Saturday, 31 January 2015

Before the storm...

A few shots from last week before the big snows rolled in. A fun week coaching Andy, Jim, Jon and Pete - we even managed to find some good snow!

Friday, 30 January 2015


The forecast large snowfalls have arrived!

Great tree skiing to be had currently - but care will be needed when it clears as the already very spicy snowpack will now be even more so until this lot has time to settle down properly (could be some time!).

Last week I was coaching a couple of IFMGA mountain guides and their friends - a good time was had by all and we managed to find some good snow to ski despite ending up on Plan C (or beyond) a couple for times. For once someone else had a camera (and knows how to take a mean photo), so thanks to Andy Perkins for this one of me testing out my new Whitedot Skis Director Carbonlites - very impressed so far:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Calm before the storm?

The last few days have been quite pleasant in the 3 Valleys, though visibility has been a bit challenging at times...

On Sunday I had a fun day coaching Brian and Linda from the Eagle Ski Club:

Since Monday I have been working with a couple of British Mountain Guides and their friends, with a steeps-oriented 'tune-up':

When visibility has allowed there has been some good snow to be skied, though care is still needed due to the thin snowpack and there were some clear signs of wind-loading on certain slopes today. Forecasts are currently predicting a fair (or very large) amount of snow from tomorrow evening onwards time will tell how much actually falls, but a large dose of caution will be needed throughout the weekend and into next week!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Off Piste Improvers course - Val D'Anniviers

Last week I was in the Val D'Anniviers running the and Jagged Globe Off Piste Improvers course.With a good snowfall on the Saturday and reasonably stable weather forecast for the week we really hit the jackpot with conditions - still finding perfect untracked powder on Friday afternoon!

From our hotel base in Grimentz we had easy access to the great skiing in both Grimentz and Zinal which offer great terrain for skiers looking to step up their off piste skiing. A big thank you goes out to Chas, Peter, Pete, Kate, Linda and Aiko for their enthusiasm and willingness to take new ideas on board - everyone really stepped up their game throughout the week!

Day 1 - starting the week in style with powder and blue skies!:

A run down past the Moiry dam on day 2:

Day 3 - still good powder in Zinal's 'Middle Bowl':

A trip away to Chandolin & St Luc - still good powder even on the sunny side!:

In the Chamois couloirs:

Ending the week as it began, 600m+ vertical of perfect untracked powder straight off the lifts!:

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Good news... bad news...

A spectacular day yesterday to end a week of good snow and sunshine for the Off Piste Improvers course in the Val D'Anniviers, overshadowed by the news on the way home that Brendan O'Sullivan and 'American Dave' Rosenberger had been killed in separate incidents in the Mont Blanc range.

I never met Brendan, but he was a regular partner of Ben Briggs' with a CV of steep and serious descents and an active figure in the current steep ski/board scene. I only skied in Dave's company once, on the West face of the Eiger, and he blew me away with the ease of his positive, solid skiing on funky snow. Some big big snowfalls are predicted for the end of this week - take it easy out there folks!

The 'Captain' taking off on 600m vertical of perfect powder straight from the lifts yesterday afternoon!

More photos to follow from last week...

Thursday, 15 January 2015

3 Valleys conditions update - 14 Jan 2015

Despite all the doom and gloom being talked about the ski season this week has mostly been great if you used a little creativity:



Wednesday the camera stayed at home as it was snowing, but we spent the day skiing powder on & just beside the piste...


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Hindsight bias in avalanche incidents

Following yesterdays post, a number of comments (on other social media) prompted me to go and dig out a really interesting video on hindsight bias (see below).

The basic premise is that 99% of avalanche incidents, when viewed with posterity, are blindingly obvious. It is very easy to fall into a judgmental point of view "Why the heck did they ski THAT slope?", "Why did they stop THERE?", "They were stupid!". Yet prior to the incident it clearly wasn't so glaringly obvious that it was going to happen and people made a decision to ski the slope the way they did.

To get back to the 5 Jan avalanche - and I am not in any way connected to the group in the video - here are a couple of extra thoughts in response to some of the comments I have read:

- the entry to the Foglietta north face is rocky and 'clean' paths in are few and far between (this is not obvious from the vid) so it is not uncommon for skiers to be following a single track on to the face
- the top pitch of the face is approx 400m vertical to the first really big flat area (what might be considered a really good island of safety. Groups have the following dilemma (particularly for groups led by a professional): do they just drop in and ski the whole face one at a time, or try to find regrouping points that are as safe as possible at reasonable intervals? If an instructor or guide skis the whole pitch and then a client has a problem first turn, then they have a long skin back up to help them out.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Instructive avalanche video

The following video is well worth watching. Fortunately everyone survived (though 3 were hospitalised).

Interesting points:
- the avalanche is released by the 5th person skiing in the group
- notice that the propagation of the collapse is over a huge area but manifests itself at first as several discrete slabs before eventually the whole slope fails
- 'islands of safety' - during the 2 days I spent with Alain Duclos last autumn we discussed at length the idea of 'Islands of safety' on a slope and how in reality they need to be much bigger and more pronounced than we think they do to offer any real protection. This video is a fine example of that.

Stay safe!

**Edit 13 Jan 2015 - the video now appears to have been put on a private setting on Youtube (possibly understandable given some comments on other forums etc), but it is a shame as it is/was very instructive...**

Friday, 9 January 2015

Petit Mont Blanc (Vanoise)

Yesterday I was out and about in Les Avals for the first time this year. Some soft snow still to be found even on the sunny aspects, but the thin snowpack still needs care as there are plenty of buried (and not buried) rocks, along with pockets of windslab over facetted snow. Fortunately on the Petit Mont Blanc it is possible to stay on sub-30º slopes pretty much the whole way and it was worth the walk for a silky smooth ski down. Only a handful of other folks out yesterday, and very few skin tracks heading off elsewhere (not surprisingly). Hopefully the snow due this weekend will open up a few more options.

Petit Mont Blanc - 8 Jan 2015 from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Couloir scratching video

A short edit of yesterday's couloir action - very impressed with the performance of my new Gopro Hero 4 Silver - straight out of the box, no fancy settings and it copes remarkably well with light & shade...

Couloir scratching - 6 Jan 2015 from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Gebroulaz SW couloir + St Peres

Following on from yesterday's post on snow conditions in the Vanoise I went for a bit of a wander above Val Thorens today motivated by that rare combination of a day 'off' (lets forget about the admin etc), no kids to look after, a few new bits and bobs to try out, and a curiosity to see how the snow was.

First target was the SW couloir of the Mont Gebroulaz - the obvious dogleg couloir in the pic below:

From below the whole of the couloir looked to have a reasonable fill of snow (apart from the narrows at the bottom...) but I choose to climb the couloir rather than take the easy option of skinning round and dropping in from the summit. The advantage of not being lazy is that you get to check out the snow as you climb - as it turned out the looker's right side of the couloir was well-consolidated, but with a cheeky refrozen crust on top, while left of centre wind-blown snow had accumulated on top of varying degrees of looseness underneath. Avoidable up until the dogleg but caution & common sense prevailed when it was no longer possible to stay off the slabby accummulations as the couloir narrowed and turned.

Ready to roll:

Skiing down was 'interesting' - there was a really nice strip of snow about 1m50 wide - further left and the surface was definitely very shiny, further right and it would have been too risky...

Exiting the couloir I cut across for the short skin and bootpack up to the St Pères couloirs - heading for the 3rd option which I hadn't skied for years.

Looking back from the top of the bootpack; short but steep:

As expected it didn't look fantastic... but I wasn't expecting it to be quite [i]that[/i] firm - occasionally thin layers of soft snow gave a soft turn or two, but mostly it was a good work out for the edges!

Looking down from the col:

Still a good day to be out and up high stimulating some red blood cell creation. And all good training for something (not sure what...).

View back up the St Pères from about 1/2 way:

If you are heading out then watch out for firm slab overlying some really soft layers, and sharpen your edges for other aspects :-)

Video to follow shortly...

Monday, 5 January 2015

Early season Vanoise conditions = tenuous!

Conditions continue to be somewhat challenging here in the Vanoise; even before the big snowfalls of the 27th/28th the snowpack was treacherous - there were several avalanches around the wider 3 Valleys area on a variety of slope aspects - and the situation was only made more spicy with the extra snowfall and the wind that came along in the following days. Largely unreported was the death of a skier in the Mont de la Chambre sector of Mottaret, caught in a slide and only reported missing when he failed to meet a friend later, and along with several other avalanche incidents (including 2 fatalities and some close calls).

This weekend saw rain to about 2200/2500m, above this altitude the snowfall was accompanied by wind so the situation will continue to need careful management and choice of slopes (and we haven't even talked about the lack of base and number of rocks apparent in lots of skier's tracks off piste!).

The following video from La Norma on New Year's Eve highlights the current precarious nature of the snowpack - the slope is only just over 30º and this is an area which when you ski it generally has a 'friendly' feel to it - just goes to show that every slope needs to be approached with care, and that even slopes you are familiar with need to be treated as if it was the first time you were skiing it and the decision-making should match this...

Given the choice I would be heading high for any off piste or touring, but with a large warning bell ringing concerning wind-loaded slopes and the possibilities of weak layers buried at some depth...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2016 early planning - Kyrgyzstan and Lofoten

Winter is still proving to be slightly reticent in appearing here in the French Alps, and we are still waiting for a proper base to come into place off piste so in the meantime plans are already gently shaping up for 2016...!

First up is a return to Kyrgyzstan (see here for the 2012 trip reports) - the general plan for 2016 will be a 2 week trip, with a week at the 40 Tribes yurt along with a day at the Karakol ski area and possibly a couple of days cat-skiing too (to be confirmed...).

A return to Lofoten also seems inevitable, with likely dates based around the week of 2 - 10 April 2016.

If either of these trips floats your boat then don't hesitate to get in touch!