Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to one and all. Family day for me today... here's hoping the New Year will bring us lots of snow!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Salomon MTN LAB boots - first impressions

I am now 4 days in on a pair of MTN LAB boots (thanks to Salomon UK !!), so here are some initial impressions:

(for reference I am 83Kg currently, size 28.0, previous touring boots include Dynafit Mercury, Technica Cochise Pro 130, Dynafit Titan & TLT5P, along with a variety of 120/130 alpine boots; conditions tested - hardpack piste, grippy piste, old soft powder, variable/crud... early season '15 in the Alps!)

Fit - seems similar to a Titan but possibly slightly tighter at the ball of foot and toe box. I never had to have a Titan shell pushed out, but most likely will with the MTN LAB

Buckles - The 2 buckle + powerstrap system seems very efficient at creating great hold of the foot in the boot. My initial worry looking at the boot was the lack of a 'middle' buckle, as with 2-buckle boots in the past (ie TLT5s etc) I have had trouble getting sufficient 'hold' of the heel back into the pocket, particularly noticeable when skiing heavier snow.

Boots with a view:

Walk mode - amazing! The range is very good (though this isn't a big factor for me as I don't typically go for uber-long strides even on the flat) but what really sets this boot apart is how good the walk mode is without unbuckling the main buckles (unlike the majority of touring boots I have used in the ast where most buckles had to be very loose to create a noticeable 'walk' feel). The lever to lock/unlock ski/walk mode is small but very positive.

Ski performance - very good so far - on a par with the Technica 130s, and considering these are 400gs lighter per foot (going on book weights - to verify on the scales when I have 10 minutes) this is impressive. Flex is stiff (good) but very progressive. Lateral rigidity seems excellent.

More to follow when I have had a bit more time in these...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Risk tolerance

This short video featuring Swiss avalanche researcher Manuel Genswein is a very concise explanation of the long-term potential consequences of different levels of risk tolerance. Increasingly I found myself a little (lot) perplexed at the levels of risk some people will accept - consciously or unknowingly (that is of course the question...) - this early season is a case in point with people quite happy to ski through rock minefields with zero base of snow other than the snowfall from 2/3 weeks ago... maybe it is just experience (and dare one say wisdom) accumulated from various friends who have had early season prangs in similar conditions ( one a broken femur, another an exploded shoulder, pneumothorax and a few other things, another a tib-fib...). Maybe I am just turning into a grumpy old git!

Friday, 11 December 2015

3 Valleys snow report 11 Dec 2015

One word summary: bony!

Compared to last year there is a bit more snow down low, but less up high - compare and contrast these 2 photos of the St Peres couloirs - first last year on 6 Dec:

And today:

Good to see where the 'schrunds are on the Peclet West face:

The rot spreads a bit further - there is now a blue piste down into the Bouchet valley from the top of the Thorens lift, so was once a brilliant quiet valley easily accessed from Orelle, or from Val Thorens with a minimum of effort has now the double-despoliation of the zip-wire over the top and a piste down it... oh well that's progress I suppose!

Back to the snow report, there are quite a few tracks in various bits of offpiste, but there are very few places which currently seem justifiable considering the risk of knackering ski or body on the rocks... though some friends skied the Lac du Lou itinerary the other day and reported a reasonable fill, though with an exit to the skier's left of the lake. Fingers crossed for some snow!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Pralognan ice

With off piste in the Vanoise still an unappetising game of russian roulette with the rocks today I met up with Gordon for a mini-adventure on an icy goulotte above Pralognan. The little bit of skiing we did off piste to get down from the route was enough to convince me I am in no rush to go too wild off piste yet... More snow needed!

Target for the day:

Gordon on the approach:

Someone was keeping an eye on us...:

Thanks to Gordon for this photo:

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Freeride Briançon coaching course - spaces available

There are still some spaces left on this winter's Freeride Briançon course, running from 12 - 19 March 2016. The week will be based in a hotel in Serre Chevalier, 200m from the nearest lift. Within an easy drive we also can access the Via Lattea system (Montgenevre, Claviere etc), Puy St Vincent and of course the mighty La Grave. With so many off piste possibilities we will be able to make the best of whatever conditions throw at us, with coaching input throughout the week.

For prices etc have a look at the website.

To get you in the mood here are a couple of shots from one of our coaching courses in Montgenevre last winter:

Friday, 27 November 2015

November 27 Snow report - Courchevel

Bigger plans succumbed to family matters today, but I still managed to sneak out for a quick leg-stretcher up the hill in Courchevel.

At 2000m there is about 40cm of unconsolidated snow, at 2500m it was definitely deeper, but no base either way so slopes with grass underneath are definitely the way to go for touring or off piste until a base starts to set up. The main Courchevel pistes have a thin base now (the pisteurs have been busy!), and cannons were in full action getting more depth down on the main arteries today (Verdons, Chenus, Biollay, Coqs etc).

Grand Bec in the background:


Looking over to Biollay:

Top of Chenus:

Powder on a pisted base on Jantzen:

Good cover down to (and below) 1850:

A little top-up due over the weekend - fingers crossed!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Lofoten video

Some nice memories on this little video from Matt, who was on our second Lofoten trip in 2015. Still a couple of spaces left for the right people in 2016!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Kendal Mountain Festival 2015

Winter is steadily drawing near (although the sun is very much present out here in the Alps) and as usual I am preparing for a quick trip back to the UK for the Kendal Mountain Festival. Once again I will be working on the core presenting team introducing and compering films and speakers throughout the weekend.

Kendal Mountain Festival 2015 - Official Trailer from Kendal Mountain Festival on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Winter 15/16 preview

Snow is starting to fall on the high peaks of the Vanoise, so after a very busy summer (hence the lack of bloggage) it feels like ski time is very close at hand again!
The summer has been incredibly busy, juggling rope access and rescue training, dusting off my UIMLA badge for some trek guiding in the Gran Paradiso (see the picture below), 2 very energetic offspring to deal with along with trying to organise the winter...

Tom enjoying a 'natural infinity pool' during our Gran Paradiso trek.

Winter 15/16 is shaping up to be a very busy one once again here at offpisteskiing HQ, with the diary almost full before June was through! Coming up this winter, the usual range of courses, from Off Piste Introduction through to the now-legendary Steep Vanoise weeks and (of course) a 4th spring in Lofoten, with 2 separate weeks on offer. Spaces are few and far between on these courses, but if you are interested take a look at the website and get in touch!

Thoughts are already turning to winter 16/17, with Japan, a return to Kyrgyzstan, a boat-assisted Lofoten trip and possibly Iceland all in the mix... let's see what comes to fruition!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Scotland still going strong!

Good to see the guys still getting after it back in Scotland, whilst we are melting in a heatwave out here in the Alps!

The Scottish scene is really inspiring at the moment, with so many motivated ski-mountaineers around...

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Winter 14/15 slideshow

I have finally got round to putting together a slideshow of the best photos form last winter!

Going through all the photos reminded me of how many good days there were and how much great snow we skied, despite general perception of a 'poor' winter (and it certainly wasn't a vintage year by any means...). Just goes to show that if you stay flexible there is almost always good snow to be found somewhere... Winter 1415 Slideshow from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Blast from the past

They may not be off piste, but these 2 videos are a real blast from my past - thanks to Mark Petty for posting them elsewhere - I can still remember getting Roc Petrovic (who crops up in one of these videos) to autograph my Dynastar Courses at one of the Scottish FIS races featured here mid-80s...

Friday, 29 May 2015

Magic carpet ride...

Yesterday evening I had a sudden burst of enthusiasm, threw some kit in a bag, checked boots fitted bindings, set the alarm quite early, and hoped the motivation would still be there when it went off...


The Pointe du Vallonet is a sub-peak of the Grand Bec and one of those lines that stares you in the face from Bozel though for some reason I had never got around to skiing it. Given the lack of skiing this spring (work & family & weather combining regularly to stop play...) this was a perfect line for today - 1500m of up, 200m at 45º then lots of mellow terrain.

I was very surprised as I drove up to the parking spot to see another car there... clearly I am not the only madman in the Vanoise - Frank had the same idea as me and we naturally fell in step and had a good natter on the way up.

Crampons on for the narrows below the summit slopes - bulletproof!

On the summit ridge:

Great views from the top along to the Grande Casse:

After hanging out on the summit for 30 minutes, we decided that on the balance it was better to ski the top slopes when they were hard and get great skiing all the way down from there, rather than wait for the summit slopes to soften up but then have 1000m of porridge below. As the top 200m was quite 'textured' anyway this was an easy decision, but did mean some fairly controlled skiing on 45º bullet-proof-ness for my first outing this year on my super-lightweight kit...!

Frank on the summit slopes:

On the shoulder above the steep narrows:

Below the narrows - it starting getting really good from here!

From here on down we were treated to 1000m of perfect spring snow (and when I say perfect I mean really, really perfect - billiard smooth, top inch softened, pure velvet...):

And it just kept on going:

Even the Scottish-style gully at the end was fun skiing!

The gully-line took us down to 2050m, leaving just 250m of hiking back to the cars, not bad for the end of May!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Tech 250 crampon review

I have been meaning to post this review for a while, but the same things that have put a hold to skiing this spring have also kept me away from the blog...

Last autumn I came across the Tech 250 crampon from TC Design - a mini-crampon that uses the tech inserts of touring boots as attachment points. The idea seemed interesting to me as a lightweight 'exceptional circumstances' crampon that most importantly won't take up too much space in a pack. Currently only available in the US the postage costs on the website were astronomical (from memory about the same price as the crampons - $115), but a quick email to the guys at Pro Ski Service produced a very quick response and a much more reasonable postage price! (Thanks guys!)

Having now used these crampons several times (sadly not as much as hoped...) here are a few thoughts:

- Set-up is reasonably easy but does take some trial and error to suss out the appropriate washer combination for a solid mount.
Having got them set up solidly in the garage when I put them on one still had some slight vertical movement. This doesn't concern me unduly from a safety point of view but does from a wear and tear on boot inserts point of view, as the pins going in to the inserts are threaded screws any movement is potentially going to scratch up the surface of the insert leading to more icing problems (potentially).

- Very positive front points, these crampons feel rock solid even in water ice - once again steel wins hands down over lighter options (aluminium etc).

- Limited footwork possibilities due to the lack of rear points - front pointing or nearly front pointing only... it is far (massively so) more energy efficient in lots of situations to be able to use the whole side of the foot/crampon, even on 'mellow' slopes rather than 'front pointing'.

- Super-compact! I like to keep my pack as slim and trim as possible, and these definitely help keep the volume down (weight is not such a big issue as there are plenty of decent hybrid crampons out there with reasonable front points that aren't much heavier...).

Will I use them more? They will most definitely have a place in my pack on certain select outings - a prime example being this trip with 200/300m of couloir which needed to be climbed but would almost certainly be skied going down - however any time there may be a more 'mountaineering element' (ie up/down/across travel on foot), or for longer climbs where energy efficiency is important I will most likely stick to a regular crampon.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Marker Kingpin - brief review

Whilst in Norway last month I had the opportunity to try out the much-heralded Marker Kingpin binding for a couple of days (thumbs down to SAS for sending my ski bag to Frankfurt instead of Oslo... thumbs up to Seth at Lofoten Ski Lodge for lending me a pair of skis...!).

I don't intend to offer an in-depth review (plenty has been written elsewhere detailing the fine details) but here are some impressions:

Weight - the Kingpins come in at a very acceptable weight for a 'beefy' pin binding. Combined with a pair of lightweight skis eg Whitedot Ranger Carbonlites or similar the overall package weight is reasonable, especially considering the following points...

The 'Marker clunk' - for those of you who have skied Dukes/Barons or Tour 10/12s you will know what I am on about here... the Tour 12 heel piece shuts with a plastic-sounding 'clack', the Baron/Duke heelpiece shuts with a hefty 'clunk'... you know you are in a beefy binding and that is has properly engaged. Its a very reassuring noise, especially when you are about to drop in to something steep. The Kingpin shares this comforting 'clunk' - thumbs up from me!

Feel - the Kingpin has a great 'feel' as a connection between boot and ski - less harsh perhaps than a regular pin binding.

Transitions - the transition from skin to ski mode and vice-versa is easy and quick.

Delta - without taking any measurements the Kingpin felt similar to the Plum Yak (ie very little delta between toe and heel heights) - in my book this is a good thing!

Risers - my one complaint - the risers have a very shiny surface finish which actually made it quite tricky to flip them on or off. This may have been due to the borrowed poles and the basket/handle materials, and like most things I am sure there is a knack to be found and once acquired changing riser will be easy, but this was an irritation for 2 days.

Weight (part 2) - the Kingpin weighs in at 650g per binding, 200g more than my current reference point Plum Yak but substantially lighter than the Dynafit Beast (955g).

Summary: Would I buy this binding? Yes - the Kingpin may well find its way into my garage, particularly on bigger skis where weight isn't absolutely critical. Will it replace the Plum Yak for me? I don't think so, but would need to spend more time on the Kingpin to cast a firm vote...

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Grand Bec N ridge N couloir

A few days ago I went for a quick leg-stretcher up the North couloir on the Grand Bec North Ridge. In the photo below this is the couloir going up to and then following the ridge on the left-hand face:

Although seemingly tiny compared to the imposing lines on the NW face proper this still gives 400m of 40-50º skiing, with 1100m of rolling terrain below that down to Plan Fournier.

Conditions however were a bit less than ideal, with a very solid (some might say icy) base in the couloir with a mix of old powder, crust, and thin slab on top. As I approached the bend as the couloir hits the ridge this turned into 5cm of soft crust on top of very hard icy snow so I decided simply turn around at the ridge rather than follow the top 150m of the couloir for the full tick...

Here is some POV footage from the descent showing the mix of snow encountered - the snow actually got better and better (and better) the lower I dropped, with the best skiing being the last 300m vertical before running out of snow, where low clouds had deposited some nice fluffy powder on top of the smooth spring snow base!

Grand Bec - N ridge N couloir from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Clients often ask about skis for touring, and today was a prime example of the range of conditions you can encounter in just one descent. For my money, the Whitedot Ranger Carbonlite is still the go-to ski for a wider touring ski: light, torsionally stiff, progressive flex, not too much sidecut (so not too twitchy in heavier or crustier snow) and loads of fun to ski!

**Note: since shooting this footage we have had lots of snow, high winds, then lots and lots of rain to a very high level so conditions in the mountains have changed completely...)**

From a coaching point of view there are some really interesting points which are well illustrated in this video - to do them justice though I will try to put together a separate video/post... watch this space!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Lofoten 2015 - part 4...

The second-last installment from last month's trip to Lofoten!

With good weather forecast again we set our sights back on the uber-classic Geitgaljern and this time were rewarded with great turns right off the summit and some good snow (gradually getting heavier (and heavier)) in South gully!

Happy summitteers!

Nick on the steep summit pyramid:



Jim on great cold snow in the upper bowl:

Nick in the atmospheric and aesthetic South gully:

Amanda again:

On small stream crossing then skis back on all the way to the teepee:

Jim & Matt discover the ultimate evolution of split-boarding:

Geitgaljern centre of shot, with South gully starting left of the peak:

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Lofoten 2015 - part 3...

Day 3 came with a great forecast and in true adventure style we set course for a peak I had spotted while driving on Saturday - I have only seen 1 reference to this peak online, so will leave it un-named here to allow others to discover it for themselves! The gully we were heading for is a striking line centre of the picture below:

Boot-packing up the gully:

Nick enjoying top quality spring snow in the gully:



Nick heading up for some bonus turns back to the car - spectacular doesn't even come close to describing the scenery:

A warm welcome back to the lodge from Nanook:

The forecast for day 4 was, as the Scots would say, 'minging' but with a promise of clearing late afternoon. A mix of sight-seeing and coffee-drinking occurred in the morning, and relentless weather-map peering convinced me that in the West it would clear up late afternoon. Unfortunately, by this time most of the team had lost 'momentum', so it was left to Jack and I to keep the spirit alive and we saddled up for the hour drive out to Stornappstind with our eyes on the South gully - the obvious gully dropping from the summit down the right face in the next picture (taken last year...!):

As we set out we had a clear view right up to the summit. Sadly as we climbed higher the cloudbase dropped gradually, and we arrived at the summit with not a whole lot of visibility. Time to sign the summit book, change over and slide carefully to the gully entrance:

Despite the visibility the gully was in excellent condition, soft spring snow on a firmer but smooth base - well worth the effort to come out!
Jack in action showing off his 'Lecluse-double-pole-plant' style:

Definitely worth the effort!