Follow Aurelien Ducroz and friends into this steep, powder-filled couloir in the next episode of Cham' Lines.
Words: Aurelien Ducroz
The conditions make it tricky to find good lines at the moment. The situation is clear: too much wind at altitude to have any hope of finding a line in condition, and not enough snow in the woods. We had to find a spot at a moderate altitude that hadn’t been hit by the wind, in terrain that would provide adequate visibility in spite of the poor weather. The Couloir du Gypaète is located just on the outskirts of the Chamonix valley, and it appeared to meet all of these criteria!
The summit of the couloir, at 2,100 metres, is very narrow. This gave us hope for good, wind protected snow, and adequate visibility thanks to the contrasts provided by the narrow rock walls.
Name of the couloir: “Couloir du Gypaète”
Maximum elevation: 2,100 metres
Ending elevation: 1,600 metres
Couloir’s vertical drop: 500 metres
Total vertical drop: 1,000 metres
The first part of the ascent was more like a combat mission than a ski itinerary. We battled our way through dense forest that made it really hard to make any progress, (I don’t think we picked the right line through the woods!) but we didn’t have any choice but to keep thrashing our way along!
Once we got out of the woods, the thick fog made it really difficult to see what the conditions were like in the couloir. We had a hard time seeing what was above our heads. We decided to stick to the left side (facing uphill) of the bottom of the couloir so we would be protected until we were able to get a better idea of the conditions.
The weather was supposed to improve in the early afternoon, but for the time being it was pea soup. We continued to grope our way towards the couloir’s entrance.
Once we were between the walls of the couloir, the visibility improved and the conditions looked good. Time for some serious snow slogging!
The couloir is sustained at an average of 45°, but the last 150 metres are closer to 55°.
After two and a half hours we were finally at the top, but there still wasn’t the faintest sign of the sun! As time went on the weather only seemed to get worse.
So in these magical, wintery conditions, Léo dropped into the couloir. The snow conditions were fantastic: no need to make any rappels and we could ride the whole line with confidence.
The Couloir du Gypaète is definitely worth the adventure; it’s a unique environment at the outskirts of the Chamonix valley.
About Cham’ Lines
“Over 500,000 views, an appointment biweekly during the winter season, for two seasons already Cham’lines is the web series that reveals the unsuspected mythical or lines of the Chamonix valley. A guide, a guest, a line, a committed style, and go for 5 min freeride on the shoulders champion. From the beginning, Cham’lines always get the best echoes professionals and discover the pleasure of freeriding to a wider audience.”
Mountain safety reminder!
“Be aware: like all mountain activities, off-piste and freeride skiing entail numerous risks. It is essential to have an excellent level of knowledge before embarking on a mountain itinerary. The risks are numerous: glaciers, crevasses, risk of a fall, avalanche danger, etc. Never go into the mountains alone. Be sure that your planned itinerary is suitable for your ability. Gather all the necessary information regarding snow conditions and weather before setting out. Get information from ski patrollers and mountain professionals. To ensure your safety, hire a guide or a ski instructor, depending on your planned itinerary. Always carry the necessary safety equipment, and be sure you know how to use it. An avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe are mandatory for going off-piste, and an ABS airbag pack is highly recommended. Inform someone at home of your planned itinerary.
There are a lot of risks to understand and manage, but dare to go off piste accompanied by experienced people and you’ll have a blast! For this, Chamonix-Mont Blanc is one of the best playgrounds in the world!”