Sunday, 4 January 2009

Skinning and skiing

The weather is glorious at the moment - clear blue skies and low temperatures. The avalanche warning has stabilised at cat 2 at around 2000m, so we headed down towards Ax-les-Thermes with the intention of bagging Pic de Tarbesou 2364m on a ski tour. The starting point is the small Ascou Pailhères ski station which is in a fantastically wild situation in the hills to the NE of Ax. It was decidedly chilly (-5 deg C) when we set off from the car park which was in the shade, but we soon found ourselves on sun-bathed terrain where it must have been in the 20s. The initial ascent was parallel to or on the pisted slopes which made the going straightforward. We could see our target ahead with its snowy blanket glistening in the winter sun...
We eventually reached a point at which we had to leave the pistes behind to continue the ascent. The terrain changed noticeably with patchy ice coating the windblown snow and heather. The ski crampons were deployed and we headed up towards the Crete de Mounegou. The wind-chill was significant and we were still some 700m distance/200m ascent from the Pic. I was becoming concerned at the prospect of descending in the icey conditions. It didn't help that I had left the walking crampons that would attach to my ski boots in the car, so removing the skis and progressing on foot had to be ruled out. We didn't have any alternative but to head back down. The initial descent involved tackling Sastrugi, which was not exactly pleasurable. But then we veered off to the East and flew down some fantastic sun-crusted off-piste slopes to the Pla de Mounégou before heading back to join a blue run which took us on a gentle descent back to the car park. It was over all too soon. One thing is for sure... I need much more off-piste practice in icey conditions in order to build up my confidence for skiing in conditions such as today's.

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