Backcountry-skiing in the Vercors

"I think my favorite sport in the Olympics is the one in which you make your way through the snow, you stop, you shoot a gun, and then you continue on. In most of the world, it is known as the biathlon, except in New York City, where it is known as winter."    — Michael Ventre, L.A. Daily News.
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Just above Grenoble: Moucherotte, St Michel...


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A short ski trip on the Moucherotte, barely 20 minutes from Grenoble.

Left: A short ski trip on the Moucherotte, barely 20 minutes from Grenoble. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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The eastern side of the Vercors as seen from the Moucherotte, quite visible are the Mt Aiguille and the Grand Veymont.

Right: The eastern side of the Vercors as seen from the Moucherotte, quite visible are the Mt Aiguille and the Grand Veymont. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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Brocken spectrum seen from Peak St Michel, right below Mt Blanc and the northern tip of the Belledonne range.

Left: Brocken spectrum seen from Peak St Michel, right below Mt Blanc and the northern tip of the Belledonne range. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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Mirage disturbing the atmosphere of the Gresivaudan valley, in the direction of Mt Blanc.

Right: Mirage disturbing the atmosphere of the Gresivaudan valley, in the direction of Mt Blanc. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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Panorama of the first december snows on the Moucherotte, the northernmost summit of Vercors located just above Grenoble (visible right between the clouds). Belledonne covers the left of the horizon, then the Taillefer and farther out if the Devoluy.

Above: Panorama of the first december snows on the Moucherotte, the northernmost summit of Vercors located just above Grenoble (visible right between the clouds). Belledonne covers the left of the horizon, then the Taillefer and farther out if the Devoluy.


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The east face of the Vercors seen from the summit of Peak St Michel.

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Cross on the summit of Peak St Michel.

Left: The east face of the Vercors seen from the summit of Peak St Michel.

Right: Cross on the summit of Peak St Michel.


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Smoky Grenoble visible from Peak St Michel.

Left: Smoky Grenoble visible from Peak St Michel.


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Arc col and St Michel Peak right above smoky Grenoble. It's so close, no wonder I can ski it and be at work at 9 !

Right: Arc col and St Michel Peak right above smoky Grenoble. It's so close, no wonder I can ski it and be at work at 9 !


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Jenny on the trail to the Moucherotte, the parking lot in in the fog, be we are hopeful for the summit..

Left: Jenny on the trail to the Moucherotte, the parking lot in in the fog, be we are hopeful for the summit..


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Lots of fresh snow on that day.

Right: Lots of fresh snow on that day.


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The sun shows as we pass the cliff.

Right: The sun shows as we pass the cliff. Image available as a free wallpaper


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The hut below the summit and the clouds covering the Vercors plateau.

Left: The hut below the summit and the clouds covering the Vercors plateau.


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Panorama of the Belledonne range from the summit of the Moucherotte. Mt blanc is on the left, far back.

Above: Panorama of the Belledonne range from the summit of the Moucherotte. Mt blanc is on the left, far back.


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Jenny gearing up for the descent with the Chartreuse and Mt Blanc in the back.

Left: Jenny gearing up for the descent with the Chartreuse and Mt Blanc in the back. Image available as a free wallpaper


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Belledonne behind a cloud covered city of Grenoble.

Right: Belledonne behind a cloud covered city of Grenoble.


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Snow on my daily bike descents behind the 3 Pucelles of St Nizier.

Left: Snow on my daily bike descents behind the 3 Pucelles of St Nizier.


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Heavy snow at the Moucherotte.

Right: Heavy snow at the Moucherotte.


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Summit antenna of the Moucherotte in heavy weather.

Left: Summit antenna of the Moucherotte in heavy weather.


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The Cornafion visible from up on one of the steep couloirs of the Gerbier.

Right: The Cornafion visible from up on one of the steep couloirs of the Gerbier.


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Snow-covered trees below the Pic St Michel.

Left: Snow-covered trees below the Pic St Michel.


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Start of the descent of the East face of Moucherotte, a steep successsion of short cliffs that must be negociated as best as possible, in other words it's a real maze.

Right: Start of the descent of the East face of Moucherotte, a steep successsion of short cliffs that must be negociated as best as possible, in other words it's a real maze.


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The Chartreuse visible from Chateau Bouvier, a passage down the east face of the Moucherotte.

Left: The Chartreuse visible from Chateau Bouvier, a passage down the east face of the Moucherotte.


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Combining mountin biking and backcountry skiing is a local specialty in Grenoble. Here at the parking of the Moucherotte.

Right: Combining mountin biking and backcountry skiing is a local specialty in Grenoble. Here at the parking of the Moucherotte.


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Les Ramées, a very easy outing from Lans-en-Vercors.

Left: Les Ramées, a very easy outing from Lans-en-Vercors.




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East face of Grand Veymont, highest summit of Vercors at 2341m.

Grand Veymont


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Skiing down the wind-swept slopes of Grand Veymont, almost always exposed to the rocks by the northern winds.

Left: East face of Grand Veymont, highest summit of Vercors at 2341m.

Right: Skiing down the wind-swept slopes of Grand Veymont, almost always exposed to the rocks by the northern winds.


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Grand Veymont slope above the Vercors high plateau.

Left: Grand Veymont slope above the Vercors high plateau.


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Northern part of the Vercors visible during the descent of the Grand Veymont.

Right: Northern part of the Vercors visible during the descent of the Grand Veymont.


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Lone skier on top of one of the secondary summits of Grand Veymont.

Left: Lone skier on top of one of the secondary summits of Grand Veymont.


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Powder snow on the descent of the Agnellerie.

Right: Powder snow on the descent of the Agnellerie.




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Fountain of the Sornin.

Draye des Communaux

Right: Fountain of the Sornin.


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Shadowy trees near the summit.

Left: Shadowy trees near the summit. Image available as a free wallpaper

So after several weeks working non-stop on our new apartment, I decide to take a break on a cold sunday after a large snowfall. I'd seen on the map a narrow gully that looked skiable and found very partial information on how to do it by foot, and none at all about skiing it. I start in early afternoon, but the days are so short in January...


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Trying to find my way down, jumping multiple small cliffs.

Left: Trying to find my way down, jumping multiple small cliffs.


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The lights of Grenoble as night settles in and I still haven't found the way down...

Right: The lights of Grenoble as night settles in and I still haven't found the way down...

To make a long story short, I spend several hours in a very thick forest, jumping down small cliffs, then ending on top of a huge 200m cliff, without ever finding the very narrow gully. Then night falls. And I have to climb the rock to get back to the plateau. Then my skins stop sticking due to the cold and I have to walk in pelvis-deep snow to get back to the car at 22:30... I must have passed no farther than 10 meters from the gully without seeing it... Next time maybe.


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Another failure; the Gerbier Couloir: too much rock, not enough snow...

Right: Another failure; the Gerbier Couloir: too much rock, not enough snow...


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View on Lans-en-Vercors and Peak St Michel from the Jaume cross in Winter.

Left: View on Lans-en-Vercors and Peak St Michel from the Jaume cross in Winter.




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Skiing on the slopes of Lans after an out of season snowfall.

Variations above Lans


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Alone on the slopes of Lans.

Left: Alone on the slopes of Lans.

Right: Skiing on the slopes of Lans after an out of season snowfall.


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The ski slope of Lans, without the crowds.

Right: The ski slope of Lans, without the crowds.


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Going up the Moucherotte.

Left: Going up the Moucherotte.


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Pine forest in winter.

Right: Pine forest in winter.


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The slopes of Lans after work, with the Moucherotte in the background.

Left: The slopes of Lans after work, with the Moucherotte in the background.


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Sunset on the slopes of Lans.

Right: Sunset on the slopes of Lans.


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Peak St Michel and the Devoluy seen from the summit of the Lans slopes.

Left: Peak St Michel and the Devoluy seen from the summit of the Lans slopes.


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Grenoble in the valley below, stuck between the ranges of Vercors, Chartreuse and belledonne.

Right: Grenoble in the valley below, stuck between the ranges of Vercors, Chartreuse and belledonne.


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Panoramic view of Grenoble taken from the Ours summit, next to the Cornafion. From the left: pic St michel and the northern Vercors, Chartreuse, Grenoble and the Gersivaudan valley, Mt Blanc behind the one cloud and Belledonne.

Above: Panoramic view of Grenoble taken from the Ours summit, next to the Cornafion. From the left: pic St michel and the northern Vercors, Chartreuse, Grenoble and the Gersivaudan valley, Mt Blanc behind the one cloud and Belledonne.


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On the W couloir of Mt Gerbier.

Right: On the W couloir of Mt Gerbier.


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Winter view of the Gerbier, with the W couloir going left and behind the summit.

Left: Winter view of the Gerbier, with the W couloir going left and behind the summit.


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Early morning start on the abandonned slopes of the Aigle.

Right: Early morning start on the abandonned slopes of the Aigle.


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Over 50cm of fresh snow during the night and we wanted to be the first ones to leave our mark. That and being at work on time.

Left: Over 50cm of fresh snow during the night and we wanted to be the first ones to leave our mark. That and being at work on time.




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The 'avalancher' on top of the NW couloir of the Grande Moucherolle.

Grande Moucherolle

Right: The 'avalancher' on top of the NW couloir of the Grande Moucherolle.


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Strange artifacts on the N ridge of Grande Moucherolle.

Left: Strange artifacts on the N ridge of Grande Moucherolle.


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The Gerbier in winter.

Right: The Gerbier in winter.


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What track is that in those steep parts ? They are bigger than my hand.

Left: What track is that in those steep parts ? They are bigger than my hand.


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The 'two sisters' seen from the summit of the Moucherolle.

Right: The 'two sisters' seen from the summit of the Moucherolle.


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The east side of the Vercors as seen from the Moucherolle.

Left: The east side of the Vercors as seen from the Moucherolle.


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The Grande Moucherolle and the Two Sisters from the summit of Corrençon. The slope visible is skiable but rarely in good conditions.

Above: The Grande Moucherolle and the Two Sisters from the summit of Corrençon. The slope visible is skiable but rarely in good conditions.


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Above the clouds on the closed slopes of Corrençon.

Right: Above the clouds on the closed slopes of Corrençon.


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Nearing the summit of Corrençon below the Grande Moucherolle. The west couloir is on the left.

Left: Nearing the summit of Corrençon below the Grande Moucherolle. The west couloir is on the left.



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With over a meter of snow in the last two days we weren't willing to take risks so we headed for the Molière ridge.

Traverse of the Aigaux

Right: With over a meter of snow in the last two days we weren't willing to take risks so we headed for the Molière ridge.


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Still, it was a high risk day and it shows on this depth slide avalanche, about a meter thick, in a small opening between the trees. Trees which were emitting loud cracking noises every once in a while.

Left: Still, it was a high risk day and it shows on this depth slide avalanche, about a meter thick, in a small opening between the trees. Trees which were emitting loud cracking noises every once in a while.


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Nearing the Molière ridge. We then skied down to Autrans on the W side and came back up to ski this side. Took most of the day.

Right: Nearing the Molière ridge. We then skied down to Autrans on the W side and came back up to ski this side. Took most of the day.


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The Molière ridge with the wooded Moucherotte in the background.

Left: The Molière ridge with the wooded Moucherotte in the background.


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Trees heavy with snow.

Right: Trees heavy with snow.


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Avalanche at the Bellecombe pass.

Left: Avalanche at the Bellecombe pass.


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Panoramic view of Belledonne, the Taillefer (in the clouds) and the Moucherotte.

Above: Panoramic view of Belledonne, the Taillefer (in the clouds) and the Moucherotte.



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The avalanche seen from where I stopped. I jumped the summit cliff at its best possible location.

Avalanche on the Crocs

This saturday morning, avalanche risk forecast 2 out of 5. Good cold weather. It snowed 10cm on thursday night and I know there isn't much of an underlayer. I also know, for going there about once a year, that the Croc is a summit rarely in good conditions; it's either in avalanche conditions, too wind blown or without enough snow. Today it will be all 3.

Right: The avalanche seen from where I stopped. I jumped the summit cliff at its best possible location.


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There was hardly any snow, so how come there seems to be two layers which have broken off ?

So, not enough snow on the lower section, barely 5cm of light powder on the trail, just enough to go up with the skins. Farther up in the woods, a good layer of powder on the hard underlayer. Getting out of the wood the snow is immediately crusty and then hard. Towards the summit the icy underlayer often becomes apparent so that I put the ski-crampons at the end of the long traverse to the right, before surmounting the summit cliff.

Left: There was hardly any snow, so how come there seems to be two layers which have broken off ?


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The bottom cliff and the resting spot of the avalanche inside the forest.

30 meters under the summit, I set food on a triangle of crust. A 'woof' and I see a break in the snow 3 meters above, no more than 2 meters across. The underlayer is no more than 10cm underneath so I think I'm going to stop kickly, but after a split second I decide to not be a miser for 100$ and pull the trigger of the Mammut airbag which inflates quickly in a reassuring 'thud' and straighten me face to the slope. I've already lost the skis but will hold the poles all the way, thinking that I may be able to use one, reversed, as an axe.

Right: The bottom cliff and the resting spot of the avalanche inside the forest.


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The bottom cliff, seen from the bottom of the avalanche.

I can feel the hard snow and try to dig my heels several times. I jump the summit cliff, about 5 meters. Ouch. A sloud of powder has formed and I don't see much, but I can tell blocks of snow are passing me by. I try to slow down by pressing hard on the poles, but I have a feeling the airbag is not helping the situation. A brief thought: 'if I kill myself, Jenny's gonna kill me...'

I fly off a few other rocks, see some of the few trees present on this long 35° face pass very fast, and I'm beginning to give up, thinking that it's eventually going to stop. Remembering the 20m cliff at the base of the face, I give a BIG kick, turn around, and manage to stop using hands and feet after about 10 meters. I've gone done 200m in the avalanche which has enlarged considerably, taking with it the 'hard' snow I'd stepped on previously on my way up.

Left: The bottom cliff, seen from the bottom of the avalanche.


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A lateral view of the face, with the start of the avalanche (top arrow), the top cliff, where I stopped (cross), the bottom cliff and where the avalanche stopped (cross). Total height about 600m.

Right: A lateral view of the face, with the start of the avalanche (top arrow), the top cliff, where I stopped (cross), the bottom cliff and where the avalanche stopped (cross). Total height about 600m.

I see the avalanche keep going, jump the bottom cliff and finish some way inside the forest, 300m below. I've lost my skis, but that's all. I put my crampons on, take a break. My left ankle hurts. So does my butt. And my forearms are stiff from having held the poles too hard. Not enough to call the chopper (which I'll later learn has been busy in the meanwhile).

I go down the avalanche path, find one ski and one skin. I limp back to the car under the curious stare of the many snowshoers: indeed my airbag is still inflated as I couldn't figure out how to deflate it, even removing the cartridge.


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The same, zooming in. The break is visible.

Right: The same, zooming in. The break is visible.

So, finally: