Ski Touring in the Queyras of France • February 20 - 24, 2011

Our Gang of Four-To-Six plus two was back in the Alps this year after a season of absence. A new trip to the Queyras, honored the occasion.

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From left to right are: Chris Robinson, Tom Drake, Mark Houston, Marc Gallie, Elizabeth Moceri, Paul Farrelle, Kade Spears and Fred Larke (Kathy behind the lens).


We began our trip in Saint Véran, at a little over 2000m the highest year-round inhabited village in the Alps. We were thrilled that our first day coincided with snowfall, the first in some time. Our tour headed up through the woods toward the Pic Cascavelier.


Our hosts for our first two nights were Bill and Jocelyne, the proprietors of Les Gabeous, a rustic and hospitable "gîte d'étape" and the first commercial lodging in the history of this very historical town.


Warm fires burn all day and all night at this elevation.


For us, accustomed as we are to touring on glaciers and above tree-line, the prospect of beginning a tour in the forest was delightful.


But of course it's also great to get up high on a calm and sunny morning. Day two, we ride drag lifts as high as we can and then leave the resort for the high back country. Here we approach the Pic de Château Renard.


The roof-tops of Saint Véran recede below us as we climb to the ridge top above the town. The snow looks light and good!


We reached an Observatory on Pic de Château Renard, and descended the steep gully below. Kade launches into the 40 degree powder at the top of the gully.


The steep gully gave way to more open powdery slopes below, in the Vallon de Longet. Kathy and Mo are all smiles!


The happy glow of our powder snow descent carried us through our skinning "balade" up the snow covered road to the Refuge d'Agnel. So did the sunshine. Still we were glad to arrive in time for a hot lunch, warm shower, and a cold beer.


Just as I said!. On the deck of the Refuge d'Agnel. The eccentric tracks in the snow behind were the product of some kite skiers practicing their skills for our entertainment.


On our third day we circum-navigated the Pain de Sucre, a peak overlooking the hut. Here we start down the Brèche de la Ruine, a steep drop into a north facing gully. The snow conditions were both soft and stable, and we only wished this descent were a little bit longer.


Savoring the snow at the exit of the Brèche de la Ruine.


A picture is worth a thousand words sometimes. Extra poignancy points due to the fact that we've been skiing very firm conditions all season up to now!


Another climb ensued, up to the Col d'Asti. Not only did we see not a soul in this silent and remote back country, there were no tracks either. Who says the Alps are crowded?


Though mostly at or slightly below 3000 meters, the peaks are dramatic and rugged in this part of the Alps. Behind us, the Crête de la Taillante.


Booting up a steep step to the Col d'Asti.


View from the Col d'Asti.


Our descent from the Col dAsti was roughly southwest facing. The recent new snow made it almost powder at the top, though we did have some more "technical" conditions by the time we reached the bottom of our slope.


Paul shakes off the dust of the obligatory tumble (pretty near all of us augured in at the same spot!)


A final climb to the Col Agnel, and the Italy-France border.


Some pictorial administrative admonitions at the border....


Back at the Agnel hut, our host Didier treats us to an apéritif of a local sweet wine.


Day four, it's au revoir to the Refuge d'Agnel. We skin up to the Col de l'Eychassier.


Nearing the Col.


Scouting our first descent into the Clot du Poulain.


Ho! Not so bad for a lousy snow year!


This is just... so... nice.


Actually this same perfect powder went on... and on... and on... for about a thousand meters. But the day was young and we hadn't had quite enough, so... after lunch we headed up yet another big climb of the Pic Segure, in search of more good north-facing powder. Getting a bit tired now...


Our recompense! From the summit of the Pic Segure, another thousand meters of great snow, nearly perfect from top to bottom and lots of room for all comers. We met our first "competitors" on the top of this peak, but had this slope to ourselves nevertheless.


However all good things come to an end. Our descent through the forest to the town of Ristolas took us into some shallow snow in tight forest. Fred learns the error of his ways.


Tired, hungry, but showered and "well served" (read, have already spent an hour in the bar), we await an excellent dinner in the Chalet de Lanza.


Our last day saw us riding lifts in the Abriès en Queyras ski area and descending out of bounds into a valley behind the resort. More sunshine and light powder snow over a firm base as we begin skinning up.


Our final day's goal, the "Mait d'Amunt", looks deceptively high and far away.


Nearing the summit in a stiff northerly wind.


The cold wind adds spice as we strip the skins on the summit of the Mait d'Amunt in preparation for our last big descent of the trip.


Leaving the summit.


A little lower, the climb proves worth the trouble.


It just never seems to end.


Back in town, the celebration begins... we'll let this mural speak for itself (this waitress also looks none too happy!). Some things never change.