Chirouze couloir – La Grave

by | Mar 29, 2016 | Backcountry, Skiing | 0 comments

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By Benjamin Birt

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

It can be tough being a ski instructor. Take last Tuesday, for example, when I was hard at work trying to help refine someone’s parallel turns on an admittedly beautifully prepared red slope. What made it hard was that at that very moment, my friends and Ski Connections ski school colleagues Vincent and Julie were in the middle of what they said was probably the best day’s riding they’d ever had. They had seen the snow on the forecast and decided to take a week’s holiday to go…skiing!

With the very best lines already tracked out in Serre Chevalier, they headed to La Grave where they were greeted by 40 cm of perfect powder from the summit at 3600 metres to the village at 1500 metres.

By Thursday I’d had enough of their photos and cracked – time for my own day off. As luck would have it another friend and Ski Connections colleague, mountain guide JB Hugeux, was keen to scope out a route he was hoping to take clients down the following weekend and he was happy to take Vincent and me along for the ride.

The line in question was the Chirouze couloir – a route with a vertical descent of well over 2 km. We hooked up with another mate of JB called Sammy, a local boy currently living in the US, and headed up the legendary La Grave cable car.

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

On the glacier at the top the wind had done its thing and slightly compacted the 40 cm of snow from a couple of days before but it was still soft and eminently skiable so, with Fatmap in hand, we shot off in the direction of the entrance to the Chirouze.

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

There are an untold number of variations to this classic La Grave line and more by luck than judgment we found the least tracked entrance. Only a handful of skiers had been in before us so we scored untouched perfect powder for a good few hundred metres before being funnelled into the tighter section of the run.

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

With the temperature rising, some not so friendly chamois perched high up on some rocky outcrops above us decided we were lingering too long and sent a few surface slides our way. So we rechecked Fatmap to make sure we were still heading in the right direction and pushed on.

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

The classic line takes you through an area above some cliffs where you really don’t want to fall – fine in good snow but not so relaxing when the rocks are poking through the thinning and hardening snowpack. Ice and rocks are never a good combination and this was certainly not the most comfortable I’ve ever felt on my skis. Vincent, however, is so laid back in the steep stuff he’s almost horizontal and decided to make a phone call on the trickiest section! Still, passages like this are all part of the La Grave big mountain experience, just as the rocky minefield (that appeared to be a perfect powder field until you tried to turn) we encountered near the bottom is.

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

The route ends in a short Tyrolean traverse over the Romanche river. If you’re organised enough to leave a car there it’s a 5 minute drive back up the valley to La Grave. If not, get hitching…

Credit: Vincent Leininger from Ski Connections.

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