14-20 August 2010 Bud and Sam Shulman, Chamonix Climbing

Bud and  Sam came to Chamonix this summer for their annual trip. Last year was a great trip (with a father and son ascent of Mont Blanc) and they wanted more of the same. A mix of alpine climbing, rock climbing and an occasional hike. The weather was not the greatest, but we made the best of it and had a great time on a variety of climbs.

Meanwhile, here is a video I made of a “helmet to helmet” double check two years ago at Dorenaz, Switzerland.



13-22 April, Chamonix Off Piste with Beth, Will, and Max Mondzac

Beth and Max--Mont Blanc view

Beth and Will came out from Seattle with their 13 year old son, Max. Will was a real trooper because he had broken his leg (tibial plateau) earlier in the season and was only coming in support. So Beth, Max and I hit the slopes each day, with one rest day in the middle. We had excellent weather the whole trip, and despite the incredible blue skies and Mont Blanc views, we were still able to find powder and by the end some fun spring snow.

The first day we skied at Le Tour. It gives you the best views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Valley.

Beth and Max hiking up Tete de Balme with Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Valley behind


A little hiking after a few warm up runs on groomer brought us high onto the Tete de Blame ridge with even better views and some great snow.

Silky powder below Tete de Balme

This snow was really fun to ski and the weather was exceptional. We couldn’t believe that there was no one else out skiing the off piste.

Skiing into Switzerland

Then we decided to ski down the Col de Balme into Switzerland. No passport required! The snow was powder!

A nice lunch to be had in Switzerland

From the Tete de Balme, you ski right down to the Swiss Village of Trient where a nice lunch awaits you at the Cafe du Mont Blanc. There is also some great heli skiing above Trient.

Hitching back to Chamonix from Switzerland after a nice lunch

We had to Hitch hike back to Chamonix from Switzerland after lunch as the shuttle bus had stopped running this late in the spring. It was a fun adventure.

off piste above the slopes of Flegere with the Mer de Glace Glacier across the valley


The next day we skied at Brevent and La Flegere. This two ski areas are just above downtown Chamonix on the Aiguille Rouge, non glaciated side of the valley and you get great views of the whole Mont Blanc Range. Here Beth is cruising down some off piste with the trails below her and across the Chamonix valley you can see the end of the Mer de Glace glacier where you finish up the Valley Blanche, and the cuts through the trees. The upper one is the Montenvers train which you take back from the VB when there’s not enough snow to ski all the way to town. The lower cut is the trail you ski down when you can ski all the way to town.

lunch at Brevent


Will joined us for lunch at the Brevent. There were plenty of opportunities for him to join us. The Aiguilles des Chamonix are across from us.

CrochueBerard Ski Tour


The next day we did a short ski tour above the Flegere ski area called theCols des  Crochue  & Berard Tour because it goes over  those cols. Another great view of the Mer de Glace glacier.

Max had never ever ski toured before and was a real trooper. In fact he loved it and maybe I have convinced him to do more, maybe even ski tour racing ?!

Climbing up the Col de Crochue


Action packed as we climb up the steep part to the Col (saddle). We are clearly having fun! You can just see a skier skinning up below.

lunch on tour

After skiing down from the Col de Crochue we had a nice picnic befor attacking the gentle slopes up to the Col de Berard behind us. The Chamonix Bakery, St. Hubert, sure makes good sandwiches. And you can’t beat this weather!

Max headed down the Arete for the Valley Blanche

The next day we decided to ski the famous Vallee Blanche (White Valley). You ride the Aiguille du Midi tram up to 3840 meters (almost 12,000 ft.) and have to hike down this airy ridge before clicking into your skis. Note, Chamonix is down below still in the shade. Max is doing a great job negotiating the slippery trail. We have a rope on so noone slips the 3000 ft down the north face!

Valley Blanche Petit Envers varitaton


Skiing down. We had ok snow–it hadn’t snowed in a while now, but great views as we weaved around crevasses and glacial walls.

Cruisin' down below Tete de Balme

We had one more day at Le Tour. Here a friend jumped the cornice as is ripping down from Tete de Balme as his buddy videos from above. He is trying to make the big time.

Spring time in the Alps--this was a great off piste run

The snow is melting down low, but there was still snow up high. It was smooth corn snow and things are really feeling spring like—very enjoyable skiing.

On our last day we were hiking above Le Tour and found this Swiss French Boder stone from 1738! I wonder if they patrolled the border on skis back then?

We had a great week and skied all over: La Balme/Le Tour, Le Brevent/La Flegere, Valley Blance, Crochue/Berard Ski Tour, Grands Montets, Verbier, and Trient.

Thanks to the Mondzac family for the adventure. I hope to see you this summer!

2-8 April 2010 Ortler Ski Tour with Lisa Beaudreau and Matthew Hyde

Descent from Mt. Cevedale summit on Day 6. That's the Grand Zebru behind Lisa.

Good thing the Orlter is my favorite ski tour of all time, because I had not quite three days at home before I had to trek back to Sulden, Italy for another one. Sulden is in the Sud Tyrol part of Italy where they speak German and where Reinhold Messner is from. And Sulden has one of the four or so Messner Museums. It’s not one of his two castle museums but it is a cool modern underground building with some of his art collections and of course some climbing stuff.

Lisa and Matt arrived a few days early to cross country ski and get used to Sulden, the altitude, and the european way of life (relaxing). When we met at the hotel Julius Payer (named after an early climber), they were relaxed and definitely excited to embark on the trip they had heard so much about. My friend Dave Haavik from Seattle apparently told them when they mentioned they wanted to ski the Haute Route, “you must ski the Ortler instead and you must go with Michael Silitch”. Thanks Dave, I hope I lived up to their and your expectations. You’ll have to come ski it next year!

Refueling was key after big touring days and luckily we were in Italy!

So, why is the Orlter my all time favorite ski tour? Well, it is a mix between extreme comfort and enjoyment, and incredibly beautiful and demanding ski terrain. While not quite and difficult as the Haute Route, it is 100 times more comfortable and fun. And you get to ski so many cool summits. And at the same time you enjoy the huts, the food, and the people so much, it becomes one of those rare vacations that you come home feeling, rested, reenergized, well fed, intellectually stimulated, at one with the natural mountain environment, and super fit!

Lisa and Matt getting some fine skinning in on our approach to Mt. Cevedale.

As I mentioned in my last Ortler blog, you ski a loop and stay at several of the huts mutliple nights. This allows you to feel much more relaxed and to have time to enjoy a pause in the afternoon, after skinning up a mountain and ripping back down. You get back to the hut, put your ski boots and skins up to dry, then enjoy and nice snack of apple strudel and cappuccino, while discussing your achievements of the day with other enthusiastic skiers. With many peaks around each hut, no itinerary is crowded, and you might even be tempted to come back another year to climb and ski more of the range. You’ll have time to take a shower and maybe a quick, and well earned nap, before dinner. Did I mention the showers, the electricity, the private rooms, the five course meals with an extensive wine cellar. While it’s not a four star hotel, it’s not far off, especially considering where these huts are perched; you are far from the worries of modern day life, high up in the mountains (around 2500 m.). The only thing to do from these huts is ski, enjoy, and ski some more.

21-27 March 2010 Ortler Ski Tour w/ NASTC

The Ortler Ski Tour with the Grand Zebru, 3851 meters.

After our Zermatt trip finished up, Chris and I hopped in the car (actually since Zermatt is a car free town–NOT, more later–we took the train to Taesch where the car was parked), then drove over Simplon Pass to Italy and up to Sulden, Italy to start the Ortler ski tour.

The Ortler ski tour has become the new “Haute Route” for American ski tourers. With articles in such magazines as Skiing, Outside’s GO,  and National Geographic Adventure, many North American skiers are wanting to make their skin tracks in this compact , Dolominte surrounded, mountain range of lesser known summits. Why? The list is practically endless: You ski the tour as a circuit starting and ending at the same town and stay at several of the huts for multiple days. This immediately puts an end to the point A to point B stress of the Haute Route, where everyone is going exactly where you are.

From each hut there are many day tour options, most of which are summits that you can ski tour all the way to the top of. From these summits (all just under 4000 meters– not over, another perk which keeps the peak bagging hords away), you get great views of the Engadine Range (Piz Bernina), the Stubia, the Silvretta, and the Oztal ranges, and most of the Dolomite groups. Then you rip your skins and plunge back down to the hut, where a cold beer, frothy cappuccino, or a apple strudel with homemade whipped cream awaits you. After a yummy Northern Italian snack and comparing notes with other groups on their outing (there are many day trips options from each hut, so the peaks are never crowded.), you can take a shower ( a rare treat in other hut systems, but here, all huts have showers), then even catch a quick nap. It is easy to sleep as the rooms are for 2-4 skiers, not the huge dormitory rooms of other huts.

Basically, the Ortler ski tour is the most fun and the most luxorius ski tour in the Alps!

14-19 March NASTC Zermatt Off-Piste

Day 5. Even time for a little video session while skiing down Monte Rosa.

NASTC or North American Ski Training Center Chris Fellows organization. He started in a while back in order to make high level ski instruction available to any skier throughtout the winter and quickly expanded from his base at Lake Tahoe to add destinations around the world. His plan was to get the cream of the crop to teach skiing for him, notably PSIA demo team members or former demo team members. Having spent years as a demo team member himself, he easily found the best demo team members/instructors to help him with his ski school.

From the beginning he has wanted to offer the most for his clients so teaming up with a IFMGA certified mountain and ski guide seemed like the best way to get the most from the terrain at Zermatt. We would spend half the day working on drills on and off piste, then the other half searching out and, with a bit of luck, always finding great off piste lines to ski, from steep chutes on the Italian side to the wild Theodul glacier below the Klien Matterhorn to a heli ski down Monte Rosa. Of course, skiing the whole week in beautiful weather under the shadow of the Matterhorn was a truly impressive experience.

With the bluebird days every day it wasn’t always easy to find powder and as the guide, I tried to remind people how amazing the good weather was and how lucky we were to have the views of the Matterhorn and all the other 4000 meter peaks surrounding Zermatt. Good views can only go so far however, and luckily, I was able to find powder and interesting terrain to ski every day!

Day 1 On the first day we decided to traverse into the steep north facing Stockhorn glacier.

Day 1 The slope steep and consistant, and the snow was winter snow, but buttery smooth. Here we are under the north face of the Stockhorn in Zermatt.

We were all proud of our first big off piste line in Zermatt. We skied straight down the North Face of the Stockhorn connecting the upper and lower bowls by finding a way through the middle rock band. Everyone did great!

Day 2 found us under the Matterhorn for a morning of technique work on the slopes. The Hornli Ridge is the right hand skyline and the Italian Lion's Ridge in to the left.


Day 2.This was a nice steep face on the Italian side.

Day 2. Pleanty of places to eat on the mountain in Zermatt!

Day 3. A nice ski down the Theodul Glacier. My group was prepared to be among a lot of skiers here in the Alps, but we were mostly all alone where we skied.

Day 3. On the way down from the Theodul Glacier you join the Gornerglacier and at it's toe, we found an interesting ice cave.

Day 3. You then had to ski across an interesting bridge to get through the narrows at the end of the glacier.

Day 4. We climbed our first alps summit today, the mighty Furgghorn, 3451 meters.

Day 4. Content to be on top of "our" summit, with the Matterhorn behind us.

Day 4. The ski down was pretty fun!

Day 4. And gave the group yet another cool view of the Matterhorn. That's the Hornli Ridge (the standard summer climbing route), on the right skyline; from this viewpoint you can see it is not as steep as from looking straight up at it.

Day 4. What day would be complete without a Rosti mit ei und shinken (Swiss homefries with egg and ham).

Day 5. In front of the secret "bat cave' entrance to the Air Zermatt heli ski base.

Day 5. Cleared for take off.

Day 5. Navigating the Monte Rosa Glacier after our heli depot.

Day 5. We stopped for a nice lunch at the brand new Monte Rosa hut half way down the mountain.

Day 5. Your's truly posing in front of the Matterhorn.

Day 5. Skiing through the ice corridor of the lower Gorner Glacier--a natural half pipe.

Day 5. The guide hanging out at "apres ski" under the Matterhorn.

Day 6. Early morning groomer in Zermatt--perfect for the finishing touches on technique training. Again the Matterhorn in view and again, barely anyone around.

Day 6. Chris, the master, showing us how it's done.

Day 6. A toast to a great week!