Back to the roots

Séverine Pont-Combe is one of the world’s top ski mountaineers. Enthusiasts can follow her tracks in Crans-Montana.

Séverine Pont-Combe is one of the leading exponents of a sport that receives little coverage: ski touring, or as it is officially known, ski mountaineering. The name is apt. Enthusiasts use touring skis fitted with “skins” (artificial sealskins) to scale mountains that would otherwise be inaccessible, and enjoy the reward of being the first to leave their tracks on snow where no one may have passed before – or certainly very few. Sounds demanding? It certainly is.

The legendary Patrouille des Glaciers is the toughest of all ski mountaineering races. Devised by the army as a challenge for its soldiers, the contest is now open to all. Teams race in “patrols” of three participants. Séverine Pont-Combe has won in the women’s category twice, setting a course record each time: in 2006 with Catherine Mabillard and Gabrielle Magnenat, and in 2008 with Nathalie Etzensperger and Gabrielle Magnenat. She has also twice achieved podium finishes in the Pierra Menta race in French Savoie, one of the toughest competitions alongside the Patrouille – and won World Championships and many other races, too. We meet her today on her home ground – at the “Rando Parc” in Crans-Montana, where skiers of all ages can be inspired by Séverine’s passion for ski mountaineering. Her goal, together with her husband, Nicolas Combe, has been to make ski touring accessible to all. “We’ve benefited from the support of Crans-Montana Tourism, the lift company and Crans-Montana Exploitation,” says Séverine. “It’s thanks to these collaborations that we have been able to make our dream come true.”

Resting, enjoying the view and catering are also important at Rando Parc. Séverine Pont-Combe and her husband designed it. Valais, Switzerland

Visitors can choose between 15 ski touring itineraries, graded from blue to black. “Every skier ought to try ski touring,” she says. “It’s a return to the roots of winter sports. With skins on your skis, you climb at your own pace, away from the marked runs, all the way up to the mountain summits.” Of course, competing is often tough, but Séverine always excelled – saying to herself: “How lucky I am to be able to explore nature under my own steam!” 

The map of the park, which includes 15 secured tracks. If you are the first one in the morning, you lay the track. Valais, Switzerland

She has a few tips for beginners: “Equipment should be light; it doesn’t have to be professional, but it needs to be suitable.” It’s best to start off renting equipment in order to try it out and find out what you feel most comfortable with. And the key thing, above all, is to “do it gently, be in touch with your body and enjoy the experience.” Ideally, begin with the blue itineraries, suitable for all levels, before tackling tougher ascents. “Otherwise, it might stop being a pleasure.” Children, too, can enjoy ski touring. The Combes have two daughters who have been joining them on ski tours from a very young age. In the village, Séverine and her husband offer a training session for children every Wednesday, which is highly popular.

Séverine on a control tour, Valais, Switzerland

Bruno Huggler, director of Crans-Montana Tourism, has also fallen for ski touring. “Thanks to Séverine, we were among the first resorts to offer a Rando Parc. That really motivated me.” With expert help, Bruno Huggler has trained for the Patrouille des Glaciers – the short version from Arolla to Verbier. “We see that more and more people are interested in ski touring. It’s the ideal sport right now, which allows you to be in nature, avoid the crowds and still have an enjoyable run down the pistes.” The Rando Parc in Crans-Montana has more than 40 km of marked and secured routes. Experienced tourers who wish to follow in the tracks of Séverine can choose “La X’trême”, with four ascents totalling 3,000 vertical metres.

Text: Monique Ryser Photographer: David Carlier

Published: March 2021

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