I meet Per at 8:30 at the Skier’s Lodge in La Grave, France. The first thing he tells me is that Josefine, his wife, will be coming with us. He has a big smile on his face. Per is away guiding most of the winter season and he doesn’t get many opportunities to ski with his wife. I am looking forward to meeting her and skiing with both of them.
Today we’ll enter the ski mountaineering world. We’ll be carrying some climbing gear; boot crampons, ropes, ice axe, harness, various carabiners and belays. We set off from the top of the glacier del la Girose, heading towards the Col on the top-left of this big serac.
For those of you who don’t often travel on glaciers, it might be interesting to know what a serac is. Seracs are essentially large chunks of ice. They tend to form at the intersection of multiple crevasses, and they are notorious for being extremely unstable. Depending on the size of the serac and the position of the climbers, it can represent a serious hazard. Most climbers are aware of the potential danger posed by these large chunks of ice, and they are careful to avoid them whenever possible.
I always learn something new when I ski with Per. Today, I learned that seracs are not affected by temperature changes and exposure to sun radiation. Their collapse is due to the glacier movements. So, although the possibilities of this huge block of ice crumbling apart right now, just as we skin in front of it, are extremely remote, our skin track is a good 30 meters further away from the ice comparatively to an old track in the snow.
This is a north facing slope so the snow is rock hard. The good news is that after less than an hour we are almost at the top. Per is in front…
…and Josefine right behind me.
Once we get to the entrance of the couloir, we tie the skis to the rucksacks and put crampons on. We are going to rappel from here. The views are absolutely superb. This is the Col De la Girose.
My watch shows an altitude of 3,515 m. There are not many places in the world where you can go from sipping your café au lait comfortably sitting in a café, to rappel down a couloir 2,000 meters above in about an hour and a half. I love it.
The ropes are out. Per fixes the anchor we are going to use to rappel down.
Me and Per moments before rappelling. It feels really good to be on a rope again.
Per goes first
I go second
Although I love using climbing gear and hearing it clanking on my harness, I confess a part of me would prefer to be here enjoying the pull of gravity with my feet strapped on my board. This is a steep couloir, probably over 50°, certainly a no fall situation. Snow conditions are not ideal, so being on the rope is the safest option today.
Josefine goes last.
As I watch Josefine, a mother of two, rappelling down, I wonder what a special feeling it must be for her and Per to raise their children around these mountains and share with them their strong passion for this environment.
We get to the bottom of the couloir in 3 different rappels. And the view’s so nice.
The ropes go back in the rucksack and we are ready to ski down.
This is out couloir in all its length. It doesn’t look too steep from here, does it?
Per and Josefine soak up the peaceful atmosphere before continuing the descent.
There are so many aesthetic peaks and interesting lines around here I’d like to climb and ski. This one is definitely on the top of the list.
The plan now is to stay on this side of the mountain and ski through a very long valley which will end up near the cute village of St Christophe.
Once we get to the end of it there is no more snow, but the mountain views looking over to Les Deux Alpes are still superb.
We made it to St. Christophe. A friend of Per and Josefine’s has been kind enough to agree to pick us up and give us a lift back to La Grave. Although we are not entirely sure how long we’ll have to wait for him, the thought of being here for a while doesn’t concern me at all. I am stuck in a lovely little place with a couple of really special people.
What an amazing experience. I often feel that the mountains give themselves completely when I have no precise destination.
Back in La Grave, I relax in the warm afternoon sun with all the comforts my tent on wheels offers. Our world is so crowded that it feels like such a luxury having this amount of space for all my toys and for myself. And with the addition of a sleeping mat and a pillow, I have a great night sleep nice and dry regardless of the weather outside and I can wake up exactly where I want to be, at the bottom of a mountain or right on a beach if I am after early morning surf.
Leaving La Grave I have the biggest smile on my face. I feel privileged I had the opportunity to ski with both Per and Josefine. It’s super inspiring being around them in their mountain world. I was in the right place, at the right time and with the right people. You know that feeling when you would not want to be anywhere else with anyone else? It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does happen, it’s incredibly special. I am already looking forward to next winter when I’ll be back here and we’ll ski together again.
Matteo is a snowboarder, telemark skier, climber and mountain lover…”My body is at its best at the rarer air of the heights and communicates its excitement to the mind.” You can find more of Matteo’s photos, tales and random thoughts at matteoexperience.com.
And if you wish to ski with a local guide in the French Alps, contact Patagonia ambassador Per Ås. He’s the perfect person to go skiing around these wild mountains with.