Crazy Like a Fox

This season started in a frenzy of work for the Geeks. Early December is the time when it’s traditionally quiet for mountain professionals, so it was an ideal time for us to deliver two intensive AAA Level 2 courses aimed as CPD for The Association of Mountain Instructors (AMI) followed by staff training for Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Centre for Outdoor Training. Initially Tignes, then the high Italian resort of Cervinia provided good snow and sunshine for the busy four-day program, where we used the lifts to get quickly get high before heading out into the backcountry after morning classroom sessions. Great learning and some fairly decent turns resulted.

Meanwhile the Chamonix valley stayed dry. Christmas in Chamonix was drier than a rattlesnake in a wagon rut. Finally, with much anticipation the storm broke.

The Avi Geeks team mused their options in the early morning half light of the storms arrival. Work behind us we were keen to get out for a festive play. Where were we going to get to the goods? Most ski resorts were still shut; there wouldn’t be enough snow in the tree’s from the storm, yet above the tree-line the alpine terrain would be stormy and we’d be whited out up high….Where to go. For sure the storm would bring powder, and we wanted it.

The obvious choice would be the Grande Monte as it was one of only two open resorts and already held a base of snow – so that was out. The place would be mobbed with hundreds of snow hungry holidaymakers, and a close look at the forecast suggested that the wind would be howling up high, so the upper lifts wouldn’t run. We decided to let the seasonaires and tourists fight it out amongst themselves.

The Fox finally broke our respective contemplations: “Let’s go to St Gervais”. A some what crazy suggestion, as 12 hours earlier the pair of us had been trail running through said ski resort without the hint of dampness bothering our trail shoes as we picked our way through woodland tracks thick with the pine needles of a long past autumn.

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Working the tree line for contrast

But the Fox knows his business. I considered his suggestion compared to the other slim pickings on offer. St Gervais had tree lined runs that we could use as contrast in the white room of the storm, it’s base was grass so it wouldn’t matter too much if we occasionally bottomed out the 35 cm’s of light fluff settling outside the Foxs’ kitchen window, and best of all the closed resort would give us our own private ski hill for the day….also St Gervais is home to a new mountain restaurant that reportedly featured fur clad ladies that danced on the bars. “Yeah, St Gervais could work….we should check out that new bar for a coffee maybe!” I ventured.

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Let loose in our own private ski resort.

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‘This piste is closed’. And for good reason! SS-AS(i)-R1-D1-s 40metre crown wall

Two hours later our first turns yielded wafty shmoo goodness up around our waists. Happily, we donned skins and headed up for another lap, the occasional patches of tree’s and bushes providing much needed contrast through the flat light. As we crested the ridgeline the top of a closed wind loaded red run provided us with some good information. We ski cut the soft slab beneath the cornice and watched a crown wall propagate for 40 metres, running full depth to the ground. Excellent! Geekery over, we ripped the skins off fat Dynastars High Mountains and pointed them down the middle of the knee deep untracked piste. The Fox had come up trumps with his crazy idea. Crazy like a fox. And the restaurant, with the dancing ladies? Well, as the mountain was closed, so was the restaurant. But the Fox’s engaging smile saw the door open and the espresso machine fired up. Crafty old Fox.

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The fox reaping the rewards of a well judged venue.