Today saw Duncan Boar another IML living here in the Chamonix region and myself head up to the end of the Contamine valley and Notre Dame du Gorge and then snowshoe up to the refuge La Balme. The path to start was extremely icy and the snow quite wet but conditions improved a bit as we made our way up the gorge past Nant Borant and into more open ground. We saw a few ski tourers but nobody else. As we neared the refuge (which is closed in winter) we saw four old avalanche slides on the south-west face of a side valley the second was quite wide. After a spot of lunch we headed back down stopping along the way to dig a pit in the shallow snow pack to examine the layers. A thin ice crust on the top, followed by soft wet snow with another very fine icy layer running through half way down followed by more wet soft snow all of which was sitting on a very sugary base. Not a danger where we were but definitely on steep slopes it would prove a real hazard. Back to Contamine and then Sallanches found us dropping below the snow level into dismal rain. But a great day out with another IMl chatting about mountain stuff.