15 March, 2010

Dolomites Ski Tour

The team taking in the sun

Olly playing in the powder

Beautiful refuges and amazing food

Stunning views towards Cortina

"I’ve got butterflies." "So have I." "It’s just nerves." All of which were unfounded and after the first morning spent assessing our skiing ability we all settled down and had an enjoyable afternoon learning to apply skins, kick turns and pace ourselves as we ascended our first peak to Rif Nuvolou. Then to relax, throughout, the huts were luxurious: hot water, delicious food, wine and even comfortable beds.

On day 2 we started our first real tour with a quick skin followed by an hilarious morning skinning through the woods around the Col Galina. Once we'd become experts in hugging trees and extracting skis from the snow drifts we advanced on up Spiz de Poure where we were taught to use couteaux and ascended an icy slope turning before the summit for safety, descending into the valley on powder snow. Then an option – to the lift or to skin, we chose to skin and learnt the importance of regular snacks as we neared Rif Averau on empty tanks dreaming of the cold beer awaiting.

Day 3 was the coldest, with a long ascent around Spitz de Mondeval and up to the Forc de Formin. We were rewarded by an afternoon of virgin snow and an exciting forest descent fully stretching everyone’s skiing ability. A drink in the restaurant at Pocol resulted in us missing the bus link to the Lagazuoi cable car. After interesting negotiations in Czech, Italian and English we were safely ensconced in the Rif Lagazuoi dormitory of 12.

Day 4 saw a fresh snow fall of which we took full advantage before climbing a very steep ascent up through Plan de Furcia to the Col de Locia, sighting chamois en route. Then a grey schlep to Ucia Lavarella, which was to be our home for the next 2 nights.

Day 5 was the most exciting due to avalanche conditions. Guido and Olly guided us skilfully through the cracking snow up towards Sas des Diesc, deciding to turn around after we saw one avalanche too many – never has an ascent been so quiet nor a descent speedier! Once revived in the refuge and a lesson in snow reading we went on a short adrenaline bursting skin and powder kick around the area.

Day 6 saw a change of plans to suit conditions as we sought out north facing slopes up Mount Castel to breathtaking views over the Dolomites, more indulgent deep powder and brilliant blue skies took us down to Fiames via a Nordic ski route. We had finished our tour and missed the bus again!

Kirsty Todd

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09 March, 2010

Why should you ski Ste Foy? - A personal opinion by Bryan Hogg

Well, why not? You will no doubt have been to some (if not most, possibly all) of the big resorts nearby (Val d’Isere/Tignes, Les Arcs, La Rosiere) and therefore driven by the end of the road to the ski station of Ste Foy.

If you look at the piste map there are four main lifts, which let's be honest, does not seem like very many...but and its a BIG but, the amount of good skiing they access is fantastic.
The piste skiing is very good. In fact the Grand Soliet blue run from the Marquise lift is one of the best teaching runs I know. There is also a good selection of reds and an excellent variety of terrain.
But if Ste Foy is famous for anything it's the off piste. Within the area of the piste map there are acres of easily accessible terrain just waiting for you to try, and for those for whom off piste skiing has seemed a little scary or serious, rest assured that there is something for you here too. Beside the pistes are some first class areas to get you used to being off the groomers and once your confidence is boosted the possibilities are almost endless.

Escaping the ski area is very easy. From the top of the lifts a short traverse takes you to routes that get very little traffic and fresh tracks can be found days after a snow fall. For the more energetic there are plenty of routes if you don't mind a short hike. Trying doing that in the mega resorts.

I can give a great example of how quiet Ste Foy can be. Towards the end of March 2009, after a snowfall of 40cms or so, I took advantage of a rare day off and went for a ski in the new snow. When I had looked out of the window at 7.30am it was cloudy and snowing, so I went back to bed but when I looked out again at 9 the sun was beginning to break through so I headed up the hill. A couple of runs in the trees then the Aiguille lift to the summit.
I cut into the off-piste and broke trail across to an untouched area. Really good snow which broke onto my chest and all to myself. I took another run and made the second set of tracks down the face. Where is everybody? Before the next run, I stopped for a sandwich and a coffee, back onto the lift to do it again. I was prepared to have to traverse further to get fresh tracks, but no need. I laid down the third set of tracks.

You may now be beginning to realise why I like it here!

Being a small resort means that there is not a huge selection of accommodation. The best place in my opinion is situated on the main road just a short drive below the resort. The Auberge sur la Montagne owned by Sue and Andy MacInnes is comfortable, friendly and war. The TV room is perfect for video feedback as well as for watching a movie when you want to think about something other than skiing! The hot tub and sauna are very welcome after a day on the slopes. They also provide a minibus to transfer skiers to any of the surrounding resorts. Mountain Tracks use the Auberge for all the courses and it works very well.

There is easy access to Les Arcs, La Rosiere and Tignes/Val d'Isere and we try to get to as many as possible during a week’s course. The great advantage is that pretty much regardless of the weather we have places to go and there are numerous opportunities when the sun shines.

I like it so much I base myself here for the winter and I can't offer a better recommendation than that.

Here are a selection of photo's from our recent Off Piste Performance Foundation Course lead by Bryan. Thanks to Peter Bell for the great shots.

If you want to experience Ste Foy for yourselves why not join us for our Tarentaise Explorer week in mid-April. This tour will be led by Nick Parks who first skied in Ste Foy in the mid-80s and knows the area as well as any locals. For details click on

03 March, 2010

Gulmarg Legend Lives On

"India...the One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined” Mark Twain

I looked forward to the Gulmarg trip for a long time. Gulmarg has become a legend for the adventurous skier and I was keen to get out there and see what it was all about. The 2010 season did not disappoint, and this trip will stay in my memory for a long time.

The Gulmarg adventure is not just about skiing; it's also about the voyage to Kashmir and the Himalayas, this is a fascinating part of the world from many different perspectives. Geographically the area is vast and stunning, flooded rice paddies dominate the lowlands, evergreen forests cover the mid-altitudes and finally the snows and high peaks dominate the high altitudes above. From a high place on a clear day, Nanga Parbat (8126m), the world’s ninth highest mountain, is clearly visible.

At the beginning of the trip we fly to Delhi, and then take an internal flight over the Himalayan foothills, to Srinagar the capital of Kashmir. This is a fascinating and colourful region steeped in history and tradition; the well publicised religious and political differences add further spice to the experience. From Srinagar, it’s a relatively short transfer by jeep up to Gulmarg itself.

Once settled into the excellent Highland Park Hotel in Gulmarg I was immediately impressed with the terrain. The principal peak is called Apharwat (4150m) and takes the form of a large dome. The top is fairly flat, but the sides are steep and convoluted, giving endless opportunity to ski wide couloirs and ridges. A typical ski day involves taking the gondola to the top, then walking / skinning across the summit to make different descents back down to base.

The mountains surrounding Gulmarg are made for skiing. Very few cliffs and impasses mean that you can ski virtually anywhere on the mountain. The vast majority of slopes are between 25 and 40 degrees, also ideal. There is a wide choice of descents, all which feel adventurous, long and varied. Most of the slopes are north facing however the convoluted terrain means that slopes of all aspect exist.

Ski guiding is all about selecting the right route for the day. Weather and snow conditions vary enormously, and couple that with differing expectations and abilities within the group, getting the decision right about which slopes to ski on the day is the key. When I arrived it hadn't snowed in a while so ski touring the wider area was a good option. I partnered up with Nick Parks and we did several very interesting journeys several miles away from the lift area. These days were rewarding for all, ski touring in a remote landscape, barely travelled before, a good alternative when the snow in the main area was less than perfect.

During three weeks in Gulmarg I experienced many different snow types. On arrival the snow was sugary which skied well in the forests and on northerly slopes, but was crusty on other aspects. However this soon changed as the snow came. At first new snow came in a little at a time, giving good fresh 'boot deep powder' every day.

After this period came a big dump, which at first lead to a high avalanche risk, with a meter of new snow sitting on an extensive weak layer of crystals. During this time careful route choice was imperative, and we used the terrain with utmost respect. The snow consolidated pretty quickly and after 2 days the whole area became open for skiing. These were the glory days. New snow, blue skies and the best terrain imaginable. Fantastic fresh track skiing was had by all. A top to bottom in Gulmarg is around 1500m and quite a trip in fresh powder.

All the people I skied with were tremendous fun and there was a real ‘buzz’ at the Highland park Hotel. This ski trip is certainly different from the norm and is a ‘must do’ for the adventurous skier.

Final verdict: A unique and unforgettable experience.

Why not join us in Gulmarg in 2011 and delight in the 'Curry Powder Experience'?
For full details visit www.ski-gulmarg.co.uk

01 March, 2010

Serious Powder

Everybody hopes for optimal snow conditions on their ski trip. The best snow conditions result from regular top-ups of snow and cold temperatures. Often the best powder weeks are bad weather weeks and the selection of where to ski is of prime importance.

The 'Miles Group: Chamonix, La Grave week' was just that. Snow every night, mixed weather and tons of powder. Fresh track skiing was enjoyed on all six days.

The skiing standard was extremely high and fast skiing on steep slopes was the prefered style.

Day1: Posettes Couloir, Le Tour
Day2: Grand Envers, Aiguille du Midi
Day3: Val Arpetta, Courmayeur
Day4: Monetier, Serre Chavalier
Day5: Monetier, Serre Chavalier
Day6: La Grave

Here are 6 photos which are representative of the trip.

Le Tour Backcountry. Where are all the people? Coditions were pretty much perfect.

Courmayeur, 60 cm of fresh in the Arpetta. Julian leads the charge.

Peter smashes the snow in Banana Couloir, La Grave