After returning to Chamonix from Slovakia, the main events of the season really got rolling. First up was the Pierra Menta. Andrea had already joined me in Chamonix and my UVM Nordic teammate Jennie came to Cham and stayed with us as well. Along with Nick, we drove to Beaufort for the four day Pierra Menta. I wrote a rather detailed report for skintrack.com that can be found HERE.
Briefly though, the race went incredibly well. Nick and I raced through four days and ~10,000m of vertical ascent without any gear issues or crashes. Each day we worked our way up the rankings and finished in 15th overall – matching the best ever finish by a North American team (Reiner Thoni and Andrew McNab were also 15th in 2013).
After the Pierra Menta, we were ready for a break. The conditions were good in Chamonix however and Nick and I headed into the mountains. After two days though, I realized that I was not as recovered as I needed to be so decided to take a few more days off. Andrea and I took the bus through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Courmayer and spent the day eating as much pizza as possible.
Andrea left at the end of March and attention was turned to the final World Cup event at the Prato Nevoso ski area in Mondole, Italy. Nick, Mel and I carpooled to the event and were surprised to find the ski resort quite empty except for the World Cup attendees with quite a ghost town feel. Three feet of heavy wet snow had fallen the night before which was a pain to ski through and I’m sure made the job of the organizers quite difficult. Warm temperatures were the theme of the weekend. Friday featured a Vertical race and I felt decent but not as strong as I would have liked. It was my best World Cup finish of the season however and I was feeling optimistic for the next day’s Individual event.
Pretty quickly off the start however I was not feeling 100%. It may have just been residual Pierra Menta fatigue but as soon as the sun popped out and started beating down, I could feeling the energy draining out of my body. Everyone was skinning fast and skiing way faster than me. I could see the lead women not far behind. I rolled into the finish and managed to finish off the season keeping my ‘not last’ streak alive but it was not what I would call an impressive finish. Nick on the other hand was having a spectacular race until the final descent when he crashed and lost a handful of places. The third day was a sprint that I did not enter but I did stay and cheer on Nick and Mel. We left shortly after the finals and it was a bit sad to say goodbye to the other racers who I had started to get to know over the course of the World Cup season.
Chamonix was hampered by bad weather over the next week so I was limited to low altitude skiing and running in the valley. I spent more time skinning up the piste at the Grand Montets resort in Chamonix than I care to think about. Luckily, the weather broke and a friend from Switzerland who had previously spent a winter in Vancouver, came to Cham for the week. Pascal and I had our sights set on tagging some summits with a bit of alpine climbing. We had a few solid days of touring together and with Mel. At the end of the week, we hopped in the car with Mel and her partner and drove to the Southern Alps and the Ecrins Mountains.
The Ecrins Ski Race was a two day, team event and Pascal and I intended to use it as a good preparation for the Mezzalama coming in a few weeks. It was extremely unique in that the race started at the South end of the Ecrins Range and traversed to the North side over three ridges and through four valleys. Once on the North side, in Puy St. Vincent, we spent the night (our luggage was shuttled there by van) and then the next day we woke up and raced back! The race was very well organized, despite the huge logistical undertaking, and well staffed by volunteers. Most of the top skimo racers were racing nearby in Italy at the Adamello Ski Raid but we had missed the registration deadline. This meant though that we were in contention for a top spot so we started strong and found ourselves in second place once the race got going.
Midway through the first stage, the leading team had a gear issue that forced them to stop and they lost ~20minutes. Pascal and I pushed on to the finish and took the stage win with a lead of at least four minutes on second place. We did our best to recover and refuel knowing that we only had to keep the other teams in sight the next day to hold on to first place overall. Right away the French team that had equipment issues the previous day took off on a strong pace. We were not terribly worried and didn’t chase too hard. They managed to put ~10 min into us over the day but it wasn’t enough to take the lead. Another team passed us on the final descent (that we skied quite conservatively) and we finished third in the stage but held on to our overall title.
Pascal headed back to Switzerland right after the race and I had a night to myself before Paul arrived the following evening. With most of the racing out of the way for the season, the plan once Paul arrived was to get in as much alpine climbing as possible. The weather was looking good so we took the first lift up the Aig. d Midi the following day. Our plan for his first day was an easy warmup climb of the Goulotte Chere on the Triangle du. Tacul followed by an afternoon ski of the Cosmique Couloir. The Chere turned out to be quite fun climbing, easy hooking up nice ice steps. Paul was still adjusting to the Chamonix environment so I got to lead the whole route. We abseiled down and were pretty happy with ourselves and our first route of the trip.
Paul and I rebounded over giant burgers at L’Annexe and had a nice day skiing the Table Couloir on Aig d. Tour and a few other alpine climbs before the weather and a short, intense cold forced me to take a few days of rest. As I recovered from my cold, Lars Erik, our Norwegian teammate for the Mezzalama, arrived in Chamonix for a week of training and acclimatization before the race. It was his first time riding the Midi cablecar and also his first time skiing on glaciers. We practiced roping up and skiing tied together, a skill we would need for the Mezzalama.
We scrambled the Tour Ronde with Paul and then decided that we would spend the last few nights in the Argentiere Refuge to get a final altitude boost. We started skinning up the glacier from Grand Montets and then just before rounding the corner and losing cell service, both our phones lit up with the news that the Mezzalama, scheduled for that weekend, had been postponed one week due to weather. With no more reason to stay in the hut, we sat down on the glacier to regroup our thoughts. We decided on Mont Blanc for the next day and that is covered in a previous post HERE.
Lars Erik headed back to Norway for work and Paul and I stayed in Cham for another week of anxiety about the upcoming race. We did a little more skiing and a bunch of running. We explored the trails around Cham and I was lucky to get a tour of some awesome trails with Emelie Forsberg. The day before heading to Italy for the Mezzalama, I decided I really needed a rest day (especially after being run into the ground by Emelie) so we headed to Switzerland in our newly picked-up rental car for a via-ferrata. Despite very limited experience driving a standard car, it was surprisingly quick to come back and quite fun on the mountain pass between Cham and Martigny.
The via-ferrata was quite a shock. My experience is quite limited but most ‘via-ferratas’ in N. America are just easy ladders and easier than much of what we scramble on runs in the mountains. Via-ferratas in Europe are a different story. According to the website that I found it on, the ‘Via-Farinata’ was composed of three sections of increasing difficulty and takes parties between two and five hours. We found this hard to believe and debated bringing actual via-ferrata lanyards – bungee slings that you attach to your harness and clip into the permanent metal cable used to protect from falls. We started up the first section, in the base of a river gorge, and found it quite easy (ladders and ladder bridges) with sections just less than vertical but with exciting exposure (high above the ground). The second section was not much harder but with much longer steep sections and dizzying exposure above the roaring river. Our arms were getting tired and we realized that leaving behind the safety lanyards would have been quite stupid. The third section was in the biggest part of the gorge and tackled extremely steep, overhanging portions of rock. Clipping the lanyards was tiring while trying to hold onto the metal rungs and we frequently had to clip in directly and hang to rest. The last hundred meters was the crux and our arms were completely pumped from the strenuous moves. We took the long way back to the car and headed straight to the nearby thermal pools to relax.
After that, we had a few hours to pack up the apartment and then got ready to leave for the Mezzalama in the morning. The Mezzalama went off without a hitch and we had a blast with Pascal, Peter, and Veronika. After the race, Paul and I headed back to Cham to give the apartment a final cleaning, waking up at four the next morning to pack the car. I drove Paul to the Geneva train station where he headed to Germany for a change of pace and I went on to the airport. I checked into my flight to Amsterdam, and was on my way to my connection to Vancouver when I went through customs. I wasn’t expecting to hit customs on the way out of the EU, only coming into Canada. It quickly became apparent that I had slightly overstayed the allowed time without a visa and I was sent to an interrogation room where a very unhappy officer told me how much trouble I would be in if I didn’t have a good story. I explained how I was a racer and came to spend the season on the World Cup and these just happened to be the dates. I didn’t know there was a time restriction (as there isn’t in N. America) and apologized profusely. The officer went to his boss and after a long wait, came back to report that I would be let go with just a warning and a serious lecture. I made my flight just in time and that was the end of my time in Europe.