Thursday, 17 August 2017

Whitedot R.98 review

Last winter those very nice folks at Whitedot Skis sent a pair of shiny R.98 skis in my direction and having spent the best part of the winter on them here (finally) is a review.

First a bit of tester information:

Height: 190cm (6'2"), weight: 83Kg.
Skiing style: reasonably aggressive, 20+ years as a professional ski coach & ski mountaineer.
Testing conditions: the skis were skied in pretty much every snow condition imaginable, from deep cold powder to wet post-rain 'heavy', spring snow, hard-pack (and even the occasional bit of piste...).

Dimensions/stats: length: 185cm, width: 128 - 98 - 109, nominal radius: 27m, weight: 1990g per ski.
Shape/camber/rocker: minimal camber, gentle tip rocker.
Mounting: the skis were mounted with Marker Kingpins on the manufacturer recommended boot centre.

Skiing to the sea in Lofoten

I was very much looking forward to getting onto the R.98s as the Ranger Carbonlite (precursor to the R.98s big brother the R.108) has for several years been my 'go-to' touring ski, but is definitely a little on the wide side for some conditions.
On an aesthetic side the R.98s have the classic 'Whitedot' look - instantly recognisable with the squared tip, 'dotty' top sheet and the aluminium tail piece. Mounted with Marker Kingpin bindings the single ski + binding combination came out at 2.5Kg, a perfectly acceptable weight for all but the biggest of days ski mountaineering.

Taking the R.98s for a quick blast down the 'Svolvaer Mallory" (Bl├ątindrenna) on Lofoten

Uphill the ski has great torsional rigidity and edge hold even on steep firm skin tracks and (combined with a well-cut skin) felt very secure. The gentle sidecut profile definitely has a part to play in this as it ensures edge contact along the full length of the ski, even while skinning concave gullies. The tail profile (concave) is great for providing a really secure attachment point for tail clips (although many people do without these I am a big fan). One point to be aware of is the squared off profile of the tip - most skin attachments will work with this (I mostly use Black Diamond Glidelite Mix or Ultralight skins and the tip loops are fine) but worth checking before cutting skins...

Downhill the ski was everything I had hoped for: the combination of a 98mm waist and a gentle sidecut profile/long turn radius is the perfect combination providing a stable ski that will float well in all but the very deepest/heaviest of snows, yet still have loads of grip and great edge hold when you want to go fast or when things are getting steep and firm. The long radius also stops the tip from being hooky or feeling 'twitchy', an all too common problem with todays carvy skis, and the skis are very easy to skid through the end of a turn - a crucial point to be able to ski steep tight lines with ease and control. Flex along the length is progressive, finding a good balance between damping out the lumps and bumps and pushing back when loaded up for a responsive feel when going for performance.

Heading to a secret line in the Wild West of Lofoten

In summary: as near to the perfect all-rounder for off-piste, touring and ski-mountaineering as you will get. Enough float for deep, soft days, loads of grip for firm snow/high speed/buttock-clenching moments. Enough sidecut to help the turn without making the tip twitchy. If you are really looking to save grams then go for the Carbonlite version and pair with a superlight pin binding, but the 'standard' model has a great feel to it and is worth the extra weight!

The R.98s in their natural environment!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Steep Vanoise 10th anniversary edition - 12-16 March 2018

The blog has been very quiet of late - since returning from Lofoten family and my parallel world of rope access and professional verticality training have swamped my schedule...

Dates are starting to come together for winter 2018 now, and the most important of these is of course the 10th anniversary edition of the legendary Steep Vanoise steep ski coaching and adventure course. This will be running from Monday 12th to Friday 16th March 2018, based once again in Brides-les-Bains - a perfect base for accessing the many options available in the Vanoise area.

I am delighted that once again IFMGA Mountain Guide Dorian Labaeye will be joining me to co-host this course in 2018 - over the last couple of years Dorian has proven to be a firm favourite with the groups and a real asset to the team!

As a reminder here are a few shots from the last couple of years:

The course price will be £560 (coaching only) with accommodation options available on request. Book early as spaces will be limited (target group size is 4).

Monday, 17 April 2017

Lofoten Islands 2017 - week 3

Last week was the third and final 'Lofoten Ski Touring Adventures' week for 2017. Having picked up the team at the airport we were met by a welcoming committee on the drive to our home for the week at Lofoten Ski Lodge:

With a combination of high winds from the previous Friday and it being Easter weekend the challenge on Sunday was to find a spot away from the 'crowds' and where we might find some decent snow. We managed to tick both boxes, with a mix of spring snow and 'blown-in' powder and only met one skier in the whole day... Perfect!

On day 2, with sunny conditions forecast we set course for the West and a 'double'header' starting at one of my secret spots. Unfortunately we met much warmer conditions than the previous day and the couloir was already quite heavily transformed by the time we topped out, so we had to pass on the summit (no 3rd time lucky for me!) and ski the line before it got any heavier:

We even managed to sneak in some bonus cold snow turns on our way out to reset for objective number 2:

With round one complete we headed further West to the magical Stornappstind. Given snow conditions on our first line I was intending to ski the classic West face, but a chill wind met us in the car park, and on the way up the West face was far from softening so a tentative look into the South face revsulted in a great run on good spring snow:

The forecast for the rest of the week was quite mixed and on Tuesday it looked to be a classic Lofoten day of mixed snow flurries and sunnier spells, with a strong wind picking up from the West. Once again it was time to think laterally and we headed to the 'Wild North' into a bowl I had looked at many times from the road but had not had the opportunity to explore. As it turned out it was quite good!

We put in 3 good laps in here on different lines and I left with it very high on my list for a return visit.

Wednesday continued in a similar vein with pulses of weather and very strong winds ripping over the summit ridges. Fortunately I am starting to put together a good selection of bad weather tree skiing options and we even managed to get our timing about right to match the clear spells with a series of great laps for 1600m vertical of good powder snow:

Thursday was a day of wild winds and lots of precipitation with varying temperatures (sometimes white, sometimes translucent...).
Friday was our last day, and with a weather window predicted for the middle of the day, but high avalanche risk and heavy snow low down, we set off putting a skintrack in to heavy snow with expectations set rather low. Once again though the Norse gods and Lofoten's maritime snowpack worked their magic and we snuck in 4 great laps on cold snow before braving the wet stuff low down and retreating for a well earned waffle!

And so another Lofoten spring draws to a close for me... On Friday night the wind was so strong that the lodge was physically shaking and it was hard to walk over to the fisherman's huts! Wild weather does of course mean stunning views and I was treated to a 'leaving present' on my early morning drive back to the airport:

A massive thank you to Rich, Dave, Chris and Sandy for a great week, and also to Seth, Maren and all the crew at Lofoten Ski Lodge, as well as the Northern Alpine Guides Team (Sjur, Chris, Mark, Erica, Sami, Tim...) - see you next year...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Lofoten Islands 2017 - week 2

Week 2 of this year's Lofoten trip was with a completely new team. Dave & Iain were at a slideshow I gave on the 2016 Baffin Island trip at the Fort William Mountain Festival and got in touch shortly afterwards. Rob, Lewis and Eliott joined them for the trip. With a mixed forecast for the first couple of days we concentrated on the local classics around Rundfjellet, with some heavy new snow and some transformed spring giving surprisingly good skiing!

Forget ski & sail, ski & row is where it's at these days!

On Tuesday, with a mixed forecast we again stayed in our backyard, with 3 great laps around the Blatind/Tuva area:

"Sun's out, guns out"!

Perfect spring snow!

With overnight snow and a good forecast there was only one pace to go on Wednesday for Lofoten 'first timers' - Geitgaljern.

Obviously a lot of other people had the same idea, but everyone headed straight for the main summit, leaving us with a perfect first lap down 400m vertical of untouched bowl...

Havng braved the Easter crowds on Wednesday it was time to search for some solitude by heading out West to one of Lofoten's great classic couloirs:

Thursday was so good that for our last day, with a clear but windy forecast we set course for the West again for one of my secret lines - a stunning traverse to a beautiful West-facing couloir:

A perfect way to finish the week. Thanks to Dave, Iain, Eliott, Rob and Lewis for willingly going with my madcap schemes and having faith that, despite common belief to the contrary, there is actually snow in the West!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Lofoten Islands 2017 - week 1

Once again it is time for my yearly pilgrimage to the mythical, magical Lofoten Islands.

This week I was with my team of regulars who were on their fifth trip up here (and already next year's trip is pencilled in!), and having had a couple of less snowy springs the reports were looking grat as we flew up. Arriving midday Saturday to blue skies and cool temperatures there was only one thing to do... drop the kit off at the lodge, get chamged and get out on it asap. We were rewarded with a couple of great short laps in the 'Freeride' bowl near Glomtind:
Day 0.5

The next day also promised to be a perfect day, and with a big low pressure system approaching we had to make the most of the conditions. The classic routes on Lofoten are getting busier every year and the main goal today was to ski an objective with no-one else around and some good powder. Time to pull one of my 'secret lines' from the little black book. The team named it 'Unicorn Valley X' so that is the name we shall keep here...

'Unicorn peak' in the background as we skin back out...

On Monday the storm hit. I have seen rainy weather in Lofoten before, but not of the West coast of Scotland torrential downpour at all altitudes variety. This went on for 48 hours (we managed on quick tour on the Monday morning before it got too wet...), and we passed the time checking out surf beaches, drinking coffee and also visiting the incredible war museum in Svolvaer. If you are ever stuck in Svolvaer for a day take the time to go here - it is an absolute treasure trove of interesting exhibits.

On Wednesday we went out to the classic Rundfjellet peak to see how much damage the rain had done, and see if we could find some skiable snow. Amazingly not only was there still plenty of snow even down low, but it was actually really very skiable, with a supportive crust already starting to set up.

The snowpack here never ceases to amaze with its ability to rebound from warm wet weather (as born out by the great skiing we have had every year so far despite wildly different weather set-ups). A nice visit to the summit and good laps on smooth snow in the North bowl and Kudalen followed:

On Thursday it was time to pull another rabbit out of the magic hat, and we headed West to a top secret location. Unfortunately our original couloir objective turned out to be filled with bottomless graupel (never seen anything like it before!). But plan B and Plan C turned out to be more than adequate!

Yesterday was the last day for the first team, and with a great week in the bag so far the pressure was on to find a great day to wrap things up in style. A couloir in the far North of Austvagoy had been high on my list for some time, and with good reports coming in from similar slopes it seemed like a good plan, and so it turned out to be... The weather was classic Lofoten, 30 minutes of sun, 30 minutes of snow, but the skiing was fantastic, with a mellow lap on the east side before skinning back up and dropping in to the North couloir - a stunning way to finish the week!

Friendly ptarmigan:

Lap 1:

Lofoten - if you don;t like the weather just wait 30 minutes...:

A great end to a great week - only one way to top it off - a sauna and dip in the Arctic sea!

Today was meant to be a rest day, but with snow and weather both set fair it was too good to resist bagging a classic Lofoten line that I have looked at for 5 years, but never had the time or conditions to ski!

Having dropped the team at the airport I put on the afterburners and blasted up the 600m to ski the 'Svolvaer Mallory' - possibly one of the most aesthetic lines on the Islands, following a beautiful hanging gully and ramp line. The snow conditions were perfect - warm spring powder on a smooth base - within 1h30 I was back at the car and nowit is 'turn-around' time, getting washing done and preparing for next week...