Most of the other guys had skiied the glacier five years ago and really enjoyed it. They sought out the same guide – a Vermont ex-pat (and native French speaker) by the name of Francis Kelsey – and he explained that the glacier had shifted over time. In particular, access to the helicopter-supplied mid-run restaurant was now a more difficult traverse, and that many skiiers now skipped that stop.
I just wanted to get the initial hike over with. I loaded soothing lounge tunes into an iPod playlist and wedged the earbuds in tight.
The ridge hike was a little awkward as Mark (at the head of the line) wanted to get to the skiing as quickly as possible and most of the rest of us just wanted to live to see the skiing. There was some slippage and hollering on the way down, but after about ten minutes of baby sidesteps we were able to spread out and step into our skis.
The first drop consisted of a narrow mogul skid, similar to the traverse we’d just walked but without the thousand-foot drop. I didn’t handle it so well – but at least I didn’t go tumbling over like the purple-clad skiier a few spots ahead of me.
The first half hour or so of the run went pretty smoothly. The vista and isolation make for a heady combination.
As I edged along a steep slope I watched the purple skiier tumble toward a crevasse, losing his skis and looking forlornly up to the trail for help. Luckily his partner inched back to assist – there was little I’d have been able to do in the situation.
The rest of the group was accustomed to waiting for me by this point. Mark ordered me to shut down the iPod as Francis wanted to explain the challenging terrain ahead.
I’d thought the hike was going to be the tough part.
At age 35 I don’t freak out as quickly as I used to. I take solace in the fact that I usually settle right into a sense of resignation when faced with suboptimal situations, and as the expert skiiers bunched up behind me and poured past when able I just smiled wanly and reminded myself that the flatland below was slowly getting closer. And at least I wasn’t pulling my skis off and walking down like the guy in purple.
Francis sized up the situation and offered me his assistance in clearing the traverse. I accepted his offer immediately. I found myself thanking him profusely in French as he guided me across the narrow ledge.
The photo shows the icy mogul slope we had to work through to make our way down the midsection of the glacier. The magnified inset gives some indication of scale – those dots are skiiers.
Croutes for everybody. Truth be told, it was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long time.
The restaurant sits smack in the middle of the icy mogul drop – we weren’t done yet. But we were getting closer. As half the party sped downhill I took my time negotiating the switchbacks, making agonizing turns over crevasses and getting my ski tips stuck over and over.
I made it to the bottom exhausted, just in time for the long, flat quads-busting Salle a Manger. I fell a few times in the open for good measure.
I’ve never been so happy to see a train station. End of the line. We pulled off our skis and visited last year’s ice cave.
The Vallee Blanche is a beautiful run, perfect for the advanced skiier. It’s a challenge to intermediates unaccustomed to moguls. I think my expression reveals my deep enthusiasm for technical skiing at this point in my career.