23 June, 2011

New Blog - New Website

We have launched a new website at www.mountaintracks.co.uk which also contains our blog. We are in the process of migrating blog posts from this blog to the new website. No new articles will be added to this blog and once all the existing articles have been migrated this blog will be deleted.

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28 February, 2011

Powder also reported in Zinal!

After a long barren spell in Zinal, Eric and Penny are reporting great conditions in the new snow and the photos don't lie...

If you fancy getting in on the action we have 3 places left on our Advanced level Off-Piste week staying in Eric & Penny's delightful chalet in Zinal.
Visit http://www.mountaintracks.co.uk/winter/offpiste_adventure/zinal_advanced for details or call our office on 020 8123 2978.

Mid Ski-Season Blues... I don't think so now the powder is back!

View of the Aiguille Noir de Peuterey and Italy in the cloud

It’s been a busy couple of months since the New Year for everyone at Mountain Tracks and I can’t believe as I turned the page over in dairy this morning that it will be the 1st March tomorrow - where does the time go?

As most of you will know the last 6 weeks has been tough in the Alps. There was a long dry spell in January for over a month were very little snow fell. The off piste skiing was hard pack and in the high mountains you could still ski some cold chalky snow, the pistes remained in good condition and with the sun shining it was really not all that bad. Our guides did need to get inventive and go in search of better snow but all our trips found reasonable snow off piste and everyone benefited from skiing the more challenging snow.

Getting inventive with your skiing to keep it interesting was certainly something I got used to in Chamonix over the last 6 weeks or so. From cruising the corduroy on piste early in the mornings to brush up some technique to ski tours across the top of the Vallee Blanche to Italy for better coffee and altitude training! Thankfully now the high pressure that was blocking all the weather fronts from the Alps has moved away and we have had 3 good falls of snow since the start of last week.

Me at the top of the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche

Monday saw snow in Italy and Chamonix and we also received around 20cm of snow on Thursday which gave some great ski touring on Saturday in the Aiguille Rouge. Saturday night turned into a snowy one which made Sunday a great day of skiing powder. It continued to snow all day and my friends and I had a great days skiing at Grands Montets, despite the cloud, snow and poor visibility for those that knew where they were going the top of the Grands Montets delivered 40cm of perfect powder. After 5 runs from the top, 2 laps of the piste to the base, a run off the bochard gondola and a fat boys lunch my legs were too tired to do anymore!

Over the last few weeks I have also been out skiing with a number of the trips we have run in and around Chamonix. I really enjoy getting out to meet the guests on our holidays, especially as I speak to all of them before they travel so it’s nice to put a face to the name. It’s also a great way to see the guides at work and keep learning new skills and new routes.

Back in early January I spent the day in Courmayeur with our Off Piste Performance Plus course. Bryan Hogg was instructing and we had a great day enjoying some powder and hard pack snow off piste and lots of tree skiing, as well as the obligatory Italian pasta lunch.

Our courses in Ste. Foy through January fared well in the snow drought, the Ste. Foy and Tarentaise area gets much less skied than Chamonix and the more popular off piste resorts. Hence that even after 3 weeks of no new snow the groups were enjoying untracked powder in the quiet corners of La Plagne, Les Arcs and Tignes/Val D’Isere. Thanks to Bryan Hogg, Annie Donovan, Stuart Macdonald and Willie Todd for their expect teaching and guiding skills over those weeks.

At the end of January I spent a day with our Foundation Avalanche Course run by Francis Kelsey and Mike Arnold in Chamonix. We had a great day in the sun at Brevent and Flegere doing search and rescue training with our transceivers. In the afternoon we set up a couple of “scenario” for the group to do have a go at. Not telling them how many transceivers were buried so they could put into practise all the training from the previous 2 days. Everyone learnt a huge amount of information and many news skills to help keep them safe in the mountains, recognise avalanche terrain and how to use a transceiver effectively.

Avalanche Training Foundation course

I have also had a day out on our Ski Touring Skills Weekend in early February with Kathy Murphy leading the charge. We spent the day in the somewhat snow-reduced resort of Megeve and Combloux ski touring. We did a great little ski tour to the Petit Croisse Baulet which is ideal terrain for learning the skinning technique, uphill kick turns and all about ski touring in general. Its takes just over an hour to walk to the summit up through the pretty tree-lined slopes and you get a magnificent 360 deg panorama at the top with the whole Mont Blanc massif to the south, the Jura and lake Geneva to the north and we could even see down to the Mont Aiguille in the Vercors south of Grenbole.

Lunch at the top of the Petit Croisse Baulet

The ski down was fun with a variety of old reconstituted powder and spring snow. We did run out of snow at one point and had an amusing 10 mins learning the technique for walking down steep grassy slopes, more akin to April ski touring than February. After a quick drink in the bar in Giettaz we took the lifts back towards home doing some avalanche transceiver training on the way and some all round fun skiing in the sunshine.

Last week I headed out on the first day of out Steep Ski clinic run by Remy Lecluse; myself, Andrew and Jonathan had a great days skiing at Brevent and Flegere. The weather was not ideal but we skied some great powder in the morning and then headed to the steep slopes of the Pente de la Hotel above Brevent to learn Remy’s technique to jump turn on steep slopes. It’s certainly an education skiing with the great man, he makes every turn look effortless and is very precise about the way in which he wants you to ski. In the afternoon we headed to the Aigullie Pourrie a nice peak above the ski area. It requires an initial steep skin up a slope before a traverse towards the Col de Gliere. We then climbed to the summit before swapping crampons for skis and enjoyed a great run of powder back to the piste at Flegere.

Remy’s tutorial on steep ski technique at the top of the Hotel Face, Brevent

This Saturday I did a great ski tour to the Breche du Berard in the Aiguille Rouge, a nice day tour with 2 climbs and a great ski back to Le Buet. There was some great snow to ski on the way down the Berard valley and with fresh tracks all way in the sunshine it was brilliant day.

Self Portrait on the way down the Breche du Berard

John skiing the powder on Saturday

Make the most of the new snow and join us on some up and coming trips where we still have availability. We have space on our Off Piste Adventure Advanced week in Zinal from this Saturday. We also have places on the Wild Western Oberland ski tour from the 12th March, Off Piste Advanced course in Chamonix from the 13th March and an Intermediate Adventure trip to Andermatt from the 19th March.

Matt and Olly are out guiding our Klosters-Andermatt ski safari this week and Bryan and Willie are in Ste. Foy for our performance course, I am sure they are all enjoying excellent snow conditions. More updates from the Alps soon.....

17 December, 2010

First Run of the Season on the Grand Montet

By Olly Allen
It's that time of year for me when cranking overhanging rock gets usurped by snow. Besides the climbing wall and a few brief forrays into Italy through the winter its ski, ski, ski for the next 5 months. Last weekend Matt and I headed out to the Grand Montet in Chamonix with some mates and my new toy, a head cam. The first day on skis off piste is always a killer with maximum thigh burn and ski's feeling like they're running away with themselves. We were both plesantly surprised by the excellent level of snow cover above 2000m.

The poor weather through the autumn has done a great job of filling everything in. After a few warm up runs down the Lvancher bowl on the Grand Montet we did a brief tour up to the top station at 3000m and descent down next to the glacier. Both areas were well filled but even so keeping your speed down is a must at this time of year as there are alot of icy blocks and rocks waiting to catch the unwary out! As usual the views down the Chamonix valley and the high mountains were breathtaking. We even managed to find some nice sheltered spots with windblown powder and some crust! So heres a link to the video its only my second using Moviemaker (and it shows). Think I need to invest in a Mac and become a real video anorak, watch this space

16 December, 2010

Early Snow in Chamonix

Following on from my October ski adventures up the Aiguille du Midi, I am now pleased to report we have good snow cover in Chamonix for the start of the season.  As I write this the snow is falling think and fast past my office window, it’s so distracting!The picture above is before the snow started.

I spent most of last week plotting to go ski touring at the Grand St. Bernard pass with friends.  However when it come to Saturday the weather forecast was less than ideal for a ski tour in the high mountains, with cloud and snow by lunchtime.  So the plans were changed and the Grand St. Bernard, an area I have yet to ski in but can’t wait to go; will have to wait for another time.

At the first lifts opened in Chamonix on Saturday I headed up the Grands Montets for the opening day.  The eager skiers were ready and waiting at the lift station doors by 0830 and it was the usual race to get on the first lift of the season.  Rhiannon and I hopped onto the Bochard lift and skied the piste to half down to warm up our legs.  We then cut off into some of the off piste and were happy to find upto 40 – 50cm of lovely light, fluffy powder.  Managing to avoid the rocks we traversed to the Herse piste which was still unpisted and were lucky enough to get the first tracks down it.  We must have had near on 100 perfect turns in lovely powder before returning to the mid station. 

We headed up the lift again with a plan to ski tour to a small col called the Rashass which leads you round to the back side of the mountain.  Looking at the snow and weather closing in we decided it was not the best idea so headed off for more powder on the off piste and found some sneaky runs down through the trees laden with fresh snow.

On Sunday I ski toured up to the top of Les Houches, this was a good 1hr 40min skin.  The sun even came out and I was fortunate to ski some lovely powder snow on the top sections.  They had yet to start pisting the snow so you could ski the men’s world cup downhill run in perfect powder snow.

We have more snow due to fall this week, with a big dump on Wednesday the forecast says 20 – 30cm at 1200m, which should equate to around half a meter up around 2000m!  So anyone heading to the Alps in December will be rewarded with great skiing.  Having said that it sounds like the reports from the UK are not dissimilar and heading to Scotland (if you can get there) might not be such a bad idea after all.

I’m now onto plotting this weekend’s ski adventure.  Courmayuer and the Hellbronner lifts open in Italy at the weekend so I think I will be taking advantage of being able to use these lifts free on my Chamonix ski pass.  Heading there for some tree skiing, the best coffee and pasta you can find.

Last week also saw the delivery of this winters team kit from out clothing sponsors Berghaus.  The boys will be looking smart in their blue Attrition Jackets and their Sella Windstopper tops, the girls will be in this winters must-have purple Chogori Jacket or the Badile Soft Shell.  We will be reporting later in the winter on just how amazing all this new kit is.

Late Season Ski Touring in April and May

In late April and May, spring is in the air, but winter in the mountains is far from over. For keen skiers the late season is the best time of year to tick one of the classic ski tours. Why? Well, at the medium and high altitudes the snow pack is deep, and crevasses are well plugged with snow. The days are warm and the nights are cold and due to the freeze thaw cycles of night and day, faces are generally more stable. Another great benefit is the long days, giving more daylight than your legs can handle.
The Skiing
Every type of snow can be found late season. The strength and direction of the sun dictate the character of the snow pack. Throughout a single day, the snow pack can go through several transformations; each stage offers the skier a new texture and experience.
Typically, shallow light powder can be found on north facing slopes. South and west facing slopes are rock hard in the morning, and soften throughout the day, as the warm sun ‘transforms’ the frozen pack, the snow surface becomes incredible to ski on. This is the famous ‘spring snow’, and rivals untracked powder as the ultimate snow experience. Every skier’s nemesis ‘breakable crust’ is also common in the spring, so it helps to be light on your feet! A good knowledge of snow pack is needed to get the most out of the evolving conditions.
Heavy ski clothing can be exchanged for well ventilated garments.  Warm and waterproof clothing still needs to be carried for cold mornings and windy cols. Skiing in the sun on south and west facing slopes can be blisteringly hot.
Narrower ‘all mountain’ skis are the most versatile for spring conditions. Fat skis are heavy and rarely needed in the firmer snow. Ski crampons should always be carried, especially useful in the early mornings when the pack is frozen.

Best  Late Season Trips:

Bernese Oberland

Home of the Eiger, the Bernese Oberland is located in central Switzerland .The setting here is a spectacular  high mountain landscape complete with giant  glaciated valleys more akin to Alaska than the Alps. This classic tour, typically attempted over a week, crosses the massif from North to South. The scenery is among the very best in the Alps with classic views of the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. The majority of the tour is on huge tumbling glaciers which converge at the source of the giant Aletschgletscher, the largest glacier in the Alps. The trip is especially suited to late in the season, because the whole voyage stays in the high mountains, never needing to descend to valley bottoms. There is the opportunity to make ski descents of several summits including 4000m peaks. Truly this is a beautiful and special place.
This tour is fairly similar to the Haute Route in terms of technical and physical demands. Previous ski touring experience is essential and you need to be a competent off-piste skier. A good level of fitness is also required in order to sustain six days of consistent effort.
More information Bernese Oberland 4 Day Tour

Haute Route
Needing little introduction, the Haute Route is the most famous and spectacular ski tour in the world. The Haute Route traverses through the heart of the Alps, linking the two famous mountain towns of Chamonix and Zermatt. The journey provides the opportunity for outstanding ski ascents and descents on every stage of the tour. It really is a high level route with 5 nights spent in high mountain huts.  Most of the time is spend high above tree line crossing glacial terrain surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery. The Haute Route covers 130km and has around 6,000m of ascent. For advanced skiers it really is a "must do" trip.
More information: Haute Route 3 Day

Gran Paradiso
This tour is one of the classics of the Alps and popular with Italian ski tourers. The Gran Paradiso at 4061m is the highest mountain entirely within Italy and sits in one of the most idyllic National Parks in the Alps. This tour circumnavigates the massif and cumulates with an ascent of the Gran Paradiso.
The trails are generally quieter than in France and Switzerland and when combined with the dramatic scenery and the friendly, Italian hospitality it all adds up to a great week's ski touring.
More information: Gran Paridiso

Italian Haute Route
This challenging tour traverses the Monte Rosa chain situated on the Swiss Italian border. The Monte Rosa is the second highest mountain in the Alps and has the highest land area in the Alps over 4000m. There is an element of mountaineering in this voyage, so in addition to being a strong skier, tourers should also be able to handle an axe and crampons. There are fourteen summits over 4000m in the massif, most of which are accessible by skis, so long and exciting descents are assured. The mountain huts in the area are all comfortable with hearty meals and stunning mountain views. The tour includes a stay in the famous Margherita hut which is the highest in the Alps.
This tour is suitable only for experienced and fit skiers. Please contact Mountain Tracks for more information.

Mont Blanc
A ski ascent of Mont Blanc is the ultimate objective for many ski mountaineers. While not technically challenging, ascending Mont Blanc on skis requires a high level of physical fitness and previous experience using crampons and ice axe. The descent of Mont Blanc takes in some of the most spectacular glacial scenery in Europe. If there is sufficient snow, you can descend by ski right down from the summit to Chamonix, a vertical drop from the summit to the town of nearly 4000m! Before attempting Mont Blanc a well structured programme of acclimatisation and training is undertaken. 
More information: Ski Mont Blanc

Situated in Russia, Elbrus (5642m) is the highest mountain in Europe, and during April and May snow conditions are usually excellent. This tour is an expedition into the heart of the mighty Caucuses range which nestled between the Caspian and the Black Sea, it's a seriously wild place! The main chain contains many mountains over 5000m and tens of summits higher than Mont Blanc.
In spring time the passes and mountains offer exceptionally fine ski-touring in virtually undeveloped surroundings. The initial stages of the trip are spent with some superb day touring in the Adyr-Su and Baksan valley. The ski terrain on Elbrus itself is relatively straightforward, the high altitude being the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Crampons and ice axe are required on the icy upper slopes.
More information: Elbrus Ski Tour

27 October, 2010

Chamonix Powder Skiing!!!

The first snows have fallen across the Alps this week. Sunday saw snow falling in most resorts across the northern Alps all day including Val D’Isere, the Trois Vallees, Chamonix and Morzine and there were reported accumulations of more than 40cm of fresh snow above 2000m.

This heralds one of the earliest starts to the season for a long time. Sadly much of it may not last much beyond the end of the week as warm southerly temperatures are due to arrive soon and stay for a few days. However at altitude the north and east facing slopes should stay covered now the days are getting shorter and colder.

I have been back in the UK for a week and was disappointed to miss the first snow fall in Chamonix town on Sunday. Even after more than 10 years in the mountains I still get that same excited feeling when I see the first proper snow fall after the long hot summer!

Having returned to Chamonix only late last night, I didn't want to waste any time and so myself and a couple of friends did an (almost) dawn raid before work up the Aiguille du Midi for a cheeky ski. Roger was late joining us so Emma and I headed off down the arête. It was windy and cold descending the steep knife-edged ridge so it was nice to get to the bottom and get our skis on. By this time Roger had caught us up and once we were all ready we headed off towards the Envers du Plan on the Vallee Blanche.

There had been at least half a meter of fresh snow but the top sections had been badly windblown. We all had some entertaining skiing for the first few turns including a quality head-plant from me! Thankfully we found a very good route past the first section of crevasses and headed on down some much better snow. The powder improved and with some whoops and shouts we all skied another 300m or so down to a flattish area close to the Gros Rognon. Here we decided we had skied the best of it and got ready to ski tour back up.

This was paying the piper and the price for the morning ski was a lung-busting skin back to the bottom of the arête. It is never easy going uphill at over 3000m altitude! Taking the line of least resistance we skinned back towards the classic Vallee Blanche route and joined some other skiers on their way back up from down past the Rognon.

The trip was also an opportunity to test the latest batch of kit from our sponsor, Berghaus. We've just received a new delivery of gloves and so I took with me their women’s 3in1 ski glove and can report they are wonderfully warm, cosy and comfy to wear!

The wind was still blowing hard in our faces as we climbed back up the ridge, past the 2 massive crevasses that are currently occupying the centre of the ridge...nice! Best not to look and just keep walking! After taking our skis off our rucksacks we were back in the cable car and down in Chamonix ready for lunch and an afternoon's work in the office!

Fingers crossed the snow will stick around and continue to fall through November and December and give us a great early season.

If you have not already booked your next exciting mountain adventure with us then check out our website www.mountaintracks.co.uk/winter for our selection of worldwide off piste and ski touring holidays and courses. Our winter brochure is also available in handy flip-book format - click here.

Here are some pictures of our mornings adventures!