The team looked over the top at the 45' slope which was situated 2m below, the first turn hiding under the cornice .. A cry as the tail of the board released from the top of the cornice, airborne, I reached for the front side edge ..
Releasing the edge, I straightened out readying myself for the impact. The board sunk into the fresh, I powered onto my backside, stabilising the board and myself. A jet of snow, feeding from the back edge was thrown into the air.
The angle of the slope was optimal for my snowboard, unweighting the back, I extended and the board followed, throwing me into the air as I changed onto the front side edge. I was losing height at a rapid rate, each turn dropping me deeper into the gully, the snow flying past my feet as I set up for a front side power turn, the board flexing with the pressure which was being pushed through my toe side. The rocks came close as I finished the turn off, the end result a new layer of snow across the rock face.
Portes de Soleil
Deciding when to stop can be as difficult as the start. The rhythm of the fast turns now generating more speed as the gully opened up, the angle decreasing, it was time to look for a safe resting spot and wait for the rest to follow. To my right was a large outcrop of rock, the ideal haven from the rogue stone or snow avalanche. Out of the natural line, I dropped the speed and stopped under the protection of the limestone buttress.
I could see them dropping the cornice 300 metres above my head. The plumes of powder floating off into the air with the light wind as each turn was instrumented. The cries of enjoyment muffled by the tightness of the gully. The stoked eyes invisible behind the masked faces. We were back together again, huddled under the outcrop. The first steep section had been completed.
The object of the day was the North face of the Croix de Culet. Found to the right (as you look from the top) of the famous "Swiss Wall". Seeing the possible lines for the first time will make you smile as you take the Ripaille drag lift. The trek to the top of the Croix de Culet may not. Over 1km of 30' plus will get to your heart and lungs.
I could hear the deep breathing of Archie above my own fast beating heart, the kick of each step covering the noise for an instant as I tried to find the hard base through the covering of fresh powder. I had been moving upwards for 30 minutes and the "Swiss cross" was at last in view. We regrouped at the top, everybody deep in thought, the views more important than conversation, each individual taking in the beauty and splendour of the moment.
The drop off the summit after a short break is the way out. Using the back side edge, I followed the cornice which had been formed by the prevailing winds of the last few days, my snowboard gliding with frictionless ease over the fresh powder. Below I spotted the landing zone as I launched off the wind lip, gravity taking over as the board left the security of the snow, reaching for my backside edge, I found the bottom of the board and pulled up. Extending my right arm after the grab straightened out my back, the landing zone was now in my sights.
I hit the snow hard, the air time was bigger than I thought. Keeping my weight on the back foot to keep the nose of the board up, I let the friction of the snow do is work, my speed dropped off as the board settled into its natural groove. Floating just above the surface, I dropped my weight onto the toe edge, the board reacted, turning with an ease normally found on the waves.
Linking turns I dropped into the trees, the branches reaching out to take a hold of my clothing, my goggles saving my vision as I cut through a tightening section, the force of the branch cutting into the plastic of the lens was enough to pump adrenaline through my tiring muscles. With my legs burning from the 500 metre vertical decent, it was time to find a place to rest in one of the bars of Morzine