Tales from the Back Country. “Don’t miss the turn or you’ll go over a cliff.”

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The gulley is Leitch, or “Middle Earth”. Our guide’s advice on skiing it: “Don’t miss the turn at the end or you’ll go over a cliff.”

Gressoney Back Country Ski Course with Snoworks – Day 2

The day started with another porridge catastrophe – I found a piece of semi-cooked blue dishcloth in me breakfast. Blearghhh!

The dogs KNOW. They have got upset about us leaving them and although we are tight on time, having to walk them and get ourselves ready to catch the bus at 08:50 to our rendezvous at Gressoney la Trinité, everybody needed to be hand fed.

Lani would only take her food 1 tiny piece of kibble at a time!

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Fresh tracks on Bettolina Bassa

Today we were Team Richard – another day with a mountain guide. We had a quick warm up  – and Indren was open! (The Punta Indren lift serves only off piste itineraries.) We had Eagle Couloir (Canale dell’Aquila) for breakfast and Canale Grande for afternoon tea, with Bettolina Bassa in between!

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Mark tackles Bettolina Bassa

The horrible wind-slab at the top of the Indren lift took us all by surprise. It looked like powder, but grabbed at your skis, causing a stop-start descent that threw you right off balance. Rather uncharacteristically, I was the only one not to fall. I was really worried when I looked back up the hill to see Mark was on the deck, one ski poking up out of the snow like a thin tombstone, miles away from him. He wasn’t getting up.

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Canale Grande; wider but steeper than Eagle. Our guide Richard’s advice: “Don’t fall. If you do, you won’t stop sliding until you hit the bottom – or a rock. Whichever comes first.”

“He is the sort of guy who will say he’s OK with one arm hanging off…” I told Richard. “He skied for half a day with a broken ligament because he didn’t want to make a fuss…” Luckily, Mark hadn’t put on the headcam today. When he finally got up and skied over to me, he said that he had landed really heavily on his head and neck. Thank goodness there wasn’t a rock there, or it could have been a Schumacker.

“That’s the WORST snow I’ve ever skied!” Mark remarked. “You’ve led a sheltered life!” Richard replied. “At least you can turn in it!”

My skiing was better today, but as I got tired, I started falling again. Yesterday, I think I was leaning uphill into the mountain, which is why I kept sitting down.

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The exit from Bettolina Bassa. The arrows show the routes that we took out; on the left, our high traverse with Richard. On the right, the route that we would take with Nick – with Mark on 1 ski!

We had the most beautiful, soft snow in the Eagle Couloir. Bettolina was lovely, but I don’t think we’d risk navigating out ourselves through the trees on the icy path, which was covered with Elder bushes. Even our guide, Richard, fell on that! The rocks and bits of tree caught and removed my skis a few times and as we rejoined the red Marmotte piste, we recognised it as the location of the last stand of Mark’s rotator cuff. He fell there 2 years ago with his arm outstretched – and required an operation on his shoulder to put things right!

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Taking things tentatively down Leitch.

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Richard’s advice on skiing Canale Grande; “Don’t fall. If you do, you won’t stop sliding until you hit the bottom – or a rock. Whichever comes first!” We opted for the adventurous exit from the Canale Grande. Down a near vertical slope and then through Leitch; a narrow notch, known anecdotally as ‘Middle Earth.’ Here our guide’s advice was quite sanguine “Control your speed and don’t miss the turn at the end, or you’ll go over a cliff.” It was tricky; a narrow, rocky, icy couloir followed by an iPod (Icy Path of Death) through trees. Mark likes trees. He ended up astride one!

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Mark likes trees. Occasionally, he ends up astride one!

I decided that I didn’t want to pole uphill on the exit. So, I got up a bit of speed. A bit too much speed, I realised. I crashed and burned in a puff of powder. Luckily, it was a soft landing. My poor skis were not so lucky. I had been clanking from the top of Indren, and realised that the metal protector on the front of one ski was loose. Sadly, it didn’t survive the elder bushes and my multitudinous wipeouts!

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Me in customary pose. At least it’s a soft landing!

The off piste routes in Monte Rosa that I mention in this blog are all described in the excellent guidebook Polvere Rosa, which covers the freeride itineraries accessible from the lifts as well as those in lesser known ski touring areas, such as Coumarial. 

Canale Grande and Eagle Couloir are off piste descents from the Punta Indren lift. Eagle is a marked itinerary. Bettolina Bassa is a remote, off piste route down a steep, side-valley from the top of the Bettaforca lift.

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