Tag Archives: Zermatt

5/4/13 – April skiing: where to go for a last blast

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

To round off this snow-blessed winter in the Alps and escape the persistent winter chill of home, if you have a few days and a few pounds to spare I suggest you go skiing.

I have a final trip booked, to Val d’Isere – not a usual haunt of mine as I generally head for Austria, Italy or Switzerland, but it will be a nice change. Last time I stayed there, apart from one short press trip a couple of years ago, was when I was training to be an Inghams rep nearly 20 years ago.

Anyway, if I didn’t have that trip booked, here are the places I’d consider…

1. Engelberg in Switzerland. The top slopes are open till May 26, the town is lively, there’s accommodation for all budgets (including a youth hostel) and it’s only an hour from Zurich airport. There are also some brilliant local guides. Read more about that in my Telegraph article from last season about where to join off-piste groups.

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

…and when the slush sets in, here’s what you can do instead

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

2. Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s open till May 5, the town is vibrant, busy and full of ski mountaineering folk – and the shops, for once, are offering plenty of end-of-season bargains on gear (not forgetting the pyjamas, nighties and underwear, at Calida, towards the top of the main street). Again, there’s lodging for all budgets. But it’s far from the airport, so go for a week to make it worthwhile. Read more in the insider’s guide (and here is page 2) I compiled at the start of this season.

3. Obergurgl in Austria. It’s open till April 28, and with the village at about 1,900m and most of the skiing between there and 3,000m, there’s very quick access from hotel or b&b direct to the snow. What’s more, there’s fantastic touring, with a great choice of day tours. It’s less than 90 minutes from Innsbruck, and if winter flights have tailed off by the time you want to go, you can fly to Friedrichshafen, Salzburg or Zurich instead. Read my recent piece in the Telegraph, and my off-piste article from last year, to find out more.

4. Ischgl in Austria. The lifts aren’t due to close until May 1. I went late in the season a couple of years ago and despite it not being a good snow year, there was excellent cover thanks to super-efficient snowmaking earlier in the season. There’s good touring nearby in the Silvrettas – hire a guide and stay overnight in the Jamtal Hut (open till May 4), for instance. Keen apres-skiers will know its reputation for lively bars, which is merited – read more in past blogs of mine, such as this one, by entering ‘Ischgl’ in the search box on the right.

Just think of the tan you will get

Just think of the tan you will get

Other late-season favourites of mine are St Anton in Austria, which stays open till April 21; Alagna/Gressoney/Champoluc in Italy (only till April 14, sadly – but lift passes are free till then if you book three nights locally, and it’s amazing value for food and drink); or Cervinia in Italy, which shares Zermatt’s slopes but not its prices (open till May 5). An underrated place probably not on your radar is the Engadine, where Diavolezza/Lagalb stays open well until May 20, and Corvatsch until May 5. The area offers excellent ski touring too – and don’t be put off that it’s in the St Moritz area: there are hostels and modest b&bs as well as swanky hotels.

Of course, you could always plump for Colorado or Utah, where a snowstorm is meant to be heading right now, or for snowy Scotland, where conditions are excellent.

I’ll leave you with the details of four great cut-price deals that landed in my inbox  this week from Inghams, which might be worth a look if you can make a dash for the Alps at the last minute. I’m sure the other tour operators have similar offerings at equally appealing prices.

St Christoph, Austria. £349 for a week’s chalet-board (that means half-board, including wine with dinner and CHOCOLATES afterwards) in a chalet hotel with a pool and doorstep skiing, including return flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck on April 13.

St Anton, Austria. £349, chalet-board, similar to above. There’s no pool but the place, Chalet Gampen, looks pretty good, with whirlpool, sauna and all that stuff. Departing from Gatwick on April 13.

Tignes, France. £369 at Chalet Hotel Le Dome, described as ski-in, ski-out. Similar deal as above, flying to Chambery on April 13 from Gatwick – easily the best airport for Tignes, being about 90 minutes away.

Val Thorens, France – the high-altitude end of the Three Valleys. £369 at Chalet Anais, departing from Gatwick on April 13, flying to Chambery.

Happy holiday-hunting, if you have time!

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport, United States

30/3/12 – Where to go for April snow?

Spring-like Ischgl slopes this time last year

Spring ski deals have been landing in my inbox thick and fast this week. Inghams has amazing April savings – Courchevel or St Christoph am Arlberg for £349, including flights and half-board – while Powder White has slashed hundreds of pounds off holidays in St Anton and Meribel and extended the season for several of its properties. I’m sure Crystal, Iglu Ski and other operators and agents have bargains as well.

Most cut-price offers are chalet-based – not my ideal set-up as I prefer b&b or self-catering to take advantage of “local life” – but when such great savings are on offer, no matter.

Do be aware, however, that even in a bumper snow year it’s still worth aiming high (a top of somewhere around 3,000m, I suggest) if you want quality conditions.

Afternoon ski-touring in the woods near Anzere

Even if – like in many places – you still have a metre of snow at village level, if it’s 20 degrees by day then that snow will be foot-deep slush by 2pm unless you’re properly high and – just as crucially – north-ish facing.

Last weekend in south-facing Anzere, which still has mountains of snow in the village (at 1,500m), by 1pm it was over, even on upper slopes (2,400m). I was happy to ski in the morning and go touring through the woods in the afternoon, or sit on the balcony or swim at the great new indoor-outdoor pool (more on this nice, affordable Swiss resort here).

The high slopes at Grimentz last weekend

By contrast an hour away in the Val d’Anniviers, the resorts of Zinal and Grimentz had wintry piste conditions from three of their top stations (each around 2,800-2,900m), and the week-old, tracked-out powder by the side wasn’t bad either. The crucial thing was that the worthwhile top slopes were north or north-east facing (the fourth top, which faces south at 2,800m, was heavy slush by lunchtime).

The other consideration is that places where you typically find lovely “firn” or “corn snow” off-piste at this time of year (caused by freeze-thaw) may not be as good as usual.

A wet-snow slide of the full snowpack that started on a slope of around 30 degrees and crept a surprisingly long way

In Anzere you can often ski almost every square inch of south-facing slope safely during freeze-thaw if you catch it at the right time of day.

However, the cracks in the snowpack that appeared in December – after 2m of snow fell on warm, bare ground – are still there. They haven’t responded well to blasting, but some readily slide off by themselves.

Sunny side up: lunch outdoors is a pleasure of a spring trip. Just don't necessarily expect to do much skiing afterwards

“Hors piste interdit”, read a sign at the top of Le Bate at Anzere, and patrollers were posted at strategic spots near the cracks, on the alert for one to turn into something like the lift-destroying, wet-snow slide of a few weeks ago near Valmorel in France (watch the footage here).

I may not ski this April, but if I was planning a trip for myself – an affordable week or long weekend with the hope of off-piste and enough late-season après-life – these are the places I’d consider:

The Guspis off-piste run at Andermatt in wintry conditions - but this is a good spring bet, too

Engelberg (Switzerland, nearest airport Zurich) – slopes to at least 3,000m, largely north-facing; open till 29 May; great guiding office (see my article about that here).

Monterosa (Italy, Milan or Turin) – Amazingly, until this resort closes on 15 April this Italian “three valleys” is offering a free lift pass to everyone who stays three or more nights (half-board) in Gressoney or Champoluc. The slopes go to about 3,200m and face in all directions, and there are legendary off-piste runs down wild valleys (with cheapish guiding) and superb, great-value food on and off the mountain.

Andermatt (Switzerland, Zurich) – Lower Naetschen will be closed, but the 3,000-ish-metre Gemsstock mountain has an amazing north-facing bowl and various back routes. Read more in my Telegraph report here.

Zermatt (Switzerland, Zurich or Geneva) – several high tops and possible guided descent of Schwarztor. Stay in the Walliserhof for a treat or the Alphubel for a bargain. My sister has found a super-cheap, central, family apartment but it’s such a steal that it has to remain top secret so she can always get in. Sorry!

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

Ischgl (Austria, Innsbruck or Zurich) – up to 2,800-ish, but the main thing is that it has a lot of upper slopes and they face in various directions. A year ago we had a lot of fun there with Jim Costelloe, a Ski Club of GB leader who found us fabulous snow despite very scant cover. A friend and I even did an easy self-guided tour up a side-valley – although this year it would probably be less safe.

Tignes (France, Geneva or Chambery I think) – When there was virtually no snow last November, we had great conditions on the glacier. Stay on the upper slopes throughout the area for quality snow and see here for more about its group off-piste days out. Go the first weekend of May to catch the Black Shoes Telemark Festival’s 20th anniversary. The other high French resorts (Deux Alpes, Alpe d’Huez, Val Thorens) should be fine, too.

Obergurgl and/or Soelden (Austria, Innsbruck, Zurich or Salzburg) – They didn’t benefit from the big weather fronts in December and January, which approached from the north and blanketed the Arlberg again and again before arriving in the Oetz valley as wind. But now, conditions look great. Take the bus to the Aquadome at Langenfeld if it’s boiling hot in the afternoon and don’t miss the Nederhut après-ski on Mon, Wed and Fri.

I’m a great fan of St Anton, where I have been late in the season several times (most lately to do the Weisse Rausch, a mad annual race), but I recommend it less as a late-season place than my two other Austrian tips, as the number of its slopes that are really up near its tops, as well as being north-ish facing, seems to be fewer for its size, and rather scattered about, compared with other options. But if you like a busy town with plenty of après-ski, this is still a good bet well into April.

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Off-piste, Racing, Ski touring, Switzerland

6/1/12 – How I was once ‘imprisoned’ by an avalanche in Zermatt

Zermatt from its ski area. Yesterday's avalanche came from the left, round the corner... I think

Yesterday, an avalanche down the valley from Zermatt blocked the road and railway up to the Swiss resort. My parents happened to be driving up the valley at the time, and came to a couple of men waving flags to stop the traffic at about 2pm, somewhere below Randa, where the avalanche had come down. Today the road and railway have reopened.

While I was cruising the web looking for information, I came across an article (read it here) in the Swiss newspaper, Blick, which expressed entertainment at British papers’ coverage of the Zermatt situation (“Trapped! Avalanche strands skiers in Swiss resort of Zermatt” – Daily Mail).

Here’s my rough translation.

“The situation has even been causing excitement in England,” wrote the Blick reporter. “…Even the Guardian reports on its ‘imprisoned’ countrymen. But Marcus Rieder, a spokesman for the cantonal police, had to chuckle. ‘It’s not a serious situation, and the avalanche wasn’t that big,’ he said. ‘A couple of cars were covered briefly and a disused building had its roof blown off by the avalanche wind.” Interestingly, Rieder added that the avalanche – a powder avalanche rather than a slab – was triggered by a serac breaking off the Weisshorn glacier high above.

In fact, it sounds as though the conditions have left people stranded all over the place. According to the same report in Blick, the Swiss resort of Andermatt, parts of the Bernese Oberland and parts of Austria’s Arlberg are now cut off due to the high avalanche risk, which is level five in places after massive snowfall and – more significantly – high winds.

Yesterday was far from the first time holidaymakers have been “imprisoned” in Zermatt. On my first visit, aged seven-ish, just before Christmas, an avalanche in a similar spot shut off access for several days.

With no choice but to stay put, we tried to extend our lift passes beyond the three days we had already purchased and used up, but the lift pass office refused to sell us additional (and therefore cheaper) days, insisting we start again at day one. So unimpressed were we at this attitude that we joined the queue for a helicopter out of town…

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24/12/11: Sledging fun on the Gadget Show and in Country Life

My dad in 1961, on a door with a metal sheet underneath. I wonder how it would have fared in the test

Top television viewing this week for me was the Gadget Show’s film for Channel Five, in which Pollyanna Woodward, one of the presenters, tested 20 toboggans at Tamworth Snowcome (see it here – http://tinyurl.com/ce9m762).

I was especially interested because my sister, nephews and I test-rode several sledges in Zermatt in October as research for an article about the joys of sledging for Country Life magazine – which, by the way, is in the shops now as part of a bumper wintry Christmas edition (£3.75 including a travel supplement).

Big air in Gloucestershire, 1961

One design Pollyanna definitely didn’t try was anything that resembled a simple yet speedy toboggan devised by my dad, uncle and aunt, photos of which my uncle sent me when I was researching the CL story.

As you can see, it proved great for getting air over stone terracing in their Gloucestershire garden in 1961.

My uncle - cushions made this toboggan the height of luxury

It was a door, with a metal sheet fastened to its underside. My dad and uncle recall that they strapped cushions to it – no wonder they look so comfortable – and used the ropes that held them down to hold onto. It once had an outing to the Wiltshire Downs, where the pair of them lugged it all the way to the top and began the run down by jumping off a cornice.

My sister inherited the family toboggan gene - she made this sledge (circa 1983) in woodwork and it's still going strong

Anyway, back to the Snowdome. Pollyanna and colleagues set up a laser speed trap to see which was the fastest of the models, whose prices ranged from £14.99 for a UFO plastic disk to the Alurunner, at £472.

Quite rightly, she also gave marks for comfort, manoeuvrability and fun.

Fastest at 21.2mph was the Zumbach Sport (£399.99), which looks like a traditional Rodel sledge, with wooden frame, webbing seat and (I’m guessing) metal runners of some kind.

Pollyanna’s favourite – just like my nephews’ top choice – was a plastic design with steering wheel and handbrake.

This Davos sledge, one of my best birthday presents of all time. I never did get the hang of big air, though. Maybe it needs a cushion

She also loved the Bobski (£55), a British invention that flies along and looks like it might be rather a handful (in a fun way). I have one, and we plan to give it a try this weekend in the Alps – I’ll let you know how it goes. Also in her top five were the extremes, price-wise, of the Zumbach and the UFO.

I’m not sure if she tried one that impressed us greatly – the Zibob, a Swiss-made shaped red box with a handle that “carves” and is as fun for adults as children. Check out the Zibob race schedule for the year here http://tinyurl.com/bolw88w.

Happy sledging, if you’re anywhere near the snow, and remember, some sledges are meant to feel slightly out of control…

PS: 2/1/2012 – you can now see the Country Life article in pdf form by clicking here.

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21/11/11 – Will it be a white Christmas?

The view from Anzere towards Veysonnaz and Nendaz late last month

Several weeks of mostly sunny skies and a forecast for more of the same across the Alps is leading to uneasiness in European resorts and among the people who are planning to visit them in the Christmas holidays.

The lovely autumnal views I admired in late October, when I visited the Valais for a few days, look largely similar now, I’m told, if a little more criss-crossed by bright ribbons of artificial snow.

Commentators in the papers are advising people to aim high early in the season. A friend of mine who works in Zermatt – where, I’ve heard, conditions on the glacier have been superb lately – sounds pretty worried on behalf of lower-altitude resorts. And a post on Snowheads, the forum for skeenites, entitled, ‘Is it too early for the OMG no snow thread?’ has had, as I write, 258 replies and 18,858 views since 4 November (http://tinyurl.com/88d54tt).

However, most years it is sensible to stick to high-altitude resorts early on, and I don’t think we should assume this European winter will be a dud (no concern, right now, in North America, where resorts such as Snowmass, Colorado, are opening early – http://tinyurl.com/7goveco).

No snow? No lift pass needed

Look up snow records from past years and you’ll find many a November when cover was close to zero and a ‘normal’ season followed. I use the Ski Club of GB’s historic snow data, all the way back to 1993 – only visible to members, but if you like looking at statistics and are interested in snow, it’s almost worth the subscription (£58) for that alone. Alternatively, igluski.com has data you can see for free, back to 2007.

It doesn’t take many days of snow to give reasonable cover. Another few storms like this one – http://tinyurl.com/7chpk3c – should do the trick.

Failing that, wait for my sister and her family to drive to the Alps in mid-December. Snow never fails to start falling as soon as they load up their rather fragile Toyota saloon for the journey to Switzerland. They always need their chains as well as snow tyres, and sometimes they need towing, too.

Unfortunately, this trick may not work in time for my first trip – which is in exactly six days. Perhaps this wasn’t the year to commit to a week in Tignes in late November, but who knows, maybe a blizzard will blow in to soften up the snow on the glacier and all that artificial they have surely been churning out. If it doesn’t, too bad, and as you can see here, you can have lots of fun on just a little of the white stuff: http://tinyurl.com/7jnsf8s

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Filed under Gear, Switzerland, Transport

1/8/11 – At SF1.27 and falling, every centime counts

Today is Swiss National Day, this year marking 720 years of age for the country. While its inhabitants enjoyed a bank holiday, with parties in every village, visitors from the UK will not feel so festive looking ahead to a winter of grappling with an increasingly grim pound-franc exchange rate. Today it’s SF1.27 = £1; on 1 August last year it was SF1.63; in 2009 SF1.78; in 2008 SF2.06; in 2007 SF2.43. The Euro is 1.14 per £1 compared to 1.2 last year (source: currency website xe.com).

Common sense says this could be a year to go to Italy or Austria – the cheapest of the “big four” – but I think there are plenty of skiers who will remain faithful to Switzerland. To a certain extent I am one of them, chiefly because our family has a fantastic little flat in Anzere. As I’ve been doing my cheapskate best to save cash in Switzerland for years, well before the exchange rate turned nasty, here are a few tips.

1. Use the Resort Price Index in Where to Ski and Snowboard 2012 (out in September) to identify cheaper resorts. In the 2011 edition (rrp £18.99), Meiringen was the sole Swiss resort (of those that made the survey) that was cheaper than the average across the Alps. Engelberg and Laax were a little dearer, followed by Andermatt, Anzere, Val d’Anniviers, Adelboden, Champery and Villars. Into the “ker-ching” category, and in ascending order, were Davos/Klosters and Zermatt, then Crans, Verbier and St Moritz. I’ve missed a few – and so have they – but you get the idea. There are various advantages to smaller resorts, anyway – such as fewer opportunities to shop or eat expensively.

Instructor Monica Heussi (right) with a friend of mine, Kirstin Jones, in Andermatt

2. By canny about guided off-piste. In Andermatt and Engelberg, two of the best off-piste spots in the Alps, a little knowledge can save you a fortune. In Engelberg, the guiding centre (opposite the station) is happy to form groups out of strangers, which brings the cost down dramatically if you are on holiday a deux. A couple of years ago a friend and I were put with three Swedes for a fantastic day with guide Remo Baltermia. A few days later in Andermatt, we nearly fainted when told the day rate for a guide and instead tracked down Monica Heussi of Andermatt Experience, a qualified instructor who took us to some brilliant remote places, but – as per Swiss rules for non-guides – not on glacier, for almost half the price.

3. In some cases chalet packages will be the cheapest option, but if (like me) you are not a fan of chalets or if they are not an option, go self-catering – or choose a self-catering package with a small operator; for instance, Zuba Ski has uncatered chalets in the Val d’Anniviers, prices tbc soon, and German operator Belvivo has flats in Anzere, including six days’ ski pass, from 249 Euros per person. Even in Zermatt, you can get reasonable rates on apartments – as long as they aren’t flash – in lowish season. Last year my sister and her family of four paid SF1,200 for a week in a central apartment with a balcony. To make this work, it follows that you must then shop sensibly in the supermarket rather than pursuing a daily diet of boutique cheeses and the finest viande sechee.

4. Pick your resort carefully if you have young kids. In Zermatt, under nines are free, but in Verbier, Davos and Wengen only under sixes are.

The view from one of our picnic spots in Anzere

5. Picnic at lunchtime – even in midwinter. Last January in Muerren we ate rolls on the chairlift and stopped for a hot chocolate or two if we needed to warm up. In a blizzard we  snuck out our picnic into the restaurant, which I know is naughty, but at least we had cash left to spend in the Staegerstuebli later… In occasional resorts you can cook your own meat on the mountain: in Anzere, there are barbecues in two piste-side cowsheds, plus a supply of firewood, and many a lunchtime have we heaved a rucksack full of saucisses and a tube of Thomy mustard up there (only to forget the matches…).

6. Buy your train pass in advance if you have a long trip from airport to resort – the Swiss Transfer Ticket costs a fixed price for train and/or postbus from airport or border to end point (currently SF130), but it’s only worthwhile if your journey is quite a decent one and if the on-station price is more (check at http://www.sbb.ch/en).

Balmers Herberge in Interlaken, where a B&B in a dorm room cost us SF28.50

7. Sleep in budget accommodation: Switzerland has plenty. I’ve stayed comfortably in a dormitory in Basel BackPack en route to ski touring, and in the excellent Balmers Herberge, Interlaken (gateway to Jungfrau region), both for around SF30 per night including breakfast. I’ve stayed in the youth hostel and in the then-unmodernised Hotel Bahnhof in Engelberg for around SF45, and in slightly ropey hostels in Zermatt and Verbier for a similar amount. My favourite budget lodging in Switzerland is Chalet Fontana smack in the middle of Muerren, opposite the supermarket, at SF50 per person per night.

8. Make use of ‘guest card’-type offerings. In some resorts you’re entitled to use a sports centre, go on local buses or visit museums and attractions for free or at a discount. Check what you can get and use it.

9. Go for the Tagesmenu. In Zermatt’s Schwyzer Stuebli in Hotel Schweizerhof, three tasty courses costs less than SF30 in winter (and as a bonus there is nightly live Swiss music too). If you’re visiting a hotel for supper, eat in the Stuebli rather than the ‘smart part’, if there’s a choice. For example the Stuebli at the Walliserhof, an excellent hotel in Zermatt run by a friend of mine, offers more rustic, cheesy, reasonable options than the next-door Grill.

That’s it for now – and if you have tips for saving cash in Switzerland please post a comment!

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Gear, Italy, Off-piste, Switzerland, Transport

27/3/11 – When the guide starts whistling…

Most mountain guides I have skiied with are inscrutable, calm and quietly authoritative. On most tours I have done there have been moments of minor worry: once we were snowed in for a day with an inebriated hut guardian in the Bernese Oberland and another time, in Austria, we took several hours to descend just a few hundred yards on a glacier in terrible fog.

Italian mountain guide Michele Cucchi

Michele Cucchi and Marco Zaninetti, who are guiding us from Alagna to Zinal this week, are probably the best I have skiied with – both inspire utter confidence and are also thoroughly nice and helpful blokes. However, I learnt last year to detect when we are approaching or crossing challenging terrain, due to Michele’s habit of low whistling when danger is near. In spring 2010 in the Engadine, it was usually the crevasses or seracs of the Morteratsch glacier that prompted the whistle. This time, we’ve had several opportunities to hear it (though I emphasise that at all times we couldn’t have been in better hands). Here are our hairy moments from the past few days, in order of alarmingness:

Windblown slopes below the Matterhorn

1) Descending across the lower, north-facing slopes below the Matterhorn on our afternoon journey from Schwarzsee to the Schoenbielhuette. Here the snow was extremely unstable, even on seemingly innocuous slopes of less than 20 degrees. We had seen that slopes of a similar aspect and angle, at a similar altitude, had avalanched elsewhere locally, with huge windslabs (the biggest killer) coming off in the unlikeliest of places. Marco crossed each slope first, halting in a safe spot and communicating with Michele, who was at the back, via radio. Then we traversed one by one, some sinking scarily into the very variable track more than others, and some hearing whumps and crack noises as they crossed. It was a relief to get to a safer spot in the middle of the valley.

2) Climbing from the Schoenbielhuette up to the Col Durand, our route ascended a gulley below the Hohwang glacier. Marco was at the back with me after I’d stopped to spend a penny. The others were setting quite a pace and when we reached the gulley, he said: “Don’t stop here – go up quickly now, because of what’s above!” Above the gulley was an ice-fall and, a kilometre away and directly above us, seracs as big as houses were enjoying the morning sun. I hurried on up; at one point a stream gushed under the snow, which was barely a foot deep and had already borne the weight of six blokes. As I approached the top, something up above caught my eye: a massive serac breaking off and tumbling down. It stopped short of the ice-fall above us and all that came down to our level, channeled to where we had just been, were scattered bits of ice. But the sight of the falling serac, and a cloud of snow, was impressive and alarming – it made me move pretty swiftly.

Our ascent towards the Col Durand, with seracs always a threat from above

3) The last 100 or so metres of vertical to the Schoenbielhuette proved surprisingly exciting, as loose stones from a sun-drenched bit of moraine came tumbling down the slope were were ascending every now and then. Michele and Marco instructed us to hurry on up and watch the bank above us carefully. The afternoon snow, too, was pretty sinky, and we were happy when we arrived at the top.

4) The top of the Durand glacier, which leads down towards the Cabane du Mountet, looks steep on the map, but when we arrived there on day four, it proved even steeper, due to the receding glacier and low snowfall this year. Michele and Marco made a secure hold in the hard ice with an ice screw and lowered us down one by one as far as the bergschrund, which we then had to cross “quickly” to the safe ground below. This looked far worse than it was – in fact, the descent was an easy and very secure sideslip. Thank goodness, I thought, that we didn’t have to go up that way…

5) On our second day, skiing down from the Col de Lys – the highest point on our tour, at 4,260m – to the Monte Rosa Hut, we nearly saw Mike Crompton – our host and the boss of Zuba Ski – slip down a crevasse. As he passed a place where we were meant to be keeping up good speed, he slowed and started sinking as the snow covering a crevasse began to collapse. Some quick poling saved the day and those behind him took another route.

En route to the Monte Rosa Hut, via crevasses

6) I thought we might have found a body near the Col de Lys when a couple of us spotted what looked like a glove at the entrance to a crevasse, looking as though it could have come off as a person toppled down. Marco edged close to it and fished it out with his ski pole. It turned out just to be a cap. Phew!

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