This year I was once again lucky enough to travel with the US National Ski Mountaineering Team to the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Verbier, Switzerland. I was in Verbier in 2014 just after my back went out and I was excited to go back in good health. The racers were scheduled for 05-12 February. With the weekends, I decided to leave 31 January and return 15 February. The job of coach can be challenging. Nick Francis and I split all of the duties of getting things ready (lodging, registration, travel, uniforms, etc) as much as possible before we left the US. One on Verbier, there are daily race briefings, numerous meetings with the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF), getting the racers to and from races, daily team meetings, social media updates, daily blogs, etc. The days get very busy and most days I hope for 2-3 hours of free time for some skiing between 6:00 AM when we get up and midnight when I finally get all the work done. Needless to say, it is exhausting
I will post a few photos in the blog, but will post a photo album in a few days.
The snow in Verbier had been very poor all winter, but the weekend I was leaving they were forecasted to get a huge storm. The storm ended up dumping close to 1M of snow on the ground in 3 days. I arrived in Le Chable (the village in the valley below Verbier) on Sunday night. I got off the train and was tired and ready for a bed. There was 30+ cm of snow on the ground as I drug my bags up and down a few streets until I finally found the place I was staying. I had found a room on booking.com that was just a bedroom in some people’s home. It was small and quaint, but made a great basecamp for a couple of days until the team arrived and I moved to Martigny down the valley
My tiny room in Le Chable
As normal with Europe travel, I went to bed early, but woke up around 2 and was wide awake until 5. I fell back asleep and was up at 8 ready to ski. Due to high avalanche danger I was not able to tour on Monday. I purchased a Verbier lift ticket and was treated to a huge day of >45,000 feet of amazing powder skiing. The resort is absolutely HUGE. I was able to ski fresh, untracked snow all day and had the best resort day of my lift.
An amazing ski day in Verbier
I didn’t want to ski the resort 2 days in a row, but avalanche conditions were still very high so on Tuesday I decided to climb from Le Chable to Bruson and check out some of the Individual Race Course and tour on any safe terrain I could find. It was a 1750M climb to the top of Bryson and Six Blanc where the Individual Course would top out 2 times. There were massive avalanche crowns everywhere I looked. I was able to find a great ~25 degree slope off the back shoulder of Six Blanc that I skied 700M down the valley. When I got to the bottom, I realized that none of the other dozen or so tracks on the slope was an uptrack (I later realized on the map that people toured to Osiers and took the train back around). I slogged back up putting in a skin track and then skied back down Bruson to Le Chable. It ended up being a big day with over 2300M of climbing. I got to Le Chable with 20 minutes to run to get my bags and catch the train to Martigny to meet Sarah and McKenna (the first 2 team members to arrive).
View from treeline skinning up Bruson
The 3 of us had a good dinner together and planned a tour for Wednesday. The avalanche rating was still Considerable so we planned a very mellow tour from the town of Loutier up towards Mount Rogneux. We took the train from Martigny to Le Chable, the quickly hitched a ride to Loutier. We found a trail tight from town and started climbing. After a couple hours and 1400M of climbing we reached Cabana Brunet, a hut/refuge on the shoulder of Mount Rogneux. We had lunch there then continued up. As we climbed, the clouds moved in ad our visibility got poor. We decided that this was a good sign to turn around. We had a great untracked powder run several hundred meters back down. We eventually hit a junction in the trail and decided to take a different route down. It turns out this leave to an upper trailhead leaving us well above Loutier and on the highway. We skied the shoulder, the rocks, and walked our way back to town. We missed the last bus to Le Chable by 10 minutes so we started to hitch. We were unsuccessful for about 30 minutes before a guide picked us up and even thought he was not going all the way to Le Chable, he went out of his way to drop us off there. We were elated for his help. We caught the next train to Martigny and met up with most of the rest of the team.
McKenna and Sarah at Cabana Brunet, our lunch stop
With the Team mostly having arrived on Wednesday night, Thursday was racer registration and getting people out on the course. Scott Simmons and I headed out to the Individual Course. At our first ascent, we were quickly caught by Killian Jornet. It was amazing to watch his ease and speed climbing up the skin track. We summited Six Blanc on the races second ascent, skied the steep descent, the climbed the third ascent for another trip to the top of Six Blanc. Instead of skiing down, I convinced Scott to traverse the ridge line a ways and ski down some untracked powder. We were treated to an amazing descent all the way back to Le Chable. We arrived in time for lunch with the team and then the opening ceremonies which included a parade of nations and far too many speeches in French while we stood in the freezing cold.
Scott showing me how to rip on skinny skis
Scott enjoying the amazing Verbier Pow
Opening Ceremonies – Parade of Nations
The first race was the sprint race held in Champsec on Friday. The team was excited about the sprint even though it is typically not a strong race for us. We ended up with all 4 women making it to the quarter finals (although due to a timing error, McKenna ended up being omitted). We also ended up with 2 of our men reaching the quarter finals. This was extremely exciting for us as we had never advanced any men and only 1 woman (Nina) before.
Champsec Sprint Course
Saturday was the Vertical Race, but it didn’t start until 4PM so we had some time to ski in the morning. I didn’t have time for a long tour so I took the lifts up to Mont Fort and then planned to ski off the back side down to Lac de Cleuson and around to Tortin then take lifts back to Verbier. The mini-tour was fantastic.
The course for the Vertical was amazing as it wound through the streets of Verbier then finished part way up the mountain at Les Ruinettes. Thousands of people lined the streets for the race, then jumped on the lifts to get to the top for the finish. There were at least 1500 spectators lining the last 200M of the race. It was truly like watch a Tour de France race.
The highlight of my Friday was getting to catch up with Gemma. Gemma had been living in Park City teaching the last 3 years, but was unable to get a work visa this year so she is back home in Catalonia. She was excited to see her Wasatch friends.
Sunday was a rest day for the team as it was the Junior Individual. I was hoping for a day to tour, but due to some problems with ISMF, I had to be back to Le Chable by 2:00 for a long afternoon of meetings and straightening out registration and other problems. I was able to accompany Logan, Andy, Rory, and Brian on a start of their tour. They were going off the back of Mont Fort, then just touring around and coming out either back at Verbier or down valley and catching a ride. I was sad to leave them just as the terrain was getting amazing. I climbed back up to Col de Prefleuri as they descended to the Prefleuri hut. I was treated to an amazing untracked run back to Lac de Cleuson, then as I had done before took the lifts and skied to Verbier and down to Le Chable. After a tiring few meetings, I was able to get back to the hotel for dinner a little after 7:30.
Brian and Rory admiring the massive terrain
Part 2 coming soon.