A day in the week of an Advanced ski course
This is a pictorial of the excursion which we take in the Tignes area with the more experienced Advanced groups from time to time, on the Chardonnet massif, which lies between Val Claret and Le Lac. The massif, which is reached from the top of the Grattalu lift in the Val Claret sector, features a number of couloirs (gullies), some of which are not for the faint-hearted (photo opposite - on a day when the wind was creating spin drift at the side of the lift). This is one of the less demanding couloirs, but which is still somewhat challenging at first glance.
The entrance slope to the couloir is reached by taking a short traverse and a walk up from the chairlift. Ali reminds the group here that if they want to carry their skis, the most effective way is strapped to their backpacks or on the shoulders and "not carried in the arms, like a beginner who doesn't know any better ..."
Once organised, the group can finally get underway for the walk up to the top of the Chardonnet ridge. It is short, but gets the breathing going and is a good warm up for the ski down.
Once at the top of the couloir, the view is quite breath-taking, but everyone at this point is concentrating on getting their first turn in, which is always nerve-racking, no matter how many times they may have done this route. Once that is over, the rest is much easier. To start the descent, as is always the case, protocol is observed when skiing off-piste - only one skier is exposed at any time during a descent, moving from one 'safe point' to another, i.e. in this case, the rocky outcrop on the right, where you can just see the head of the previous skier. The skier above is waiting for the word 'go', so they each have their own space.
Depending on snow conditions, the gully varies in width and is always a bit narrower at the top, but our skiers can soon relax (sometimes having to be reminded by Ali not to forget to breathe) and the terrain opens up as you descend towards the middle and the bottom, giving plenty of room for longer turns. Here, the snow is soft but somewhat chopped up, so you still have to keep focused.
The easy run-out at the end across the plateau is in sight after this final slope, where the group waits in turn to make the schuss - absolutely no turns if possible - in order to have a clear run at it since no-one wants to be forced to stop if someone in front of them takes a tumble and have to walk the rest of the way.
A well-deserved celebratory wave speaks for everyone at the end of an exciting few hours getting away from the pistes. All that remains is the piste ski back to Le Lac and no doubt a few drinks mulling over the highlights of the day's adventure.
The Chardonnet bowl in the background isn't as far away as it looks here, but it might as well be on another planet. The route taken by the group can't be seen from this angle, but is marked on the photo below.
The route marked on the photo is for identification of the couloir, rather than our actual tracks! The others further to the right are more challenging and liable to test the " what if..." factor to a greater degree.