Tignes à Val d’Isère

The 5 Fingers (aka The Zebra Couloirs)

Last week, Gabe Rogel and I spend most of our time scoping lines, zones and access for the hope of it going blue.  We, of course, did manage to ski a lot of fun couloirs during our scouting missions.  We found an area we called the Zebra Couloirs because it is a wall of dark rock spires, split with inter-connecting, white couloirs.  The couloirs end right at the edge of Tignes Le Lac and clock about 1,700-ft of vert from top to bottom!

On Saturday (the 10th) Gabe and I ended up hitch-hiking from Tignes 1800 (where our hostel was) to Val d’ Isere (up canyon) where we met up with our other Swedish buddy, Bosse, at Hotel Victors.  The Victors is a Swedish run hotel (in France) with a really fun crew, great bar for Apre, and some amazing food.  Bosse says it always is sunny, snowy, or both when he is in VDS…….sure enough, we have had a bit of both so far.  Even some legit POW the past couple of days!  This place is pretty insane in general, but with fresh snow…..WOW!!

Coffee in Les Lanches

Tuesday (the 12th), Jess McMillan joined the crew in VDS and we did a traverse from VDS to Tignes to La Plange, and ended in Les Arcs.  It was about 70 kilometers by gondola, lift, ski, hike, bus (few kilometers), elevator, t-bar, rope tow…..I think that is it.  It is crazy how you can travel through the mountains here and just end up in some tiny alpine village in the middle of nowhere for a quick coffee break, and then be on your way.  We skied a 2,500-ft couloir off of the Bellecote (11,200-ft elevation) and proceeded to ski down to Les Lanches / Peisey-Nancroix for a quick coffee (6,000-ft down from the top of the couloir).  The Bellecote is a mountain in the Vanoise Massif of the Graian Alps, lying in the northern part of the Vanoise National Park and overlooking the Peisey-Nancroix valley in Savoie.  Our guide’s name was Bazu, and Bazu was exactly what you would imagine a French mountain guide to be.  Take a moment to imagine a French accent for this quote…..OK “I, ah do not wear z helmot, because you cannot hear z mountains and I must hear z mountains for what I do” Bazu.  He wore sunglasses all day… no hat or anything.

Wednesday (the 13th) was pretty socked in with scattered snow showers here and there.  Johan, the manager of the Victor and a ripping skier, took us up to some couloirs off of Dome de Pramecou.  We found some great snow and it was awesome to follow Johan around.  He is one hard charging skier.

One of the ramps

Thursday (the 14th) was finally blue.  Gabe, Jess, Bosse and I went up to the knife ridge / ramp area that we had scoped a few days prior.  I was pretty amped about this ramp and finally got to ski it.  Though it was not as big as it had looked when we scouted it, the ramp was still way fun and made for great shooting.  After shooting in that zone all morning, we went to an area called the Mickey Mouse Ears (two com antennas) that is full of, you guessed it, even more couloirs.  Johan was able to meet up with us and we made a few laps shooting and skiing fun steeps.

It was GOOD!

Friday (the 15th) was quite the day.  It snowed a bit through the night and the temps dropped significantly.  Jess and her friend, Claire Burns, met for some breakfast at the Victor, and then we went right to an area called Rocher de Bellevarde.  The boot pack goes right by the old downhill start house.  We of course, popped off the other side into a couloir that housed some great rock features and the best snow we have skied so far.  It was absolutely incredible.  After a kebab, crape and cappuccino lunch we headed up to ski this zone my buddy Stellan had pointed out to us the previous week called Rocher du Charvet.  Gabe and I have been calling it the Reach Around because you have to traverse half way around a peak to get into it.  And once you’re in, you’re in.  Having not really scouted specific features because of the bad visibility, Jess and I had to put our trust to Gabe (lining up shots from below) to get us “safely” into the right spots.

Jess McMillan dropping in!!

It was a full-on roll-over effect (convex) so we couldn’t see anything below, but the cross valley slope and a chair lift going up the other side from what seemed to be depths of the earth.  Every feature we hit seemed to be going right off the edge of the world, but they of course were not.  It definitely got us both a bit wound up nerves wise, and we each building on the others nerves, to boot.  Normally, we are all there to help motivate and pump up one and other. In this case, we decide to go the other route……we basically freaked each other out the whole way down… and for no real reason, it was good every time.  It ended in a slightly exposed, hourglass sort of exit. By the time we made it to this exit, Jess had literally found a cave to crawl into, I had lost my shit and poor Gabe had two athletes who were literally worthless.  It happens; fear is a good thing, but I will admit, it was not completely necessary in this case… ha ha ha.

La Grande Motte Glacier

Saturday (the 16th) did not get off to an exciting start with poor Jess McMillan having been up all night with a stomach flu.  No fun I am sure.  Claire showed up at the hotel, solo, with the news of Jess’s not-so-stellar night.  So the 3 of us (Gabe, Claire and I) headed out to find some more goods.  Not before bidding good-bye to our buddy Bosse.  It was an awesome week with him and I hope we can hang again sooner than later!  To start the day we went to shoot in an area which had some pretty crazy looking avy barriers, just around the corner from the couloir we skied first thing yesterday.  There was a pretty strong wind throughout the night and morning, so this area was slightly loaded (hence the avy barriers).  As Gabe skied down toward the entrance a portion of the zone below, sympathetically triggered, about 10cm deep and on a hard crust.  It actually was not very big, but ran quite a ways.  After this slope test, if you will, we took it pretty safe and were able to find a few cool features to hit up.  Unfortunately the winds and intense sun has taken its toll on the fresh snow in many places.  Slowly figuring this out through the morning, we then decided to head up to the glacier off of the northern aspect of Grande Motte.  The snow was a little wind effected here too, but skiing on such a large, steep and broken glacier is not about the snow… necessarily.  To the left of us were massive spires of ice and deep crevasses.  As we worked our way further down it began to roll-over more and more until a final 45 degree pitch with the same spires of ice and crevasses to the left, but a perfectly smooth run out down and slightly to the right.  It was pretty puckering, but quite a fun ski!

After skiing, it was time for Gabe and I to make the move to our next accommodation called Hotel Grand Nord.  On that note, a big thank you to Johan for helping set us up here.  It was also time to say good-bye to Jess and wish her good luck on her next adventure; a full on shred session in Iceland!

Good times!!!

Today, (Sunday the 17th) it has started to snow again and is too gray for shooting.  To say the least, we are taking a bit of a leisure morning because we have been pretty much going hard for 11 days now.  No complaints… this is SOOOO fun, but a little R & R is not a bad thing.

Stay tuned for my final trip report from the Alps and an overall trip recap later this week!

Mikey (and Gabe)

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  • About Teton FreeRide

    Teton FreeRide is a content based blog founded and operated by Mike "Mikey" Leake. Mikey has lived in the Teton Valley region of southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming most of my life. He has also had the opportunity to live and play in the Lake Tahoe area, and now, Alaska too!

    After competing on the Freeskiing World Tour on-and-off for 10 years Mikey has transitioned to judging various events and become an advisory board member with the International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA). Over the past 13 years he has worked in the ski industry through skiing as an athlete, coach, guide, ski patrol, event coordinator, event judge, marketing consultant, team manager, videographer, and as an associate producer. Mikey has a true passion for the outdoor industry and tries to be involved in every aspect possible.