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: