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I came into this winter with really high hopes for an epic season.  I had never been to the Alps before relocating here, but based on all the ski pron I'd seen, and the reports of friends, I was pretty sure this was somewhere I would have some fun. 

The season started out pretty slow.  While there was an early season dump or two in the mountains, I was not able to get out due to (a) not having a car, (b) having extremely limited knowledge of the terrain, and (c) having a lack of potential partners -- all things that I took for granted back in Vermont. 

I did finally get up to Verbier toward the end of November, when they were operating on weekends.  Me and another American expat named Willy explored around and found some decent snow, but things were quite thin. 

For the rest of December and most of January I managed to get out a few more times (far below my usual number of days) and I checked out some of the other big resorts in the area: Zermatt, Gstaad, Portes du Soleil.  There were some pretty decent days: my second trip to Verbier found me hiking for pow turns with a good international crew, and I had a fun day splitboard touring in the Bernese Oberland.  But, most of the days I did manage to get out featured some combination of bony, boiler plate, or mank.

That brings us to this week.  The forecast was calling for snow, and it was supposed to stay cold.  After spending far too many hours in the office the past few weeks, I knew I needed to get out on snow, but I wasn't sure where.  On Wednesday, Philipp (a German skier living in Geneva from my ski/ride meetup group) suggested heading up to this little spot above Montreux: Dent de Jaman / Rochers de Naye.   Never having heard about it from anyone else, and considering it is not that high elevation I was quite skeptical it would be any good.  We reconvened on Friday and saw reports of 15-20cm of fresh snow and the main t-bar (the place has no lifts, just the cog train and some t-bars) was closed until Saturday... so I decided I was in. 

Early Saturday morning Philipp picked me up and we made the drive up to Caux pre-dawn with the plan to catch the first train of the day.  As we climbed up the switchbacks from Montreux we were noticing a distinct lack of snow and definitely were keeping our expectations in check.  But, as we gained elevation we started to see a little bit of snow on the ground, and then boom!  We came around one switchback to see a nice blanket of white.  While it was nice to see the ground covered, it obviously wasn't very deep and when we got to the Caux Gare we were the only car there.  In case we were having any trouble keeping our hopes low, this oddity certainly helped. 

At least we got to see some sweet alpenglow across the lake, so if nothing else the day would not be a total waste.

alpenglow

Turns out the reason no one else was there yet was because that first train only was going one stop past where we were.  The first train to really go up the mountain would not be for another hour.  Having nothing better to do, we took the early train the one stop figuring we'd get a few warm up turns in before we could get a ride up higher.  We were able to ski back to Caux, and the snow was actually really good!  Boot deep and we weren't scraping bottom.  Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all?

We went back to the car to regroup and finish our coffees, and when the next train finally arrived there were a few more people waiting plus a decent number already on board.  Things were starting to seem even more encouraging as we took the train up to Jaman to find a powder paradise awaiting us. 

Time to dive right in:

Philipp sampling the goods

We whooped and hollered through some open fields and lightly-wooded pillow lines down to the t-bar which towed us back to where we began.  Next, we took a line through a different part of the zone and it was just as good as the first.  With only the two-car cog rail bringing people up once per hour the place stays remarkably empty.  After another lap down and back up the t-bar, Philipp suggesting catching the train a little higher so we could come down the front side of the mountain (facing the lake).  However, with my motto of "don't leave good snow to find good snow"  I was able to convince him to keep lapping the t-bar a few more times. 

We took a 5 min hike over a ridge to access some new terrain, still equally good, and still taking us right back to the t-bar without much effort. After a few more laps of continuously good snow,  we finally decided it was time to try somewhere else.  We hopped on the train for a single stop, which brought us to this spectacular vantage point

nice view

Here, in addition to the plentiful powder, we had some beautiful lake views to enjoy as well.

Philipp gets after it:

lake-view pow

The run down the lake-facing side was equally epic.  Lots of space to lay trenches and plenty of untracked.  It did get a little thin lower down, but after all the great turns we were getting, a few scratches to our bases did not seem like a big deal. 

After a solid 700m descent, it was a short walk to the train stop where we waited a few minutes for our next ride up.   The train provided a nice break to have a seat and eat a little something, but after about 20 minutes we were back up high and ready for a repeat.  We ventured a little further skier's left this time, and continued to find great snow. Another short walk back to the train, and another chance to rest before we headed back to the other side for a few more laps on the t-bar.

It was getting well into the afternoon by this point, and while many tracks had been set in the snow, there was still plenty of powder to be had.  We continued to find new lines, each a little different from the last.  I especially enjoyed all the small to medium sized things to jump off of.  With the soft landings it was great a place to play.

As the afternoon progressed we were getting quite tired (having been up well before dawn and all), and so we decided to call it a day.  We took the itinerary run down the lake side and were able to ride chopped-up pow all the way back to the car.  Philipp was heading the other direction, so I caught the train down to Montreux and from there back home to Lausanne.  After the long day, I was exhausted, and real glad to be riding a train instead of having to drive.  Well...glad for that, and getting to drink a reeb en route (probably the best part of riding the train to/from the mountain).

It was a great day to be out playing in the mountains.  I am beginning to realize that while some of the bigger spots might be more famous, and impressive in their vastness, there are plenty of small (for here) stations that do not see a lot of traffic and can offer plenty of competition-free powder.  With winter finally getting going, I hope to have many more great days ahead of me.

In fact, yesterday was one of them.  I woke up and caught a train back to the mountains for more pow and several more personal-firsts: another new-to-me area, one of my partners was a monoskier, and we finished the day with a long off-piste descent terminating at the world's tiniest train station.  But, if you've gotten this far I've already taken up enough of your time, so I'll have to leave that TR for another day.

Enjoy,
Josh

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