Words by Matt Carr | Photos by Kene E-O
Shuffling along the soggy London pavement again, at speeds occasionally pushing 0.2 metres/second, in order to gain entry to the tube station which had only a single barrier open to prevent overcrowding at lower levels, I decided this simply wouldn’t do anymore. It was time to get away. Time to find a ski-based antidote to city life and the super-concentration of human beings.
After much map poring, I zeroed in on the Hautes Alpes region in the southern French Alps. About as far from a big city or international airport as you can get in the Alps, with vast and wild mountains but comparatively few mountain resorts, it seemed the ideal area in which to seek adventure.
I put together a shortlist of potential conspirators and a few phone calls later a team was in place and a plan hatched. I’d be travelling by train from London, via Paris, on the overnight sleeper train with Jenny Jones, recently retired from competitive snowboarding but eager to explore all avenues into the backcountry.
Joining us would be Kene E-O: a photographer from Val d’Isère and Stephen “Chipie” Windross: a skier with an acute case of wanderlust, sometimes based in Tignes. I’d been on many an adventure with the pair of them, including earlier this very winter when we scored epic powder in Areches Beaufort and La Clusaz. If it ain’t broke, I’m often disinclined to fix it, so aboard they came again.
The furthest south any of us had been in the French Alps was La Grave on the northern edge of both the Ecrins National Park and the Hautes Alpes region, but we’d heard murmurings of lesser-known gems further south, on the opposite (southern) side of the park. We aimed for the resort of Vars, the best-known resort in the area as a logical starting point in which to get our bearings, assess snow conditions and hone the crew dynamic.
My knowledge of Vars was limited to the odd photo, and the fact that Red Bull’s backcountry freestyle event Linecatcher had been held there in 2010, won by a Candide Thovex in the early stages of reinventing himself as a backcountry maestro. A friend recommended I get in touch with local ski instructor and all-mountain aficionado Karl “Karlito” Josephine.