The Transalp trip has come and gone much quicker than I could have imagined. After a short seven day span including two travel days, I'm back in Madison, NH wondering what just happened. One second I'm in the Alps skiing corn, traversing across glaciers, and straddling European borders and the next I'm buzzing through customs on the brink of missing my flight home. Here's a quick summery of the whirlwind trip that just went down. Video edit in the coming weeks, so much to catch up on but there's a lot of photos mixed in to entertain.
Quick backstory - The Transalp project is put on by Fischer with support from a few other companies including Pieps, Adidas Eyewear, Löffler, Jeep, and ESKA. There is a "casting" in Austria where a handful of skiers are chosen to participate (basically find a mix of M/F and ages who are capable of skiing technical terrain). I was thrown in the mix by Fischer North America to participate and collect content since there has never been a representative from the US market in the six year history of the event. The Transalp project is a guided tour, point to point, through the Alps and the route varies year to year. Each night we end in a new town and have drivers shuttle our gear to us. The good life!
Saturday, March 19: Spent the morning packing up trying to translate a pack list in German. Many things were lost in translation including a harness and glacier gear. Other than that, it was a very light load since Fischer would be providing a pack, beacon, shovel, probe, and a few other items. It was a rare opportunity to travel light - I only checked a ski / boot bag and had a small backpack for a carry on. The flight was easy - BOS - CPH - GVA. In Geneva you just go to the travel desk and get a bus ticket for Chamonix and you're off. A little over an hour later I was standing in Chamonix center waiting for a local bus to take me just a few miles north to our Hotel. Jet lagged but still had a few hours to kill before the rest of the group arrive, I decided to go for a run up towards the ski resort across the way. I found a four mile loop that seemed like a good hike/run and it would have been if there wasn't knee deep snow a mile into it. Typical stubbornness kicked in and I plowed my way through the top of the loop and followed deer tracks back to the rest of the loop. Soaked feet aside, the air was refreshing and it was the best way to flush the system after 20+ hours of travel. I then ran into town for some bread and people watching before returning to the hotel. Eleven miles for the afternoon. Our group met up later that night and we went through plans and gear. Turns out everyone speaks German but me, something I also knew heading into the trip but I was quickly tuned out for many of the evening briefings but just nodded along.
Trail Running Photos (had no idea I'd get to run as much as I did!)
Monday, March 20: We started off the first day of our tour in style - a couple tram rides up from Argentiere saving ourselves roughly 1550m of climbing. From the top we descended down onto Glacier d'Argentière, following the classic Haute Route. Oddly enough, I smashed the one and only rock I'd hit the entire trip, a sweet land mine that was a clear indication that the Alps' snowpack was hurting. For a first day we cruised a mellow pace but there were very few stops and if we did take a break it was short. This allowed for good photog'in as we could catch back up after launching a drone or getting a time lapse. My legs were also feeling the running miles. We popped up and over Col du Chardonnet which was the only point we did any repelling. It was fun but not completely necessary. We dropped onto another Glacier and had another pass to climb over before getting to the Trient Glacier. Basically we hopped three passes to get down to Lac Champex, an aid station for UTMB (see photo!). There were fixed ropes for the last pass (Col des Ecandies) and we hung out on the top for a few photos before skiing some fun corn down into the valley. Being the first day I didn't realize that we'd be done in the early afternoon each day. We still had to walk about a mile to our hotel where we sat in the sun and had a few beers. One of the Fischer guys joked with me about going for a run and I thought that was a GREAT idea so I decided to go explore. Oh, and we were now in Switzerland, not too far above the OCC starting town of Orsières. The hotel guy recommended that I only descend down to an old village called Chez-Les-Reuses so I headed that direction. But once I was there I couldn't help but follow some paths down to the town. It was a slog 2,000' back up to the lake but well worth it. A big dinner and I was in bed excited to cross over to Italy in our Day 2 tour.
Tuesday, March, 21: The next morning we awoke to a low fog layer and I was told it was just that and not to worry. Breakfast always had many options including granola, breads, cheese, meats, coffee, and fruit. We were responsible for our snacks so I'd just wrap stuff in napkins like nutella croissants. It was a 30 minute drive to the start of our next tour which induced a touch of car sickness as we drove down then up the typical windy roads. The tour started off mellow as we followed a snow-covered road and climbed to the Switzerland - Italy border of Col Du Grand St. Bernard. It was beautiful with a few stone buildings poised below massive peaks in the distance. We took off our skins and continued to ski the road down the backside of the pass through tunnels to the pass we'd climb that would take us to Mont Fourchon (~9,400'). This was the scenic highlight of the trip - the weather was phenomenal with clouds quickly moving over the ridges leaving us with intermittent views of Mont Blanc. The skiing here was some of the best of the trip as well - we skied down this south-facing bowl that was baking in the sun. Our drivers had skinned up to meet us earlier in the morning and we just reconnected with the road we had left earlier on the tour and skied right to the cars that shuttled us to our next hotel in Pila. The drive to Pila took us from Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses down to Aosta and 4,000' up to the hotel at the resort. Now in Italy it was customary to "take coffees" which I easily adapted to. My afternoon run here wasn't anything interesting - the trails were snow-covered so I was stuck with running back down the road we had just driven up. A half a liter of wine and a sizable meal with a bonus shot of Montenegro set me up for a good night's rest.
Wednesday, March 22: This is where the trip took a turn into the unknown. The previous two days we knew the conditions (snow / terrain) but today we had no information on what to expect on the backside of the resort. We took a lift partway up Ski to the Sky resort then skinned up to the ridge of Col Tsa Sètse. In the fog our guide went and sussed out the conditions on the trail down to Cogne, our next stopping point. After a waiting what seemed like an hour for a decision we pushed on and skied some of the worst snow - breakable corn crust. I wouldn't really even call it skiing but more like surviving. We also ran out of snow and sent the drone to look at our planned route - zero snow. Not much you can do about that so we just hiked 1,200' down to town and called it a day. On the bright side, this left plenty of time for a beautiful trail run which was a runner up highlight of the trip. Another hearty Italian dinner plus some "Grolla" and grappa tasting. I really like this town - Lillaz, tucked up at the dead end of the valley. Need to come back here in the summer.
Thursday, March 23: Our luck with the weather had worn out. We were now in a wintery-mix and our objective wasn't looking great. We ventured out to attempt to head further south. This induced many flashbacks of ski-less tours back home. We skinned over rocks and debris as we followed Torrente Valleile until our guides decided enough was enough. Visibility was bad and we stopped well short of the climb to the pass our intended route sent us over. It was still good to get outside but certainly disappointing that heading south wasn't an option. We staged some photos and video shots on the way back along the river and we back at the hotel before lunch. The guides figured that we'd be better off heading back to Chamonix to end the trip on a high note. Bags were packed and headed two hours back up to Les Houches, and were booked at Hotel Rocky Pop. This quirky hotel was on the southern end of Chamonix where I had yet to spend any time. I went out for a trail run up along the road leading to Parc animalier de Merlet. It was beautiful and similar to the other trails along that south-facing side of town that I had run on Sunday, just without the snow!
Friday, March 24: Our last tour of the trip was a climb from Vallorcine (another UTMB aid station) up to Mont Buet (~9,800'). This was another reminiscent tour of east coast conditions - we climbed 5,600' up and were greeted with low to no visibility and high winds. It was a generally overcast day but we had moments where the clouds opened to reveal stunning views of a massive cliff band to the north. The snow never warmed up to classic spring conditions and the light was super flat BUT the terrain was fun and we were able to ski all the way back down to a bar tucked in a creek. It was a great way to end the trip with a few beers and relax a little knowing that I was still in one piece and had gained a valuable experience navigating the Alps. The only problem was I was in Chamonix and my flight was the next morning out of Torino. A logistical headache that meant making a few others get up earlier than necessary to get me to the airport.
Final Thoughts: The trip was awesome. Fischer took care of everything and it was nice to just sit back and go along for the ride. It was a rare opportunity to do multiple point-to-point tours and have drivers shuttle your gear. Sure I would have liked to covered more ground, bagged bigger peaks, skied more, but that's not really what the trip was about. I didn't discuss the team but they were all great people and talented skiers. I roomed with Marc from Germany who was dating a girl from Amherst, NH. Small world indeed! I'd really like to get back there for new projects both winter and summer so this was just another step in the right direction. I'm sitting on a lot of video that hopefully I can edit sometime this April.