I’d walked the Passage du Fourneau in the summer and despite some rugged and steep scrambles it appeared to be feasible for a winter ski. The route was a bit complicated and the entrance is virtually impossible to find, even in the summer.
After good snow on Tuesday conditions were looking pretty shabby by the weekend. The result of warm temperatures and an obstinate high pressure. I drove to les Pres but the snow only started at 1050 meters on the shallow and north facing forest trail. The conditions were worse than last year!
I climbed the trail to the first hairpin which takes you up to the Croix de l’Alpe and the Draille des Charmilles which I had skied back in November. Continuing into the Bellevaux forest I picked up the path that lead up to the base of the Fourneau. You can tell you are at the right spot by the rock du Caiman - a stone crocodile that looks out from a rock outcrop above the couloir.
You climb up a couloir to a pinch point then traverse to the right into a suspended bowl. Things get steeper here as you traverse to a small couloir to the left of cliffs. You are then on a “sangle” a kind of plateau that loops between cliff bands. From here traverse left to scramble up some rock steps to the Passage du Fourneau.
I had wanted to ski the west side but did not have enough time to explore further, another season I guess. The snow was still powder on the sheltered north-west slopes. The ski back down is steep and a bit exposed, especially in the suspended bowl where a fall would take you over 20-30 meters of cliffs.
I’d used my crampons and ice axe to climb but the descent had just the edges of my skis.
As I was alone I stuck to a series of jump turns. The lower couloir and bowl both had “goulottes” on the right banks. Not a problem in the couloir as the best snow was on the left hand side but this is exactly where I wanted to ski in the bowl and the hard snow didn’t give a great feeling of security.
At the bottom of the lower couloir I followed the slope down another 100 meters for some wide spring skiing before traversing into the woods to pick up a north-east facing valley. The woods are surprisingly skiable, open with good snow down to 1050 meters and maybe a bit lower. In theory it would be possible to ski to the road at 700 meters.... but not this year.
Route finding in the couloir is tricky. From the top you turn left to reach the suspended bowl, ski 100 m down this before traversing right to pick up the lower couloir. The direct couloir looks pretty much unskiable and there are a couple of dead ends which finish in cliffs.
The route is very skiable for the east side of the Chartreuse. I’ve not heard of anyone attempting it before. It is not that well known, even in summer.