Part 2: Assorted Episodes in the Ecrins: A Backcountry Adventure in the Southern French Alps.
Words by Matt Carr, images by Ken Ezeji-Okoye
Two days in, and with some shots in the bag despite a continuing lack of cooperation from the weather-man and the crew is feeling pretty stoked. We headed into the town of Briançon to wander, wonder and eat pizza.
You are now entering Game Of Thrones
We went in this building and asked the dude that apparently owned it as politely as we knew how to send some precipitation
Our pleas appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, but at least the crystal-clear starlit view of the fort didn’t suck. Briançon has occupied a crucial position on the ephemeral boundary between France and Italy for centuries, and between their various principalities and kingdoms for centuries before that. It is surrounded by several magnificent forts keeping watch over the valley.
We went to check out the terrain in Mongenèvre. By this stage the snow was bulletproof on all aspects, so we opted to continue our history lesson and skinned up to Fort Janus.
Janus was the double-headed Roman god of new beginnings, with one looking to the future, the other to the past. Was it a sign? Was the weather about to
change? Were we gonna ski some of this epic terrain in powder? Or was it simply an opportunity for boys to be boys?
Behind the fort, Joe and Dave scope out an awesome route all the way down to Briançon. Not this time though- the snow petered out about a third of the way down. We each made notes to come back when the snow was at the party.
By now it was mid-morning and the sun had softened the snow in the south-facing chutes that we picked our way through on the way down. In the background is a live-firing area for the French military which still trains in this area. A strange but cool juxtaposition of the old world and the new.
We checked out some other parts of the Montgenèvre area which is just overflowing with terrific little zones. Here, Chipie found a creamy little corner.
Joe likes skiing more than anyone, ever.
Oh hey Madonna, fancy seeing you here! Are you asking the Big Guy for some powder too? If not, please do, thanks.
Somebody somewhere seemed to be listening. It snowed overnight at the top so we tried Serre Chevalier again. Somewhat disappointingly it turned out only to be dust on crust, but Joe was so excited he busted a classic mute like it was 1999. Did I mention this man is never knowingly un-stoked?
Then he did a bunny-hop.
Joe's enthusiasm was contagious. He and Dave performed a happy duet with the glaciated peaks of the Ecrins National Park looking on.
By now we'd had 5 days, scratching about, thinking laterally and trying to be creative in our movements through these majestic mountains. We'd loved every minute, but every skier is a striver. We're all inclined to wonder "what if", to look at the terrain through glasses tinted with the reflection "in good snow..." I wondered if it would snow, properly snow, ever again.
As we regrouped in the chalet that evening, fired up the devices and checked the charts for the zillionth time, suddenly everything changed and I wondered if the weatherman had in fact been putting us to the test all along. I was the PR guy that had organised this trip, and persuaded everyone to take time off their day jobs to come here with promises of skiing that would change their religious beliefs. They had believed me; they had come; but the snow had not.
It was Rudyard Kipling I believe who once wrote:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting...
If you can dream and not make dreams your master...
If you can keep your stoke, while all around your are losing theirs and flaming you....
Yours are the Ecrins and all the powder in them!
At 8.17pm on the 5th day, the first snowflake fell in town. It was the first of many.
Stay tuned for the final episode dropping next Monday.