Friday, 31 January 2014

Steep coaching day 4

What better way to round off a week of steeps coaching in the Vanoise than a run down the North face of Bellecote.

Despite a delayed opening on the Bellecote telecabine (and a massive queue even for the ski school priority line) we had a great ski in Couloir Cairn, having first looked into a very loaded-looking Moyenne Face Nord and decided very quickly it wasn't on.

Andy P:



Some brave souls had ventured up to the Grande Face Nord and linked up (very cautiously) the traverses over to Grand Nant - looked like much clenching of buttocks had gone on judging by the ultra-cautious line & turns...

Meanwhile the Friolin slopes, Passage de Frete and Montagne de Bellecote runs were all seeing lots of traffic, as was the Petite Face Nord. Canadians couloir looked OK from below, but less soft than Cairn.

Off to La Grave next with a slightly challenging weather forecast... fingers crossed for some good snow!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Steep coaching - days 2 & 3

The weather hasn't really played ball the last couple of days, with flat light and high wind at altitude putting a stop to any bigger plans we had. There is always a plan B though, and we have spent a couple of days mixing up technical coaching with some 'boundary-pushing' on slightly gentler terrain. All good clean fun and the team's skiing is coming on every day!

A few rays on sunlight on Wednesday morning:

Taking to the air today:

Conditions off piste remain good - soft snow pretty much everywhere, though care is still needed in choosing reasonable terrain to play on...

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Steep Coaching - day 1

La Plagne delivers!

First of 4 days steep ski coaching for IFMGA Guides Andy & Jon & their mates Jim & Pete - great conditions, if slightly spicy... careful route choice & group management needed, but the snow was well worth it!



Pete again:



A happy team!

Conditions are good currently, though lots of slab & sluff action observed, and the Bellecote bubble & associated lifts remained shut all day (probably quite wisely). Care is needed on any steeper slopes as some soft slab remains on the surface with enough volume to do some damage judging by the debris piles we saw today!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Val D'Anniviers - Off Piste coaching (cont.)

The Val D'Anniviers came up with the goods again!

Alex styling it up:

The last time I was here was 7 years ago, with very similar snow conditions to this year, but once again Grimentz and Zinal did not disappoint.

With a couple of small snowfalls but reasonable visibility through the week our Off Piste Improvers coaching course was topped off by 40cm of powder and blue skies on Friday (albeit with -17C temperatures and a biting wind!).

Peter puts his new skills into action:

Peter, Alex, Paul, Chas, Phil and Steve all made great progress through the week, and we ticked off a couple of classic descents on the way, with great snow all the way to the Moiry Dam from Zinal and perfect powder down the Orzival valley.

The Weisshorn watching over our skiing:

Cool tree on the exit from Orzival:

A word on conditions:
Much caution is still needed as shady slopes still have the weak depth hoar and buried surface hoar layers from early in the season. Additionally Thursday night's snowfall came with wind first from the North, then swinging round to West/South-West. On Friday many small slabs and sluffs were evident, some natural, some skier/boarder-triggered, and lots had gone with the morning's avalanche control work (they were still throwing charges into places at 3pm!). Grimentz being a bit of a rock garden some care is still needed as many rocks are only just buried, though the classic routes and gully lines are starting to fill in well.

Somebody got a fright on Friday!:

The new cable car linking Grimentz to Zinal was still under testing last week, though allegedly was going to open yesterday - shame about the current state of the architecture - harking back to the best days of French concrete block construction - one assumes (hopes) some cladding will be coming shortly!

Some more powdery shots - Friday was just incredible - even at 3pm we were putting first tracks into completely untouched bowls - the beauty of Grimentz early season is that there is lots of safe terrain (sub-30ยบ) and very few people chasing the powder turns!

Hopefully it won't be another 7 years before I am back again...

Now its time for a couple of days off with the family, then back to work on Tuesday with a couple of IFMGA Mountain Guides and their friends for some steep coaching... bring it on!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Off Piste Improvers Grimentz/Zinal

Happy days here in the Val D'Anniviers on the Off Piste Improvers course - challenging conditions and wind-affected snow in Grimentz but Zinal today was fantastic, topped off with a great run down to the Moiry Dam.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Off Piste Introduction day 6

Last day of the Off Piste Introduction course today, run by and Jagged Globe.

Words probably won't do the day justice so best to sum it up with 2 pictures...

Thanks to Aiko, Ben, Rich, Nick and Jack for an entertaining week - the banter was as good as the skiing progression!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The fun continues... off piste intro day 5

Day 5 of the Off Piste Introduction course today. Despite early flurries of snow the cloud gradually lifted through the day allowing us to put in a good run down to Le Raffort in slightly variable powder, followed by a good session in and around the Courchevel couloirs.

Rocher de L'Ombre:

Entry to Emile Allais a bit rocky at the moment but fine if you pick a cautious line in:

Rich giving it some:

Ben styling it up:

Today was my first full day on the Carbonlite Ranger skis kindly provided by Whitedot Skis this winter. I am suitably impressed - having had a few hours skiing soft powder a week or two ago - today was an interesting test as in the morning we were travelling a bit slower, and despite reports that the Ranger CLs needed to be driven hard I found them very easy to ski at slow speeds too (perhaps symptomatic of the general skiing public's inability to properly steer/smear a turn these days). A full report will follow shortly - I will be interested to compare to my old favourites the Volkl Gotamas tomorrow...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Off Piste Introduction course 2014

Great conditions currently in the 3 Valleys for off piste skiing!

Despite what you might read in some 'quality' newspapers there is an abundance of safe (not to mention fun) off piste to be skied this winter. After 2 days getting into the swing of things, the guys and girls on this week's Off Piste Introduction course were given a treat, with 25cm of fresh snow on Monday night, and a bonus top-up last night. This has left fantastic conditions everywhere - yes the steeper slopes at altitude are still likely to hold some instabilities, but lower down on on mellower angles the skiing has been great!

Today we had a great run down Les Avals, and despite the signs of previous tracks the snow was super-light all the way - though with a firmer base on the sunny side aspects below 2000m.

The happy team on this year's Off Piste Introduction course:

Les Avals:

Meanwhile all the easy access off piste in Courchevel and Meribel was also in top condition - with surprisingly good cover on the Adret slopes above Meribel. More snow is due Thursday night, and with unstable weather forecast for the foreseeable future the winter seems to be getting into shape finally.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Kicking off 2014

The first Off Piste course of 2014 kicks off this evening here in the 3 Valleys, it will be interesting to see how the snow is after a week of warmer temperatures (I have been 'down-valley' doing some consultancy work for Petzl this week).

Last day off for a while for me so time to kick off the next generation - Offpisteskiing Junior took to skis for the first time today:

The forecast is for some light snowfall on Mon/Tues this week, so fingers are crossed it will put down a reasonable layer. 'Red(-ish) sky in the morning, shepherds warning':

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Off piste conditions update - Courchevel 5 Jan 2013

A quick update on conditions around Courchevel and the Vanoise currently:

On Saturday it was mild and wet, with rain up to about 2000m, but snow falling above this. By this morning the trees were white down to St Bon (~1000m). I had a couple of hours in hand and headed for my old stomping ground of Courchevel 1650 to test out my new work-tools compliments of Whitedot Skis :

Review to follow...

Snow conditions were good in the 1800 - 2100m bracket with ~20cm of light powder, above that the snow was still good, but with evidence of wind during the fall - lots of 'duning' visible (not to mention soft snow slides on almost every aspect):

Around 2300m pretty much everything had fallen off during the morning's PIDA blasting - though there was still some takers for the bits in-between!:

A good day for some mellow runs & meadow skipping:

High winds were visible on the crests, and although the avalanche risk forecast has dropped from 4 to 3 care will still need to be taken on steeper slopes as there is a persistant weak layer lurking from the early winter. Additionally the snowpack remains thin, and there are definitely plenty of rocks just under the surface, particularly near ridges and any convexities where the wind has worked the snow a bit.

The scenery is still good though:

Around the Vanoise friends reported wind-affected powder up above the Refuge de la Vanoise, Val Thorens & Orelle reportedly even more wind-affected than Courchevel, and a ski instructor and his client had a lucky escape in an avalanche incident in La Plagne (Les Bourtes area) losing nothing more than their equipment fortunately.

Current advice - keep it mellow, and watch out for (invisible) rocks!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Year end

2013 decided to leave a bit of sour taste in the mouth here in the Vanoise, with the death of Lionel Blanc in an avalanche on the 27th December.

Lionel worked as a pisteur for many years in Courchevel, was a Maitre-Chien (avalanche dog handler) and involved in the training of Maitres-chien. For the last few years he had been running the Refuge du Grand Plan out behind Courchevel 1650. A regular stop in the winter with and without clients, the refuge was also a regular summer destination with my little boy Daniel, as toddler-carrying curtailed more adventurous days. Lionel was always smiling and happy to advise on conditions and will be a huge loss to the local community (not to mention his family).

It seemed fitting to me to toast Lionel with what remained of the bottle of malt whisky that Will had given me for my 40th - from one Les Avals connoisseur to another:

Goodbye 2013, goodbye Will, goodbye Lionel.