SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - La Tournette SkiBike Randonée

Posted: Sunday, 30 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Continuing the off-piste theme of recent days, today was the ultimate dream or perhaps both at the same time. I had often wondered what truly wild big mountain back country skibiking would be like and today I found out. We left St. Jean de Sixt at the sort of hour I usually reserve for going to bed, it was made worse by the clocks having switched to daylight saving overnight. But, what the heck, this is the last skibiking day till next season, I can sleep all day when I get back to my official home.

The Alps at dawn - the sort of hour I usually reserve for going to bed

Our destination was under 30 minutes away and is a great big gnarly mountain called La Tournette, the very name sounds like the precisely the type of "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" reserved for those under going boot-camp in the armed forces.

La Tournette - the start of a cruel and unusual punishment

But don't expect to find La Tournette listed in any soft tourist guide or holiday brochure, because it is the epitamy of "Skibike Sauvage". There are no; lifts, first aid areas, ski patrols, restaurants or even rules here. It is exclusively for local consumption and proves to be a perennial hit, on busy days the route is like the "Champs Elysée" in Paris apparently. On offer is a gruelling 1400m ascent, followed by the consumption of whatever one has in one's rucksack in the way of vittles, followed by a speedy descent.
Sensible French types do it on proper off piste skis, fitted with skins for the ascent and the correct lightweight boots and touring bindings. Thierry and I were attempting it on snow shoes and pushing or carrying nearly 13 kg of skibike up the mountain. By the way Britishers, that's more than the height of Ben Nevis, don't ya know.

Ascent - all to soon my world was reduced to just the pain

All to soon my world was reduced to just the pain from the sweat dripping into my eyes, the salt water taste in my mouth, my vision swimming from the sweat dripping onto my sunglasses and all the while my heart was racing at what seemed to be around 240 bpm. Why do people do this for fun? I guess if you're fit and by that I mean really fit, like the impossibly low fat and highly muscled folk who do "Iron Man" challenges, then different rules apply. Thierry has made the same ascent in under 3 hours, it took me nearly 6.... you know you can really go off some people. At one point I asked Thierry why we had joined the French Foreign Legion, "To forget", he replied curtly. "To forget what?" I asked, "I don't remember" he replied.

As high as you can go without mountaineering kit - Anger is an Energy

I tried a number of different techniques to get myself up the mountain. First there was the Zen like "Pace Yourself and Embrace the Mountain" technique, slow and steady wins the day. This gave way to the "English Ascent", forget all this traversing nonsense, ram your snow shoes into the slope and step up the fall line like a staircase. In some respects this worked quite well, but only for about a minute. In near despair, I employed the, "Anger is an Energy" method, as originally postulated by Johhny Rotten, a.k.a. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols. This involved me loosing my rag completely, throwing the skibike up the hill and using it as a point of purchase to drag myself up, cursing all the while like a tinker. I guess this raised a few Continental eyebrows, not least of which were Thierry's, the rest must have thought it was a Monty Python thing, I had no idea I was about 50 metres from the finishing point at the time.

The view over Lake Annecy

The descent was somewhat of an anticlimax, this isn't a resort, so you have to cope with whatever the slopes offer. Thierry had warned me about crevasses and I had already witnessed a minor avalanche. Worse still, I suspect my insurance company would turn down the claim for the costs of helicopter rescue, as this was in all respects back country and not some carefully manicured resort.
All of the above reasons lead to a completely risk averse descent, with lots of very wide traverses and the odd bit of "get off and turn the skibike to face the other way" turns.
That said, wow! what a way to end the best skibike season ever; but it did also make me appreciate what good value a €30 lift pass is.