26 May, 2010

Winter 2010-2011 programme published!

We've had an excellent winter with bookings up by over 35% compared to 2009, making it far and away our most successful winter ever!
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who made it such a great season!

Now we're looking ahead to next winter and we've just published our programme on our website. Be the first to check it out at www.mountaintracks.co.uk/winter!

There are still a few new worldwide ski touring trips to add to the site including Iran, Kamchatka and Romania - these will be added before the end of June. Register your interest in these trips by emailing Chris at chris@mountaintracks.co.uk

As a thank-you for your continued support we’re offering all returning travellers 5% off the price of one of our 2011 winter trips which we’re increasing to 10% for any bookings made before 1st July.
Want to organise a bespoke holiday or can't find your ideal trip? Give Susie or Chris a call on on 020 8123 2978 to chat about any special requests!

23 May, 2010

Winter season ends on a high!

Our winter season came to an end on 15th May with the completion of our Ski Mont Blanc week in Chamonix. Unfortunately the weather didn't allow our group to do the planned ski ascent & descent of Mont Blanc but the Gran Paradiso - highest mountain entirely within Italy - was an excellent alternative and the group achieved 100% success on the mountain. A great end to the week and to our season overall.

Here are a few pictures - thanks to Kazue Oshiro.

04 May, 2010

NEW for 2011...Catskiing in Macedonia!

Macedonia lies between Croatia and Greece in the heart of the Balkans. It’s not particularly well known for its skiing but the Shar Planina massif which runs from Serbia and Montenegro in the North to Albania in the South offers excellent skiable terrain and guaranteed snow between January and March.

The trip is centred on Macedonia’s principal ski resort of Popova Sapka which is situated 1780m above sea level on Mt Shara. The resort has hosted Balkan and European Ski Championships.

About the terrain and the skiing
The surrounding peaks of the Shar Planina massif rise to over 2700m.
Most of the skiable terrain is between 2600m to 1700m on north, east and south facing slopes.
At the top of the terrain the slope angle is up to 35 degrees and becomes less steep on the lower sections. There is excellent tree skiing and a mix of wide bowls and some couloirs. Although the cat can get to most areas there are some runs which are only accessible with short walks.
The average daily vertical is over 4000m and fit, strong groups can ski up to 6500m of vertical.

What is Cat-skiing?
'Snow-cats' are the big track-driven vehicles that are used around the world for piste grooming and bashing. These can be converted so that the cabin can take 10-12 passengers and used to take groups to the top of isolated slopes where they can ski down again and again – using the ‘cat’ to return to the top each time. The advantages are that they can be used on terrain where there are no lifts and unlike helicopters they are able to run in all weather conditions.

Day 1
Fly to Skopje. You will be met at the airport and transferred by private minibus to the hotel in Popova Sapka. Meet up with the guides in the evening for welcome meeting and briefing.
Day 2-7
6 full days of catskiing. Return each night to the hotel. At the end of day 7 you will check out of the hotel and drive to Skopje for dinner and to enjoy the local scene: Skopje is renowned for its lively night life! Stay overnight in a hotel in Skopje.
Day 8
Transfer back to the airport for return flight home.

Typical Day
Breakfast is between 7.30 and 8am and you’re usually heading up the hill by 9am.
If the weather is good you’ll have a picnic lunch alternatively you can return to the hotel for lunch in the restaurant.
You’ll stay out until about 4-4.30pm.
Evening activities include avalanche safety talks, watching videos from the days skiing or having a massage. For evening meal you’ll either eat in the hotel restaurant of head out to one of a number of local restaurants serving good local food.

About the Guides
Our trips will be led by one of our team of UIAGM Mountain Guides - Nick Parks, Olly Allen or Matt Dickinson. We will be teaming up with one of the local guides from Eskimo Freeride who have excellent local knowledge.

Skills & Stamina
This trip is ideal for strong off-piste skiers who are confident skiing on slopes up to 30-35 degrees in all conditions. Skiing will be done at a strong pace where you would be expected to ski pitches of 20 - 25 turns without stopping. You need to have good physical fitness in order to enjoy skiing all day for 6 consecutive days. You will use the cat to gain altitude but you can expect some ski touring/walking in order to access some runs.

Accommodation and meals
Hotel Bora – comfortable ski-in hotel with about 30 ensuite rooms on the edge of the ski terrain.
Facilities include lounge, bar and public restaurant.
Breakfast is buffet style with cooked options – eggs, meats, cheese
Lunch is usual a picnic lunch on the mountain.
Evening meal is taken either in the hotel restaurant or in other local restaurants and local specialities include lamb, beef, beans, sopska salad.

Good all-mountain skis with downhill bindings are suitable for this trip. If the group wants to bring touring kit and undertake more touring this can also be done but the main emphasis on the week is on cat-assisted off-piste skiing.

Best time to ski in Macedonia
The best time to ski in Macedonia is between early January and late March.
January has the most sunny days with low avalanche risk.
Temperatures fall in February and weather can be harsh which is offset with plenty of fresh snow.
March has good snowfalls and conditions that range between powder and spring snow as the temperatures rise towards the end of the winter. Due to the nature of the terrain there are usually good conditions to be found long after the last snowfall.

Maximum Group Size
12 skiers with 2 UIAGM Mountain Guides

Getting there from the UK
The most convenient option is to fly with Croatian airlines from London to Skopje via Zagreb. The roundtrip price is about £250-300 per person.
The distance between Skopje and Popova Sapka is about 65kms and the transfer by road takes just over 1 hour.

£1,395 per person
The price includes 7 nights hotel accommodation including 6 nights in Hotel Bora in Popova Sapka and 1 night in Skopje, all meals, 6 days of catskiing with UIAGM Mountain Guides, airport transfers and transfer back to Skopje on day 7.
The price does not include travel to/from Macedonia, equipment hire, personal insurance and spending money.
For anyone wanting a room on single occupancy the supplementary charge is £175.

For more information email chris@mountaintracks.co.uk or call us on +44 208 123 2978

One great adventure in the Bernese Oberland

View from the Konkordia Hut

Last week we had a group of intrepid skiers enjoying the beautiful Bernese Oberland ski tour, Greg, Charlie and friends set off under the guidance of Olly Allen and Owen Samuels for their week long trip.

We were kept up-to-date on their progress by Charlie’s emails each evening sent from his Blackberry on the day’s events, the route they took, the peaks they have scaled and the fun they had been enjoying. Accompanied by some photos each day we were able to re-live their experiences over the week. Here is a reduced version of Charlie’s story for you to enjoy to.....

6 days, 5 nights without running water or electricity? All day, each day, in tight unforgiving hard shell ski boots? Relentless hot spots on your feet? Blisters galore? A diet of stale dense bread, ridiculously bad coffee, "where's the beef" sandwiches, iceberg lettuce, and overly cooked pasta? Canned fruit salad anyone? A bedroom for 16? With sleeping platforms that each accommodate 4-8? Where there is but 18 inches between your mouth and the breath of your neighbour? Rude room mates who turn lights on at 2 a.m. as they prepare to depart? Loud conversation in the face of "dead to the world" sleeping climbers? Friendly well meaning bunk mates who insist on closed windows, for that special "sauna" effect throughout the night?

This tale promises all of this and more. But, to get there, one must ski for hours uphill, climb mountains, descend on skis reliably amongst crevasses and ice falls, always do what you are told by the guides, walk amongst and below towering seracs, accept random, unmeaning and anonymous danger, and push hard. Very hard.

Our adventure involves entering and traversing a small portion of the Bernese Oberland, a glaciated section of the Swiss Alps roughly measuring 15 x 21 miles. This sounds meagre, but didn't Einstein have a thing or two to say about the relativity of time? In the mountains, on skis, time slows and distances grow, to the point where a mile is a lifetime. As my grandfather once observed about mountains, "If you want to get there quickly, leave earlier."

Within this sector of the Alps, there are at least a dozen glaciers, one of which (the "Grosser Aletschgletscher") is the longest in Europe, at over 10 miles. Many are feeders to this largest glacier in Europe all with unpronounceable Swiss German names. We will traverse, follow or return over several of them at least 10 times this week. We will also traverse several of these valleys, summit some notable peaks, seek out the one refuge per valley that provides food and shelter, and experience as intense an alpine adventure as Western Europe has to offer.

As a diversion each day, when we move from refuge to refuge, we intend to climb high, snow covered 4,000 meter peaks, using skis and/or crampons. Whatever it takes. Yes, the tops ARE the point, even as they really aren't (huh?).

Accessing the Oberland "up there" involves three trains: Interlaken to Lauterbrunen,
Lauterbrunnen to Kleinne Scheidegg, and Kleinne Scheidegg to Jungfra├╝joch at 3454m, a feat of Swiss engineering as the tunnel is dug into the North Face of the Eiger. At the top, we enjoyed a spacious interior viewing deck before tentatively emerging out on to the glacier, strapping on our skis, and dropping off the backside. After a wonderful ski in perfect snow we skinned towards the Konkordia hut situated at 2850m overlooking the most fabulous scenery.

It turns out, the original hut was constructed well over 100 years ago on a rock shelf above the glacier. Sadly, in the intervening years, the glacier has receded, necessitating the addition of a staircase. A very large and lengthy one. 452 steps worth.

Day 2 dawns.....Houston, we have a problem! Olly, our guide, can't remember the names
of the peaks we intend to climb, can't recall the names of the huts, and seems to hesitate whenever we speak about where we are going next. In fact, I believe he has caught my "memory disease" wherein I can only remember the first letter of the word I am trying to recall. Thankfully by the time we leave he has it all in hand and between him and Owen they herd us out of the hut and into the wilderness.

In the morning, as we left the refuge, we had no choice but to climb down 452 goddamned stairs in our ski boots! If anything will make one a believer in global warming, it is the act of ascending and descending these stairs due to a shrinking glacier. Had there been no global warming, the descent would have been 65% shorter! We click into our skis and begin the skin across the glacier towards today’s objective. After we arrived at the base of the peak we stop to take on some water and food before starting the climb up. A couple of hours later we reach our goal and the views suffices to capture the essence of the effort, which was nothing punitive, with no serious exposure. Just straightforward climbing, passing several "false summits" until we emerged out on top.

Once down, we needed to cross one of those "impossible to pronounce” glaciers I mentioned before, and make our way to the "Finsteraarhornh├╝tten" hut.

Day 3 and Yes, we finally did "bag" a 4,000-er today! Yahoo! The Fiescherhorn Hinteres, which stands 4,025 meters above sea level. It was a terrific climb. Took hours to mount. Crossed through a massive field of seracs..... We got told off by Owen at one point for lingering (Greg: we never did complete the conversation from that interrupted moment, wherein we were discussing complex financing options for real estate transactions)....yes, quite true....during which conversation Owen managed to interject "ah, guys, the point here is to, ah, not linger, given what is to your right...massive overhanging seracs...so perhaps it would be best to move along." The Brits, they are SO understated. I would have shouted "move the f--- along, you idiots!"

Looking down on others eating lunch from our airy platform high on the peak, if I had chosen to at this moment, two steps would have led me to be on a slope (cliff?) that would have delivered me (alive or dead I do not know) to that group for a bite or two.

We did it. All of us. Sweet!