Saturday, 9 April 2011

Ski Randonée at Ovronnaz

Since arriving in Switzerland I've done a bit of downhill skiing, which I really enjoy. But I'd also seen plenty of people hiking up mountains in their skis, generally looking hot and exhausted, and heard plenty of talk at work of ski randonnée, or ski touring, and had decided that this must be the ultimate skiing experience.
This season I was determined I would give it a go, although I was quite hampered by a poor season of snow, so didn't really get started even trying until quite late in the season.
Knowing my determination to give it a try, Linda bought me a day of ski touring at Chamonix with a guide, and some guys at work started talking about taking me along on one of their own tours (no small concession given how seriously they take their weekends). Rather than be a complete beginner in either endeavor, I rented some skis for a couple of weeks and did a few trial runs up La Dole near Nyon. The snow was really poor but at least I got to break in my legs and try out a few kick-turns (one of the few really technical things to learn with ski touring).
In the end I didn't get to use my ski touring day at Chamonix, which instead I used for a descent of the Vallée Blanche (a whole other story), but I did get to go along with my work mates (Alessandro, Mike, and Andrew). They took me to Ovronnaz. I'd only ever known Ovronnaz as a family ski resort with an associated bath complex, so I was quite surprised when it was raised as a potential location.
We got up early and drove out to Ovronnaz where we bought our lift tickets to the top of the resort, from where we hiked up first to the Col de Fenestral between Dents du Morcles and Grand Chavalard then skied into a small valley before making our final ascent of the Dents du Morcles, at around 3000m.
It was an amazing day with perfect weather and a fresh layer of powder on the mountain. It was a really challenging climb for me in many respects; because it was my first major outing at a reasonably high altitude, plus I hadn't done much off-piste skiing, and lastly because I underestimated the day out and found myself quite dehydrated and sunburned at the end of the day.
It is also really hard work not only because of the long uphill climb wearing heavy skis and boots, but also because the apparent temperature changes dramatically depending on whether you are climbing or skiing, whether you're in a valley or on a ridge, and the altitude change. You need to stop quite often to change your clothing, and apply or remove the skins under your skis that allow you to hike uphill, which is exhausting in itself.
Despite these challenges it was probably the most memorable day of skiing since arriving in Switzerland; it gave me a real taste of back-country skiing and the best powder skiing I've experienced. I hope I have a chance to try it again some day!
Andrew made an excellent movie of the day which I've posted on YouTube.

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