Kurt S., an ex-mogul champion from Tahoe now living in Vermont, just joined me for a few days of steep Chamonix off-piste. He dove-tailed his ski vacation nicely with a bit of business in Paris.
Kurt doesn't crush the moguls like he did back in the day, although his 9-year-old daughter apparently does, and Kurt can crush me.
On our first day we skied up the Glacier Periades to the Breche Puiseaux. Kurt wanted to work on his "Base Training" for the upcombing road-biking season. There was a significant block of time where Kurt was moving at a steady 2500 ft/hr pace. Keep in mind, he was skinning in Lange race boots and Marker Dukes on 190cm K2 Coombas.
There was a small que at the Bréche, and we had a leisurely lunch on the Mallet Glacier after the rappels (the ropes are fixed by the way - as of March 4, 2012). Then skies the Mallet, finding good, untracked, wind-buffed snow at skiers right closer to the base of the Grandes Jorasses. I never took any photos because Kurt is such a fast skier, he was always catching up to me.
We did the 6km glide down the Lescheux Glacier to the Mer de Glace, then fought our way through afternoon traffic on the Buvette (the "James Bond Run").
During the four days Kurt and I were skiing, Chamonix was blasted by the beginnings of what is becoming a significant and unseasonably warm heat wave. The powder is gone in all but the highest and most northerly wind-protected aspects. But the spring snow cycle is starting to get good.
On day two I chose to take Kurt on a tour of one of the most famous (and sometimes intimidating) ski descents on the Mont Blanc Massif - the Couloir des Marbrées. This couloir starts just behind the Aiguilles Marbrées, almost in the Col de Rochefort. The entrance is steep, and a fall here would not be wise. On a nice, spring morning, when the sun has been hitting the entrance for a few hours, the snow softens up to a solid and easily carvable inch or so of corn. In spring conditions, timing is everything... Kurt and I dropped in at 10:45 am. Rocks are starting to show on the entrance traverse, which makes things a little tricker, but once you're locked into your bindings, the confidence goes way up.
The upper and mid couloir skied quite well. The glacier below was soft and good, but below the glacier terminus the snow was trending to isothermal slop with poor stability. We were still early enough not to be in the red-flag zone of wet slides, as we skied below some steeper slopes and down into the safety of lower angled slopes and dense trees.
When we finally made it to the car park in La Palud, the lower elevation snow was complete crap, but there was still just enough time to squeak in a lap of the Toule Glacier. We hopped back on the Funivie Monte Bianco and took it back up to Point Hellbronner, and side-stepped over to the couloirs entering the Toule Glacier (One can walk down the stairs if the entrance couloirs don't look good).
We skied spring snow and schmoo down to the Panoramic restaraunt at the Hellbronner mid-station, choosing to eat Italian food and download on the lift rather than tear our ACL's and/or get buried by wet, loose, isothermal crap snow on the lower 2000 feet.
The Aiguille d'Argentier was our last objective before Kurt was to head off to Paris. Ideally, we'd be able to drop into the Couloir Barbey, but the Chamonix winter of 2012 has been a windy one at high elevations. Ergo, I've been more cautious than normal when evaluating the committing no-fall-zone-entrances of famous ski descents at higher elevations; they have been firm and icy on some aspects.
After stepping out of the Grands Montets cable car station we descended past the Rognon towards the Argentiere Glacier on snow snow firm I think a few fillings fell out. Kurt and I skinned up the Milieu Glacier at a blistering pace (Now Kurt was acclimated to 3000m so I stood no chance at keeping up). We crossed the bergschrund and booted up to the summit, which was a very social experience. About a dozen fellow ski-tourers were snacking on the summit and admiring the views. Two tracks entered the Barbey but I held firm to my choice not to ski it. The Mileu would do just fine, and offers 40° degree terrain through a narrow couloir anyway. The crux is negotiating skier-vs-climber 2-way traffic in the Couloir - I'm glad I wore my helmet on the way up.
Cumulus clouds that had formed during our ascent kept the snow firm for yet another tooth-rattling descent. No matter: within an hour we were drinking beer at Les Marmottons.