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Ski Touring in Champoluc, Italian Alps

posted on Thursday, 4th April 2013 | find under Tamara

In one of my blog posts around New Year I set some New Years Resolutions and have just completed number 4 : Ski Touring In Champoluc, Italian Alps.

An invitation to a friend's 40th inviting us to a weekend party in the little hamlet of Mascognaz, reachable only by skidoo from Champoluc, arrived in my inbox just before Christmas!
How exciting! I had always been quite intrigued to try out ski touring (climbing uphill on skis and then skiing down) so I decided to take this opportunity to combine it with the reward of
 a nice party at the end.


 Simon's experience of doing the Haute Route a couple of years before was not very encouraging, it having been "the worst experience of his life". But he assured me that we could tour in a very different way. I.e climbing uphill only 2 hours max, sleeping in huts with bedrooms and running water, getting up after sunrise, stopping to take photos and trying to have a nice time. It didn’t stop him from making me follow his kit list (minus the left hand column!):  
Ski2 were the company we booked through. They looked after us fantastically from beginning to end (right up to the last when we arrived down in a valley with no means of transport and no money to pay for our lunch and we called Simon the manager, who sent a van and 200 euros straightaway!). The guide, Patrick Chasseur, was amazing. Very laidback, smiley, quite young, but had grown up in the area so I trusted him as he knew the mountains so well. I told him straightaway that I was in charge, not Simon, and the aim of the trip was not to subject us to the hardships Simon had gone through, but the point of us climbing mountains was to get to perfect snow. And then to drink Spritz and eat good food. He understood perfectly.
As we were skiing off piste and there was an avalanche risk (in our case, quite high at 3), we had to wear a rucksack containing an ABS system, a shovel and a probe. We also wore trackers. There is not much room for anything else. In our case we were only spending 1 night up in a hut, so it wasn't too traumatic. I managed to fit in clean ski socks, underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste, face moisturiser, deodorant and sunblock. And my camelbak full of water. It felt pretty heavy, but those were my essentials and I wasn't prepared to lose any of them.
After the first night, just up the hill from Champoluc (reached by lift and skidoo-not counted as a proper touring start really) in a little refuge with 3 bedrooms, called l'Aroula - with the best Panna Cotta we have ever had - we were ready to try our first experience at touring. There were just 4 of us, my sister (in identical Sweaty Betty skiwear), her husband, me and Simon. 


The idea is you put "skins" (originally made of seal skin) on the bottoms of the skis which prevent your skis from sliding back down the hill as you climb up.

 With an off piste guide, you can normally get to some great spots, but being able to climb allows you to go higher to get even better snow (and on the second day we actually managed to climb above the clouds to sun and perfect visibility). Although This can also be achieved with heli-skiing, there seems to be more respect for tourers as, of course,  it is more arduous and natural than arriving at the top by helicopter!
We zigzagged our way up the col de Perren the first day, sun blazing down, so we were stripped down to base layer tops with thin skipants, having to stop halfway to put compeed on our blistered ankles (all 3 of us except for "experienced mountaineer Simon").

It was beautiful, tiring, exhilarating and totally exciting to reach the top of the mountain.  Quite scary and a bit intimidating to be right at the top... Skins off, ready for the big descent. Dont screw up the skiing now! The snow was unreal. Each of us had to ski the face individually because of the avalanche risk and so the feeling when I got to the bottom was relief mixed with triumph and utter exhaustion, adrenaline pumping.  Patrick had the biggest smile on his face. His plan to get us to the best snow had worked.
We spent the afternoon carving down pistes across mountain valleys and peaks, with the help of the lift system in order to get to our hut destination, Orestes. Not nearly as much fun as climbing up and skiing down away from everyone else. The hut was fantastic though, so worth the speedy trip.  There were double bedrooms, dormitories and hot showers. They provide crocs so you don't have to wander around in your socks.

There is a bar and great tales of the days arduous activities are bandied around over the long trestle tables as you eat, once again, the most fantastic home made Italian food.  One of the owners is a yoga teacher, so we had an hour's session with her before dinner. Totally wakes you up and relieves any muscle ache from skiing.

The next day we woke up to a white out. Chussing and traversing on ice, blind, is not much fun. That's when Patrick said he would take us up to climb above the clouds. Our trek up the hill this time was less steep but more challenging in a way as we had to ski along treacherous ridges and climb round rocks. But we did rise above the clouds to the most extraordinary views of the mountaintops all around. 


 When we first took our skins off, the cloud closed in around us so skiing again in a white out down steep off piste was also quite scary.


At the end of the day we arrived at the bottom of the mountain to be greeted by an array of James Bond-esque vehicles – landrovers with tracks and covered over skidoos.  These were to take us up the mountain to the hotel to our party!

What an incredible way to finish a fantastic 2 days’ touring. Sauna, swimming pool and hot tub, followed by a lot of eating and drinking and dancing til 3 am at the beautiful hotellerie de Mascognaz.

By April Shahum - 7th April 2013
What an amazing idea for a getaway that has it all-skiing, hiking, yoga & awesome food!
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