Oct 09, 2009

Round Trip Martigny - Argentiere on the Velo

Parked by the vineyards

The brisk air of fall in the mountains marks the end of the road cycling season. I felt the chill in the air and had to concede fall is here. My house felt a bit cooler and I realized I needed to wear my slippers. Snow was forecast down to 2000 meters. Time to take one last road ride. Better make it a good one.

Last Friday I took advantage of maybe one of the last warm Indian summer days and biked from Argentiere, France to Martigny, Switzerland - and back plus the four cols in between. I had driven the route many times and knew the trek well. I had been wanting to do this ride for the past three years, but first just thought I would take the train and ride back from Martigny. The more I thought about it the more I thought I would end the season with a round trip ticket - about 44 miles, four cols, and roughly 2560 meters ( 8400 feet) of elevation gain.

I left Argentiere around eleven and rode up the Col des Montets. Its not a huge climb, roughly 300 meters peaking out at 1461 meters (4793 feet). A nature reserve graces the summit with a trails and a educational nature walk. Over the other side I rode into Vallorcine, a smaller French village gaining in popularity with access to great off-piste skiing on the backside of La Tour. The road descended gradually winding through the village along the river until it reaches Le Chatelard (903 meters, 2960 feet)) at the French/Swiss Boarder. I slowed the bike and got a go ahead wave from the Swiss guards. Good. I didn’t bring a passport.

Swiss/French Border

The road began climbing steeply as I began ascending the 650 meters or so (2130 feet) up to the Col de la Forclaz (meaning narrow gap). I passed the town of Trient and was passed by a few camper vans. I had hoped by riding on Friday I would have less traffic as the road can be busy and frequent many inexperienced mountain drivers and huge tour buses. One main long switchback lead to the top of the Forclaz (1527 meters, 5010 feet) and I stopped to grab some food and a drink. This was the commitment point, do I turn back to Chamonix, or tough it out and descent into Martigny sealing my fate of biking all the way back?

Looking down into Martingy

I hopped on the bike and began the long descent to Martigny. Why not. I was joined by a few other bikers who had the same idea. Strength in numbers. The road had been freshly paved in parts which made the descent nice, but I still kept speed in check, the road switched back creating many blind spots and those big buses took up both lanes.

Good looking grapes..

Towards the bottom I rode through the Martigny vineyards - few people know Swiss wines are some of the best. My timing was good as the men were hand-picking the grapes for the harvest. Yellow bins lined the road filled with red grapes. Signs warned motorists to slow down for the “vendanges” (wine harvesters) and the traffic increased. Once at the valley floor I immediately turned around and rode back up the first switchback to have a coffee and some chocolate the a little restaurant I had always wanted to stop and experience but never quite could manage to stop the car. While I sat three other bikers did the same.

Perfect pit stop

After fifteen minutes I got back on the bike and started the 1047 meter (3500 feet) climb back up the Forclaz. This was the largest ascent and a great warm up for some of the larger cols in the area (Simplon Pass and the Grand St. Bernard).  The ride up was gradual but consistent reaching a top grade of about nine percent.

After reaching the Forclaz I noticed the weather was changing and was happy that most of the climbing was out of the way. Putting my jacket on I descending the 5.1 miles miles back to the border. Peeling layers off again for the last climb a fellow biker caught up to me. We chatted for a bit and he happened to be my neighbor - we rode the last 560 meter (1830 feet) ascent together up opposite side of the Col de Montets.

Happy with our effort my new friend and I descended into Argentiere through the quiet main street framed by the huge massive of the Mont Blanc Range. The wind was cool making my nose run - I love exercising in crisp weather but it was getting a tad bit nippy. I suddenly seemed to notice just how many leaves had actually changed, it was beautiful. All in all the trip took a little over four hours and I was content to have my hot cocoa and sit by the fire for the remainder of the day. For more photos of the route to Martigny click here.

Col des Montets. Photo courtesy of Cycloclimbing

Oct 05, 2009

Andrea Binning - Trailblazing Big Mountain Skier and World Extreme Freeskiing Champion

Andrea Binning knows the meaning of the world lucky. Thanks to a bit of the magic stuff and some serious ski smarts the former World Free-skiing Champion survived a massive avalanche (her second) on April 27th, 2006 in coastal Canada. Stationed on a beautiful boat with heli on deck the trip was meant to be was the stuff of steep skier dreams.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull Photoprofiles. Andy Mathis

The morning started with the first two skiers (Phil Meyer and boyfriend Stian Hagen) releasing small slabs towards the bottom of the line. They radioed up to her regarding the slight instability and told her to be aware. On Andrea’s second turn the entire base gave way. Knowing there were cliffs below, she cut to the right and was pushed about a thousand feet down the slope. Buried up to the waist, she was pulled to safety with serious injuries

Andrea rehabbed her injury and returned to skiing later that year able to banish the demons. She has produced her own short film showing the coverage of the incident and her response. Amazingly the video zooms in on Andrea after the fall signaling to the heli she is ok - and the fairly calm reaction of her now husband and others in the helicopter. Extreme skiing has its dangers and Andrea and company are true professionals, able to handle the pressure when needed. As she explained in an interview with Red Bull, “I can only tell you what a freeskier needs to be safe: professional training, experience in club races and a thorough knowledge of the dangers of alpine territory.” Andrea has fully recovered from her injuries and has re-entered the skiing arena focusing on filming citing that the injuries have made her calmer more aware skier - and the time off has made her fitter than ever.

YouTube Preview Image

Originally from Melborne, Australia (not the average place to find one of the world’s finest skiers), Andrea began her skiing career age four at Mount Baw Baw skiing weekends and holidays under the guidance of her volunteer ski patrol parents. Her career escalated after school when she moved to the United States and focused on Alpine training. Finding her strength in mogul and freeskiing she moved training locals to Canada and France.

Chamonix changed her life by not only shaping her skills as a big mountain skier, but also by allowing her to witness the Chamonix Red Bull Challenge inspiring her to give up the moguls and freestyle and just freeski. Training in Chamonix also introduced her future husband into her life, fellow Norwegian freeskier, Stian Hagen. Winning the World Freeskiing Championships in Alaska in 2000 gave her the career boost needed to ski for a living. With the help of her sponsors Red Bull, Volkl and Roxy, Andrea dove decisively into the Freeskiing World Circuit. Fueled additionally by her win in the “Red Bull Snow Thrill of Chamonix in 2002 and the World Freeskiing finals in Les Arcs, France in 2003, she experienced and impressive number of wins over the next few years.

Photo courtesy of Roxy
Photo courtesy of Roxy

Andrea now calls Chamonix home with husband Stian. They travel the world skiing and inspiring others. Andrea will also be blogging for the new site about all things gravity and snow related, on Wintervolume.com Brava Andrea, for all your hard work and ability to overcome all to pursue your dreams. We look forward to following your exciting career down many first descents to come. Interested in getting involved with freesking? Click here for more information.