The Ecrins & Queyras with Rob Benton

Fjordalp ambassador Rob Benton tells us about his home mountains; the Ecrins, Massif des Cerces and Queyras in the French Alps.

Name - Rob Benton

Born - UK

Occupation - Rock climbing coach and instructor, trekking leader and ww kayak guide. In the winter, writer of ski touring guides (just an excuse to go skiing lots).

How would you describe your skiing - Enthusiastic. I got in to skiing later in life, so technically it’s probably not 100% but I have fun and that’s what it’s about. There aren’t any score cards in the backcountry, it’s all measured by the size of your smile.

Where are you based/do most of your skiing - I now live in the Vallouise valley in the Southern French alps. It can be a bit hard to pin point it from a skiing point of view as it’s on the junction of three mountain ranges, so is known under a few different names. It covers the eastern edge of the Écrins national park from La Grave down to Embrun, the Massif des Cerces which is a mountain range north of Briançon also known as the Haute Névache and finally the Queyras regional park to the east.

What do you love about your home mountains? - I love the options I have. Within a one hour drive from my house I can be in the three mountain ranges I mentioned. I love to explore and find new areas, valleys and ski lines. Having this big a playground is perfect for that. I also love that there are lots of high roads over the mountains via cols, some up to 2000m, so it's easy to drive to the snow line at the start and the end of the season. Finally, I love that you can get away from it all. Yes there are ski resorts, but not many big ones, and there are honey pot routes, but if you're prepared to go and explore you can have whole valleys to yourself.

Tell us about the natural environment; relief, climate, flora, fauna - The three mountain areas all have a slightly different feel and a big bonus is that they get slightly different weather so you can mix it up. The areas overall get good snow cover most winters and are comparable with most alpine areas. Briancon is famous for its 300 days of sunshine a year. But this doesn’t mean a lack of snow, just that it’s more settled weather in-between the snow, perfect for getting out.

The Massif des Cerces has peaks up to 3200m. It isn’t glaciated, has a lot of day tours and a good network of huts for those looking to stay up high. It has a mix of terrain, something for everyone and lot of skiing under big rock towers and faces that have amazing climbing in summer.

The Écrins has a mix, it has the mountains on the edge of the national park that are similar to the Massif des Cerces in height and terrain. But in the park things get a bit more alpine with 4000m peaks and glaciers. These tend to be accessed more in spring when the roads open up to the higher parking.

The Queyras is more mellow, you can still find the steep stuff if you want, but mainly is chilled. With peaks up to 3800m it isn’t glaciated and has some great huts and refuges. The Queyras is one of those places that is normally effect by the retour d'est phenomenon. This is a weather pattern that brings snow across from Italy and when it arrives it tends to be amazing and can sometimes bring around a metre of snow in one go. When it comes you find all the locals skiing the trees around Abriés.

What would your ideal day in the mountains look like? - This is tough. I love it all, apart from breakable crust (does anyone like that?). If I had to choose - couloir skiing. I love them (sometimes in a type 2 fun kind of way). Maybe as my other sport and profession is rock climbing I am just drawn to rocks? But I enjoy the booting up with crampons and axes, the technical side and the focus and slight nerves when you're skiing it, it’s very rare that I don’t get to the bottom of them with a big grin on my face.

Any recommendations for visiting skiers and snowboarders looking for a good ski tour or resort powder? - Funny you should ask that, I have made a free mini ski touring guide with Fatmap and fall-line ski magazine to the area.

I also have a website with routes on as well - ecrinscollective.com, along have Facebook group for Écrins Collective that people can ask questions and post their own skiing and summer adventures.

Favourite Fjordalp product - It’s the Ski Crampon Bag. I very rarely put ski crampons in it. More often it has my Petzl touring crampons that are joined by cord. They fold up and fit nicely in it, way better than the bag that came with them. I am thinking of getting another as it's also a great size for a repair kit and first aid kit.