The Alpine Marmot- It wasn’t until the end of the season sharing a chairlift with some kids going up to the Tranquil ski area in Tignes was when I was asked a question about marmots that I realised how little I knew about them.
Marmots are large squirrels in the genus of Marmota, of which there are 15 species. Marmots mostly live in mountainous areas, such as the Alps and the northern Rockies. The groundhog of North America is a lowland marmot.
Marmots typically live in burrows often within rockpiles, particularly in the case of the yellow-bellied marmot), and hibernate there through the winter. Most marmots are highly social and use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed.
Marmots mainly eat greens and many types of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, roots, and flowers.
The etymology of the term “marmot” is uncertain. It may have arisen from the Gallo-Romance prefix marm-, meaning to mumble or murmur. Another possible origin is post-classical Latin, mus montanus, meaning “mountain mouse”.
Beginning in 2010, Alaska celebrates February 2 as “Marmot Day”, a holiday intended to observe the prevalence of marmots in that state and take the place of Groundhog Day.
During the summer, marmots gain weight in order to prepare for hibernation. They usually hibernate all winter and may lose as much as half their body weight by February.
I actually saw you last year in February at the top of the Grand Pre chairlift when I took a short day trip to Val D’Isere to visit my family. You stood out from the rest of the peaks in the area with your beauty and your height. All winter I have been admiring your elegance from a far, from chairlifts and pistes whilst I have been teaching and on fairway pistes where I have been giving ski lessons. Since after February 8th I have seen ski tracks up to your summit wishing that they were mine. I never had the time of or the weather window to climb you!Until yesterday, It was now or next season.
Thanks to Ali and Rab who came with me they made the climb possible. I had calculated the distance of 7.5k = vertical 846m = 7.5 x 15 = 113 mins + 90 mins = 203mins = 3.3 hrs to climb up Sana. It could be nearer four hours if we had to make new tracks so that would be between 1-1.30pm before we would summit, making it late and a race against time as a new front with bad light and snow was beckoning. We traversed off piste from the Borsat chairlift keeping as high as we could into the backcountry with Sana insight. We then put our skins on and started the climb. In no time at all skinning on a flat traverse with a small gradient Sana was getting closer. The most entertaining part was then skiing down in touring mode with skins on our skis for a section of 60m. All style and finess had disappeared where balance and survial turns had to come into play. I did laugh out loud when I saw Rab going over the handle bars and shortly after Ali doing the same thing.
It was great to be away in the back country again. I feel so alive and lucky to be there, with no crowds,no idoits hurtling pass you or going into you. Just the peacefulness and the beauty with the occasional meet of another ski tourer.
After an hour in of the journey we then started to climb this time gaining some vertical height as we were still only the same height of the top of the Borsat chair lift at 2778m. The scenery and vastness was breathtaking. I often stopped to gain my breath and to admire the surroundings. We finally reached the col of La Sana 3047m after 2hrs and 20mins of ski touring. In my head I had always planned to summit in the boys mind the touring up was over.
With the summit still in view we knew we would have time to conquer it, taking on more fluids and after discussion we pushed towards the summit. Digging deep for energy and strength the final push to the summit took 1hr and 5mins ski touring with kick turns to the top. It was the hardest part of the journey. We made it and summited at 1.22pm on schedule and then it was all about the race to ski down before the weather really came in.
Now next winter I can smile and admire your beauty and understanding with a sense of achievement.
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