Morzine – Avoriaz Splitboarding Adventure
Carolyn and I look after More Mountain’s luxury self catered apartments in Morzine. Previously we hosted in Chalet Robin and Chalet Jirishcanca, meaning we could snowboard nearly every day in the winter. In our new jobs we get to live in Morzine all year round, but only get to go snowboarding twice a week (I can hear your cries of pity from here). With this in mind we want to learn some new skills to make the most of our days off. Our primary goal this winter is to use our splitboards, as they hadn’t seen the light of day since November.
Introduction to Ski Touring and Splitboarding in Avoriaz
We booked ourselves on to Avoriaz Alpine Ski School’s introduction course to ski touring and splitboarding. Starting off in their hut, our instructor Keith talked us and some friends through route planning, map reading and navigation.
Pointe De Chesery
Our planned destination was Point de Chesery, found just to the right of the Chaux Fleurie chair lift in Lindarets. It was cold and snowing heavily with strong winds at higher altitudes. Therefore Keith suggested that we configure our kit in to “touring mode” at the bottom of the lift.
A small crowd gathered around us while we dismantled our splitboards and fitted our skins. After many questions from bystanders and insults from Keith, we made our way to the chair lift. As snowboarders, the prospect of getting off a chair lift with big fat skis and floppy bindings prompted visions of a “You’ve Been Framed” moment. Luckily we all managed to dismount with only minor swear words and some loud ungraceful stomping.
Our ascent was slow in the very deep snow, in places it was thigh deep even with our skis on. Our progress was also slowed by me falling in a tree well. Then Carolyn had to leave early as her second hand skins failed to stick to her skis. At least she was with us for the theory part.
Time was against us, so, we didn’t get very far before the rest of us needed to head back down. This was fine by us as the weather was getting worse and visibility was down to only a few meters.
Our ride down was hard work in the wet, heavy snow, but great fun once we got some speed up to get some good turns in. The course with Keith was great, we learned so much and we got the benefit of his experience and knowledge.
Powder Day with Friends
On Wednesday 8th February the planets aligned giving us fresh snow, blue skies and a group of experienced skier and snowboarder friends on a day off. We broke out the splitboards once again and decided to make a day of it. With our new knowledge and our avalanche kits already in our backpacks from the day before, we headed to the Col de Cou via the Vallee de la Manche.
Next time you are in Morzine, book a guide or instructor and get them to take you to the VDM. It is a huge wide open powder bowl, accessible with a hike from the top of the Fornet lift in Avoriaz. It is like a scene you would see in ski and snowboard films, but not as scary looking. However you do need to be prepared with avalanche gear and the knowledge to use it. If you don’t know what to look for when riding off-piste, book yourself on a course with one of Morzine and Avoriaz’s ski and snowboard schools. The courses are fun, informative and will hopefully keep you out of trouble.
The ride down the VDM is epic, with plenty of opportunity to make big powder turns with stunning views ahead.
Le Col de Cou
We reached Lac des Mines D’Or at the bottom of the VDM and put our snowboards in to touring mode for our ascent of the Col de Cou. Having hiked this route with Figgs the dog in the interseason, we knew that this was a good place to start.
We were treated to near perfect blue skies for our trip into the wilderness taking it in turns to “break the trail”. This is essential because the person at the front of the group has to work so much harder to push through the fresh snow.
Our progress was good as the snow wasn’t as deep allowing us to practice our kick turns. Kick turns are used to zig-zag up the slope, and as novices to going up hill, these are tricky. It is very easy to bury your ski tips, cross your skis and fall over.
The avalanche risk was a 3 out of 5, so we planned a route avoiding the steeper avalanche prone slopes. We could hear loud cracks and rumbles as the snow crashed down into the valley from the cliffs on our left. This was really impressive, but we were glad that we were observing from a safe distance.
Worth The Effort
Once we were at the top, our efforts were rewarded with amazing views of Switzerland. There is an old border hut at the top, from when smugglers used to transport contraband into Switzerland. However the route we were taking back down was now covered in cloud.
Our run back down started off with some great untouched powder through the trees in the sunshine. We were soon in the band of cloud that had followed us up. Luckily the spaced out trees gave us definition in the flat light. However we remained cautious, ensuring everyone was in sight and safe. Our tracks we made on the way up we great for navigation until we broke out of the band of cloud.
The terrain opened up again, allowing us a good blast on more untouched powder (You can still have plenty of fun at a relatively shallow 20 degrees), before meeting the closed road back at Lac des Mines D’Or. You can also have loads of fun on the hairpin bends and fast slushy snow on the road too. You just need to be careful of the snow shoe-ers, sledgers and dog walkers on the way to the bar at the bottom.
Learning can be fun
One thing that does stick in my mind is that we should have payed more attention to the cloud following us up the Col de Cou. Not that it was dangerous, but the fact that we would have been able to take a more entertaining line back down in the good visibility. If we turned back ten to fifteen minutes earlier it would have made a huge difference.
On the whole our two days of splitboarding were great. A good mix of learning and spending time with friends doing what you love in amazing scenery. It is a route we will definitely be doing again as soon as the conditions are right.
By Tom Fortune
Photos: George Treble, Nick Beck, Tom Fortune, Avoriaz Alpine Ski School