Route Taken: as topo
Road Access Clear
Vertical Climbed: 1400
meters (4593 feet)
Distance: 16.7 km
Weather Sunny, spring weather
“It is not a race”, insisted Bruno Javerzac, the director of the l’alpe du Grand Serre tourist office. The Rallye des Crêtes brings together ski mountaineers and snowshoers in “a spirit of conviviality and sharing of effort”. Definitely not a competition, then.
How come then that there were nearly 40 lycra clad skiers bearing down on me like a herd of Pamplona bulls on speed? After a traverse through the forest we were climbing The Funnel, 600 meters of zig-zagging up a steep slope and one of the station’s off-piste routes. Things started to become clearer, ahead a dozen elite skiers, some members of the local army squadron, behind a group of 5 not entirely out of contention followed by the rest of the rally. If it is not a race they seemed to be trying jolly hard.
The top of the funnel opened out onto a ridge, one of the crêtes, that the race, sorry I mean rallye, is all about. Here I was finally overhauled by a pair of skiers. I had memories of a mountain bike race where, after a great start and a top 5 place I was passed by rider after rider to finish back down the field. It may not be a race but I was not going to roll in last.
Traversing along the ridge was somewhat airy especially with the spectacular backdrop of the Grand Serre couloirs, the area’s extreme skiing. I wondered where the previous weekend’s Derby had passed. A 100 meter descent followed, the marshal told me I could remove my skins. I looked back, three skiers in hot pursuit. I did the calculation, 5 minutes to remove and re-glue my skins set against a slower and trickier descent. I had noticed that the ”pros” kept their skins on for short drops, skiing on the inside edges of their skis in a knock-kneed style.
At the bottom of the slope I was still ahead of my pursuers but with each traverse towards the feeding station they were drawing closer. At the summit of the Grand Serre I tried to gulp down cake and juice. Two of my pursuers made a faster pit-stop and set off down the slope ahead of me. The 300 meter descent was on tricky snow, ski tracks frozen into concrete hard corrugations. At the bottom of the slope I caught up with the two skiers, ill at ease in the difficult conditions, but in turn we had been joined by the third man who had descended like Bode Miller.
I was fastest at re-fixing my skins and started up a corniced ridge to the summit of le Perollier . I was soon caught by the pair and we were rejoined by Bode at the start of the final climb. Bode was using heavier freeride gear, if I could distance him on the short but steep and technical climb I could hold him off on the final descent back to the ski pistes. Of the other two, the stronger climber was also the better descender. I would have to stay in contention.
Again I was fastest re-fixing climbing skins and we set off Indian file for the final control. The 14 km had been too much for the last two who were rapidly distanced. It was 11am, 3 hours after the start, the mercury was flirting with 20C in the resort and the snow was heavy.
So we were two. The final ridge led down through a forest, ski de sanglier (skiing like a boar) as the French say. A technical error by my rival and I entered the piste, reserved for our exclusive use, in the lead. I crossed the line in 3h35 having covered 1400 vertical meters.
To put this into perspective the first over the line, I hesitate to use the term “winner” as there were no prizes being awarded, was Emmanuel Boscher in 2h16 minutes. Emmanuel ranks 246th in France for the current season of ski mountaineering competition.
The first edition of the Rallye des Crêtes run under superb, if slightly warm weather, was superbly organized by the Club Alpin Français of la Mure and by the l’Alpe du Grand Serre Tourist office with assistance from soldiers from the 7ieme regiment de materiel du Lyon who have a base close to the resort. The plan is for the Rallye to become a real ski mountaineering competition, if Saturday was anything to go by there are no worries on that count.