I recently spent a weekend in Evolene / Arolla in the Valais region of the Swiss alps, known as the Val d’Hérens. It’s a key location for ski touring, set between Zermatt and Chamonix and this year is hosting the first edition of the ski mountaineering race, the Patrouille des Aiguille rouge.
The race organisers invited me to ski around the area and scope out the route- and its certainly not going to be a walk in the park – with certain parts of the race requiring you to carry your skis and boot pack with crampons ice axe etc. Cruising around Evolene we had great views of the areas main peaks, the Dent Blanche (4357m) and in the background you could see the mighty Matterhorne.
Evolene town itself is very ‘Swiss chocolate box’ and was voted the most beautiful village in the French part of Switzerland in 2012 in L’illustre magazine. It’s a small but varied ski area with plenty of offpiste skiing and best of all it’s very quiet. It’s also got two of the best cross-country ski circuits in Central Valais and is a centre for Heliskiing.
I was also there during the month long Carnival Evolene, one of the most important times of the year for the town, which celebrates old and unusual traditions. I took part in the The Nordic Haudères night, a fancy dress cross-country ski race and was chased by the troll like characters, the Peluches who wear painted wooden masks of cats, foxes and wolves heads and shake cowbells at their victims. They originate from the Celtic tribes who lived in Valais during the Bronze Age they had many masked rituals to scare off evil spirits and protect their villages from avalanches.
The next day I went on a small ski tour in Arolla – another small, but beautiful resort – and then used the drag lifts to get some extra freeride loops in. Here we found untracked powder- days after the last dump, and when Chamonix was completely tracked out.
Arolla is the start of the Patroille race and my guide the next day, local mountain guide, Dede Anzevui who runs freeride and heliski company, Freeride experience pointed out all the key stages of the race – with great views of where it crossed the Glacier d’Arolla and Glacier des Aiguilles Rouges. Dede is one of ten other guides patrolling part of the route where the bootpack takes place, as it can be dangerous. We skied together for the morning, some more fantastic untracked powder all the way down through the tress and back into the village.
The race starts on the 22nd of March – and maybe next year I’ll have a go at it myself..