Off Piste Adventure St Foy 2009

By David Taylor

Last year we skied many of the classic off piste itineries in Val d'Isère with Phil Harrison of the Development Centre (TDC). As we were returning back to Val again this year, I suggested we do something a bit different. I had heard good reports about St Foy described as the "hidden gem", especially for off piste skiing. Apparently it's where most of the Espace Killy seasonaires prefer to go on there days off! Phil Harrison also confirmed this, and agreed it would be a great day out.

On the Thursday morning of our holiday, we were blessed with blue skies, and the best snow cover for many years. We were picked up by TDC and headed down the valley to St Foy, about 12 km away. It wasn't long before eleven ski club members were kitted out with transceivers shovels and probes, and on the first lift up.

Unfortunately due to a knee injury from the week before, Phil was unable to guide us, so Colin and Paul stepped in as our guides for the day. We split into two pre-arranged groups, which I aptly named the recreational skiers lead by Colin and the high achievers lead by Paul.

My group the recreational skiers initially warmed up on almost deserted tree lined pistes. Colin gave us some good tips on how to stay balanced over our skis, and how to react to the constantly changing off piste snow conditions. We were soon venturing off piste in the St Foy area to practise our technique. Other than finding the only snow hole in the area and having to be dug out, all went well!

We were then given the option of either a 30-minute hike up a ridge to the top of La Foglietta at 2930m, or a traverse from the top chair lift and enter the route a bit lower down. We all decided to do the traverse as the hike up the ridge didn't sound very appealing. After the traverse the face of La Foglietta came into view, a 60 degree pitch and about a 1000 ft from the top to where we were. Believe me it looked very steep, rocky and very scary. Everyone in my group agreed we had made the right decision not to ski it from the top!

Meanwhile, the high achievers, had decided to do the hike up the ridge to ski off the top, some more keen than others! Apparently, the half-hour walk turned into a one hour twenty minute slog up a narrow tricky ridge with cornices and precipitous drop offs, requiring a steady nerve. Once at the top having already survived the ridge walk, there were gasps of desperation as each skier faced a near vertical drop off onto the 60-degree pitch, definitely not for the feint hearted. Paul re assured everyone saying if it all goes wrong you will only fall a few metres into deep snow, Hmmm! Everyone eventually overcame their fears and made the descent safely down one way or another!

Having not done the ridge walk, the recreational skiers were about 1 hour ahead of the high achievers, so we had time to be video skiing in fresh powder. You can see us on youtube just type ski club of Manchester St Foy. I am the one negotiating the rocks!

The route down then took us through quite steep terrain through lots of fresh powder, until we eventually came to the tree line, apparently the tip here was to look at the gaps and not the trees, which I thought was particularly good advice as I dodged the trees! After a tricky descent we crossed the river and followed the track down to La Masure where Phil was waiting in the mini bus ready to take us back to St Foy. Once in St Foy we headed for a terraced restaurant in the sun where we stopped for a late but pleasant lunch to re charge our batteries.

Half an hour later we were back on the lift heading for the top and our next off piste adventure. From the top we skied down on piste for a few 100m, then turned off piste onto what I consider was the best off piste skiing I have ever done. Ahead of us was safe, gently undulating, open powder fields as far as the eye could see. It was a case of feet together and sweeping S turns for the next few miles - my idea of off piste heaven! We had time to take some photos and take in the magnitude and solitude of the area it was absolutely fantastic.

Eventually we skied down to a snow covered lake, then onto a tricky traverse, then a very narrow tree lined track where it was to narrow to side slip or turn. The only way to control your speed was to ski into the banks of soft snow at the side of the track, which made it a very interesting descent. Eventually we reached the village of La Monal, which is uninhabited in the winter months due to being cut off by snow. From La Monal we then paid the price for the fantastic skiing by having to pole uphill for about half an hour until we reached the outer reaches of the St Foy pistes. Then it was a swift ski down on deserted pistes to the bar in St Foy for a well-earned beer.

Thanks to Phil for organising a very memorable and enjoyable day. Also thanks to Colin and Paul for finding the best snow, their upbeat encouragement, and bringing us all back safe and well.

Now looking forward to helli skiing in Sauze?