Gressoney Back Country Ski Course with Snoworks – Day 5
The Indren Inversion. Sounds like something out of The Big Bang Theory!
The gods seemed to be against me this morning. We looked out of the window and saw – nothing! The mist was right down to the bottom of the mountain. Mark decided not to ski today. He was shattered and his back and neck were really painful from his rather heavy fall on Tuesday.
I think that the emotion of of leaving the pups for another full day also played a part. I can understand that. I felt exactly the same way!
Kai didn’t make it any easier. He sat in front of the door, as though pleading with me not to leave him again. I trudged a lonely path to the bus stop to find that the road was blocked by a broken-down piste machine. Six men were trying to roll up its caterpillar tracks and load the beast on to a lorry. Then the bus to take me to our rendezvous didn’t turn up! I was so disappointed. I really didn’t want to miss the last day of the course!
I plodded despondently back to the apartment. After a bit of telephone tag, I did manage to get a message to Kathy, our mountain guide for today and arranged to meet her at Bedemie Hut for coffee at 11am. The numbers in our group had dwindled – there was only Tim and Judith today. They told me that all that I had missed was a horrible, gloomy morning in the trees and, I think with a bit of poetic licence, skiing off a cliff!
We did a couple of runs in pea soup visibility then went up to the top of Salati to see if Indren was clear. It looked rude not to, so we descended Canale Grande, since we had skied Eagle a couple of times during the week. Kathy worked really hard to find us fresh tracks. There were beautiful wind-blown snow formations called ‘sastrugi’ at the top. They were noticeable in the poor light because of their deep, saphhire-blue hue. The blue was the only hint of colour shining out in a complete panorama of grey monochrome.
The visibility did not improve on the way down, but I was skiing out of my skin! Everything seemed to have clicked today. The late start and coffee appeared to have given me fresh legs. I was linking my powder turns and really concentrating on getting that downhill hand lower and my focus close!
We stopped at Orestes Hutte for lunch and met The Boss. He is a huge and handsome Norwegian Forest cat. The food was wonderful and I treated myself to a warm chocolate pear tart – not bad at 2600m in a refuge so remote that Judith laughed when I asked how you got your luggage here if you stayed overnight! Kathy was very diplomatic, saying that she thought that if you didn’t ski in, you could probably come up by snowmobile, but that in any case, they had everything here that you would need. (I mentioned in an earlier blog that Orestes Hutte is No 1 of the Five Most Luxurious Huts in the Alps!)
“The sun’s coming out and that’s not just Lancashire optimism talking!” I observed as we finished lunch and poled off to take another crack at Indren. “It will be nice to finish on a long run!” said Kathy.
I scared myself a bit on the shooosh out, picking up more speed than I intended but unlike the other day, I thankfully remained on two feet! “I would rather pole than go too fast!” said sensible Judith.
I should really learn! As a teenager, I remember scoring two black eyes and Frankenstein-style cuts to the face by riding my bike at high speed into a brick wall through a rose bush.
My friend lived on a hill. I came to grief when I tried to gather enough speed on the downhill approach to get up the drive to the house without pedaling. However, I had rather mismatched the curvature of the drive with my, by now, extreme velocity. As a consequence, I didn’t quite make the bend!
“That rose bush is in JUST the wrong place!” This comment from my friend’s brother, Alex, made me feel much better. There, I thought, spoke the voice of experience. Clearly, I was not the only idiot who had tried free wheeling uphill and misjudged the corner!
We got to the top of the Indren lift in brilliant sunshine. Kathy made an executive decision to go off to the right on to a route called Diretta Indren. It was into new territory for us! It was a fabulous descent with some beautiful powder pitches interspersed with rocks, if you got off the path – and a waterfall! “Don’t even THINK you will get an edge in that!” said Kathy of the convex icefall of water ice at the top of the waterfall. “You’ll be straight down…”
The view was beautiful – a mountain wilderness with no-one but the four of us around and a magnificent inversion as we looked down like the gods from the top of the world. This view is pictured in the photograph at the beginning of the blog and it sums up everything that I love about being in the the back country. Just you and the mountain. A beauty and remoteness that most people in the world will quite simply never experience.
We sideslipped very tentatively down the side of the waterfall and took in our options.
“Do you want to do the long traverse or go down here?” I looked at the rather precipitous slope under the waterfall and spoke on behalf of the group’s tired legs, suggesting the long traverse! We took it one at a time across an avalanche-prone slope and stopped in a safe refuge under a rocky cliff. “I think we will get some fresh tracks here!” Kathy took a video of us bouncing down a beautiful powder slope in unison! It was the most amazing finish to a fabulous week.
We dropped into the inversion for the exit and more than once, we said how glad we were that we had a guide with us. Heaven only knows how we got out. “It’s useful that they put poles out to mark the itinerary” I said to Kathy. “That’s the piste!” she told me. Only then did I notice a huge great snow-making machine looming in and out of the gloom! The visibility was so bad that we had completely lost the traverse line and ended up poling through knee deep powder. Kathy and I had to stand at the edge of the piste making foghorn sounds to try to attract Judith and Tim, who were nowhere to be seen in the murk!
It was sad saying goodbye to our fellow skiers and all the guides after a little film show of our trials and tribulations, filmed by Nick.
However, there is no sensation like the feeling of triumph as you ski home after yet another fabulous day in the wilderness, knowing that you have challenged yourself, achieved more than you believed was possible and made memories that will last you a lifetime.
The Punta Indren lift serves only off piste itineraries. With mixed feelings, we have heard rumours that a new piste is planned from the Indren lift in 2019.
We understand that plans to put in a lift to link Monte Rosa with Zermatt have been put on hold permanently due to the environmental impact. However, the heliski descent from Monte Rosa to Zermatt remains one of the best!
Get Off Piste!
If you too would like a taste of the Back Country, Snoworks runs courses in Europe and around the world throughout the year. See How to Improve Your Skiing IMMEASURABLY! for details.
For advice on what you are taking on and how to stay safe off piste, see With Great Powder Comes Great Responsibility!
Ski in Summer!
If you are missing the pistes already, many of the high, glacial resorts in Europe remain open during the summer. Check out Tignes & Les Deux Alpes in France, Hintertux & Stubai in Austria, Saas Fee in Switzerland and Zermatt / Cervinia in Switzerland / Italy.
The snow throughout the 2018 season has been so remarkable that the slopes of Val d’Isère will open in June for the first time in the resort’s 82-year history. And EVEN MORE AMAZINGLY – I read today that two ski areas are still open in Scotland!
The southern hemisphere offers summer skiing opportunities and, if you find yourself pining for the fjords, the Scandinavian resorts open towards the end of the Alpine season and continue through the summer.
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And don’t forget to join us next time to see how we cope back on the piste after our fleeting glimpse of the Nirvana that awaits those who venture into the hidden treasures of the back country…