Text and pictures © 2004-2016 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2013/01/20
Gravity /n./: one of four fundamental forces in nature that affect skiers. The other three are the strong force, which makes bindings jam; the weak force, which makes ankles give way on turns; and electromagnetism, which produces dead batteries in expensive ski-resort parking lots.
Left: Jumping off a rock cliff for fun and photography. And also to better enjoy the incredible powder snow.
Right: Vincent flying off a hill.
Briançon as a town has so many great advantages it's almost boring to draw a list. One of those is the downhill ski-lift taking off from downtown. Have a few hours off work ? Grab the skis, walk 5 minutes, shred a line and cool off. Briançon itself has the southernmost ski slope of the Serre Chevalier area, a ski domain including 4 valleys. The ski domain is not the most extensive of France, its main drawback being the frequent lack of snow, Briançon being the sunniest city in France. Which just goes to prove that you still can't have your cake and eat it too.
Left: Forest skiing in Serre Chevalier.
Right: Steep skiing out of the beaten tracks in Serre Chevalier.
If the slopes themselves are not that high or that steep, Serre Chevalier provides a large quantity of great off-piste skiing. From forest outings when the weather is bad, to long running slopes when all the accumulated fresh snow has had time to stabilize, to descents on the opposite side of the mountain needing a long car ride to get back home.
Left: The Corneille couloir right in the middle of the ski domain of Briançon/Serre Chevalier.
Right: Our tracks in the Corneille couloir.
The Corneille couloir is one of those off-track things you can't find if it ain't shown to you. It's a good thing having a guide like Vincent then, but he has to leave early to pick up his kids off school. So in the evening I decide to do that couloir a second time. I'm enjoying the sunset during the long lonely traverse and stop briefly for an urgent need, when I hear a piercing howl. Thinking it's a crazy-ass mountain crow, I just about resume the traverse when a wolf crosses the snow right ahead of me ! A pretty rare sight in those parts where they've been coming back only for the last few years, having been exterminated to the last a century or so ago.
Left: Video of the descent of the Corneille gully...
Right: Sunset on Grand Pre.
Left: Backcountry skiing at the Pegu pass.
Right: Ain't spring nice ? Even fairies learn to ski in our parts.
Above: Panorama from the summit of the Tete des Raisin. Briançon is the town in the valley on the right.
Above: 360 degree panorama from the Tete des Raisins.
Left: Going up the safe Crete de la Seyte.
Right: A spring river on the way up the Col Perdu (lost pass).
Above: Panoramic view from just below the summit of the Seyte crest.
Right: Panoramic view from the summit of the Ratelle (2550m) above Crevoux, with Embrun in the valley below.
Left: Backcountry skiing at Crevoux.
Right: Crocus flowers growing on the freshly thawed out fields of Les Laus.
Left: Trying to make the most of the little snow remaining: crossing a stream keeping the skis on (waterskiing ?)
Right: Cécile doing her last descent of the season on the Tete blanche du Galibier, a very crowded summit.
One winter day Cecile gives me a call saying that the early morning view from the Lautaret pass is excellent and I should go up there to take pictures. And while we are at it we should just ski up the Tête Blanche. Sure. So up we go, I try to take a few shots but there are too many clouds on La Meije and we soon start our climb. The view gets better as we go higher, I take time to do a few panoramas and then we start the descent on hardened snow. At a certain point I stop above a short jump to evaluate it. Firmly planting the pole I jump off and land... on Cecile who'd been skiing to my left and didn't see the hole. She falls into it just as I jump and we collide in mid-air. The shock does not seem at all violent to me and I'm immediately back on my feet while Cecile is laughing on the ground. Or is she ? It sounds more like a hysterical wailing. Her shoulder is dislocated.
Next thing I know is that I'm pulling on her arm, still with the skis on, trying to get it to move back into its socket. I'm clumsy and she screams and laughs at the same time. People pass on the trail barely 5 meters from us without giving us any attention, probably thinking we are fooling around. Following her indications, we finally get the very sore shoulder back in place and she manages to finish the descent. A month later she gets surgery, hoping to be back in shape for the summer, but in truth she won't be able to climb or work until autumn, a good 6 months later.
Above: Panorama taken during the ascent of the Tete Blanche du Galibier, the same pass taken every other year by the Tour de France cyclists.
Left: Skiing down the Combeynot in late season but still powdery snow.
Right: Video of the descent in powder snow from the Combeynot.
The Combeynot is a minor summit located just above the Lautaret pass, and from the summit there's a central view of all the major summits in the Ecrins and Cerces range.
Right: Skiing down towards the Lautaret pass.
Right: Ski trail down the Combeynot. The two major summits in the back are the Tête Blanche and Tête Noire du Galibier
Left: Going up towards the Tenailles de Montbrison, a trail I've taken many times before, but always in summer with rock-climbing equipment.
Right: Going up Combe Brune, towards the Tete d'Amont (2815m).
Left: Cecile going up the NE couloir of the Tete d'Amont.
Right: Nearing the top of the couloir.
Left: Skiing down the backside of the Tenailles.
Left: Skiing down the crusty snow of Combe brune.
Right: Video of the descent of the Combe Brune couloir.
Early 2009, about two dozen people meet at the end of the Izoard road at Les Laus for a WE of skiing and partying. That's 40 years for Vincent. And lots of fresh snow for us.
Right: Ago at the ridge of Cote Belle.
Left: The Col Perdu (lost pass) and Cote Belle seen from the summit of Arpelin.
Right: After the mulled wine, dinner and champaign, we hike up the closed Izoard road and slide down for a few km. It's not too steep and we are not the only ones with that idea to benefit of the brightest full moon of the year.
Right: Old houses at night in the tiny outpost of Les Laus.
Left: Skiing down from Cote-Belle in 40cm of powder snow. I'm experimenting with my old Ricoh camera in video mode, with the 21mm wide-angle adapter and a velcro strap on the stomach.
Left: Izoard huts on the way towards the Peygus pass.
Right: Percagne and a view of the Ourdeis pass.
Left: Cecile and Agostino leading the group.
Right: Vincent tracing back up in 40cm of fresh snow, just before triggering a small slide.
Left: The Grand Peygu seen from the Peygus pass.
Right: A view across Les Laus on the Lasseron, Turge de Peyron, Charvie, Suffie, escalinade and the Rochebrune peak (right).
Left: The Gran Peygu in the back with a lone courageous track in the middle of the face.
Right: Reaching the summit of the Peygu ridge after going all the way around the summit (the pass is in the background), shortly before the sun disappears for good.
Right: Starting in the sunset we head back down towards Les Laus. I'm not playing nice: pushing the others and filming those that fall by themselves. Farther down the hidden couloir in the middle of the trees, with great powder snow like the rest of the weekend.