Monday, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day exploration

With an unexpected (and very welcome) morning off, a quick call to Will set up the fun & games for the day. We had both looked at some local lines over the years which are only skiable round about the winter solstice when the sun doesn't get onto them much, but need a good heavy early snowfall to make viable. Current conditions pretty much ticked the boxes and we managed a couple of laps round despite some heavy trail-breaking on the skin out to get back around to the lift system.

Still good powder on the shadier aspects, even at lower elevations:

Time for some fun:

Good line - can't count how many times I have looked up at this, nice to ski it in good conditions!

Hmm, nice tracks!

There's quite a bit of snow about:

Hmm, maybe next time...:

Round 2:

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Snow, snow, snow.

Well, the snow justs keeps on coming.
Meteo France are reporting 130cm of snow in 48 hours at 1800m, and an estimated 230cm of snow at 2500m in 48 hours! Tomorrow is set to be clearer, then more snow is forecast for Tuesday & Wednesday at least.

Care needs to be taken off piste as the risk of avalanche is still very high, and it is worth bearing in mind as the posted risk level 'drops' that a huge percentage of avalanche accidents occur at level 3 (this is still 'considerable' risk!). The good news is that once all this snow settles down it is most likely going to form a good base without too much facetting at low level which might just increase stability not only in the short term but also for the end of season.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Courchevel news

Went up for a quick slide in Courchevel to test out new boots & skis today. I can safely say that snow conditions are above average for the time of year (it is only the 13th Dec after all) and with more snow forecast in the next 24 hours it looks like a reasonable base will be starting to form.

The new 6-seater Plantrey chair is up & running & should ease congestion at peak times, whereas the new Burgin Saulire 2 will make the small flat area at the top of the Saulire cable car even busier than it normally is!

Breaking news!

A family of large jelly babies appear to have taken up residence outside the Forum in 1850, and for the skiing car lover the top of Biolley is definitely the place to be!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Did someone say snow??

Well despite all the doom and gloom (including an interesting piece in a daily rag on how Switzerland was definitely not the place to be the day after I returned from some limited but rather good skiing in Zermatt) it has now been snowing continuously for the last 36 hours down here in Bozel at 845m and MeteoFrance have not surprisingly issued a High avalanche forecast for the next 24 hours...

Precipitation is set to ease up tonight but with cold temperatures forecast for the weekend this should allow alot of resorts to get some base sorted on piste, and might just start to form some natural base off piste.

A glimpse of the rare snow leopard in Bozel:

Monday, 5 December 2011

New snow, new boots and public speaking.

Well, winter finally seems to have decided to show up out here. Last night it was raining heavily down here at 800m, and webcams are showing a good covering of fresh snow above 1800m. With more unsettled weather forecast for this week this should finally get a base down for the winter!

It is a quiet week here at Offpisteskiing HQ, with a Wednesday trip to Chamonix to see Jules & Damien at the Boot Room for a pair of light weight touring boots to go alongside my Dynafit Titans.

I skied the Titans most of last winter and was extremely impressed. These boots seem to fit & hold my foot really well, and set up with a Palau 'Hard' thermo-formed inner boot I found the performance of these boots to be similar to a 110/120 flex alpine boot, and they were perfectly happy even driving a bigger ski like the Volkl Gotamas (191cm & 107mm under foot).

Dynafit Titans:

At approx 2 Kg per foot they are not the lightest boot around though and I am in the market for a lighter boot for longer days out & mountaineering, but still with good skiability for steep descents.

Obviously fit will be the priority, but on paper the Scarpa Maestrale is looking good, at 1.5 Kg per foot, and with a reputation for very good skiing response. Even lighter weight (approx 1.1 Kg) is the Dynafit TLT5, though the inability to use this with anything other than pin bindings is a slight drawback. I am keeping an open mind, so watch this space...

In other news, anyone in the UK next weekend and at a loose end could do worse than getting themselves to Plas-y-Brenin in North Wales for the 4th Annual Ski Mountaineering Symposium, organised by the Eagle Ski Club, Alpine Ski Club and Alpine Club this features a day of lectures (including yours truly) followed by a day of practical workshops including ski technique, transceiver use, mountain medicine, group management and much more. Should be a great weekend!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Street style

Came across this short clip from the Sherpas Cinema film All.I.Can - great to see old-school master and New Canadian Air Force veteran JP Auclair still geting creative and it just goes to show - its not how much snow there is, its what you make of it that counts...

Go full screen for best viewing!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dry start to the winter...

Well, so far the winter has been noticeable by its absence in France, however this doesn't mean there is no snow anywhere in the Alps...

I am currently in Zermatt, and the snow on piste around the glacier area is good, and the Cervinia side definitely caught a bit more from the last storm 3 weeks ago...
2 days ago we went up the Breithorn (4164m) in perfect weather - great views of the Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, Weisshorn etc from the summit, and reasonable skiing if you stuck to the wind-buffed snow up high, with some softer snow to be found lower down!

Most areas are looking very lean however, but with snow forecast either side of this weekend hopefully this will all change!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Kendal Mountain Festival - behind the scenes

I have just returned home from a hectic long weekend working at the Kendal Mountain Festival. This is the UK's main gathering of outdoor enthusiasts, speakers and film-makers with 4 days of events based round the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.

A few years back IFMGA guide and 'Face of the Festival' Andy Perkins roped me in to work on the 'core' presenters team. This involves working long hours on a diet of coffee, pizza and adrenaline, hosting film sessions, introducing guest speakers, liaising with the Technical staff and Festival organisers to ensure everything runs smoothly. I originally accepted this as a challenge to overcome my fear of public speaking, but now look forward to it rolling around each year! Most days kick off around 8 a.m. and generally finish sometime in the early hours in the bar... sleep is for the weak, right?

This year I had the pleasure of introducing my good mate Kenton Cool who was speaking about his 8000m peak skiing experiences to a packed Dojo, and hosted a variety of film sessions - standout films for me were Sweetgrass Productions' Solitaire, introduced at Snowsports Night by the man himself Nick Waggoner, 'Sketchy Andy' which contains some sweaty-palm-inducing moments (see below) and the hilarious XC Snowboarding (an oldy but a goody).

A short clip from Sketchy Andy:

And XC Snowboarding:

Another festival highlight (which I snuck into on a rare couple of free hours) was Nick Bullock's lecture "Must get fitter, stronger, better" (or "fatter, soberer, balder" as per Graham D's intro!) which gave a great insight into the mindset of Nick's climbing, as well as explaining the origins of some of his route names (The Frumious Bandersnatch amongst others...).

Now its time for a couple of days at home, then I am off to Zermatt shadowing a BASI Off Piste & Mountain Safety course next week, as I will be delivering these courses later this winter. All we nees is some snow!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Greenland slideshow

I have just uploaded a photo slideshow from the 2007 Greenland Steep Ski trip here. Enjoy!

Friday, 4 November 2011

A short history lesson.

Twin tip skis are taken for granted these days (although 'tail rocker' seems to be the current marketing term :-) ) but I can still quite clearly remember the arrival on the scene of the first ever modern twin tip. Hats off to the NCAF for the vision & persistence!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Huascaran ski

Stumbled across this nice video of Andreas Fransson having a big day out on Huascaran - good effort that man!


There are some folks around who push at the limits of what is perceived possible. Antoine Montant was one of those, combining flying skills with skiing skills to open up whole new playgrounds. Antoine was killed last week in a base-jumping accident, but he leaves a legacy of boundaries blown wide open:

Portrait Antoine Montant par AMontant

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ready for winter?

Itching to get on skis after watching this video - incidentally we are running a trip to Kyrgystan this March...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Course availability 2011/12 & extra dates.

With a chill in the air and frost on the ground winter is definitely on the way - bookings are coming in thick & fast for the 11/12 season, with only a few spaces left on the first Off Piste Introduction course, the Chamonix Off Piste Improvers course rapidly filling up (possible extra group opening up here) and our Kyrgistan adventure now fully booked.

If you want to get your season off to an early start then there are still some spaces left on our pre-season 'Boot Camp' - 3 days of coaching in Chamonix from 14-16 December. This is a great opportunity to get your ski legs in full working order for the winter, previous seasons have seen everyone from occasional off-pisters to aspirant Mountain Guides enjoying the technical coaching.

Extra dates:

We will be running 2 extra Off Piste Introduction courses based in Brides les Bains in the 3 Valleys.
21-28 January (coach: Neil Milne BASI International Ski Teacher Diploma/IML)
25 Feb - 3 March (coach: Mac Mackay BASI ISIA/IFMGA Mountain Guide)

Please contact us for details.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

New website now live!

Finally, after some delay, the new website is now live!

Many thanks to Katie at YakMedia and Ant at Peaco Web design.

Click here to have a look round.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Autumn training

For anyone looking for ideas for their autumn training regime here is Extreme skiing pioneer Sylvain Saudan with his take on off season training (funnily enough I remember seeing this in 1984 (?) as part of his 'Victoire a Ski sur l'Himalaya film in Courchevel 1650 !! ):

Last dose of the mountains

With big limitations on free time impending there was just time to squeeze in a day out in the mountains. Gary has recently moved to Chamonix and was keen to get out up high for a bit of acclimatisation/climbing.

As I needed to be within phone range & easy 'turn-around' we opted for a combination of two short, easy routes near to the Aiguille du Midi cable car the classic 'guides-combo' of the traverse of the Pointes Lachenal followed by the Cosmiques ridge back up to the Midi station. The Pointes Lachenal lie a short walk across the Col du Midi, and a short 40ยบ slope takes you up on to the ridge for some spectacular views:

A short scramble over the first summit followed by a short abseil and snow ridge lead to the start of the only 'difficulties' on the route - a short rock step with a few big loose blocks to negotiate:

Gary works his way up the open groove to the main summit:

A quick pause to catch our breath on the main top and then it was off again, with a short descent back to the Col du Midi and a quick trudge over to the Abri SImond at the start of the Cosmiques ridge. Well known as a high altitude queue, the ridge was relatively quiet today, and we gave a trio in front of us a good head start before setting off in pursuit.

On the first high point of the ridge we took a variation which avoids the abseil with a lower traverse at the end of which we encountered that rarest of beasts - a Chamonix Guide who asked if we wanted to pass his (slower) party - I have now seen it all!!

The rest of the ridge passed without great incident, pleasant scrambling with one stiff pull at the crux rock wall (shame about the drilled-out crampon slot for footholds).

Whilst never particularly challenging the Cosmiques ridge offers a more interesting way back up to the Midi station (compared to the snow ridge) with the benefit of finishing directly on one of the viewing platforms!

Unfortunately the weather is now set fair but i cannot get out & make the most of it - frustrating to say the least!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Birthday Powder Turns

With several days of rain and cold temperatures, a sunny day forecast, and a birthday today there was only one option... Several messages last night lined up a small team of dedicated ski addicts for a trip up the Aiguille du Midi to see how much snow had come down.

A very non-birthday early start from Bozel got me to Chamonix in time for the 8:15 first lift, which sadly was delayed until 9:30 (ice on the cables) - oh well, plus ca change.

Cedric, Martin & Tom trying to wake up in the lift:

The first section took us out of the early morning valley clouds and into clear skies above:

"It's the ridge, Jim, but not as we know it!"

The ridge leading down from the Midi was in 'spicy' mood, properly knife-edged, with snow of dubious quality on either side. Plans to ski it were quite quickly shelved, and we then found a pair of French Alpine Poodles to test out the stability and put a track in for us...:

Below this the snow on the South face looked to be in great shape.
Cedric preparing to drop in:

First turns for Cedric & Tom, good powder all the way down to the Col du Midi!

Early plans to head up the North face of the Tacul had been shelved due to the delayed start, and secondary plans for some Italian coffee were also shelved as it was obvious there had been a lot of wind with the snowfall, and that a lot of crevasses would be very thinly bridged but very well hidden. We settled in favour of some 'mini-golf' runs on the slopes under the Cosmiques refuge.

Cedric skinning towards the Cosmiques refuge:



Cedric with a Grandes Jorasses backdrop:

Tom in the 'mini-mini-mini Cosmiques couloir':

And again:

Coffee stop at the refuge:

The snow was really quite good on the slopes we skied - good soft powder on a relatively smooth base - not bad for September 20th!

All that remained was a hot skin back up to the Midi ridge, and another airy wander along this to a rapturous welcome by the tourist crowds on the viewing platform...

Not a bad way to spend a September birthday! Roll on next year!

Monday, 12 September 2011


There are plenty of snowsports videos out there, each one 'radder', badder, more HD, more slow-mo than the last. There are also some videos that stir up emotions or give you hope, maybe change the way you look at things...
This video definitely looks like it falls into the latter category - here's the trailer, looking forward to seeing the full film!

The Freedom Chair - Official Trailer from Switchback Entertainment on Vimeo.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The power of snow

There is a magical quality to snow, it has the power to mesmerise & fascinate and brings out the inner child in most of us. It's flakes are infinitely varied & complex, and it changes landscapes with its transient beauty.

This video from New Zealand captures this feeling exactly:

Check out more of Ro Tierney's work here.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

3 Valley lift changes

Its all go this summer in the 3 Valleys - work is well under way in Courchevel on the construction of the new Plantrey chair with a fast 6 man chair replacing the fast-ish 4 man which had been in operation for 28 years!

Helicopter ferrying materials for the new lift:

Over in Meribel the top section of Burgin Saulire is being replaced with a new gondola as part of a 2-year plan (2012 will see the replacement of the 1st stage) - the new lift takes a line directly up the Tournier couloir with the top station next to the Saulire cable car station.

Talking of which I recently was sent a couple of archive photos of the Saulire:

You can clearly see the top station & pylon of the old lift coming up from the Meribel side which was subsequently moved down the hill with construction of Burgin-Saulire:

Elsewhere there is a brand new lift going in above Portette in Val Thorens with the top station right on the ridge between the Belleville valley and Orelle. No linking pistes are planned just yet but the lift will open up more runs on the Val T side, and should provide interesting off piste access to the Bouchet valley.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Getting fit

After 3 months of work, moving house etc and not much time to get out in the mountains I decided enough was enough yesterday and went for a run to kick myself back in to action.
Creve Tete is a hill I have looked at almost every day for the past 5 years (you see it as you drive out of Bozel) but never been up, and there is a convenient loop you can do with bang on 1000m of ascent up a steady but steep path followed by a nice ridge run and a longer but gentler descent back to the car.

Good views of the Nielard:

And up the Belleville valley to Val T:

Looking across to the Cheval Noir - we skied this on last winter's Steep Vanoise week:

Atmospheric clouds on the ridge:

Managed to nail the climb in 1 hour & 20, not quite up to Killian Jornet speeds, but I was quite happy considering how little activity I have managed this summer...

A scenic run along the ridge, Morel valley on the left, and the Tarentaise & Vanoise on the right:

Off to Holland this afternoon to run some IRATA training for Orange Access. Looking forward to working with my Swiss colleague Gilles again. For more information on rope access check out the IRATA website.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Summer break

OK, it's been radio silence here for some time due to a variety of reasons - work (& lots of it), moving house, preparing for the imminent arrival of Offpisteskiing Jr, lots of family visits and 3 weeks without internet in the new house...
Sadly with all this going on there has been little time to get out in the mountains, particularly frustrating as there was a good window last week, with a few folks sneaking in a descent of the NW face of the Bionassay.

Preparations are well under way for 2012 - check out our course schedule here and don't hesitate to get in touch if you don't see the dates you want or would like to discuss some private guiding.

Kyrgistan 2012: The big project for February 2012 is a week of ski mountaineering based in a yurt in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgistan - there are still a couple of spaces left on this exciting trip for strong ski mountaineers with a sense of adventure!

For those of you in the UK a date for your diary is the weekend of the 10/11 December - the 4th British Ski Mountaineering Symposium is happening based at Plas y Brenin in N Wales, and I will be giving a presentation and also delivering practical sessions as part of this. There is a great line-up of speakers for this weekend so put the dates in your diary now!!

And finally... Sweetgrass Productions have just released the trailer for their latest film: Solitaire - looks great, and if their previous offering 'Signatures' was anything to go by, it will be well worth seeking this out at a Film Festival near you this autumn (more of that later...).

SOLITAIRE: A Backcountry Skiing, Snowboarding, and Telemark Film from Sweetgrass Productions on Vimeo.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

News from the Alps

News from the Alps is that there is still good skiing to be had for those willing to put in the effort.

Ross Hewitt has been busy with descents of the Col des Courtes (Pointe Eales) and NE face of Aiguille de l'Amone in recent days with some good powder:

(Photos courtesy Ross Hewitt)

Cedric Bernardini meanwhile was weighing in with a descent of the rarely skied Coolidge couloir on the Mt Viso - looks like a fantastic line!

(Photo courtesy Cedric Berdardini)

None of which is making me in the slightest bit jealous (honestly!, no really, well, maybe a bit), as this the view from my bedroom window currently:

...not quite in the same league...