Our final ski alpinism race of the season was the Super Trophée du Muveran, a wonderful course with 2800m to climb and 2800m to descend over 32 km. It’s the oldest ski alpinism race in Switzerland (68th edition) and is famous for the Couloir du Pacheu, one of the longest couloirs to ascend in ski alp races. As we found out, it’s a beast!
Boy did we ever get lucky with the weather – again. After a good few days of very warm days and refreezing overnight, Saturday was cooler and cloudier, so the snow improved on the route for Sunday’s race. The organisers had said everyone needed couteaux (ski crampons) because of ice, but as it turned out we were fine without them.
We started at 06.30, the latest start time, and set off from picturesque Plans sur Bex at a good pace, not too fast (it’s equivalent to 69km on the flat…) running up the road. We’d obviously gauged it well as after 4 minutes or so we started overtaking teams who’d set off too fast (will they never learn?!) We were able to get skis on much earlier than I thought would be possible so late in the season, but then had to take them off again after 5 minutes or so to run along a muddy path. As usual after 10 mins or so Jean Charles started upping the pace and overtaking teams, and it was time to start gritting teeth!
We made the Cabane Plan Nevé in 1h 18, 42 mins inside the time limit, so had plenty of time for a drink and snack at the feed station there. Above us we could see the Pacheu climb looming like a giant above us, with the sun rising behind it, and after guzzling a gel off we set again. The approach wasn’t steep and we stepped on the gas here, overtaking slower teams who’d started much earlier in the morning. Then it was time to stow skis on our rucksacks and head on up using the fixed rope in the couloir. Hard and long is the best description I can come up with for the couloir, which is the equivalent of climbing around 90 storeys…
Up at the top we came out into the sun for the first time, and after a quick refresh we were back into downhill mode, hammering off on the 1300m descent. What fun it was, particularly down in the forest, dodging trees and navigating around bare patches of ground. We had to run a short way once the snow ran out to get to Derborance and the feed station, where we refilled bottles and grabbed half an energy bar.
By now it was starting to warm up, and the next climb was hot. I was only wearing a thin sleeveless t-shirt under my race suit, but still needed to roll my sleeves up as we headed on up. Now the pressure was on: there’s a cut off time just before the next couloir and for those on the last start time, it’s tight. By now the track was busier with racers who’d started much earlier, and it was tricky overtaking them at times. JC hammered on though, like the incredible locomotive that he is, with me hanging on behind.
Up to the Couloir du Pegnat, and we made the cut off with 38 mins to spare. On with crampons here and up the steep couloir. This climb was much more technical, with some points where we had to lean back on the rope and pull ourselves up over rocks. I was relieved when we got to the top, only to find there’s still a long climb to skin up before getting to the penultimate summit. Here I had to dig deep as I went through a bit of a bad patch, but I know that’s going to happen on a long race like this. We were still overtaking teams though, and I felt ok by the top. We had to descend with skins still on our skis, while holding onto a rope, then on and up again for a short while before descending Brotset. Half way down the slope gets much steeper and we had to put skis on our backs and fix ourselves onto the rope to descend, which as it turned out was huge fun. We whooped and hollered all the way down. It’s strange on these long endurance races just how much fun you can get from doing something that gives you a bit of variety!
One more small climb (the sort that can break your morale big time, just when you thought it was all downhill) and then onto the final descent – or so we thought… During a long flat section one of my ski sticks stuck in the snow and got yanked out of my hand, so I had to go back for it, losing all speed. We then discovered there was yet another short climb. Agh!
The last descent was long and tricky in places. I saw one guy go straight over his tips as they dug into soft snow, doing a neat forward summersault. Thankfully he was ok. Some sections were without snow so it was off with the skis and running again down the muddy path. After the final ski down the road, it actually felt good to be running for a change rather than skiing. My muscles were glad of the change, though when we hit the final little climb up into the village before the finish line we were both wishing the line would come sooner. It was still quite a long run to the finish after the climb, but we finished together in 4 hours 47 mins 20 seconds. Phew, a great race, and probably our best ever performance together. 8th place scratch (against all the youngsters) and I was 1st Vet 2 (my old fogeys category).
It was gorgeous in the sun after the finish, so warm, and we ate lunch on the grass outside. I won a coffee machine, which was nice though as we joked, it may be my handicap for next year. We also bumped into quite a few of the top lads we often see at races, and got to have a quick chat with Nicolas Combe and his wife Séverine Pont-Combe, 2 outstanding ski alpinists. Nicolas was the Swiss National Team trainer for a while, and Séverine is the record holder for the Patrouille des Glaciers. They won the race (surprise, surprise), but this time round we weren’t THAT far behind 😉
A huge thank you to GG and all the organising team, who put on a fantastic event, and also to all the very kind racers who immediately got out of the way as we approached to overtake, often giving words of encouragement as they stepped aside despite the fact that they too were going for it. Much appreciated. Lastly a major thank you to my ace team mate Jean Charles, who has been a constant inspiration, and huge fun to boot. Great results together mec.