DAY 5 CHAMONIX
When we woke on our last day, it was clear there'd been a bit of a dump overnight. Grandes Montets would have been the pick, but because of lectures we couldn't get away early; and by the time we got to GM, the cable-car wasn't yet running and the queue was at least an hours' ordeal. It seemed everywhere would remain on hold until it had been bombed. Everywhere except for Vallorcine.
On our first run, wide from the top chair into Switzerland, we set of a few significant slides, and soon it was apparent that whilst the fresh snow was superb, the avalanche risk was significant. On our next run we came across a half dozen folk probing avalanche debris - fortunately for lost skis, not bodies.
Then Jerome got a phone-call from a friend and fellow guide who seemed to be in trouble with his clients after a much bigger avalanche. The wind and poor reception made communication difficult. We had another run trying to find the group in trouble with no luck, and so Jerome made the call to the ski patrol, and then left us to our own devices as he headed off trying to sort things out.
Eventually it turned out that a client had been hurt (not buried), and three skis lost. Jerome helped get the involved skiers down off the mountain, and then we headed off to find some lines.
By this stage, the clouds were lifting with some pretty speccy views towards Mt Blanc.
A fifteen minute skate/hike from one of the drag lifts led us to the top of a renowned couloir, which Jerome felt wouldn't have been as exposed to the wind which had caused the slab activity up higher.
I must say, I was a little hesitant as first - seeing all those people probing had freaked me a little, but once I'd linked a few turns in the upper part of the couloir, I relaxed a bit. It was a thousand metres of vertical magic.
Still we played it safe, taking all the regular precautions.
Jerome though, had proven once again a guide's utility. In addition to keeping us (and others not even under his responsibility) safe, he had found probably the best and safest untracked option in the entire Chamonix Valley on a day of elevated risk.
We had a quick and tasty tartiflette once back in Vallorcine, and then raced back up to do it again.
I can honestly say that this last run of my week in Cham was the best run of my life. 'That's what you always say!' said Jerome. The late light was sublime, the pitch perfect, the snow deep and excellent, and the adrenaline so high that I even felt compelled to huck a cliff (which I didn't quite pull off).
It was all so surreal that down in the forest I even disturbed and gave chase to a couple of deer.
Then back in the VW for Derek to give his presentation on Everest, under the alpenglow illuminating Le Drus, completing a great week with Moz, some new Kiwi friends, and fantastic guiding under Jerome.