Friday, 29 January 2016

Steep ski coaching Jan 2016

This week I have been running some steep ski coaching for a couple of IFMGA mountain guides and their friends. This has been a regular fixture for a few years now and is always great fun and a good challenge...

The first couple of days we spent around the 3 Valleys, revisiting and expanding on some technical and tactical subjects from previous years.

Photo ©andypmountainguide

One of the benefits of skiing with Andy Perkins is he always manages to get a couple of good snaps of me in action- quite a rare occurence!

Photo ©andypmountainguide

On day 3 we went off for a run down the Couloir Cairn on the North Face of Bellecote. As always this didn't disappoint and gave the team a long consistent steep run to put the previous days' work into practise...

Yesterday we went back up to La Plagne and had a good day throwing laps on the amazing terrain in the Bellecote bowl. Flat light in the afternoon upped the challenge a bit, but we were rewarded with some mellow powder turns later in the afternoon when the sun came back out...

Going for a short walk:

Reaping the rewards:

Jim S styling it up:

Ramping it up in the afternoon - Andy P throwing some turns on 50º:

Jim K cruising mellow powder in the afternoon sun:

Thanks to Jim S, Jim K, Pete and Andy for another great week - looking forward to our 2017 session already!

Conditions update:

La Plagne:

Bellecote North Face is very bony at the moment, but Cairn, Canadians and variants are all in reasonable condition (at time of writing) and there was quite a lot of traffic coming out of Petite Face Nord. The Bellecote bowl still has some chalky snow on shady slopes, but sunnier aspects are getting a bit crusty. Pistes seemed to be holding up well. Passage de Frête and similar South-facing descents to Champagny-le-haut were being skied, but the last part of these descents is thin and timing is crucial as the lower sections are also exposed to afternoon 'warm slides' (one person caught on Monday on the summer path down from the Combe de la Vélière...).

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

3 Valleys off piste report 26 Jan 2016

This week I am back a home base in the 3 Valleys coaching a couple of IFMGA Mountain Guides and their friends.
Conditions are OK, but not spectacular - temperatures feel more like March than January!
There is still some soft snow to be found on shady aspects - we have been sticking to 'lift-served' areas so a bit of skinning will definitely still find some nice turns. The snowpack seems to be settling down (though sunny aspects are starting to kick off in the afternoon heat), but a lot of areas have some big crown walls left which need a careful approach and tend to have some pretty thin, scratchy ground below (nearly all the Saulire couloirs, under the cables of Plattieres etc etc).

Couloir Curé was in good condition yesterday (Monday), and the Croix de Verdons Y looked good too. Mt Vallon couloirs were a mix of chalky and soft, and Cairn from the top of Plattieres had very few tracks up top, and the normally scratchy mid-section was acutally well filled in! Today we were mostly up around the Cime de Caron, with some soft snow followed by a firmer exit under the cables, and soft snow on the East facing 'shoulder' slopes - care needed in here at the moment though as a fall would most likely result in a 'gravity-assisted' trip over the rocks at the bottom (which seem to grow every year!).

A couple of pics from Andy P:

The mild weather looks set to continue for some time - head for the shade for colder snow or start looking for spring snow on the South faces...

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Off Piste Improvers - Val D'Anniviers

Last week I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Val D'Anniviers for the Off Piste Improvers course. I have been coming to the Val D'Anniviers for around 15 years now and despite it regularly appearing in '10 best off-piste resorts you've never heard of' style articles for most of that time it is still very much an 'under-the-radar' sort of place. With very cold (-19C) temperatures on the first 2 days we spent alot of time skiing down low in the trees, and as the week wore on the temperatures rose, visibility improved, and we were able to make full use of the terrain. Despite the Chamois and 'middle' bowls being completely unskiable due to massive avalanches the week previous we were still skiing fresh tracks on the Friday! (Snow/conditions report follows the photos).

A big thank you to Chas, Kate, Peter F, Judy, Malcolm and Pete D for a great week - it was very rewarding to see the progress made by all throughout the week. Great to catch up with IFMGA guides Nick P, Nigel S and the legendary Serge Lambert through the week too!







Snow conditions:

Grimentz: All the 'close in' off piste is in good shape. Orzival was well-skied by most lines on Friday, but still with loads of space for fresh tracks. Good cover down to St Jean.

Zinal: The frontside off piste has great cover, a little patchier in the 'meadows' below the cable car station. Moiry dam run is OK once you navigate the very wind-stripped top 30m. A slab had gone in the first gully left of the normal route on Thursday, and reports were of a bigger slab which had released (or been triggered) in the next gully left by the time Nick went down on Friday!
Chamois and middle bowls are unskiable as the whole lot has released and is either back to a thin covering over rock, or avalanche debris lower down.

Friday, 15 January 2016

More Courchevel powder!

Just when you think it can't get any better, it does!

Last day with the BSSG crew yesterday was very deep!

Today was a (very) rare day off for me 'sans kids' so I took the opportunity to revisit some of Will & my old stomping grounds form a few winters back, while the world and his dog headed up high for a powder bunfight...The only tracks I crossed were my own, 3 laps of perfection (with a bit of effort to get in & out...)!

Courchevel powder heaven 15 Jan 2016 from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Courchevel Powder

Winter 2015/16 is most definitely 'happening'!

After a timely cancellation on agreement of both parties on Monday due to pouring rain to about 2000m the 0º isotherm dropped and we have been treated to 2 spectacular days of powder skiing in Courchevel 1650. With a high avalanche risk steep slopes were definitely to be avoided, but when it is this good on piste, who needs to go further afield?:

Having skied in 1650 as a kid in the early 80s, and been nased there for most of the early 00s, I was rmeinded just how good it is on a powder day, when the majority of people head off towards the main part of Courchevel & the 3 Valleys, leaving acres of fun terrain just waiting for tracks!

Yesterday we had a slightly mellower day, but were still putting down fresh tracks at 4pm!

On an equipment note, having now spent a good few days skiing the Salomon MTN LAB boots with bigger skis in deeper snow I can still say that they are absolutely ticking all the boxes for me! Look out for some second hand Dynafit Mercurys coming onto the market soon!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Off Piste conditions report 9 Jan 2016 - Chamonix & surrounding area

After a dry start to the winter conditions have now taken a turn for the better and it looks like there is plenty of snow on the way too! Here is a run through of the last week in Chamonix and surrounding areas with a concise summary at the end of the post.

This last week I was based in Chamonix coaching Tim, Phil and John who were keen to improve their off piste skiing. Coming into the week reports from friends and colleagues were 'overwhelmingly underwhelming' and a quick glance through the Compagnie du Mont Blanc website for lift & piste showed very little open. AN open-minded approach is needed in Chamonix at the best of times, and even more so with tricky conditions.

On day 1 & 2 we headed for Les Contamines - with a mostly grassy hillside it takes very little cover for the off piste to be skiable and so it proved, with some light fresh powder on and off the piste on Monday and barely a soul around:

On Tuesday the jungle drums had obviously been beating as there were considerably more groups and airbag-toting skiers kicking around, but even more snow, and even more lifts open for everyone to spread out:

On day 3 we braved the 'raditude' of the Grands Montets (amazing how the vibe changes from place to place...) and found some good snow, though way more tracked out than the previous days... The top section of the cable car and Retour Pendant were closed, but this still leaves loads of useful terrain to work with. We took a tentative run down the top half of the Lavancher bowl, but stuck mostly to where the Chamois piste would go, as the amount of granite showing off to the sides was not encouraging. There were people heading off in all directions, and one can only assume the ski repair shops have had a busy busy week!

The gullies under the Canadian bowl and the lower section of Herse & Bochard had reasonable cover, allowing for some steeper turns:

Pierre a Ric was skiable, though very thin in the middle section, with care needed crossing the streams/ditches.

On Thursday the 'offpisteskiing powder radar' was in full effect and we headed over to Italy for the jackpot, knowing that Grands Montets would be a bunfight (if they opened at all). A great call as we skied light knee deep powder all day, with hardly anyone else off piste save a handful of clued-in skiers - and even greater when we found out that only the Tabe and Marmottons chairs opened at the GMs that day!

Yesterday the 0 isotherm was forecast to go high, with continued snow and wind, so Courmayeur was again the best option, though the snow off piste was very heavy. The big ski brigade had turned up in force today, but they were all 24 hours too late!
A good day to test out my new Soulquest jacket and pants (thank you Salomon UK !!) which did a good job of keeping me dry despite the 'moist' atmosphere.

All in all a great week despite some challenging conditions - Phil, Tim and John are already booked in again for next year and I am looking forward to it already.

Conditions summary as at 8 Jan 2016:

Grands Montets: Very bony, but getting better with each snowfall. Canadian bowl, lower gullies above mid-station and the 'minigolf' around the Tabé chair all have a reasonable base. Entry to Italian bowl is rockier than I have ever seen, and I would personally wait for a lot more base before venturing too far into Lavancher.

Le Tour: Information is that the terrain off the top chair (minus back bowls - no info) has reasonable cover and was skiing well mid-week.

Flegere/Brevent: Very little information, as very few lifts were open on this side through the week. Being South-facing this side had much less (or no) base prior to this week's snowfalls...

St Gervais: Reports of good skiing in the trees on Thursday, though the high rain/snow level yesterday will not have been kind here.

Contamines: Skiing very well early in the week. More than 60% of lifts open, and reasonable cover in the Aiguille Croche sector on Tuesday. The hillside lookers right of this was very wind-scoured though, so will need a decent extra base to bring it in.

Courmayeur: Youla & Arp stayed shut this week, but the tree skiing lower down was excellent on Thursday, though care needed as there are still some stumps lurking which are only just covered.

The high isotherm may be a blessing in disguise as it should help to consolidate the extra snow that came down on Thursday (it took 15 minutes to dig out the car in Val Veny after a day's skiing!) as long as temperatures cool down again shortly.

**Warning** Off piste remains very dangerous at the moment and requires very careful selection of areas and slopes.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Chamonix off piste coaching

Day 3 of 5 coaching Tim, Phil & John yesterday. We braved the 'raditude of the Grands Montets and found there was still some nice snow to ski, though with a fair amount of granite showing too!

Plenty of terrain to work on skiing tight lines in control...

Today was a big powder day, though much caution was needed to minimise the risk, It was mostly like this:

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Winter has (finally) started!

After a tough 3 weeks working with some very thin snow conditions winter 2016 appears to have finally kicked off!
Much caution is needed currently due to avalanche risk and a very thin or non-existant base, but there is some fun to be had out there in the right places.

I am currently in Chamonix, but with current conditions some lateral thinking has to be applied to find good skiing with low risk - yesterday was good:

So good we went back to the same place today, and it was even better!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year!

A very Happy New Year to all!

2016 started with a stunning sea of clouds below the 3 Valleys:

...and was followed up today by a good 20cms of snow, with more due to fall throughout the course of this week.

The last couple of weeks I have been on 'piste & fine dining' duties, but normal service resumes on Monday!

Conditions off piste last week in the 3 Valleys were actually reasonable on the few viable routes - chalky snow with better grip than the majority of the pistes. All change now - caution will be needed with these first falls as we are still essentially in a 'start of season' situation, with hidden rocks a major hazard and instability to be expected on any steeper slope.