mind you, it's just started snowing again, so who knows...