Friday, 31 January 2014

The snowshoe shuffle

We had been planning a ski day, but my legs were so stiff and weather so good, that I suggested that we did the snowshoe trip that Sam and Lucy had reconnoitred in St Foy. Good weather is important because you walk up for the views and the vistas, so it's just a trudge if the clouds have closed in.
We hired snowshoes for six euros per pair from Intersport in Bourg and then drove to St Foy, which is further up the valley in the direction of Tignes and Val d'Isere. Because Sam and Lucy had done this before, they knew to park as high as possible and close to the start of the trail through the woods, otherwise your snowshoe expedition starts with a trudge up a red run, which is no fun at all.
I was staggered how easy snowshoes are to put on and to walk on; also by how effective they are in snow, although deep powder snow will see you sink a long way. There's a short video here.
The walk is through woods with open sections, so you get wonderful views of Mt Pourri and its numerous glaciers. At present, these are covered in snow with just the ice-blue nose visible. In summer, they would glow blue with the sun on them. Sam could spot off-piste skiers coming down the north side of the mountain having crossed from the Aiguille Rouge, an arete where you can get a cable car up to 3226 metres. There's an exposed black run that follows the ridge line down into Arc 2000 (which Sam and Lucy have done), but the extreme skiers cross the ridge and ski down the unpisted northern side of the mountain, which is what we were seeing..
It's pretty steep and with lots of crags and exposed rock and looks downright scary. It's hard to think that I would ever have the skills to attempt a black run competently, let alone something like that.
Panorama taken by Lucy at about 1860m on the way from Sainte Foy to Le Monal. The big mountain in the centre is Mont Pourri, with its large glacier (covered in snow). To the left (obscured by the sun) is Tignes. To the right of Mont Pourri is the Aiguille Rouge.
The trail is steadily uphill, cutting in and out of a blue ski road and it's not hard walking, although a couple of halts for a puff were required. Margaret was on a mission, I thought she'd struggle with the gradient, but she was steaming up behind Sam and Lucy and leaving me trailing at a slightly slower pace.
The route takes you up to Le Monal, which is a collection of summer chalets and farm buildings. Transhumance is alive and well in the Alps and cattle follow the retreating snow up the hills to eat the lush grass. The bowl of snow which we walked into, would be transformed into rich pasture by June and they’d probably be making cheese in some of the buildings.
We sat and had a drink of water (and wished we'd brought a picnic) in le Monal and it was wonderfully warm and sunny on the south wall of a barn. The route to le monal is part of an off-piste run and there were a handful of skiers coming down, including one man being pulled along at some pace by a huge dog.

The walk down into St Foy was a little quicker and Sam went back to the car to drive round into the ski area, while Margaret, Lucy and I walked down the side of the ski run into the village. There's a nice cafe at the bottom and it was lovely sitting on the terrace enjoying the sun.
We thought we might come back to St Foy and perhaps get a day pass to ski there. It's a very English place, small and without the nightclub madness of the bigger resorts which cater for young people. I'd recommend snowshoeing and it would be hard to imagine a better first experience than the route we did.