Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Aiguille du Fruit NW couloir

A chance message from Yorick last night decided today's plan... I was going to go for a solo recce around the 3 Valleys, but instead we switched on 'mission mode' for a flog up (and blast down) the NW couloir on the Aiguille du Fruit. It has been a few years since I have been up here so it was nice to be back in such good conditions!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Rescue training and pre-Xmas conditions

Yesterday I spent an informative day in La Clusaz talking snow & group management and also running through some rescue scenarios, with trainers from both ANENA (the French Snow & Avalanche research organisation) and also the PGHM (French Mountain Rescue/police). A very useful day - it was also nice to be back in an old stomping ground - La Clusaz was one of the main areas I learned to ski back in the early '80s... I have been meaning to fit in a day or two there for years, and am definitely keen to get back in the winter when there is more of a base down to re-familiarise myself with the many off piste possibilities!

Meanwhile back in the 3 Valleys we have had snow down to about 800m overnight, though it is now mild and getting a bit 'melty' - this should actually work to our advantage in terms of creating a denser base for future snowfalls to fall onto.
Here are a couple of pictures from last week:

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Easy does it, Tigers. (A rant)

This one has been building up for some time (years) so it is probably time to finally put something down on 'paper'.

We are Sunday 9 December 2018, the season is very young (in fact not really begun) and yet already the avalanche reports are rolling in... Yesterday's lucky escape award goes to a lone off piste skier in Val Thorens who triggered a slide and was buried - fortunately the incident was witnessed by other skiers and ski patrol did a great job of locating him (no beacon) and rescuing him (unconscious but still breathing at that point...).

On Friday 2 skiers had a close call, triggering a slab in the Vallon D'Arpy, and on Wednesday 2 skiers also had a lucky escape, having continued to ascend a slope despite numerous 'whoomfs' and a remotely triggered slab. I have also had anecdotal reports of skier-triggered slabs in the Tignes area, and if you go back through the database of Data Avalanche there are plenty more reports of skier-triggered activity.

All of which brings me to a point - no-one has any patience any more.

Now I am no angel, and I have had my share of close calls over the years, fortunately few and far between, but it seems to me more and more that the current modus operandi of the wider skiing populace of "it is white so we will ski" is just adding fuel to the simmering fire of early season conditions. The last 2 weeks there have been constantly variable conditions with precipitation, wind and a fluctuating 0ยบ isotherm all on a very thin (if existing at all) base/snowpack. Heading into avalanche terrain at the moment definitely requires all senses to be on full alert, and maximum respect given to the mountain - despite the thin snowpack and a relatively small slide - 50m x 50m - the Val Thorens skier was buried and only the luck of a probe search found him - deposits were up to 2m deep.

But the ever-increasing hordes appear to skin on without a care, and maybe some of the problem lies with web-isation of ski touring and the massively increased numbers of people partaking these days - I could not believe the number of tourers on the hill 2 weeks ago when I went for a little nosy above Courchevel - conditions were utterly desperate - 2 piste-bashers width thinning to 1 piste basher-width of skiable snow, and yet I was passed by at least 40 people during the hour or so I was skinning. (And yes I was one of those up there so you can call me a hypocrit if you like, but 10 years ago I can remember heading up in good conditions on a powder day with a good base down and seeing maximum 10 other people on the mountain)

And never mind the avalanche conditions, skiing/touring off piste in the pre-season (particularly a really thin one like this year) brings with it a very high risk of 'doing a Schumacher' - even if it not to that extent I can roll off a long list of friends who have ended their season (and nearly ended themselves) in Decembers gone by - a shattered shoulder and pneumo-thorax - 2 (separate incident) broken femurs - a tib-fib, and the list goes on. A report from today on skitour.fr made light of the fact that both skiers did several head-over-heels on the way down, skiing in poor visibility - well that to me is just asking for trouble at this time of year - as my mate Stew will testify, doing a head-over-heels and finding that the head part coincides with a rock is not conducive to good health. Another friend, for whom I have the utmost respect as a skier and a guide, tore out the side of his ski a couple of days back on a high speed 'training lap' on the Hellbronner - there is a fine line between that and a season-ending injury...

Maybe I am just turning into a grumpy old geezer (my wife would certainly not argue that one), or maybe, just maybe, I have seen, heard and read enough over 25 years in the industry to know that early season conditions need a lot of care and maybe. just maybe we all need to get a little bit of patience back into our lives. I am not saying 'do not go touring or off piste skiing early in the season', but it seems to me if skiers are going to ignore woomfs & remotely triggered slides and skin merrily upwards, or go charging hard in shallow snowpacks, that the dice are loaded, and not in favour of the skier.

Rant over - have a good season everyone! (But maybe wait until there is a base down!)

December 2018 - early season conditions & course availability

It has all been rather quiet on the blog of late - work & family combining to keep me away!

Yesterday was opening day for Courchevel and Meribel, and with a CPD day due to keep up to date with all things admin for BASI I met up with 3 colleagues for a day of discussions centred around working off piste - client briefing, terrain choice, new technologies and more were discussed at length throughout the day, with a few turns thrown in for good measure.

The snow in the 3 Valleys is quite thin at the moment, especially below 2300m. Above this there is the beginning of a base of cold winter snow, though plenty more is needed to get the classic off piste routes into viable condition:

Below 2300m there is really just a superficial covering off piste, and a skeleton network of pistes open (as usual for week 1 of the winter) - skiing back to the Chaudanne in Meribel is definitely not for the faint-hearted (or those with new skis!):

Today it is very windy (nothing open) but snowing hard, with the freezing level due to drop towards 800m later, so that should start to make a difference!

Winter 2018/2019 is almost fully booked, but there are still one or two spots left on the following courses:

Off Piste Introduction - The 3 Valleys - 26 Jan - 2 Feb 2019

Vanoise Freeride - 3 Valleys/Paradiski (& more) - 23 - 30 Mar 2019

** Please note: due to an unplanned forced change in web host the www.offpisteskiing.com website is not currently fully operational for the time being **

Please contact us for booking details for the courses.

Meanwhie, to keep the juices flowing for the coming winter here is an inspiring film from Tof Henry:

Born in Chamonix [FULL FILM] from ARMADA SKIS on Vimeo.