31 March, 2008

Zinal 2008 - Five go free riding!

The 27th of March Me, Dad and Tara left Chamonix for a simple two hour drive up the Rhone valley and then the Valle d’Anniviers for a weekend of off piste skiing in the Swiss Alps. My sister, Tara (14) is an awesome telemarker, using her first ever fat skis “BumTribe’s” she just cruises everywhere she goes. Me, I’m Archie (16) and for this trip I’m on the Salomon X-Wing furys, I love speed and these planks look like they should fly. Dad, well he’s a bit old school but he can put on a good show and well I have to admit his skis are the fattest of all of ours!

We arrived at our friends Eric and Penny Kendall’s home, well right now there’s not much more than the four walls standing as they are renovating it to a deluxe 8-10 bed chalet, its going to be fantastic. For more info take a look at www.skizinal.blogspot.com Their chalet is situated in a small hamlet called Mottec at 1560 m. Just above Mottec is the ski village called Zinal situated at 1670 m which is well known for its glorious off piste and free ride area. Penny is a great cook and within no time we’re tucking into bangers and mash, not exactly a well known Swiss recipe but it sure hit the spot with us.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, at breakfast (porridge and fruit) you could cut the anticipation with the bread knife. In the Val d’Anniviers you have the choice of five resorts, Chandolin, St Luc, Vercorin, Grimentz and Zinal. We chose to start at the end of the alphabet for our first powder day. At 8.45 the 5 minute ‘free’ bus ride deposited us next to the Zinal telecabine were we could see the lift slowly ascending through a white cloak of wispy but quickly disappearing cloud. At the top there was so much snow, it was unbelievable. Minutes later we are looking into the ‘free ride zone’, its untracked, wow, now we knew we were in paradise.
Penny is a professional photographer and Eric is a Journalist and together they make a really good team, this is their first winter in the valley, really lucky for us to have some local gen. Dad had only been to Zinal once before but seems to have a powder sensitive nose, he just sniffs it out wherever he goes, must be some trick they teach you at Mountain Guide school. From the word go it appeared that this trip was going to be a good opportunity to enjoy ourselves, take photo’s and find some wonderful skiing.

Much to the relief of Tara there was no need for skinning because the lifts took us everywhere we wanted to go and with the bonus of not having to queue. We spent the morning putting in fresh tracks and Penny took some really good photos. There were some fun cliff jumps, but one was quite rocky and I nailed my ski’s. After skiing the free ride area we began to be aware that the snow was gradually getting baked so we decided to descend to Grimentz via an awesome route by the Moiry Dam, a massive wall of icy concrete. The descent was brilliant because there was no one else there and therefore we had acres of untracked powder to play with. The highlight of skiing next to the dam was that a lot of snow had been plastered onto the concrete face and this gave us, especially Dad the opportunity to ski up the wall, it looked pretty cool! Arriving in Grimentz we had a picnic which filled us up with the energy we had lost in the long ski. Then we hopped onto a bus which carried us five minutes up the road to Mottec and the chalet. That night we enjoyed another splendid meal whilst viewing the pictures that Penny had taken of us that day.We were looking forward to another memorable day of skiing.

On Saturday we woke around the same time, feeling slightly more tired. The five ski areas all work on the same pass, however they are not joined by any lifts, only by a free ski bus. There is a piste between Zinal and Grimentz called the Chamois. However, it was the only piste not open, this did not deter us, in fact it meant that we had the whole of this incredible terrain to ourselves. 1300m of untracked powder. The start of the run began with a great, steep descent into a lovely couloir, we took it in turns to go down with Dad below taking pictures, he’s a wanna be photographer…! the couloir was great and it increased everyones confidence. Once we had finished the couloir Dad and I pelted it down the slope towards the flatter area. “We were in sync flying down the mountain, and then out of nowhere loomed a wind scoop, shaped perfectly for the best suicidal jump. Dad hit it first and with the elegance of a flying HIPPO he flipped through the air in slow motion, CRASH, he was rolling through the snow like an Abominal Snow man out of control.” The Chamois was great with its steep couloirs, its beautiful smooth rolling off piste and of course its perfect jumps, its a shame Dad could not land them. We reached Grimentz after traversing the mountain side along a small bumpy and icy track through beautiful forest.

Quick stop at the Coop for our picnic ingredients and on up the Grimentz lift system to the Panorama view point at 2850m. Incredible views of many 4000m peaks of the Peninne Alps including the Matterhorn. For a descent we choose the north facing slopes off the back of the mountain, another completely wild off-piste run, just us, powder, well a little crust and a few chamois. Lunch is munched in the sun by an ancient summer cowshed. The snow became more and more ‘interesting’ as we descended further but miraculously it lasted (just) until we reached the village of St Jean. Must have been a tough assignment as Dad fell asleep (power nap apparently) on the bus ride back to Mottec.!

To find out how you can feature in your own off piste adventure click on www.mountaintracks.co.uk/winter/

09 March, 2008

Spring is in the air!

Over the last few weeks Mountain Tracks have been out and about enjoying the sunny weather across the Alps. It felt like spring had arrived for the last couple of weeks with endless day of sunny weather, not a cloud in the sky and rising temperatures. The snow was faring ok in the higher areas and the guides have been working hard to find good snow off piste to keep everyone happy.

Last week saw a return to winter weather and a really cold blast of air from the North East and a small fall of snow across most of the northern Alps. Some welcome powder snow was enjoyed by all, in Chamonix in the early part of last week. Nick moved his Gressoney Off Piste Advanced course to Chamonix so they could enjoy the better conditions around the Mont Blanc region. They had a great final few days skiing on the Vallee Blanche, Grands Montets and doing some ski touring.

On Thursday our Ski Touring Skills course guests arrive at the Hotel Regina in St. Gervais, ready to learn and brush up on all you need to know to become an avid ski tourer. Friday saw them, under the guidance of mountain guide Christian Tromsdorff, ski the Vallee Blanche via the Grands Envers route practising some crampon and ice axe techniques. Saturday was an early start to the Grands Montets for a big ski tour up towards the Col Tour Noir. Rising above the cloud layer we were greeted to beautiful sunshine and we set off towards the Argentiere Glacier. It was skins on and the start of a 3 hr tour up the Glacier des Amethystes towards the col. The group had plenty of time to master the kick turn on the way up, as well as taking in the stunning views of the surrounding peaks.

The ski down was excellent with soft creamy snow and fresh tracks most of the way down. The hard slog of the climb had been worth it for the descent! On the lower slopes we all stopped to discuss and practise some crevasse rescue techniques, Christian showed the group a number of useful knots and methods of travelling safely in glaciated terrain. We did a few simulations of someone falling down a crevasse and how you would get them out, which everyone found useful and informative. We then skied back to the bottom of the Grands Montets after a long day for a well deserved beer in the bar.

As Britain prepares to be hit by yet another winter storm, we too are looking forward to a week of abundant snow fall according to the French weather man. Hopeful this will bring an over due dump of snow to us and our guests who have arrived in different resorts this weekend will be able to enjoy perfect conditions. We have the last of out Off Piste Performance courses in Ste. Foy, Nick will be guiding a group in Chamonix and we have an
advanced course in Andermatt in Switzerland.

Next week sees the start of the ski touring season with the first of our Haute Route tours getting underway. Annie Donovan and Bryan Hogg are leading our Portes du Soleil Tour and Julie-Ann Clyma will be off round the Western Oberland High Level Route with a group.
We still have spaces on some of our later season ski tours such as the Berner Oberland Tour in April, Silveretta Alps and late season Haute Route in May. If it’s downhill only you want then come and join us in Zermatt for a week of intermediate off piste skiing, get those last turns of the season in before it really does become spring!!!