December Training

Since the first snows arrived, it has been out with the skis whenever possible. Usually at this time of year I’m exhausted from an autumn of full on work and travel. But this year, maybe due to exercising so much more and cutting coffee out of my diet, I only needed a day to refresh and I felt like new again.

December sunset

The sun goes down at the end of a training session

So on with the training, mainly ski hikes to the top of the Pas de Maimbré, our local summit, which gives a nice 1000m of vertical to climb (from 1350m – 2363m). It’s a great training route. starting out on a small path which takes you up to where most randonneurs start from, just below Anzère. Then on up the forest path, firstly with gentle pitches, then quite a steep section which can be tough if it’s icy. Then on up the forest path until it joins the piste. From there you can carry on up the piste (the safe option if the snow pack’s dodgy), or go up a ridge from where there are fantastic views both up the Rhone Valley and the Sionne Valley. This is much more technical, particularly as this season there’s been so much snow, many of the tree branches which are usually overhead are now at waist level! With so much snow arriving all at once (2.7m in 4 days, and it didn’t stop then either) a lot of what the Swiss call whale’s mouths have appeared too. These form at the top of steeper slopes when the snowpack moves downhill as it consolidates, leaving huge crevasse-like cracks near the top of steep sections of slope. They are very dangerous if you don’t know they’re there! One minute there’s 2m of snowpack, the next there’s nothing. And on the ridge up to the top of the mountain there are a lot of whale’s mouths this year, so care is needed.

Out in a blizzard

Out in a blizzard

In December I managed 2-3,000m per week (that’s height climbed, which is typically what us ski mountaineer folk count), totalling 9,300m for the month, much of which was in blizzards as it snowed so much during the month. Luckily it wasn’t very cold, usually around -5 C or so, which made it fairly easy to get out. The biggest challenge was that the heaviest snowfall brought lots of trees down which blocked most of the footpaths. It took a few days till the foresters managed to get out with their chainsaws. Apparently 70,000 m3 of wood came down this winter in Valais, what with the very heavy snows coming after a period of drought (so the soil was very dry and hadn’t frozen), and then later on being hit by the tail end of a hurricane.

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