Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Its been a busy start to the season here at Offpisteskiing - off piste coaching in Chamonix and Val D'Isere last week with some fantastic early season snow conditions, but also high avalanche risk needing careful and considered management - more on this later.

I am currently enjoying a few days downtime before work kicks off again after Christmas - though sadly rain to a high level put paid to a lot of powdery plans for today...

Here are a couple of videos from Bjarne Sahlen of Endlessflow featuring Andreas Fransson - I had the pleisure of introducing these guys along with Mike Douglas at the Kendal Mountain Festival Snowsports Session this November when they were presenting the film 'Tempting Fear'. These 2 videos are from Andreas and Bjarne's adventures this summer in Patagonia, and feature one of the most exposed steep lines I have ever seen - respect!

Reaching My Limit Episode 1 from Bjarne Salén on Vimeo.

Reaching My Limit Eisode 2 from Bjarne Salén on Vimeo.

But back to avalanches - there have been an awful lot of incidents this winter so far - despite the snowpack being quite clearly unstable on many aspects skiers have been venturing onto steep slopes regardless. It is always easy to look back with hindsight and say "Yes, of course you wouldn't have caught me going in there today" but it does seem like a lot of 'red flag' warning signs are being ignored. There has been a lot of research done on 'Heuristic Traps' - the social factors which can influence our decision making and make us ignore obvious warning signs - I am a firm believer that this plays a huge part in the creation of avalanche incidents and will try to summarise the main points in the next week or so... stay tuned.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More snow!

To say there is a fair bit of snow here would be an understatement. Meteofrance are now talking about record early season snow depths for low altitude. Here in Bozel are 'back garden snow-o-meter is almost up to last winter's end of January record already - all in the space of one week!

Dec 2nd:

Dec 5th

Dec 6th

Dec 8th

And for comparison last year's record at Jan 21:

Anyway, enough shovelling, time to go skiing!

Sunday, 2 December 2012


I have been back in Bozel for the weekend after 6 days work in Zermatt running a BASI Mountain Safety course - we had lots of new snow through the week, not great for navigating & getting out skinning but great for illustrating avalanche dangers with lots of small slabs, some skier triggered, in the last 2 days.

There was approx 50/60cm of fresh snow through the middle of the week & it seems it was much the same in the Vanoise, with plenty of folks out touring including a fine early season descent of the SW face of the Pointe Matthews - a tasty 5.2 descent more often skied in spring conditions!

There is about 10cm of snow on the ground here in Bozel at 840m, and with a fair bit of snow forecast for this week it looks like a great start to the season.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Busy times!

Well, I have just landed in Zermatt for 6 days work running a BASI Mountain Safety course. Forecast is clear for tomorrow, then snow, snow, snow and more snow - looks like winter is well on the way.

November has been busy here at 'offpisteskiing towers' - early in the month I was in Zermatt for the BASI Trainers conference - 5 days of interesting workshops making sure our courses and standards are properly aligned for the coming winter, and a great talk from Sir Steve Redgrave - new BASI President, and no mean skier.

2 quick days at home, then a very useful Outdoor First Aid course with React First in Chamonix- highly recommended, lots of activity and good reinforcement of accident protocols. Early the next day i was airport bound for my annual stint as a main presenter at the Kendal Mountain Festival. - 4 days of films, speakers, socialising, and the odd pint of Mountain Rescue Team ale. Highlights for me this year included the film Light Line, Jim Blyths great 1 hour whirlwind tour of ski touring on 7 continents, 2 great short films - one about hound-trailing and the other about Rab Carringtons time in Argentina and the beginnings of his down business.

But of course the main highlight was the Snowsports Session which this year I was MCing - guest speakers Andreas Fransson, Bjarne Sahlen and Mike Douglas were on hand to present their film Tempting Fear, but the surprise crowd pleaser was Kenny Biggin and John Sutherlands Hidden Gully, with reality and a human touch far outweighing any lack of slick production - link to follow as soon as the full version is online.

Meanwhile, out in the Alps the steep season is underway, with an impressive ascent and descent of the Mallory on the Midi (sans cable car) from Luca Rolli & the Italian crew - 2700m of D+ !, and a day or two after, the first descent of the Migot Spur on the Chardonnet by Kilian Jornet and Vivian Bruchez - an impressive and serious descent...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dynafit TLT5 review

Its getting to that time of year when people start thinking about new kit for the winter. I have been promising a review of the TLT5 boot from Dynafit for some time and here it is (finally).

*Note* This review is simply my first thoughts & impressions based on approximately 20 days skiing/touring in the boots last winter. The boots were skied with Dynafit bindings on a pair of Dynastar Mythic Light skis (184). For those who don't know my skiing style then a quick look through the archives of this blog should give you an idea...

First off - these boots are light, light, light!  When I first put one on it felt the same as having a running shoe on my foot - though in reality the boots do weight in round about the 1Kg mark per foot. For anyone coming from an alpine boot or beefy touring boot background this is a major change - even compared to the Scarpa Maestrales which I dallied with for a few outings (see here) these boots are in a different league.

Dynafit TLT5 P

Comfort - the TLT5s are built on a narrower last than the Titan (my regular winter boot) and for my forefoot they needed a bit of gentle widening (thanks to Jules & Damien at the Boot Room) - this can be done but care needs to be taken as you can stretch too far and create a gap between the forefoot bellows and the rest of the clog.
The inners are very thin compared to my regular thermo liners (Palau) but were surprisingly warm considering. After the stretching above the boots have been very comfortable

The TLT5s only have 2 buckles - one over the forefoot and one around the cuff (+ a velcro strap at the top) - the cuff buckle also doubles as the ski-mode locking mechanism; the tongue is also removable for those who want a bit more flex or movement (not something I bothered with on the way up or down).
It is worth noting that the TLT5s are designed to work with 'low-tech' bindings ie Dynafit or Plum etc. I have heard of people using them with Fritschi etc, but the reduced rand on the toe of the boot is not designed to work with a normal step-in binding - on your own head be it...

The second thing you notice with these boots is the range of movement in walk mode (or walk/run mode as Dynafit call it!) - pop the cuff buckle open and you have masses of ankle movement - an amazing experience for anyone used to skinning with a heavy 'freeride' boot. Combined with the light weight these boots almost make going uphill a pleisure (almost)!

How do they ski?
Pretty damn well considering there is so little to them - the 2 buckles give reasonable foot hold in the boot and the carbon shell is super-responsive giving good support and lateral control. In most snow conditions skied these boots were just fine though in heavier snow I personally would have liked a 3rd buckle over the instep to help hold the heel in the 'pocket' - if you are being thrown about fore & aft it is noticeable that the foot isn't always pinned down into the back of the boot...
The forefoot flex (due to the bellows) is also noticeable on firmer snow - giving a strange feeling sometimes - almost a bounce, or sag as you load up the ski - for this winter I will be riveting this out (see Wildsnow for details) as it is superfluous to me (I don't intend to run in these boots...).

Other points of note are the fact that when the boot is in walk mode the cuff is wide open which isn't ideal if you are booting up a steep slope or climbing. The buckle is also quite bulky in walk mode:

This is definitely a downside for mixed climbing (or even bootpacking a firm set of boot holes) but can be easily solved by adding a small flap of plastic to cover the locking hole on the back of the shell - this means you can clip the boot almost-shut without locking it, maintaining ankle movement but with a low profile clip and without the risk of falling out of your boots!

In summary:

Pluses:  Super light weight, great walk/skin mode, responsive to ski

Minuses: Bulky walk mode, metatarsal flex, lack of an instep buckle

Overall I have been very happy with these boots and can't wait to give them more of a work out this winter.

It is worth noting that in Dynafits 2013 range the Vulcan and several other models potentially fill the gap between these and the Titan (even the Ultralight) and fix some of the minuses above (3rd strap, no metaT flex) and could well be THE boot (though at ~500g per foot more).

Worried about if you can rip on these boots? Check out this video from Gilles Sierro...

Monday, 1 October 2012

Fransson, Sahlen & Douglas at KMF

Autumn must be here as we are gearing up now for another Kendal Mountain Festival...
As in recent years I will be back on the 'front of house' team introducing films & speakers, but also sneaking off for 2 hours on Sunday morning to check out the Snowsports Session. This year's line-up is probably the best yet, with hardcore gnarl-meister Andreas Fransson and Bjarne Sahlen fresh from their recent Patagonia trip and the one and only 'Godfather of Freeskiing', Mike Douglas. The session will also feature the European Premiere of Andreas & Bjarne's film 'Tempting Fear':

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

8000m ski gear

Ever wondered what to pack for your next 8000m ski expedition? Glen, Remy & Greg give the lowdown:

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Touring boots - review of Dynafit Titan

A review of my current touring kit has been promised for some time so here is part 1 (finally!):

I have been skiing on Dynafit's Titan boot for nearly 3 seasons now and have used them for everything from cruising off the lifts through single & multi-day ski touring to reasonably full-on ski mountaineering involving 'proper' climbing (Swiss route on North face of Les Courtes and the like).
While not being the lightest boot (nearly 2Kg per foot) what you lose in extra weight to carry you certainly gain in skiing performance - the performance is not far off that of a '120 flex' alpine boot (although there can be big differences between these!).

The Titan is a 4 buckle design with an overlap shell - great for performance, not so great for getting your feet in after a cold night's bivvy... The boot has 2 cuff angles in downhill mode - 15 and 21º for the tech-heads out there and a walk mode. I have been using a 28.0 shell paired with a Palau hard thermo-formed inner boot and this review is based on approximately 250 days use.

Skiing:   As stated above these boots ski really well for a touring boot, I have been driving some pretty beefy skis - Dynafit Mythic Riders (not big but definitely beefy), Volkl Mantras and Volkl Gotamas. With smooth progressive forward flex, and tight lateral response the Titans can handle a big ski comfortably and give good support even in those 'out of shape' moments.

Dave Searle putting his Titans to good use - Cunningham Couloir on the West face of the Aiguille du Midi:

Skinning/Climbing:  OK, you definitely know you have nearly 2 Kg on each foot, but that is part of the performance/weight trade off and easily mitigated by simply getting fitter... The walk mode is OK, but doesn't give a great rearward angle (compared to a dedicated touring boot) so stride length is slightly restricted (though of course this only really matters on gentler skins - I don't know anyone who takes really long strides forward skinning on middle or top risers...). Climbing-wise these boots are fine on ice up to about grade 3, and OK for easy rock scrambling/climbing but for anything more technical they are definitely heavy and unwieldy

Boot soles have held up fine:

(the soles are interchangeable with DIN-compatible 'flat' soles, though I have never bothered with this).

Some minor negatives: as of this winter the cuff has started to 'buckle' on the outside in the region of the top 2 buckles - not a huge problem but definitely noticeable if you really try to crank the boots up tight.
From new I had to grind down the front edge of the cuff where it meets the moulded stop on the clog - this was preventing the boot from going into the 21º lean mode without some pretty fierce shell manipulation.
The ski/walk mode lock also seems to be wearing out on one boot at least - I have had found myself back in walk mode on one side for no apparent reason

In summary a great boot for skiing hard on big & beefy touring set-ups. It may well be superseded by the next generation of boots (Vulcan etc) offering similar skiing performance with a big weight saving - only time will tell!

Review of Dynafit TLT5 P boot to follow shortly...

*Note  -  I am not sponsored by any brand in particular so this review has no commercial bias - all I am looking for is kit that does what I want it to do... *

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Lofoten appears to be the new 'in' place to go - first the skimountain crew came back with some mouth-watering photos in March, and now this:

2013 anyone?

Monday, 14 May 2012

A frustrating spring

So we are already mid-May and the steep skiing tally (or general touring come to that) so far stands at 2 days :-(
Lots of work, plus poor weather on my weeks off late April/early May have left me frustrated so far. To add to that, last week I was running an IRATA rope access training course in Switzerland and missed a great window with the Mallory, Barbey, Tour Ronde North face, Col des Courtes and more all seeing descents in good conditions. A weird week though, with Will witnessing a fatal accident on the Tour Ronde, and reports coming in of another nasty on the west face of the Peclet in the Vanoise, hence psyche a bit low among the usual team...
That said, it was good to catch up with Fred, Yann & co at Altimum in Palezieux last week - Yann & I managed to cope with a trilingual training group, with trainees from France, Switzerland, Chile, Sweden and Thailand!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Pointe du Bouchet N face

The weird weather continues, yesterday the sun came out (while I was driving to Geneva & back...) and everything up high appears to have sluffed off, leaving questionable snow quality. At a loss for something bigger to do locally today I drove up to Val Thorens with the idea of doing some laps in the St Peres couloirs. Sadly on closer inspection from the lifts these looked less than appealing, so a fall-back option was called for. I have skied underneath the Pointe du Bouchet many times but never actually been to the top. The snow on this north face looked to be reasonably soft so Plan B was launched... La face du jour (apologies for poor quality pics - forgot my camera...):
Birds eye view of the top chairlift in Orelle:
Nice powder!
Lower face, great sluffy powder:
Below the face a hard right traverse yielded great spring snow all the way down to Plan Bouchet - result! Looking to maximise the day I then jumped on the chair for a quick lap but Plan C emerged on the way up - a slope I have looked at lots of times in the past but never got around to skiing. A quick half hours boot-pack got me up onto the high point of the Rochers Renod ridge where after a bit of rock-hoppery a fantastic descent on perfect spring snow followed. Not a steep descent, but nice to finally ski a line I have looked at for a long time! Summit, with Maurienne valley behind:
Pointe Renod:
Great spring snow:
The weaqthe rlooks set to change tomorrow again, then next week I am working in Switzerland for 5 days - here's hoping the second half of May is more productive on the Steeps front...

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Weather woes

Just back from Hintertux & my last bit of ski work for the winter - congratulations to everyone on the BASI Level 3 Mountain Safety course I was running - 6 passes out of 6, happy days!

Sadly the heavy snowfalls of the last 3 weeks have been followed by seriously strong Foehn winds (looks like our TV aerial is down...) so only time will tell whether anything is left in the high mountains for this spring.

Meanwhile, here is some great footage from Didier Lafond to help while away the bad weather:

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Cunningham Couloir & Glacier Rond

With a break in the weather finally due for today the alarm was set for 'early'o'clock' for the drive over to Chamonix. I met Ross & Dave at the Midi in time for first bin, with a lot of the usual suspects also out & about...

First up for the day was the Cunningham or Passerelle couloir which starts, as the name suggests, directly from the bridge linking the 2 halves of the Midi top station with a couple of long abseils to hit skiable snow.

Nice backdrop while waiting for Ross to ab down...

Dave high in the couloir - was the snow good? Oh yes..

Oooooh yes...

Ross gets stuck in:

There is a bit of angle in here!

A good few turns left before we join the crowds on the Glacier Rond:

Cunningham couloir viewed from the top of the Rond exit couloir:

The Rond exit couloir was in great condition despite a fair number of previous passages - more good powder turns on the way down:

We got back around to the mid station at 1130 and headed back up for more - with a cloud layer moving up the mountain slightly we opted to play it safe with a lap of the Glacier Rond - the entry to this is getting quite scraped off now - best have sharp edges if you are heading in there in the next day or two!

Friday, 13 April 2012

April Powder part 2

Another day another set of powder turns.

Despite a gloomy start in Meribel yesterday morning I was hopeful there would be a 'window' of opportunity mid-morning before the next set of precipitation came in and so it turned out. As we worked our way up high the skies brightened and we were treated to a good 3 hour spell of blue skies, linking up some great powder descents around the top of the Mottaret valley.




Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

Shaping up into a good spring?

Well, despite last weeks warm, muggy weather the mercury dropped over the weekend, and while it was raining down here in Bozel it was quite clearly snowing above 1500m...

Today was my first day back up in the 3 Valleys for 2 weeks, and after meeting up with Phil, Annette & Lorna who are staying in Reberty we found great powder on a good base up high above Mottaret:

As a rough guide the snow was definitely starting to get heavy below about 2200m in Mottaret, and about 2600m in Val Thorens. Pistes were in great shape even at the close of play. High and North is the current top tip!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

End of season sale!

I have a few items for sale - can post to UK or France (included in price) for other countries please contact me...:

Salomon AK Rocket skis + S914 Pilot bindings (DIN up to 14).
195cm, radius 'BIG'
Great freeride skis - the faster you go the better they are!
Good condition, occasional use, some scratches on base but no core shots, repairs or edge dings.


Halti ski jacket size XL.

Worn 10 days, discreet BASI logo on right breast.

Detachable hood. Powder skirt. Medium weight insulation.

Halti ski pants size XL.
New, still tagged.
Braces included (detachable).


Fritschi binding leashes.
Brand new.

Contact me at: simon offpisteskiing com for more info or photos.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Steep Vanoise 2012

This week I was skiing with a small group from the Eagle Ski Club who had arranged a private 'Steep Vanoise' week basedin Bourg St Maurice. With no new snow for a week but perfect weather forecast conditions were just right for some exploration.

On Monday we were up in Les Arcs:

The team on the Aiguille Grive:

Aiguille Grive North couloir:


Secret powder stash:

The views aren't bad!

On Tuesday we headed up to Tignes for some steep spring snow on the South side of the Grande Motte.

Perfect corn in Couloir 3500:

Day 3 was St Foy day, with a skin out to Couloir Doudou. We found good chalky snow in the couloir, followed by great spring snow all the way down to the Archeboc refuge. (Camera left at home so no pics!).

Day 4, La Plagne - still some powder to be found in Les Rodzins & more spring snow in the afternoon in the Friolin N couloir:

Incidentally, the main exit to the Bellecote North face is better filled in than I have ever seen it - the stream bed is completely banked out!

Last day - more great spring snow in Les Arcs with a run down Couloir Genepi, followed by a traverse of the Col de la Luge with 600m of fantastic snow down to the Mt Pourri refuge:

Thanks to Rob, Dan, Steve and Phil for a great week (and thanks to the weather & snow for playing ball!).