Stirred but not Shaken

“Skiing a new couloir in the Mont-Blanc massif, without abseiling or rock skiing is still possible today! You merely have to leave the ski lifts far behind, open you eyes and wait for the right conditions”

james bond gulley, sallanches
I expect you to die, Mr Bond
Photo: Pierre Tardivel/

At the end of this winter 41 year old Annecy based extreme skier Pierre Tardivel made a rare first descent close to Sallanches in the Haute Savoie. On a planet where it seems everyone has been there and done that Pierre is the man with the Midas touch having built an enviable repuation over the last couple of decades for firsts with descents of Couloir Angélique on the South Face of the Courtes, the Couloir de l’Aiguille Chenavier and and Epéna in the Vanois amongst many others.

Pierre’s couloir is clearly visible above the Sallanches – Chamonix motorway and looks more or less like a ‘Y’. He skied the left branch on the 12th of March 1999 which he dubbed “James Bond Gully” after an episode of the film franchise that was being shot at the foot of the mountain just shortly before the descent.

The right branch would have to wait. Snow conditions are usually good for just a few days in a whole season. This year the snowpack was very delicate; the cold had created thick layers of weak facetted snow on north faces and then a mini-heatwave ravaged the couloir. On the 14th of March, 2005 the couloir appeared to be in condition although the snow cover was poorer than in 1999 (the year of the Montroc avalanche) and passages were narrower than shown on the photograph taken then. The almost spring snow conditions gave a good surface for skiing.

The slope is generally 45° with some short sections of 50°. Pierre has rated both routes as 5.4 which may raise some eyebrows as the pitch would not be considered that extreme. However there are a number of other criterias: the difficulty of finding good conditions, narrow and technical passages, crampon use, removal of skis plus the exposure which is a maximum E4 and of course not forgetting the risk of avalanche. Pierre reckons the entire route could be skied in the right conditions.

He has named the new route “Bond’saix”, in connection with the “Passage du Saix”, which is situated just below and allows the GR96 walking route to pass over the cliff face. In patois a Saix is a rocky outcrop and there is a superb rock tower just to the right of “Pierre’s” couloir. The Bond’saix is more airy than James Bond Gulley and when skiing one apparently feels much closer to the cliffs.

At the foot of the two upper couloirs there is always a rock outcrop that lets you attach a bit of rope to climb down a 3 meter rockface. A somewhat emotional operation due to the 200 meter sheer drop that starts just below your feet, especially on the descent as you have to take you skis off just above the void.

Report in French from
Pointe d’Areu par Bond’saix

Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 20 April, 2005 at 10:45 AM

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