Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Mountain Safety, Risk and TLT5 mods

Last weekend I returned from Chamonix where I was running a Mountain Safety course for BASI instructors.
We had a highly interesting week, with dangerous snow conditions giving perfect illustration of the subject matter. Also evident was the amount of risk-taking by other skiers on the hill, particularly on the Tuesday at Le Tour, where a Cham-style powder-frenzy seemed to be in full effect, with people ignoring the clear risk and numerous skier-released slabs and sluffs and venturing into more dangerous territory - sadly resulting in the death of a snowboarder in the back bowls that same afternoon.

So the question is:
How many people were conscious of the risk but willing chose to ignore it?
How many people were vaguely conscious of the risk but didn't think it would affect them? ("It couldn't happen to me, could it?")
How many people were oblivious to the risk?

Unanswerable, but something to ponder. I bumped into a friend at the end of the afternoon who is not massively experienced off piste, had been in the back bowls, released a couple of slabs and completely lost one ski (all separate incidents), but didn't seemed too perturbed or concerned by the whole experience!

TLT5 mods

On a completely different note, I have now skied a few days in my modified TLT5s - as per the picture below each boot now has 2 pop rivets (inserted courtesy of The Boot Lab in Courchevel) which have taken out the forefoot flex giving a nice solid platform underfoot:

This has made a big difference to the skiability as there is no longer a moment of 'sag' when you stand on a ski (and interestingly the TLT6 coming out in 2013/14 has no forefoot flex...). Combined with one last push of the shell from Damien at Sanglard in Chamonix these boots may be just right now.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Chamonix Freeride coaching week

Last week I was in Chamonix for 6 days of coaching on the Freeride course, run alongside Jagged Globe.

With a Foehn system having blown through over the previous few days the Chamonix valley was not necessarily going to be in prime condition and this was proven true at the Grands Montets on the first day, with a thin layer of powder over big bumps everywhere apart from the very top lift.
Plan B was called for, and this appeared in the shape of Courmayeur, with 30cms of powder on a soft base almost everywhere!

The scenery matches the quality of the coffee & food!

With such good conditions it would have been rude not to spend a bit more time exploring the massive off piste potential of the area,

High entry to Dolonne in top form:

900m vertical of powder? Yes please...

Alex lower down:

The exit "combat ski" was actually in reasonable condition:

Arp Vieille shoulder couloir:




A happy team:

A day back at Le Tour midweek only confirmed how much better the Italian side was, though we found good conditions in the Combe des Jeurs and below the Arolette. Given the option though, everyone voted for Courmayeur again for our last days.

Looking into the Arp face:

Audrey in the couloir:

Amanda reaping the rewards:


The team's handywork:

All in all a fantastic week! The team all made great progress with their skiing, and we ticked off an enviable number of classic lines in great snow - roll on next year!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Grand Bec NW face, Chauchefoin line (voie Gromier)

If you live in Bozel it stares at you every day. The North West face of the Grand Bec dominates the town and occasionally (very occasionally) the white patches on it link up. First climbed in 1976, the 'Voie Gromier' was skied in 1978 by the legendary Daniel Chauchefoin. Repeats have been rare - Seb Figliolini in the 90s, Guillaume Prin in early 00s, and Yann Mimet mid 00s are the few that I know of (there may well be more...).

The Voie Gromier (Chauchefoin line):

I have been watching & waiting for this face for years, and driving back from a week of coaching in the Maurienne valley I had a good feeling about the weekend. Taking a sorely needed rest day on the Saturday, a zoomed in photo of the face to check conditions revealed a surprise - tracks on the upper face! More zooming on the laptop showed my eyes weren't deceiving me, so out I went with binoculars to check it out - sure enough 3 skiers were emerging from the bottom of the face.

Steep skiing round here is a small world and I was fairly certain I knew who one of the three would be - a quick text message to Yorick confirmed this and a phone call later on gave me an update on conditions - all systems go!

Sadly my usual partners were tied up, so a solo mission was on the cards. 6.30am saw the start of the skinning at 1550m, with 1800m of up to go.

Morning breaks on the Grand Bec - the angle looks quite friendly from here:

A good skin track from Yorick & co eased the pain up to the moraine below the face - from there the skiing & sloughs had covered the tracks - 800m of trail-breaking lay ahead.

The face starts to loom as you get closer:

The lower gully steepens quickly up to and over 45º.

Approaching the first crux - a narrows, currently with about 4m of sketchy climbing on thin ice over rock slabs - all a bit tenuous and a bit of a lonely place for a minute!:

Above this the angle stays near 50º and a short traverse on thin snow over rock leads towards the hanging (ex-)glacier. Once onto this the angle eases back to the low 40s, but the exposure is still maximum!
At the top of the glacier a gully steepens and leads upwards into the second crux - another narrows at 50º - thankfully all on snow:

Above this the angle stays on or around 50º all the way to the top with legs & arms tiring and the last 100m seeming very very long...

A short break on the ridge in the sun was most welcome, both for the legs and to let the sun get on to the face - Yorick & co had left tracks yesterday which had refrozen a bit, so some softening was definitely worth waiting for.

Summit/obituary shot - slightly tense smile?:

Anyone for the first turn?
Rather than go for the short downclimb on the left to get onto the face I opted for a skier's right variation which one of the guys had taken the day before - this turned into a buttock-clencher after a 'gimme' warm-up turn, with 10m approaching 60º of firm snow with occasional ski mark 'steps'. Good for focussing the mind!

The upper slope was very skiable, with heavy powder on a variable base, but lots of care needed, as the old tracks were hard, and there was the odd trap of firm snow lurking too! But the shoulder right of the gully was an amazing place to be making turns, hanging high over the void below:

Nice tracks considering:

10m of downclimbing through the narrows led to the gully dropping onto the hanging glacier and more great skiing - I have dreamed of making turns down here for many years...

The focus returned for the traverse to the final gully, with thin snow on top of rock slabs providing some 'interesting' moments before a few turns on a shoulder down to the abseil point that Yorick had installed the day before - a couple of half-in tied-off pitons were most welcome to avoid down-climbing the sketchy iced-up slabs!

Below the abseil the pressure was back off, but a few more steep turns remained before the powder fun began:

More relaxed smile this time:

More great turns down the moraine before the snow turned to slush:

A bit of combat skiing followed by a gentle slide took me back to La Rochette and the welcome relief of taking ski boots off... end of a great day in the mountains and the realisation of a dream line!

A good day all round - every bit of kit I took was used, water lasted just long enough, and I was back home for an afternoon on the terrace with wife & child and of course a view back up to where I had been:

Late edit... for the bird's eye view here is a great video Yorick shot the day before:

Maurienne valley coaching & adventures - suite & fin...

For the last 2 days of Off Piste Coaching & Adventures we went to ValFrejus - the snow was so good on the Thursday we just had to go back on Friday!

With the weather not quite playing ball on Thursday Plan A was shelved, as were plans B through E. Plan F worked though. Plan F involved skiing 500m vertical shots of 35-45 degree powder!

I can live with Plan F...

Skiing the Seuil couloirs also means you can experience a unique lift in the French Alps - the Tele-Cheval:

Sadly on lap 3 the cheval had gone for lunch (his, hopefully, rather than someone elses...)

(You didn't believe me about the Tele-Cheval, did you?!)

A tentative trip up top found winds and poor visibility, so we retreated lower for more coaching & some Bois Brulé variants.

Friday was more of the same - with Foehn clouds still clagging the high summits we started with some technique coaching & tree runs down low, then as the clouds cleared we hit the jackpot, with knee deep powder in the Bagna couloirs - this is such a great area as you can keep going a bit left or a bit right and finding new lines - possibly our best line was far skiers left dropping into the main 'banana couloir' - 45 degrees of perfect powder on a long, consistent pitch.

A great way to wind up the week - many thanks to Mike, Simon, Noel and John for their company through the week!