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Testa Bernardo, Italy, April 8, 2008

Our fifth day straight of touring seemed like a day of skiing around Snoqualmie Pass, but we wanted to keep the streak going to, if anything, simulate the experience of doing the Haute Route without the scenery. To kick off the trip, we drove for a few minutes up the hill, past the gondola station, and to the Courmayeur cross-country ski area. No one was around, but they had groomed the track into a nice corduroy, so we set off nordic style in the direction of Testa Bernardo.

No one knows if the mountain actually bears any resemblance to the head of some guy named Bernardo, and after skiing it we certainly don't either, since we hardly saw it. The tour is a short 1,000 meter climb and close to town, so it's used fairly often by Courmayeur locals for a quick workout. We skinned up through some fields and gradually started to gain elevation.

The skinning was messy, with about a eight inches to a foot of fresh, wet snow - often wind-loaded. We worked our way up the hill, sometimes spreading out in sections that might be prone to slide. As we got nearer to the top, the visibility got worse, until we could hardly see a thing and ran out of hill to climb. It got crusty near the top and having my trusty Fritschis with built-in ski crampons, I flipped them over and cruised. Christian and the French guys insisted that "all you have to do is stay balanced" and worked the skins all the way up.

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Slowly setting off from the top, with Christian sometimes poking a pole ahead of him to see if the ground was still there, we rolled around the side of the mountain and found some deeper snow. We got some decent turns in mid-mountain, and some sort of fun real Northwest-style bush whacking near the bottom. When we hit the XC track, Christian informed us that there was a bit of a "skate ski" to get to the bar, so we kicked it in gear.

At the bar, they had a superior selection of cakes and tarts, real coffee, and my favorite Italian soda, chinotto (now called Chino by San Pellegrino). The owners were direct descendents of the Grivel family, famous guides and manufacturers of climbing gear who base their company down the road in Courmayeur. After eating several huge portions of pastry, a couple of cappucinos and some "Chino" we staggered out the door only to have Christian tell us we had to skate several kilometers back to the cars!


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