The thought of being let loose on our own with fancy tech bindings and mohair skins, barely two weeks of skiing under our belts, was slightly intimidating to say the least! Shutdown had come far too early in the middle of March 2020, seemingly far too quickly followed by Winter again – we had bought new skis, ski-touring bindings and skins in preparation for being able to head uphill without lifts, totally oblivious to the fact that they wouldn’t even be available as an option.

A big dumping of snow had come in October, followed by lots more in December – it was time to try out our new gear. The La Vormaine ski area is for beginners, newbies just like us – sitting at the foot of the Le Tour red run, a place we still only fantasised about skiing down from! This was to be our self-learning ski touring area, and although we were familiar with the short, mellow, descent on groomed trails we had no idea what conditions would be like without the manmade tracks or lifts. First we had to learn how to use the sticky lengths of mohair covered ski ‘skins’, beginning with attaching them to the ski bases in the subzero temperatures; a task that almost put us off wanting to continue on our new adventure.

This first attempt was a successful disaster, successful in the fact that we actually skinned the 20 minutes to the top lift 4 times, disastrous being that our skiing was terrible! We had forgotten everything and needed refresher lessons badly.

Winter of Skinning

Epic times to enjoy ‘ski-lift-free’ mountain access in the French Alps

The only saving graces were that we were suffering in early season snow and surely the lifts would be open soon – we desperately needed the services and skills of one of Chamonix’s ski guides! The latter never materialised, with the Coranavirus destroying the entire season. We either got our muscle memories back, watched lots of youtube videos, or gave up and hoped the following year would be an improvement. Turns out that things did get better and both Andrea and I got out into the cold winter almost every day. Our ski paths did go off in different directions slightly, her learning to skate ski, and my determination taking me into some amazing ski terrain that was probably well out of my depth!

Almost daily skinning up the slopes above Les Houches increased the confidence level drastically, the 860 metre ascent initially taking less time than the ski descent. Well not quite but it often felt like it! One of the plus sides to novice ski touring in this resort was that due to local Covid rules junior ski racers were permitted to continue practising – this meant that a few of the pistes were often groomed, and whilst not daily it still made a massive improvement in getting back down the mountain intact.

The major turning point was becoming part of a Facebook chat group for people who wanted ski touring partners – from the end of January a network of like-minded friends began to form! It was time to start skiing in places that I could only admire others doing; pretty skiing it wasn’t but what the heck, it was thrilling and adventurous.

Col du Belvédère
Col du Belvédère in the centre
Ascending Mt Buet
Perfect conditions heading up Mt Buet
Col des Rachasses
Col des Rachasses at Grands Montets
So whilst Andrea was off doing her thing in the valley a handful of us were taking advantage of the ‘lift-less’ Covid situation and hitting the terrain In Chamonix and the surrounding mountains. It was a season that would probably never be repeated; like minded adventurous souls getting to live the life, skiing pretty much every day due to office closures, layoffs, and remote working. School closures in Denmark and Italy meant a couple of guys could stay in Chamonix, others struggled to leave, and hey why would they – we were getting plenty of snow and the mountains were almost private domains!

Unfortunately I still felt like the misfit! Almost the worst skier and a clumsy ass off-piste, the upside being my fitness level. I found skinning uphill comfortable and a blast, almost oblivious to the fact that making it to the top was the easy part. By mid February I’d skied down my nemesis, the Pierre a Ric red run at Grands Montets and felt ready to say… Yes lets go for a big day!

…and so it was, beginning with Col du Belvédère, moving on to 3,096m Mt Buet, a couple of jaunts into the Swiss Alps, Col du Tour Noir, and some big skins up from the valley floor to almost 3,300m at Grands Montets. These all felt significant to me but really in the grand scheme of things these were all childs play compared to some of the serious couloirs and steep terrain in the Chamonix valley.

It’s a scary thought as to the implications of the next phase when I really can ski properly!

Season Stats

Total Distance (kms): 891
Total Ascent (metres): 85,066
Total Days: 79


April 25, 2021 – Col des Rachasses

April 13, 2021 – Top of Grands Montets

April 8, 2021 – Top of Grands Montets

April 7, 2021 – Col des Rachasses

April 5, 2021 – Argentiere Glacier

April 4, 2021 – Monts Telliers

March 31, 2021 – Weisshorn Glacier

March 28, 2021 – Bochard

March 27, 2021 – l’Herse

March 26, 2021 – Grands Montets

March 26, 2021 – GM Mid-station Speed Ascent

March 25, 2021 – Portes du Soleil (Lift Access)

March 23, 2021 – Mont Lachat

March 22, 2021 – l’Herse

March 21, 2021 – Autannes

March 20, 2021 – l’Herse

March 18, 2021 – Les Marecottes (Lift Access)

March 17, 2021 – Prarion

March 16, 2021 – Tête de Balme

March 16, 2021 – Prarion

March 15, 2021 – Kandahar (powder)

March 14, 2021 – Le Tour Loop

March 13, 2021 – Bochard

March 12, 2021 – Kandahar

March 10, 2021 – Top of Grands Montets

March 08, 2021 – Plan Joran

March 08, 2021 – GM Mid-station Speed Ascent

March 07, 2021 – Plan Joran

March 06, 2021 – Bochard

March 04, 2021 – Plan Joran

March 02, 2021 – Kandahar

March 01, 2021 – Kandahar

February 27, 2021 – Grands Montets

February 26, 2021 – Kandahar

February 24, 2021 – Col du Tour Noir

February 23, 2021 – Col de Voza

February 22, 2021 – GM Mid-station Speed Ascent

February 21, 2021 – Triangle de l’Herse

February 19, 2021 – Mont Buet

February 17, 2021 – Col du Belvédère

February 16, 2021 – Refuge de Lognan

February 14, 2021 – Le Tour Big Day Out

February 13, 2021 – Aiguillette des Posettes & Tête de Balme

February 12, 2021 – l’Herse

February 11, 2021 – Le Tour

February 10, 2021 – Grands Montets

February 9, 2021 – Kandahar

February 8, 2021 – Aiguillette des Posettes & Tête de Balme

February 7, 2021 – Kandahar

February 4, 2021 – Refuge de Lognan

February 3, 2021 – Grands Montets

February 2, 2021 – Plan Joran

February 1, 2021 – Prarion

January 31, 2021 – Kandahar & Kandahar

January 30, 2021 – Kandahar

January 28, 2021 – Bar 1600

January 27, 2021 – Kandahar

January 26, 2021 – Grands Montets

January 25, 2021 – Kandahar

January 24, 2021 – Aiguillette des Posettes & Tête de Balme

January 23, 2021 – Tête de Balme

January 21, 2021 – Kandahar

January 19, 2021 – Avalanche Course Day 3

January 19, 2021 – Avalanche Course Day 3

January 18, 2021 – Avalanche Course Day 2

January 16, 2021 – Col de Voza

January 14, 2021 – Kandahar

January 13, 2021 – Kandahar

January 13, 2021 – Kandahar

January 11, 2021 – Le Tour

January 10, 2021 – Kandahar

January 9, 2021 – Aiguillette des Posettes

January 8, 2021 – Col de Balme

January 6, 2021 – Prarion

January 5, 2021 – Prarion

January 4, 2021 – Prarion

January 3, 2021 – Le Tour

January 2, 2021 – Tête de Balme

December 31, 2020 – Tête de Balme

December 30, 2020 – Le Tour

December 29, 2020 – Prarion

December 28, 2020 – Prarion

December 15, 2020 – Prarion

December 14, 2020 – Prarion

December 12, 2020 – Prarion

The season ended up being a huge success, far exceeding expectations, but also leaving some epic tours for the following season. Skiing from the summit of Mt Blanc, Vallée Blanche, and some of the local couloirs are all exciting prospects, then throw in a couple of multiday hut-to-hut tours such as the Haute Route and Monta Rosa 4000ers – happy times!

Resort Skiing
Les Houches
Le Tour
Grands Montets

Off Piste Skiing
Col du Belvedere
Mt Buet
Col du Tour Noir
Grands Montets
Monts Telliers

Winter 2020/2021


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