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Winter Memories

07/10/2015



Ok, so I've finally got around to writing about the winter (just before the next one starts !). I know, there's no excuse, but to be honest I love being in the mountains far more than I love sitting at my desk writing about it ! Obviously a whole season is hard to summarise, so I'll just try and stick to the highlights.

So, was it as bad as many people said ? Last winter was a disappointing season overall. The snow was very late to arrive, with practically none until just after Christmas. Even then only the pistes were skiable. The off-piste really didn't get going until mid January.

Late January I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favourite off-piste venues - Zinal in Switzerland, for a week. Assisted by Aspirant Guide Kenny Grant we spent a week exploring the local area. It is a vast area, with very few off-piste skiers, and very easy access. Without trying too hard we were able to ski fresh powder every day. I hope to return there in 2017.

In February I found that variety was the spice of life, with Intro Ski Touring, Avalanche Awareness, a week with the Ski Club of Great Britain, and a ski tour around the Vanoise. The skiing was much better than in January and the previously high avalanche risk had been much reduced. For me the memory of the month was touring around the Vanoise with Chris Shields. After a day of lovely fresh powder and a night in the Roc de la Peche hut (the most luxurious in the Alps), we toured over two cols and skied down into Courchevel. We had left the wild mountains and entered a new world of fur, white ski outfits, make-up, and ridiculous prices, Stopping for lunch at a restaurant we couldn't believe that 2 burgers and 2 beers could actually cost 90 euros - it was definitely time to leave.....

By March the snowpack was pretty stable, but good powder days were still in the minority. Vallee Blanche descents were quite good, but sunny slopes were already being stripped of snow by the warm temperatures. Careful planning, and flexibility on venue were essential to find the best conditions.

Early April brought Apocalyptic conditions to the mountains. Storms raged, with high winds, rain at lower altitudes, and most lifts closed. I was booked for a ski touring trip by a Dutch group, however the Western Alps were looking awful. The solution came with a trip South to the Queyras range. This non-glacial range on the Franco-Italian border is only 60km from the Mediterannean Sea, but is almost all between 2000 and 3000m high. As such we found excellent Spring skiing conditions, staying in lovely huts which were cheap and had showers ! The sun shone every day, and it was a pleasure to explore an area I had never skied in before.

Later in April, after running some local training days, it was a trip to Norway that was to be the highlight of the season for me. The Lyngen Alps, which are 300km inside the Arctic Circle, have become much more popular over the past ten years for ski tourers. They offer peaks of similar altitude to the Scottish highlands, with ski descents all the way to the sea. If this is not exciting enough, we chartered a yacht for the trip, which allowed us to sail from one remote fjord to another between peaks. The yacht was skippered by my old friend Clive Woodman (who I sailed to South Georgia with in 2001). Together with his partner Angela they looked after us like royalty ! The international team ate like kings, drank like lords, and skied like legends.....well, almost. The plan is to hire an even bigger yacht for a return trip in 2017.

The season finished with an attempt to ski Mt Blanc. Will Oswald from New Zealand was joined by 3 friends, and was filming the trip for a documentary. Unfortunately, the weather turned bad and we had to settle for an ascent of Gran Paradiso in Italy instead. It would have been great to have finished the season on a high, but it simply wasn't to be. Mont Blanc will still be there next year.

So, as the next winter season rapidly approaches, if you are keen to get into the mountains please contact me asap. My diary is rapidly filling, so don't delay.....


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