Sunday, 22 December 2013

Review - Dynafit Mercury boots

Recently I took the plunge and splashed out on some new touring boots - the intention being to get a pair in the 1.5 - 1.7 Kg bracket which increasingly offers boots which will drive a big ski really well while not being too heavy for the uphill/climbing.

Last winter I was mostly skiing Dynafit Titans (big and beefy, but heavy), Head alpine boots (Raptor 120), and also spent some time in Dynafit's TLT5 Performance boot (super light, but a bit narrow for my foot even with some shell-stretching, and in my opinion missing a third buckle for good heel hold - full review here).
Seb at Sole Boot Lab in Chamonix took care of boot selection and fitting and I have now skied a pair of Dynafit Mercurys for a week so can offer some first opinions...

Weight. No matter what the manufacturer's blurb tells you, there is no substitute for getting the scales out - the results are as follows (for one size 28.0 boot):

TLT5 - stock liner + superfeet 'green' footbed: 1.253 Kg

Titan - Palau liner + Superfeet cork footbed: 2.087 Kg

Mercury - stock liner + Sidas footbed: 1.734 Kg

- just slipping outside the 1.7 Kg upper limit I had set, but still feel relatively light on the foot - only a big uphill day will tell though!

The Mercury is a 3 buckle boot - though the 40mm booster strap more than happily doubles for a 4th buckle on the cuff. The buckles remain low profile when closed - should be fine for climbing/boot-packing. In the open position the cuff buckle has a hinge point to enable it to sit closer to the boot shell - one of the downsides of the TLT5 was the buckle which stuck out a long way in 'open' position - check out the photo below to see the difference between the two:

Fit-wise I have a narrow ankle, high arch, and wide forefoot. The Mercury's fit out of the box is not bad for me, though I will need to widen the toe box a little for maximum comfort. For comparison they feel narrower than a Titan, but substantially wider than the TLT5

Conditions in the French Alps are a little scratchy at the moment, and most of my work last week was on piste (for once) so I haven't tried these out with any fat skis yet - last week I was skiing some Fischer Watea 88s and the boots were quite happy to really crank it out on piste. Good support, great heel hold, and a progressive flex pattern. The cuff height is similar to a Titan (see photo below - from left - TLT5, Mercury, Titan):

The boot sole length of 314 mm (for a 28.0) is only 8 mm down on the Titan (as opposed to 307 mm for the TLT5 !), so if you are swapping down from a bigger boot this should fall within the adjustment range of most tech bindings (eg Dynafit Vertical/Radical or Plum)

Downsides? During thermo-forming one of the liners developed a crease just above the heel on the instep - manageable this week as my heel has been locked down in ski mode, but could be an issue on the uphill and I will be heading back to the shop for a re-form or new inner. Apparently this has been a regular problem with the stock Dynafit liners!
Just like the TLTs, the lock mechanism for ski mode is integrated into the cuff buckle so a cover of some sort will have to be DIY-ed to enable light closure of the cuff without locking the boot for more technical climbing

So far I am really happy with these boots and can't wait to get out on some bigger skis and see how they perform...

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Creativity and lateral thinking

Not skiing, but these three videos are great inspiration for lateral thinking and creativity:

The unfortunate footnote to this is that Martyn Ashton injured himself during a demo show just before finishing the shooting of RBP2 and is now paraplegic... thoughts are with him for his new challenges and adventures.
For the full story have a look here:

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Conditions update 12 Dec 2013

A quick update on conditions as of 12 Dec 2013:

In a word: thin.

With no snowfall for a good while now, and nothing forecast, not to mention mild temperatures, it is fair to say that conditions are currently a little thin. I had a slide around up in Courchevel today, and while the pistes were firm and grippy (and good fun on GS skis) this will soon become very hard packed once more people start arriving... Off piste didn't look particularly appealing, certainly if you want to keep your skis or body in good condition. Still, its very early days yet and at least there is some base down compared to the disastrous season starts of the late 00's.
The scenery is OK too:

For anyone heading out to the 3 Valleys currently only the 1850 sector is open, along with links over to Meribel, though some further lifts may open this coming weekend depending on the state of the pistes.

Big news in the Courchevel diary is the Ski Alpinism (sorry, I can't bring myself to use the 'SkiMo' term - far too trendy and reminds me of dodgy moustaches grown for charity) World Cup being held in Courchevel on the 25/26 January 2014 - hopefully I can free up some time to go and cheer on any UK lycra louts who may be partaking of the suffering...

Monday, 2 December 2013

Touring skis 2014 - the quiver

Its that time of year again - the first big autumn snowfalls have hit the Alps, I have already had my first week of ski work, and now its time to dust off the rest of the kit which has been sitting unused all summer. So, I hear you ask, what will I be skiing on this winter?

My main weapons of choice from last winter, the 191 Volkl Gotamas will be back in action again for lift-served offpiste and shorter tours. With double-rocker and a solid 107mm underfoot these skis have really won a place in my heart. Fantastic float in soft snow, they are equally good in chopped up or cruddy snow, and have surprised me no end on hard snow they are not a GS ski, and will never carve or feel like one, but when you tip them over enough, the curve created by the rocker shape gives a great high-speed ride! Currently mounted with Marker Barons, this is not a set-up for big days (though I have done 1000m + on them...), so for days when weight is a little more critical, the go-to ski will be the Volkl Mantra, paired with Dynafit Radical FT bindings. Another legendarily (is that a word?) beefy ski, the Mantra offers a good compromise between float and ease of edging on hardpack, along with a hint of tip rocker to make smearing a short turn easier in those tight spots.

This winter I will also be sporting a pair of Ranger Carbonlites, courtesy of those very nice folks at Whitedot Skis - roughly the same dimensions as the Gotama but with just the tiniest hint of traditional camber... Stay tuned for a review as soon as I can get them mounted and make some turns - it should be interesting to compare and contrast with the Gotamas.

Just waiting for me to decide which bindings will be gracing them: Dynafit or Plum...?

...and finally for the really big days there is still no seeing past the Dynastar Mythic Light - with Dynafit bindings this is the perfect lightweight set-up for me (I don't hang with the balsawood & carbon toothpick brigade much...). Combined with my modified TLT5 boots this feels like having feathers on my feet on the way uphill, and skis pretty damn well on the way down (though I still reckon a 3rd strap/buckle on the TLT5s would be the way to go...).

Monday, 25 November 2013

Nevis Range and Ben Nevis guidebook review

Scottish Backcountry guide: Nevis Range and Ben Nevis

The current big buzz in Scottish backcountry skiing is the brand new guidebook to the Nevis Range and Ben Nevis area published by SkiMountain and written by Lochaber local Kenny Biggin. The guidebook describes nearly 100 descents around Nevis Range, Ben Nevis and the nearby peaks, with difficulty ranging from gentle off piste routes to extremely serious challenges including some un-repeated descents.

Having been given a sneak preview via an electronic copy I caught up with Kenny last weekend at the Kendal Mountain Festival and now have a shiny copy hot off the press and I am happy to say it looks great in the flesh!

Each route has a full text description along with diagrams, clear topo-photos and a useful information panel: a straightforward 5-level scale of difficulty should help skiers pick suitable objectives and the book introduces a handy "harder than” and “similar to" feature for each route, a great idea for judging relative difficulty of the lines. Alongside this, the "combine with" information should help readers maximise their days out, offering some good 'enchainements' when conditions are right.

The guidebook also contains short sections on avalanche safety, backcountry equipment, and an interesting history of skiing in the area, including some classic archive photos of French Mountain Guide Jean-Franck Charlet skiing on Ben Nevis in the '80s.

For those familiar with the area the book may open up a few new ideas, for those less familiar this will be useful way of getting off the beaten tracks of the classic off piste descents and while hardened locals may see more tracks appearing in their favourite secret spots this guide can only be seen as a good thing, coming as it does on the back of a renewed wave of enthusiasm for backcountry skiing in the UK

Now for the downsides:
The only fault I can pick is the lack of OS-style maps showing the overall locations of the routes described (though I can understand this could be prohibitively expensive). In fairness though, grid references are provided for many routes’ entry points and exits so a bit of time spent sitting with the appropriate map should keep people heading in the right direction...

An absolute must for the keen Scottish backcountry skier or boarder, you can order a copy directly from Kenny at

Monday, 11 November 2013

Slideshow 2012/13

...and finally... now that winter 2013/14 has kicked off... here is a selection of pictures from courses and days out with friends last winter: Winter 2012/13 Slideshow from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Nevis Range and Ben Nevis guidebook

Big news for any Scottish skiers (and all those who haven't sampled the delights) is the imminent arrival of a backcountry skiing guidebook for the Ben Nevis/Nevis Range area from our good friend Kenny Biggin at

Kenny was born and bred skiing these mountains and knows the place like the back of his hand. A fuller review will be forthcoming once we get our hands on a copy, but really we suggest you just head over to the skimountain website and pre-order your copy now and support all the work Kenny has put in to this guide.

For a flavour of Scottish gully skiing Kenny's Hidden Gully film is well worth a watch too!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Last week at the BASI Trainers Conference in Aviemore we were treated to an inspiring talk from local man Dave Smith - this turned out to be one of the most inspiring talks I have witnessed, and the video below summarises alot of it.

What the video doesn't show is Dave winning Gold at the 2011 World Rowing Championships followed by Olympic Gold in the rowing lake in London 2012 just under 2 years after this surgery.

Properly inspiring stuff.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Autumn teasers

The first snows of the winter are starting to fall up high in the Alps!

Here at offpisteskiing HQ life has been a little hectic, with the arrival of offpisteskiing Jr Number 2 putting a few things on hold, including blog items...

Meanwhile, some nice short films and teasers are doing the rounds:

Wrangelled - A Ski-mountaineering Flick from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Sweetgrass Productions' VALHALLA - Trailer 2 from Sweetgrass Productions on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Its all been a bit hectic here at offpisteskiing HQ, with the arrival of Junior number 2 eating up pretty much any spare time (and all the non-spare time too).

Despite this winter 2014 is shaping up to be very busy again, with requests flying in thick and fast. For a look at what is on offer check the courses page on our main website. I am very excited to be heading back to the Lofoten islands in Arctic Norway again - for a taste of the magic have a look at Nick Mason's fantastic photo album here. Don't forget to check out more of his work at

Here is a taster:

Meanwhile the usual spate of pre-season videos have started rolling in - stay tuned for our favourites...

On a different note I would strongly suggest a read of this article in Powder Magazine. It is very US-centric but raises some important points, I agree with a lot of what Mike Douglas says in this, particularly with respect to no-one giving the mountain any time to settle after a storm. Food for thought for the coming winter?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The 'data' conundrum

2 events the other afternoon set me thinking. First I spent quite some time creating archive files on my computer for lots of old information about various things "which may come in useful at some point". Shortly afterwards, on my way back from the post box, I passed 2 middle aged men who had just stepped off their mountain bikes at a café in town, bristling with shiny armour and more than one 'teletubby-cam'.

Which made me wonder: with storage options in Terabytes accessible to all (not to mention the mighty 'cloud'), super-fast-access-everywhere internet connections and cheap-enough-for-anyone POV cameras are we being caught up in a whirlpool of 'record everything' and 'share everything'?

It is too easy to keep everything now - where in the past you would notice boxes of 'stuff' stacking up in the garage, folders and sub-folders are barely noticeable, but how often do we actually need to go digging for the contents?

As for the 'record & share everything' lifestyle I am in a dilemma: as a professional it is great for me to be able to show photos and videos of what I and my clients get up to, I know for sure it has helped lure new business my way, and an internet and social media presence is almost obligatory in this day and age. I also know that over the years I have found fellow professionals heading out to a spot I had blogged about the day before with their clients (ie getting a free ride off the back of my homework), and this has changed my approach to a slightly more measured (wait until conditions have gone) blogging frequency at times...

But do we really need to capture every moment of our life for posterity? And what ever happened to just living in the moment, and enjoying each minute as it comes and then passes again? Are we too focussed on recording to actually enjoy the moment to the full? My friend Will was a perfect example of this - not counting the success of his days out by the number of Likes on the 'blue book' but simply by how much he and his friends had smiled - it used to frustrate me that he never took a camera out (ie I never got any photos taken of me) - in retrospect the images you really remember are the ones that stick in your head, the ones that don't need any prompts to bring back a 'warm glow'.

Anyway, enough pondering - dates are now in the diary for next winter's courses:

Off Piste Introduction - 3 Valleys - 11-18 Jan 2014 Info here
Off Piste Improvers - Grimentz - 18-25 Jan 2014 Info here
Off Piste Improvers - Andermatt - 8-15 Feb 2014 Info here
Maurienne Valley Steep Coaching - 22 Feb - 1 Mar 2014 Info here
Freeride Chamonix - 8-15 Mar 2014 Info here
Steep Vanoise - Brides-les-Bains- 17-21 Mar 2014 Info here
Lofoten Ski Adventures - 31 Mar - 10 Apr Info here

Don't hesitate to get in touch for more information!

The faithful few are still getting turns in up high, last weekend however I donned the lycra to join the current cycling 'vogue' for a 2 day blitz around the Tour du Mont Blanc. Yes, we did pick the hottest weekend of the year so far (typical). Yes I did lose 4 Kg in fluids (not good). Yes I did have fun (I think), though I still favour the 'pedal up an HC col, have a good coffee and some food then freewheel home' option as opposed to stringing them together...

Feeling fresh on the morning warm-up up the Petit St Bernard (the smiles were less noticeable later on after battling headwinds down the Aosta valley then slogging up the monster 35 km climb to the Grand St Bernard...):

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Winter 2014 course dates

Apologies for the radio silence on here since the last post - nearly 2 months, and the time has just flown by, though sadly with very little skiing time due to work commitments and the impending arrival of Jr #2...

There are still turns to be had in the Alps though, with quite a few motivated teams still out earning some hot summer turns, not least a very impressive second descent of the Sentinel Rouge couloir on the South side of Mt Blanc (first skied by Toni Valeruz in '78 with a helicopter drop-off and pick-up (and only one or two known ascents, due to a major serac overhanging the route). The strong team of Tom Grant, Ben Briggs and Luca Pandolfi went in their usual ethical style (sans-heli), top work guys!

Meanwhile, we are already looking forward to next winter, and dates for courses and adventures are starting to firm up, including a return to the magical Lofoten Islands in arctic Norway. Have a look here for more details, and don't hesitate to get in touch for more information.

Coming up soon on the blog: a review of the ABS Vario backpack system, as well as a run-through of Simon's current selection of skis.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Grande Ciamarella North face

So, I hadn't skied for a month (Apr 11th to be precise) for a variety of reasons, and having to deposit wife & child at the airport on Saturday scuppered any full weekend plans... time for a day mission to fulfill a promise to a mate.

A short night 'car camping' was followed by an early start -

5:28 am - leave car in L'Ecot (2000m)
5:33 am - leave car in L'Ecot again, having returned to pick up the ice axe I had forgotten...
6:35 am - over the hump at 2570m and down to the Plan des Evettes - groups heading off in all directions from the hut
8:00 am - Col Tonini (3200m) - First sight of 'La Face du Jour'

The north face of the Grande Ciamarella has been on the hit list for a long time, but is exceedingly rarely in condition. I had been watching the progress of the face this spring and it had been looking better and better...

Early start French team from the hut (cheats :-)) dropping onto the upper face. A few mm of soft over a hard base, hmmm.

The face proper is about 450m of steepness - not very big in alpine terms but it hovers consistently around 50º the whole time - definitely feels steeper than say the NNE of the Courtes...

French skier in here if you look closely - view downwards from approx half-height:

10:30 am - Grande Ciamarella summit (3670m) - 8km and 1750m vertical in the bag (got to count the extra for the drop into the Plan des Evettes). Tired legs due to a month of inactivity!

I'm not sure how much of this fella is normally showing, but if its a full statue then there is a fair bit of snow on the summit!!

Time for action - I have since seen a report from the Saturday of soft snow over a firm base - alot can change in 24 hours... there was the merest dusting (in places) over some really quite hard snow - spicy times!

Mid slope:

And looking back at the face from Col Tonini - another French team on the top section - busy busy on here today!:

12:15 pm - back at the car & time for a brew - mission accomplished.

Apologies for lack of action photos... solo mission drawbacks!

This descent was for Will who should have been here too, RIP mate.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Will Eaton (1974-2013)

Well, its a sad time. My good friend and partner on some classic adventures was killed in an avalanche while ski touring with some friends on the Grande Casse on Thursday.

Will was one of life's good guys - he had the amazing ability to turn a random stranger into a lifelong friend in the space of 5 minutes. He also had a superhuman ability to seemingly survive on no more than 5 hours sleep a night - linking up full, early-start steep skiing days with evenings of work followed by a social into the early hours, only to repeat it all the next day!

We had recently spent 5 amazing days skiing in Lofoten, and the last time I saw him was classic Will - we were so busy chatting over coffee in Oslo airport that he had to run full speed to catch his flight before they shut the gate...

One of our first adventures.. Sache-Pourri traverse after a very late night with Laurent the gardien in the Mt Pourri refuge. The picture sums up Will - always smiling no matter what...

Will was always keen for an adventure - no matter how far-fetched the idea was:

Cave-skiing from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Will hadn't bought a lift ticket for ages, and his fitness was kept topped up by regular (daily?) outings in his 'backyard' in Les Avals - its fair to say he knew this place better than anyone - he still had a couple of lines to show me... I guess I will just have to find 'Rumdoodle' and the others for myself now...

In 2011 he found a new line on the Rateau - and took me back the next time to repeat 'Keyhole couloir':

Will's legendary fitness wasn't just confined to skis - every time I went cycling with him was the same... I would be blowing hard on the way up some big col, and Will would be cruising along in his baggy shorts chatting away quite happily, seemingly putting in no effort other than to chase down the odd serious lycra-merchant who dared overtake us :-)

See you next time mate... hope the skies are blue and the powder is soft and deep wherever you are...

Courchevel Powder from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

3 Valleys Esoterica from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

48 hours in the Haute Maurienne from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Dent Parrachée - East Face from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Lofoten adventures - no more Fishy Tales

The last 2 weeks have been very frustrating - good weather during the week while I have been working for Petzl, but poor conditions at the weekends... in the meantime lots of big descents have been getting skied, not least the first repeat (29 years later) of Stefano de Benedetti's line on the East face of the Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey - followed a couple of days later by young Brit gun Ben Briggs nipping up for a solo repeat - good effort!

So to ease the FOMO I have sorted through the last few days worth of photos from Lofoten:


THE classic peak of the Lofoten islands for ski touring, this aesthetic summit had barely been skied this winter due to unstable conditions, but as the snowpack had improved greatly over the weekend this was high on our list. The direct line up the first steepening involved a short section of water ice up a narrow couloir, nice to get front points and axe working. Here, Will is just exiting the ice section back on snow again:

Nearing the summit pyramid of Geitgaljern - unfortunately a large group of Germans and their guides were out today (20 people seems quite a lot to me!) so it wasn't quite the wilderness experience it might have been!

Bit of a Scottish feel to things near the top, with heavily rimed rock:

The last 80m to the summit are up a narrow 45º snow tongue between rocks and ice to a small but perfectly formed summit... sadly the clouds had rolled in by this time so the (apparently) amazing views were hidden - on the South side the mountain drops almost vertically down to not far above sea level! - We will just have to come back another day...

Fortunately only a handful of the germans decided to come to the summit, so after a short wait for them to climb we dropped in - perfect deep powder, shame we couldn't see more to really let loose.
Chipie trying to spot the line between the rocks and ice, not so easy in the cloud when everything looks white from above:

Perfect snow though:

The majority of the big group had already started skiing and there was a proper bunfight on the go with bodies & skis everywhere and lots of people skiing very close together - not ideal on steep powdery slopes. We waited for a propitious moment and blasted by and clear of the danger... Lower down I hung a left to ski a steep line I had spotted between some water ice bulges and a rock rib, finding perfect deep soft powder, while Will & Chipie lined up a little ice-skiing (move over Xavier de le Rue!).


A gentle run down past some cross country tracks took us back to the beach and the car again:

For our last full day in Lofoten we headed West again, spotting some objectives for a future trip on the way:

Himmeltind was our first port of call, with 800m of fun-angled North facing slopes:

Don't ask (because I don't know..)!:

A stunning, atmospheric day, with snowy squalls interspersed with bright blue skies:

And despite near gale force winds on the summit ridge, perfect, perfect powder:

A stunning place to ski:

All the way to the beach:

Back at the car I suggested a change of location to the other side of the island in an attempt to escape the high winds on the ridges - this turned into a major result - we parked up beside Kira's place and set off for Kangerurtind - round 2 for me on the North-West slope - but quickly diverted to nearby Tindeltinden (I believe this means 'Peak-y Peak', though a native Norwegian speaker may correct me on this...) and what turned into the run of the trip for me. Making the most of the last minutes of a blue hole I did a super-fast turn around and dropped into a line of perfect thigh-deep powder - skiing slightly blind the line just kept on opening up, even through the lower crag section, amazing! Chipie & Will hadn't been quick enough on the draw so we sat out the squall and then they skied down. At this point Kira appeared with his dog Kaisa in tow so we all headed for Kangerurtind and finally got a chance to open up the guns on what is a fantastic slope - what a way to end the day! Back at the car at 7:30pm it certainly felt like we had made the most of the conditions...
No photos sadly as my memory card had finally been filled up :-( Fortunately, my memory stills works fine (for now) and I will remember those runs for a long time.

And that was it - a windy day on Strandtinden on the way back to the mainland gave us our last fix of Norwegian powder, until next time!

** Note ** I will most definitely be running another trip here in Spring 2014 - get in touch for more details!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Presten couloir (Fishy Tales part 5)

After a week ski touring in Lofoten with Ian, Mark, Nick and Mike it was time for a switch. The venue stayed the same, but the players were different. Having dropped the guys off in Evenes I promptly picked up Will, who had arrived on the same flight, and we headed back out to Lofoten, picking up Chipie en route, having made his way by boat(s) and bus from Tromso...

With little time but keen to make the most of the stabilising snowpack and the current spell of good weather we needed a relatively short objective for an evening session and the Presten couloir seemed perfect for this - roadside, 500m high, with the steepness starting almost from the car door:

The Presten couloir is at centre of the picture above - the big rock buttress to the right is the Presten or 'Priest' itself and is home to some high quality rock climbing.

Easy access by definition... park in the layby at the bottom of the couloir, open your car door and start climbing!

The first 100m of the couloir are skinnable in good conditions, but soon the angle kicks up and skis go on the pack:

The higher you climb the more impressive the scenery becomes:

Will breaking trail up to the narrows just below half height - often the crux of the couloir (and a mixed/water ice step) this was completely filled in with snow:

The top 300m of the couloir remain narrow, with the angle hovering about the 45º mark (though I have seen clinometer-measured quotes of 50...) - the last 30m to the col were a little scratchy, with a very thin (to non-existent) covering of snow over frozen grass and moss - fine on the way up, 'interesting' on the way down...

Will about to negotiate the frozen grass and moss section at the top - a delicate start to the descent!

Chipie in the upper section the couloir - steep and tight here:

Will threading his way through the boulder choke section:

Atmospheric skiing in the couloir with rock walls towering on either side (Chipie is in there if you look closely!):

Happy campers in the evening sun!

Chipie pulling the new freestyle move: "air to beach"

5 minutes drive took us to the Climber's Café for a pint of very expensive beer to celebrate mopped up with Mateo's fine cod stew!