Gaby ThompsonGaby Thompson is the global community manager at komoot and together with Lael Wilcox is behind the komoot Women’s bikepacking rallies. Passionate about getting more women to embark on big adventures and well as showcasing what kids are capable of in the outdoors on bikes, skis, climbing, and other adventures that capture their imaginations.
There’s something special about an adventure that leaves from and returns to your front door. It’s an opportunity to explore familiar territory in granular detail, to see it with refreshed vision. Simple logistics can mean squeezing every last drop from the experience regardless of timeframe and minus any complex travel plans.
Of course some front doors are greater than others when it comes to adventure possibilities; based in the Alps, for Sami Sauri, Gaby Thompson and Annabel Varley, there’s a whole bunch of adventure just waiting to be bitten into. Keen to make the most of spring conditions, the three women wanted to recreate elements of an ambitious multisport expedition, but they wanted to fit it into a weekend and to experience it on their terms.
Producer, photographer and multi-sport athlete from Spain, Sami constantly seeks adventure, a pursuit that has seen her move to four different countries. After four-years in the cycling mecca, Girona, she moved to the French Alps.
Originally from the UK, Gaby has spent most of her adult life in various parts of the French Alps. She was originally drawn to the mountains to snowboard, but along the way has discovered all the adventures they have to offer.
Based in Geneva during the week, Annabel is always happy to escape to the mountains to explore, ski touring with her very energetic spaniel. Like anyone from Yorkshire, she is very particular about how she makes a cup of tea and is always in search of the perfect vessel for a summit brew.
Fresh tracks in the snow. Annabel and Gaby lead the way through final ascent to the hut.
Spring in the mountains is great. Often you can ski in the morning and ride your bike in the afternoon. It’s the perfect time for a creative adventure.
The goal wasn’t to be the first to do anything or to break any record. Ski-to-bike has been done many times before and during some epic, much larger, more ambitious expeditions. The three of us just wanted to share an experience from home – it was just about having fun and getting right back to basics.
First, we’d ride over the Col du Corbier, which takes you into the next valley. Just crossing from one side of the mountain to the other makes so much difference, you feel like you are in a completely different region. On the other side of the pass, we’d then ride down into Abondance, a small village, right on the Swiss border. It’s just over in the next valley but in contrast to Morzine, Abondance is much more rural. The local traditions are still very much alive and the town is renowned for its cheese – perfect for fondue.
Then after staying in a remote hut, we’d ski tour up to Point of Ardens, an 11km climb with 800 metres of elevation gain for epic views of Lake Geneva and the Dents du Midi.
Retracing steps and mapping tomorrow’s route – a key part of any adventure.
From her house in Morzine, Gaby ensures the final adjustments to her bike set up, skis and all.
Riding in full winter ski gear is an unusual sensation, particularly when tackling an ascent as long and arduous as the Col du Corbier
The three of us just wanted to share an experience from home – it was just about having fun and getting right back to basics
When we were first piecing the trip together, it had been hot in Morzine. So hot, we’d been riding our bikes in shorts! But we woke on Friday morning to a full on summer storm. Temperatures had dropped to -10ºC and snow was settling on the road. The weather maps looked like we were set to get about a metre over the next 24 hours, so we had to tweak our setups to cover all our gear – especially our ski boots.
All we needed to do that day was get over the pass and stop at the cheese shop, so we set off later that afternoon, riding in full ski gear, including our goggles so we could see where we were going, to keep warm. When we reached the top of the pass, we stopped to put on any extra clothing we had, swapping wet gloves for dry ones and doubling up on Buffs.
The 600m descent into Abondance was freezing! We pulled up at the cheese shop shaking, frantically trying to warm our hands on anything we could. We checked into our hotel and took some time to sort out our ski equipment for the following day.
The sweet relief of arriving at the hut after a long day by bike and ski.
Powder turns behind the hut.
Illustration by Tom Jay
Hot tea and good company after a long day on the mountain.
The fabled cheese fondue of the Abondance valley.
First on the agenda when we woke was a little mission to find a postbox in town to get the key for the refuge. Then we slipped into our ski boots and skinned up to the tiny hidden hut. As you climb up through the trees it’s only in the last few metres that you catch sight of the hut within a small clearing. It’s just about big enough for six people but inside there is everything you need: a little gas stove, fondue pans, and a kettle which you can fill from a small spring outside. There’s also a compost toilet across from the hut, perched on the edge of the mountain – it’s the ultimate loo with a view!
As soon as we arrived, we unloaded a bunch of gear to lighten our packs and took the chance to head up behind the hut for a quick ski before dark. We followed a route that we had pencilled on the map up through the forest, just below a cliff band that leads up to a small col.
With unseasonably heavy snowfall, conditions and visibility proved to be extremely mixed.
Due to the fresh snowfall on top of what was now – this late in the season – a pretty thin base, the conditions were quite unstable. We were able to stick to the original plan, careful to be much more concise in our route choice on the way to the summit and in our line choice on the descent. Cautious, we didn’t quite make it all the way to the col as planned. We did, however, still manage a few fresh turns whilst paying close attention to our route and how to get back through the forest and back down to the hut before dusk.
As soon as we stepped back into the hut, Sami pulled out her mini fire-making kit and we got the log burner raging, transforming the chilly shelter to this cosy cabin and we set about drying our ski gear for the morning.
One of my favourite things about being in a hut is the lack of connectivity. There’s no temptation to look at a screen and instead we passed the time laughing, playing Monopoly Deal, catching up and sharing a bottle of wine whilst we prepared the fondue! With stomachs full of cheese, we climbed into bed for an earlyish night with fingers crossed that the storm might have passed by morning to leave behind good conditions.
It’s the ultimate loo with a view!
Back over the Col du Corbier for the final climb of the adventure.
It was our adventure to play out exactly the way we wanted it to
When we woke, the storm was still blowing through but as the clouds began to clear, we were gifted with glimpses of just how big the mountains around us were and a chance to finally see the terrain we were planning to ski!
On the way up to Point of Ardens, we passed a little collection of summer alpages buried in snow including a tiny chapel. As we stopped for a snack, we were passed by a couple of keen locals who were also out making the most of the spring snow. We continued to climb for a couple of hours more before finally reaching the top. From here, we could see so many fresh lines to be had. Super excited, we switched our skis to downhill mode and took it in turns to enjoy the powder, one-by-one!
Tired from the long day, we gathered at the bottom, but the adventure wasn’t over. We still had to ride home. We pedalled back over the pass in the other direction – this time with hand warmers we bought in Abondance. The descent on the other side goes almost to my front door so we knew that even if we did get really cold, we’d soon be in through the door with our hands wrapped around something hot to drink.
Sami takes a moment’s rest as they skin up the mountain.
Riding the same home roads in winter conditions is akin to discovering them for the first time all over again.
After a long day by bike and ski, Gaby and Annabel refuel by candlelight.
When we imagine adventure, we often think of something far from home, but in my experience there is something so uniquely special about discovering a new place right around the corner. Exploring locally made it easier to plan something with friends and without the extra complication of something bigger and further away. We didn’t have to factor in time away from work, childcare, or the extra money for travel costs.
My favourite part of the whole adventure was that we were on our own schedule. We could take our time to pack the bikes, riding, stopping for coffees, to laugh and tell stories. There was no real rush because there was nowhere we really had to be by any fixed time. It was our adventure to play out exactly the way we wanted it to.
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