So you may have seen or know how to trim skins by cutting one side, then move the skin over – guessing the amount of edge to reveal – then cut again. I don’t know about you but I feel this a rather inaccurate method!
What G3 have created is a trimming tool that lifts the skin off the base, spaces the cutting blade just the right depth in from the edge, and trims the skin all in one pass. So with this process there is no need to move the skin and try match up the edges; simply attach the skin centred on the ski and cut both edges – brilliant!
There has been a lot of press about the new S/Lab Shift ski binding from Salomon. After nearly a decade of R&D Salomon has produced a ski binding that can deliver downhill performance with touring capability. A ski binding that gives today’s freeride skiers a chance to “earn their turns” by touring uphill and then charging ‘big lines’ on the descent!
Having never ski toured before I was both excited and apprehensive when Shep, Salomon’s friendly ski tour guide, introduced me to ski touring. First the safety kit, including a transceiver which was very reassuring. And then the 99mm underfoot QST skis with S/Lab Shift bindings, and skins. All I will say is; “if you are into Transformers you’ll love these bindings”. A ‘click here’ and a ‘click there’; and you transform a touring binding into an alpine binding, and visa versa – “simples”.
So with the skins attached and the bindings in touring mode, I managed to locate my boots securely. It takes a bit of practice, but I would have experienced that with any ‘pin binding’ – and you soon get the ‘knack’! We set off, nothing too adventurous at the side of the piste, but enough to understand the technique of going uphill with skis – without the aid of a button or chair lift. Needless to say it was more tiring, but it was also more rewarding – I now understand the term “earn your turns”.
It was now time to, ‘click here’ and ‘click there’, and transform the bindings into alpine mode. This I am familiar with, and they felt as good as the bindings I have had on any of my piste/all-mountain skis!
The whole experience was great, and I managed to impress Shep enough to allow me to join a more adventurous trip the following day.
Again it was cold, windy, and in cloud; which gave my first experience of Sweden a rather ‘monochromatic’ outlook. We skinned up much steeper terrain, with a customary ‘zig-zag’, and once again the bindings performed brilliantly in touring mode. Once again the pleasure of being away-from-the-crowds, that ski touring gives you, was delightful. But as Sir Isaac Newton eloquently said; “what goes up must come down”!
I felt sorry for the trees, as we descended the powder fresh tree line. A twig here, a branch there; we became close friends. Too close sometimes; but the bindings, in alpine mode, released with great aplomb! At the bottom it occurred to me, that while my colleagues made light-work of the tree line, it was I that was fully testing the bindings – as I ‘crashed’ my way down!
The day began with a big bowl of bircher muesli (oats soaked in apple juice) and a peanut butter and banana smoothie. Once all packed and ready to go we skied straight out of the front door to get the car and headed to the Col du Colombiere. With the col closed in winter, the tour begins with a nice a steady climb following what is usually the road. Perfect to get the legs warmed up before the steep top. The temperature at dawn was -14C, which made it bitterly cold on the hands when putting on our skins. Hence it was in our interest to get moving quickly.
The sunrise confirmed the forecast of a crystal clear sky, and highlighted the mountain peaks with a orange glow. Once around the first corner we were pleased to see a group of five, about 15 minutes ahead, sluggishly putting the tracks in for us. Perfect! After starting from the car all still wrapped up with gloves, down jacket and a head band, we were starting to warm up nicely. Knowing what lied ahead, the pace was gentle.
We made it to the top of the col with ease, but we knew from there the real climbing would begin. Without wanting to get damp from sweating, and with the sun coming up over the mountains, we thought this was the perfect time to shed some layers, have a sip of water and get the sunnies on. To be efficient in the mountains, we always try and plan our stops and make the most of each rest break. This saves energy as well as time.
With the other group still in front, we were cruising along in their tracks all the way up to the point our couloir was in view. We cut off right, which gave us a good feel of the fresh snow, and got excited for the decent. After a steady climb of nearly 900 vertical metres we reached the couloir to the peak of Pointe du Midi. At which point two other skiers, coming from a different direction, had skipped in front. We weren’t complaining! Having been here before on an icy day, when we used our crampons to boot pack up to the top, today was a real treat. Soft and stable snowpack with a couple tracks up already meant we were able to stay on our skis and kick turn all the way up.
Quick tea break and a speedy transition from skins to downhill and we were off into La Combe Sauvage (the Wild Valley). The ski down was without a doubt one of the best descents I’ve done so far. Everything came together to make it perfect. No wind, blue sky, a foot of fresh ice cold snow on top of a solid base, combined with a 40 degree couloir. We were in heaven.
And it didn’t stop there! With huge smiles on our faces and after a quick look back up at our tracks we were in to transition number two. Skins back on, down jacket off and we were back to climbing. This time only a 300 metre ascent but taking us to a second peak with clear views of Lake Geneva in one direction and Mont Blanc towering the endless peaks of the Alps in the other. It was time to tuck in to our still warm veggie tagine and admire the views.
Transition number three done and we were in downhill mode. Having read about ice stalagmites in a cave nearby, we headed over to an opening of a cave and lucked out. Inside were beautiful icicles from the floor to the ceiling, bigger than two of me. The ice stalagmites were just as impressive, growing up from the ground as tall as 6 feet. With the day warming up we were keen to get a move on, so after taking a few snaps we were back on our skis and had the rest of the descent to enjoy. Perfect snow, super fun terrain and the sun still shining.
The final push was a long but steady traverse of only 100 metres of vertical but around 3km in distance back to the car. We had two more transitions of skins on and off, by which point we were getting faster and wasting less and less time. Our total ascent was 1320m. We covered around 7km in distance. And our circular journey took us 5hr 45min. For us it was the perfect day!
Two years ago, Tim Davies and I started the standard Haute Route (a high Alpine ski tour linking Chamonix and Zermatt) with Andy Cowan who 2 days in had to pull out due to injury. We managed to get as far as the Valsorey Hut where Tim developed appendicitis and had to be air lifted by helicopter and have an emergency operation; which left me on my own and having to ski back down over the glacier and crevasses by myself, which was quite interesting. The following year we did a few routes around the Imperial Haute Route but always planned to come back and have a go at the Imperial Haute Route proper.
Imperial Haute Route (Grand Lui Variation)
So after saying good-bye to the Oakham Lower School ski trip I met up with Tim and started to sort kit, huts, transport, etc. Our weather forecast for the week ahead was good and so two old men set out on a journey from Chamonix to Zermatt via La Fouly. The Integral Haute Route is two days longer than the standard routes, has more high gain and loss, and does not require you to book a taxi so is more of a pure journey.
We knew that the start was going to be a bit of a ‘bun fight’, as we had to do hand to hand combat with the queues at the Grand Montets Cable-Car Station. This is always a bottleneck and means a slow start wedged in with huge crowds. Luckily, the cable-car was running smoothly and after a couple of hours, we found ourselves deposited at the top station ready to go! Avalanche transceivers checked and harnesses on we set off across the Argentiere Glacier towards the Col du Chardonnet (3323m). We travelled quite quickly deand managed to overtake many guided groups, which meant that when we arrived at the Col there were only a few people, and groups in front of us. As there was a fixed rope already in place and we were a small team, Tim managed to persuade the French to allow us to jump the que, which was a great result. Once down we set off for the Trient Hut, but first had a great view of our route for early the next day whilst having a late lunch. Climbing the Fenetre de Saliena (3261m) had us skiing down the Trient Glacier towards our evening stop. The hut is well positioned with great views and is a mix of old and new even if the guardian is a little less than welcoming.
The standard route goes down to Champex where you get a bus or taxi to Bourg St. Pierre, however, we chose to ski over the Grand Lui to La Fouly which would mean we could ski/walk the whole route making it a little more challenging, purer and two day’s longer. We left the Trient and skied some excellent snow with no one else anywhere to be seen. It was great to be in these high mountains and have the place to ourselves. The Col de Saleina (3419m) was easy enough to get over and then followed some more fantastic snow, which started to change as we neared the valley to heavy slush, which made skiing a little more challenging. Scrabbling through some loose rocks and boulders gave access to the final stretch down to La Fouly and the Auberge des Glaciers. I had been through here a few years previously when doing the Tour De Mont Blanc with family and friends and remembered it as being very relaxing. The hotel was great and we had the dormitory to ourselves so we managed to spread out and sort kit. Being in a valley meant that the meal was exceptional in quality and value for money plus we had showers.
Day 3 was going to be quite a hard day but relatively short and would finish at the Plan de Jeu Hut which Tim assured me would be excellent, which it was. Walking along the road, we arrived at some steep verglas slopes with a huge amount of old avalanche debris that had to be picked though and we eventually passed the Lacs de Fenetre and climbed up to the Fenetre de Ferret were we saw our first people. The ski down to the road and on to the Great St Bernard Monastery was on exceptional snow and left both of us smiling from ear to ear as did the excellent coffee and cakes we devoured at the hospice. The Plan de Jeu is brilliant with smiling, happy/welcoming guardians, who love country & western music, great views and sound advice. Certainly worth a stop next year for a bit of day tour action with my wife. I might even try to get over later in the year for their beer festival! The beer, food and company made for a very memorable evening and again no one else was staying so we had the place to ourselves.
Travelling onwards to the Valsorey Hut (3037m) in wall to wall sunshine with 1600 metres of up and a good amount of downhill action was something I was looking forward to as it would take us to our high point of two years previous and mean we were well on our way. Once again the skiing was exceptional and certainly left us wanting more, however, the climb that followed from the valley floor to the hut was seriously hard in the full glare of the sun.
The start of the day was a little on the messy side as I had a bad case of the squits; which is not good when you are climbing steep iced slopes of around 50 degrees with skis strapped to your back. The wind was quite strong which made everything that little more exciting especially going to the toilet! We had no issues route finding and the snow conditions continued to be great. When we arrived at the Chanrion Hut I found that several people had been hit with the same bug, one having to be air-lifted off and others turning back. It is amazing how something so simple as a stomach upset or a broken binding could put an end to an expedition.
The Chanrion Hut was much nicer, the guardian very welcoming and interested in our well-being which was nice. Following a relatively good night’s sleep, we faced another long day with lots of UP! Climbing the Pigne d’Arrolla (3796m) was cold and windy and seemed to go on forever. However, having recovered from my illness and in good weather we climbed the last few metres to the summit to take the obligatory photos before heading down to the Vignettes Hut, which would be our final hut of the trip. Now that all of the various Haute Routes variants had joined, the route was a mass of people and the hut was not much better although still very welcoming.
With the final day looming we got our heads down and in the morning managed to be the first party out of the hut and to the first Col. The weather was forecast to change with much colder weather on its way. The clouds rolled in to make route finding quite challenging at times but this never detracted from the enjoyment of completing this amazing journey across the high Alps. Our final ski descent from the final Col was hard with man-eating moguls made of solid ice spread around big crevasses on steep slopes. The leg in to Zermatt was slow, as the snow had turned to slush so our skis having little in the way of wax on them tended to stick.
All in all this was a great seven-day tour with great company in amazing surroundings with some challenging descents and route finding. We had the mountains to ourselves until the Pigne d’Arolla where we joined the standard route. I would recommend the Integral Haute Route to anyone that wants a challenge. Our final photo’s where taken outside the Monta Rosa Hotel having skied into Zermatt then walked through the narrow streets towards the train station and our train back over the mountains to Chamonix looking forward to a good shower, meal and a few beers to celebrate.by
With warm temperature and low snowfalls it hasn’t been the powder full winter we dreamt of but that doesn’t mean you can’t get out on the hill and have a great time. As Jeremy Jones said “if you need to have powder on the mountain to have fun then you are in the wrong sport”. So with that in mind we have been embracing the spring conditions and have been taking advantage of the low avalanche risk and pushing further into the backcountry than would usually be possible in January.
Refuges are one of the great traditions of the Alps and provide great opportunities to explore the mountains in winter. Usually allocated with a guardian to host walkers in the summer months and provide them with a warm meal and comfy bed; the winter experience is a bit more DIY. Usually only one room will be open with a log store, fire, gas stove and some blankets to keep the worst of winter away.
This week we planned to visit the Refuge Gramusset it sits at the north east end of the Aravis Chain and is located under the dominating Pont Percee peak. We started our tour below the tree line in the small hamlet of Troncs. The climb up is 1000m of vertical and the first 450m is a steep pitch up through the forest avoiding a large exposed cliff line over the ravine below. The forest trail had limited amounts of snow and we spent a fair bit of time trying to dodge tree roots and fallen branches. Once out of the forest and into the high alpine the conditions began to improve. The final 550m is a testing 40 degree slope all the way to the refuge. One of the most enjoyable aspects of ski touring is the continual puzzle of choosing the safest route up. This particular face had a variety of challenges with the constant steep gradient and multiple exposed cliff bands it was both a demanding and rewarding climb.
Having reached the Refuge just before sunset we had time to start cutting logs and getting the fire going before nightfall. Once the fire is lit and the refuge is heating up you must start to melt snow for water. With three of you this becomes a full-time job due to the small quantities of water that snow holds. Refuges tend not to have electricity and make for long evenings with the sun going down at 5.30 in winter and not showing itself till 7 in the morning. However this simple existence is the most magical part of the experience, how many opportunities in modern life provide you with such a chance to be in the present. Even one night living like this reaffirms the amount of distractions society has built for itself. It may not be everyone’s idea of a break but the simplicity of being in the mountains and providing for yourself is an incredible experience and offers true escapism.
Around 11pm the wind started to really pick up and the metal roof was chattering by this time you are torn between staying under your blankets or getting another log on the fire. You dose in and out of sleep for what seems like an eternity waiting for first light to have a glimpse at the conditions.
Unfortunately we woke to strong winds and the couloirs above the refuge looked ominous. We made the decision to head back down before conditions worsened. The ski down covered some great terrain however the snow wasn’t great with lots of exposed rocks. Sometimes things change in the mountain but you are always inspired by something when you venture into them. You make mental notes of possible lines to ski in the future or wonder what terrain lies over the next peak. It truly is never-ending and that is the greatest aspect of ski touring you are opening up opportunities for discovery all the time.by
I have spent the last eight years wanting to ski the Bec Rouge couloir, and could hardly contain my excitement when we set off at 6am! The
conditions were epic with blue skies as far as you can see, a foot of fresh snow and temperatures set to stay at -10°C all morning.
Halfway through the two hour climb we had the privilege of meeting Marcel Gaidet; who ended up joining us for the remainder of the tour. Marcel’s son Manu was a three times World Freeride Champion. The wealth of knowledge that Marcel has of these mountains was phenomenal and I learnt so much in the remainder of the day.
Marcel is 67 this year and has had a hip replacement; however he still put in the first track near enough all the way to the top – his level of fitness was truly awe inspiring. To put it in to perspective he averages 50,000 vertical metres of climbing a winter compared to my usual of 10,000. To be around Marcel for the day was amazing. He is just out there doing it and enjoying himself; I can only hope that I am still skiing lines like this when I am in my sixties.
“You have waited so long for all the elements to come together there is so much that goes into it.”
After eight years of waiting the couloir couldn’t of had better snow conditions. It is hard to put into words what it feels like on days like this; you have waited so long for all the elements to come together there is so much that goes into it. It is probably the one side
of the sport that I feel as a whole people don’t appreciate. You have to be so patient, nature dictates the small windows of opportunity you have to ski these lines.
So when you get the chance, you are almost over whelmed. It is just incredible that so many variables can fall into place and that is what makes it so special, I just hope I don’t have to wait another eight years to do it gain!by
As February rolls in and the school holidays start it is inevitable that no matter what resort you happen to be in there will be an influx of people. I take this as an opportunity to go ski touring and explore the backcountry – escaping the crowds!
Ski touring is essentially the essence of skiing, to climb and then ski are the very roots of the sport, going down is only one half of the story. The beauty of it is there are no limitations to your journey, you can travel to a new peak, traverse glaciers or ride a dream couloir all accessed by nothing other than your own legs. I have sat on enough chairlifts and heard enough quips about people walking up mountains to understand that initially it may not appeal to everyone however I truly believe that any advanced skier could benefit from experiencing and trying ski touring. In a a life where things are moving so fast and every corner of the globe is getting crowded ski touring offers the alternative. It will test you in every possible way not only is it physically demanding but the preparation into route planning and mountain safety will give you a whole new perspective of the mountains.
“Every step is earned and the value of your achievement is everywhere in your surroundings.”
So as always we meet early, that is the nature of touring, start climbing as soon as you can because you have a long day ahead. The night before I have double checked my bag to make sure all my avalanche safety equipment is packed and ready, the route has been planned and conditions are stable. Our plan will be to reach Montvalazan Peak in the Terantaise Valley and ski the north east face into Italy from France. As we start on the two and a half hour climb the wind is howling straight over the peak into our faces but the skies are clear and we have faith that the wind will be more favourable on the descent. The first stage of the climb is a steady incline along a ridge shadowed by a huge cliff band ahead. When we arrive under the cliff we have to traverse out into the bowl to access the valley leading up to the peak. This is where we can get our first inspection of the snow pack for the climb up. The snow is brutally wind hit with a thin layer covering the icy blue base beneath, in terms of touring this is tricky snow to manoeuvre on and we know we have a challenge ahead. As we zig zag our way up and the gradient becomes steeper it becomes harder to hold an edge and every step requires more effort. In these periods of the climb you are truly testing yourself, it is rare in life to directly pit yourself against something as immovable as a mountain and it is that which also keeps you going. Every step is earned and the value of your achievement is everywhere in your surroundings. No one but your group are there, it is hard, tiring and not for everyone but that is why it is so special.
After an hour we reach the second stage of the ridge from here it a direct climb to the peak. The ridge is exposed especially on the north side but provides phenomenal views of Mont Blanc. Far below us in the valley you can see the huddles of people waiting for chairlifts or pistes looking like roads carved into the mountains. The freedom of being so far away from any infrastructure is truly awe-inspiring and only drives us on. The final part of the climb we have to take our skis off and attach them to our backpacks. It is a steep 50m chute which we have to ladder climb. We are nearing 2900m and have been walking for two hours straight this is the final hurdle.
As we reach the summit, there are hugs and handshakes the feeling is truly euphoric a sense of group achievement that is shared only amongst us because no one else is within a square mile and we are 600 vertical metres above the nearest chairlift. As we enjoy lunch there is no urgency, no rush, no one wants to leave. In this environment there is no race, why would there be, I could descend in any direction and would be skiing untracked powder for 5km. In fact all we all want to do is slow down, try and take it in, capture the feeling as much as possible because we know we can only ever be visitors here despite how amazing it is. Then when lunch is finished and flasks are emptied, you pack your bag put your skis on, take one last look and the other half of the story begins…..