Zinal, Saas Fee, Les Collons... and ICAS

Zinal, Saas Fee, Les Collons… and ICAS

Zinal – one of the deepest days of the season…

We arrived in Leysin to a party at Sion’s, with heavy rain and a falling freezing level forecast for the next day, so for a rest-day Sion took us bouldering.  My forearms have pretty much recovered by now.

Zinal, opening couloirs

Zinal, opening couloirs

The next morning, we headed for Zinal, with the hope of some big lines being in condition – but could never have expected what we had.  After a poor season, this was one of those days – big lines, big snow, and no-one around.  If we hadn’t had Sion, we’d have been pretty stuck with that level of visibility; but when you have a good friend who knows a place well, you’re onto a winner.

 

Saas Fee – big, empty mountain

I generally shy away from big-name resorts, as usually it seems that stuff gets tracked quickly, there are too many heros, the day-passes are expensive and you don’t need a huge mountain to have a good time.  Add to that my appreciation of the small and friendly, places where the lifties ask where you’re from (preferably in their language, not yours) when they realise you’re not local, and my love of exploring, and places like Saas Fee aren’t high on my to-do list…

first down

first down

After Zinal the day before, I hadn’t expected much, but a recommendation from Stokes is worth listening up for, and so we found ourselves in comfy, full-board accommodation at the foot of the mountain, and on the hill early the next day.  Most of the obvious stuff near the lifts was indeed tracked out, but there were some turns in there which were just mint, and it didn’t take a lot of effort to be tracking untouched snow most of the morning.  After a wee vin chaud to loosen up the technique, we headed up and over to the Britannia-Hütte to check out the classic descent from there to Saas Almagell.  Amazingly, we arrived at the top to find that there were no tracks in it at all, and it was amazing to open up the route, made all the more interesting by none of us having skied it before…

 

Les Collons – like seeing an old friend – L’Etegyon

Dudo has spent lots of time in the Alps, way more than me, but in contrast to my preferred method of hooking up with locals and skiing all over the place on the cheap, he has fuelled his ski-life through instructing, generally in one of a select few resorts.  I make a good sheep, so over the years I’ve had the pleasure to hang out with him in most of these, including Les Collons, in the 4 Vallées, at the opposite end from the far-more-famous Verbier.  An interesting spot, it’s simultaneously a huge resort and also small – the village is poorly connected to the big mountain, and the good skiing is very limited until you get over to the Greppon Blanc area.  But once you’re there, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and knowing the terrain helps when you turn up and want to charge.  Having been there quite a few times on powder days (*), it didn’t take long to get into the rhythm, but the stand-out line of the day was a steep variant of the classic L’Etegyon, the “back-side” descent of the Thyon-end of Les 4 Vallées.

Greppon Blanc, NE face

Greppon Blanc, NE face

The snow turned slightly northwards was pitch-perfect pow, and anything with any south-face to it was transformed, spring snow – an interesting and very forgiving combination, inviting lots of wee hucks and plenty of flowing, gliding and popping turns all the way down…

* - see e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u7SCk1g6dI

ICAS 160th Anniversary dinner, Geneva

Aside from being a skier, a man of faith, a housemate in Jumeirah and a Highlander, I make no secret of the fact that I’m also an Accountant.  As a member of the oldest professional body of Accountants, I was intrigued to see that ICAS had a 160th anniversary dinner in Geneva during my time out in that corner of the Alps, so I decided to pack a tie and drop in.  It is a strange thing, but the further you go from home, the more at home you feel with folk of the same background, and so it was that we sat together and talked business, politics, the institute, about life as foreigners and (of course) the prospect of independence, and it was a delight to feel so immediately welcomed into this community so far from home.  Even though they had come from work and I from skiing, and that they took taxis home, whereas I took a train to the bottom of the hill and hitch-hiked the last 30mins up to Sion’s place afterwards (**), I was welcomed as if I knew them from well before.  Strange that just a few (seriously tough) exams and vaguely-similar career roots can bring folk together so much.

professional community, personal welcome

professional community, personal welcome

ICAS have been making efforts to see that the members see themselves, and act, as members of a professional community – if the welcome I had in Geneva was anything to go by, it seems that the community might already be there, and just needs to manifest itself more.  I wonder when we’ll get some of the Swiss boys at one of our Inverness/Highland ICAS local events…

Anyway, I just wanted to share that, as it seemed to be a pleasing juxtaposition to the life of a homeless, wandering ski-bum – I’ve always appreciated balance in life, and this seemed to be a strange but good example of what it means to have a “normal”, professional, working life alongside pursuing the dreams of a freeride-skier at large.
The day after, we hit the road and headed East, via a kebab in my beloved Feldkirch, back towards the Dolomites, to ski some classic couloirs.  But more on that another time…

** - i.e. at midnight – seemed a good idea beforehand, as the last public transport connection was too early, then seemed a terrible idea when I was standing there for 10mins without seeing a single vehicle heading up, but finally a great idea when the first vehicle to pass picked me up and took me all the way to the door – I love hitch-hiking and I love rural/local Switzerland…