The locals have an expression, it’s franglais and like the best franglais means little unless you are French, and local, and a skier:
faire le hold-up
A hold-up is a sortie into the backcountry, usually but not exclusively on skis where plans come together perfectly despite all the augurs. A couloir in 30cm of powder when the weatherman said rain to 3000 meters. Spring snow and perfect blue skies when the forecast was for low cloud. It’s a day when you mates turn off the alarm and stay in bed. It’s an evening they spend crying into their beers and vowing they will never believe Meteo Chance over your good judgement again. It is something beautiful against all the odds.
The Chartreuse has been our hold-up hunting ground this winter. Largely because there has been precious little snow below 1800 meters so any days we’ve been able to clip into our skis have seemed like miracles sent from above. There was a certain day Luc and I dared to peer into the north bowl of the Charmont Som to find a magic garden of bottomless powder. Then there was that time at the end of March I skied the west couloir of la Pinea, alone in 50cm of fresh between scented pine trees.
But we’ve not seen skiable snow since so it came as a bit of a surprise as I crossed over the col du Coq this morning to find that this 1450 meter road pass was closed to traffic. What to do? Well I had my Wed’ze randonnee skis in the car and my old touring boots but not much else.
The Dome de Pravouta looked feasible, there was snow on the ground at 1400 meters. Not much but it would be enough to ski down. As I climbed into the combe de Giclas I realized that things were better than I thought. The strong north-west wind had banked snow up to reasonable depths and the snow was quite dense so little chance of hitting rocks on the way down.
At the summit I decided to descend to the col des Ayes. The snow was different. Powder beginning to transform under the warm sun. By following hollows where the snow was banked up it was possible to ski down to the col without touching the ground despite the complete lack of any base.
Now another objective hoved into view. The steep south face of the Dent de Crolles. The main face is grass and I figured that the steep sided couloir would have accumulated enough snow to make the rocks and scree skiable.
I was right. The face was on firm spring snow then a surprise, the 150 meter couloir was heavy powder. I was surprised that the summit cross was missing. A group has been going around removing these crosses - either on religous grounds or maybe they are just Albanian scrap metal dealers?
The pas de l’oeille has a strange granit pillar guarding the entrance. The slopes in the picture are nearer 35 degrees although they look pretty flat. The only difficulty in the couloir was a small cliff, this is equipped with cables but I had contemplated hucking it but didn’t want to break a rib on the camera I had in my pocket if I landed badly. The whole couloir complex carries a maximum 4 danger due to large cliff bands just below, but in this soft snow there is little risk.