By Mike Huffington
One of my most fantastic days of off piste skiing last season happened quite by chance. I’ve known Kev, now Off Piste Manager for Evolution 2, since he was a ski host on a holiday I was on in 1997. One day last March I was just about to climb on the Toviere gondola in Tignes Le Lac with a group of friends when Kev appeared next to me and said he had a spare place on the tour he was leading – one of the major off piste itineraries in the Espace Killy, the Toviere to Lac du Chevril. We all know ‘there are no mates on powder days’ so I unceremoniously dumped mine and joined an eclectic bunch of seasonaires and clients for the trip.
After a brief chat and beeper check we launched down Paquerettes (one of the trickiest pistes in Tignes); the route down to the lake is technically challenging and this allowed Kev to ensure that we were ‘not talking a good game’ and up to the impending challenge. We then shot back up the Toviere for the energetic bit – the hike towards La Pointe de Lavachet (formerly known as Mickey’s Ears). Following the 20 minute uphill slog in the ever strengthening March sun we arrived just above the Dinosaur (more formally known as No 1 Couloir). Tension was now beginning to rise and there was markedly less bravado in the air!
And now for the jaw dropper – the launch into the couloir; it is narrow and steep at the top (check the pictures) and Kev positioned himself a few dozen metres down to marshal the team. After a few motivational thoughts I was in, nice chalky snow and linked turns and I made it to the first ‘point of safety’. The next pitch was not as technical and allowed a more flowing set of turns (in my head anyway) and as we gathered above the Vallon de Toviere there was a collective sense of achievement and relief.
As ever in these situations humour often surfaces – we could now see the Yurt above at the Val Altiport and there was much banter regarding this ‘Club Lounge’ – surely the good folk of Val wouldn’t put up with such basic facilities! We all know about the healthy rivalry between the 2 resorts and neighbours and it seems this goes back to way before the ‘white gold’ was exploited. In the old Tignes dialect ‘Terrachu’ the Tignards referred to Les Avalins (the folks in Val) as “Le bouyié-neӱé” which is frankly not very complimentary, translating as the black bums!
The ski across the Vallon was through snow softening in the sun – sadly the sanctity of the high mountains was spoilt by a herd of snowmobiles belching 2-stroke fumes and noise. But the best was yet to come as we entered the trees of the Bois de la Laye (again from Terrachu – the forest of the tolling bell or death knell!). Kev the Powder Hound opted to take us down the Croix de Combefolle variant where the compacted powder was deep and just perfect. With his characteristic whoop he vanished into a cloud of powder – I think the phrase was: “I hate my job”. These were among the best turns of my season and all too soon we arrived at the Lac du Chevril.
However, the adventure was just entering Phase 2. We were actually stood on the site of the old quarry where all the stone was blasted out to form the basis of the Tignes Dam back in the late 1940s – again you can see this on the photograph. Now, this just happens to be a handy place to land a helicopter which saves an awful lot of walking!
After a safety brief we could hear the distinctive ‘thwack thwack’ of Biggles’ impending arrival as the first group huddled on their knees with equipment beneath them. At this point a few phones appeared to film the landing of the leviathan. Cue the comedy moment: the downwash then caught the outstretched arms and like some kind of demonic Mexican wave they were all blown over. Luckily no I-phones were injured in the making of this movie!
The flight home was spectacular – the lake, the dam, the route we had skied and seeing my apartment from a completely different angle, it was just a perfect end to a great morning. It is difficult to imagine a better day in the Alps – a challenging off piste adventure with great snow and the trip of a lifetime in the chopper, all for less than €100 with Evo2.