30 January 2022, Himalayan Couloir Climbing…in Les Contamines!

OK, we exaggerate more than a bit with the Himalayan title joke, but the scale of some of these couloirs and features in the ‘middle mountains’ is impressive.  Whilst folk usually take the steadier ascent to ski the steeper couloir in descent, we took advantage of the stable snow and low avalanche conditions to do the reverse!

Mont Jovet and it’s couloirs with the Nant Blanc just in the shade centre right.

Interesting to venture in to a new part of the superb Contamines Valley and leave the well pisted and well know Roman Road to head over the Pont de la Laya and in to the Combe Blanche where there are also currently some decent looking icefalls.  Like in many other parts of Les Contamines, there is also a huge amount of avalanche debris as testimony to the massive snow falls in December and early January.  The fact it had not snowed since was the reason we were here…

Approaching the Couloir Nant Blanc, negotiationg the avalanche debris, Les Contamines. Photo Isabella

The lower Nant Blanc couloir was smooth but grippy and we put in many zig zags skinning with ski crampons.  Things soon steepen up though and we switched to booting in crampons with skis on packs.

An early switch to booting was preferred to the steep skinning

The couloir is pretty long – so it was a good job the snow was generally supportive rather than deep or breakable, although a bit of trail breaking was still required.  It’s a great ambiance in there…and quite a long way up!  We hadn’t seen anyone for hours but then 2 skiers, who had turned around on the ascent of the Pain du Sucre appeared from perhaps the most logical of various entrances to the couloir from along the Monts Jovet ridge line.

2 skiers entering the more easy angled bowls in the upper Nant Blanc

The continuation of the couloir looks impressive – and even longer and there were some fine tracks descending the lower slopes of this…

Fine skiing with some lovely turns in the upper continuation of the Nant Blanc

We headed in to the sun and warmth of the Mont Jovet ridge line with open vistas providing quite a contrast from the cool, sombre and enclosed combe below.

The last few strides, arriving in the sun on the Monts Jovets ridge line after several hours climbing up the shady Nant Blanc

Great views of the upper Contamines Valley from here and we could check out the many and numerous tracked ascents and descents from here with teams heading up the Pain du Sucre, Col de l’Enclave and Col des Tuffs on the shady slopes above the Jovet.

Beautiful glittery gliding shallow velvet powder in playful terrain above Lacs Jovets

A welcome bonus on the snow quality front was found in the playful bumps and mini valleys descending to the southern end of the lacs.  The glittering shallow velvet powder gave fun and fast turns even in very shallow angle terrain.  Skinning up towards the Col du Bonnehomme we could see tracks below Zub’s Gully on the Tete Nord des Fours and many tracks on the steep east facing slopes, Les Thovassets’ above, see photo below.

Ascending the combe with the Pylonds East of the Col du Bonnhomme, with the impressive and well skied ‘Thovassets’ beyond

We ascended in to the quiet and shady Combe of the Tête Sud des Fours and got some nice turns in pristine snow, but a fair bit of crust too!   Likewise on rejoining the normal route down from the Col du Bonnehomme and, as per the Vallée Blanche earlier in the week, some very nice easy creamy smooth but grippy skiing where the track has been near pisted by plenty of touring traffic!

Some good smooth semi pisted skiing to avoid the massive avalanche debris above Balme

The upper Roman Road was in good condition and gave a fun ski down to the lower bit where it becomes icy.  We negotiated the first icy section via a couple of turns in the woods above and then put crampons on to walk down the last lower icy bit.  This section could obviously do with some more snow…and happily there is some on the way this week…

Long booting sections up the Nant Blanc

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The brilliant base camp for ski touring in Val Feret – Rifugio Bonatti run by Mara and her team of great staff.