We already know Davide Capozzi, the guy who makes the seeming impossible possible with his Furberg Freeride Split. Recently he made a great session of three challenging first-descents in two days.
As often happens, it all began with a photo. Years ago my friend Diego Fiorito (a highly experienced skier and mountaineer with numerous first descents to his name) showed me a photo of the East Face of Grand Combin de Grafenière (4314m.) and I immediately realised that it wouldn’t be simple. Accessing the face is difficult due to the tormented Glacier du Croissant that guards the flank. The approach is long and so checking the conditions is difficult. This mission seemed like impossible. I decided to scrap the idea of splitboarding this mountain and opted for other goals that were easier to achieve.
the lines at Grand Combin
The photo was there, I showed it to Julien "Pica" Herry and he was clearly interested. We decided to explore the Glacier du Mont Durand area at the foot of the Gr. Combin to work out what to do. During this session, Julien and I realized that the Grand Combin de Grafenière also had two other striking lines: the South East ridge (the Italian route) and the South West Face (skied for the first time, as it happens, on 18 May 2015 by Edmond Joyeusaz). At this point we decided we’d try to splitboard both lines and hope to also to make our other little dream come true, namely to snowboard down the East Face.
This year - however the conditions haven’t been too good in the Mont Blanc massif and as a result my friends and I have often been on the lookout for other things to do. But than splitboarding the East Face of Grand Combin suddenly came back to mind, thanks once again to a photo, taken by another keen skier and friend of mine. Conditions seemed excellent, all that remained was understand how to reach the face.
At 4:30 am on 31 of May Julien and I set off from the By valley, above the village of Ollomont, at 2100m above sea level. In 6 hours we reached the shoulder below the summit of Grand Combin de Grafenière, at 4200m. The conditions are amazing and we rapidly snowboard down the 600m crest. We strap on our crampons again and follow our trail to reach the shoulder for a second time. Fatigue starts to set in but after a short rest we charge the immense SW Face, the spring snow is perfect and in no time at all we drop the Bergschrund. Now we just have to reach Col Sonadon and then descend to the Amianthe winter refuge. We’ve had a long day out in the mountains and our splitboards begin to weigh us down.
The decision for the following day is truing to reach the East Face via the SE ridge, traversing up high and ascending only the final section of the slope. Fortunately we are joined by our friend Denis Trento (a champion ski mountaineer) with whom we’ve shared many beautiful descents this year. Denis reached us that evening at the Amianthe hut.
The night was very short (the second for Julien and myself), the alarm clock rang at midnight and we set off at 01:00 am. At about 5:00 we reach the summit shoulder of Grand Combin de Grafenière once again - we enter the East Face at the crack of dawn on skis and snowboards, on marble-like snow. Now we strap on our crampons climbing up the final section of the East Face. Unfortunately there is not enough snow in the narrowest section and we are forced to make a rappel, as a result we decide that the complete descent from the summit will have to wait for another occasion. So we will descent the East Face from the summit shoulder.
After a waiting period of more than one our, for the snow to firn up we finally step into our splitboards and skis diving into the void. The snow is good and the 600m descent passes quickly, but it was much more challenging than the two runs at the day before. The drop was always present making it much more interesting. Reaching the end of the descent we quickly cross the enormous seracs that dominate Glacier du Croissant and return to Tour de Boussine (3826 m.). From this summit we descend towards Glacier du Durand and finally reach the Amianthe hut again
A special thanks goes to my partner Michèle which lightened the weight of our backpacks on the first day, transporting the rest of the gear and food we needed for the following day.
Grand Combin de Grafenière
- SW Face: 700m, 45°/50° (1st snowboard descent)
- SE Ridge: 600m, 45°/50° (1st snowboard descent)
- East Face: 600m, 50° (1st ski and snowboard descent)
You want more about his passion? Check this out.
Copyright: Furberg Snowboards
Rider / Pics: Davide Capozzi