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la grave 2017 Off Piste and Ski Touring Trip Dates... 22nd Jun 2016

La Grave Off Piste Skiing
 

The skis might be packed away but we have been busy preparing for next seasons Ski Trips. Alongside our usual Ski Course, Private Instruction and Guiding we have the following trips this coming season:

*New* 'Off Piste Rover - La Grave/Le Meije'. 13 - 17 Feb. Rather than having one set location the aim is to rove around the alps, sampling the best resorts on offer from year to year. For 2017 will be heading to the mythical resort of La Grave. http://www.offpiste.org.uk/trips/off-piste-rover-la-grave/

'Kvaløya - Senja'. 7-14 May. We will again be offering a trip to the Island of Kvaløya in Arctic Norway. This has been one of our favourite destinations for personal skiing for a number of years and we are keen to share this varied area with our clients. http://www.offpiste.org.uk/trips/kvalya-senja/

'Ben Nevis Ski Weekend'. 1-2 April. Ben Nevis is one of Scotland's most famous winter climbing areas. But that's just part of the story, the mountain's famous gully lines are also renowned as "off the grid" wilderness ski descents. This is "take two" for this trip, not due to fickle Scottish conditions but because James managed to break his ankle/leg... Ben Nevis is firmly on the programme for 2017! http://www.offpiste.org.uk/trips/ben-nevis-ski-weekend/

'All About the Down'. 30 Jan - 3 Feb. This is a ski guiding week, where we choose the best possible venues in the prevailing conditions. We will balance ability levels with the search for good snow. In short, maximum flexibility for maximum off piste ski descent. http://www.offpiste.org.uk/courses/all-about-the-down/

Jöttnar Fenrir Review 27th May 2016

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After watching enviously as the Fenrir appeared in the men's down range, I was delighted when they brought out the women's version before this winter. Even more so when I saw the attractive colours.

I've been using it all winter, and it has shown itself to be quite versatile in its uses.  On the cold winter days I was wearing it for skiing as an additional layer, over my Alfar, but underneath my Bergelmir. Then for skimo training, it was a fantastically light layer to carry, to be able to throw on over my lycra suit, at the top of the climbs for the chilly evening descent back to the car.  Similarly it was a great belay jacket.  As we've come into spring, I've found it useful for touring up in Norway to put on on the summits, just over a thermal. Now back in Scotland, it's proving to be just as useful on the Munros and Crags. 

The thing that strikes me most about this jacket is the fit.  It seems to be diverse enough that the same size fits well over an outer jacket, as it does when worn just over a t-shirt.  The hood also works well on it's own, or over a helmet. The neck size is small enough that there doesn't seem to be any excess material, but still keeps your neck warm and chin toasty.

 It's most definitely demonstrated it's ability to be an all-season, multi purpose layer. Being so light (315g) I question why I would ever leave it behind.

Skiing in Arctic Norway... 20th May 2016

Oldervik-Lyngen Ski Trip in Arctic Norway

While the ski season has been gradually winding down in the alps, it’s been another busy May for Off Piste Performance after heading to Arctic Norway once again.

We experienced two contrasting weeks, the first in Oldervik from 30th April – 7th May in brilliant blue skies and mild temperatures. While the second week based on the island of Kvaløya, was cooler with unsettled weather. Both were equally breathtaking in different ways, with the squally showers sweeping in from the west giving a dramatic feel befitting of a trip to the Arctic Circle.

Once again, a flexible approach and near twenty four hour daylight works very much to these trips advantage and we enjoyed some fantastic descents late in the evening after sitting out some rain showers in the morning. This approach just isn’t possible in the alps requiring an adjustment to the sometimes frenetic environment of Chamonix. The results speak for themselves in the form of fresh powder skied under the evening sun on mountains where we didn’t see other skiers for days!

Of course this simply would not be possible with out the assistance of George Reid (IFMGA Mountain Guide on these trips for 2016) and Rupert Hutchinson (Chef, catering and logistics manager all rolled into one).

We also enjoy some fantastic accommodation at the River House and Solli in Oldervik overlooking the Lyngen Peninsula, and in Ersfjordbotn on Kvaløya. Both offering a comfortable place to relax before or after skiing. Both are so good that we have booked ahead for next season, if you are interested in joining us please visit the trips section here.

Here’s a quick run down of what we got up to on both weeks: 

 

Oldervik 30th April – 7th May

Staff; Alison Culshaw, George Reid and Rupert Hutchinson

Guests; Julie Bernasconi, Cindy, Annette Wolfe, Kerstin Garrard, Eadaoin Hutchinson, Seren Phillips

 

Day 1 – Traverse of Ullstinden to the sea, with an extra skin in the top bowl just below summit). It was sunny weather and uncharacteristically warm resulting in a walk for five minutes to road at the bottom. But as usual the views over the fjord to the Lyngen Peninsula remain unique.

Day 2 – Storgalten, out and back by same normal route with an icy on mid way up requiring some good kick turns. We waited on the summit for 1 hour for the snow to soften before starting the descent in the late afternoon giving some excellent spring snow skiing.

Day 3 – Buren, on Kvaløya has the reputation of having some of the best views on the island with a relatively short approach. Again it didn’t disappoint with an excellent view of Ersfjord.

Day 4 – Stortuva is another striking summit when viewed from Lyngen, with one major advantage in that it can be skied direct from the house. This year we needed to walk a short distance to the snowline, but again skied some great snow.

Day 5 – Stormheimfjellet, is often overlooked on the way to the Lyngen ferry but well worth a look. We enjoyed clear conditions all the way to the summit despite other mountains being shrouded in cloud. and great views, but cooler and rain all around us (but not on us!). Great skiing on easy angled slopes. Skied from the car. So it was fantastic views once again.

Day 6 – Lille Blammennen. Another great summit just outside Tromsø gave great rolling terrain and more nice spring snow, not a bad way to end the week.

 

Kvaløya 7th May – 14th May

Staff; Alison Culshaw, George Reid and Rupert Hutchinson

Guests; Robert Wine, Nico, Peter Campbell, Roger Palmer, Stephanie Kennedy, Christine Sams (plus Catrin Thomas as an additional helper)

 

Day 1 – We kicked off this week with Skitintinden, starting at 7am to avoid the worst weather, stopping just 100m short of the summit due to tricky conditions. We skied back to car at 11am just as the heavy rain started (phew).

Day 2 – With a drier forecast on the east side of Lyngen we used the efficient road and ferry network to attempt the big summit of Tafeltinden. Despite a low snowline we could skin from sea level, taking the skis on and off a couple of times to hope over some boulders. Excellent skiing on the glacier and managed to take a slightly different line allowing a continuous ski back to the van which was a bit of a win.

Day 3 – This is where the long daylight hours paid off on Middagstinden. It was raining hard in the morning so after a visit to Tromso we enjoyed an early dinner and went skiing at 5pm. We skied some great fresh snow on upper slopes after cramponing up the ridge useing crampons for last 30m.

Day 4 – We decided to visit Ullstinden once again, and where better to go, this summit affording those superlative views over to Lyngen. Again good snow in upper bowl before making a short skin to get a better fall-line ski back to the car.

Day 5 – Another case of a flexible approach paying dividends on Storstolpan. We made the trip to the local beauty spot of Hella in the morning, before having lunch at 1pm, setting off shortly afterwards. This day definitely tested the confidence of George and Alison as they interrogated the rain radar waiting until 4pm before leaving the van. The weather cleared as forecast allowing fantastic views and freshly lying powder snow, combined with amazing light over the fjord as we skied under the setting sun.

Day 6 – Nordfjellet. Here we enjoyed the best weather day of the week, but some clouds and cold wind on the summit. Unfortunately, we had to walk to 150m, after the rain and mild temperatures had taken their toll. The summit ridge was well corniced as usual but easily negotiated, resulting in another excellent ski. The only people that we saw this week were 2 people setting off up Storstolpan as we were getting back to the car!

All About the Down... 28th Mar 2016

alison_blogIt would be fair to say that the winter season in Chamonix got off to a slow start with limited snowfall. This soon gave way to stormy weather conditions with successive fronts sweeping through the alps, delivering plenty of fresh snow. For us it was time to hit the ground running, grabbing the fat skis and heading for the trees to ski some excellent powder.

For Alison this gave some excellent conditions for those wanting to get to grips with the powder on 'Ski Performance for Mountaineers' courses, with more than one group getting fresh tracks in popular spots at Les Grands Montets. While, for James this gave ample opportunity to get some skiing mileage on some of the classic off piste runs in the Chamonix Valley.

For the first time this year we ran our 'All About the Down' offsite skiing week which we hope will become a main stay of Off Piste Performance's programme in the coming years. The aim here is to ski for a week, hunting out the best snow in and around Chamonix while the lift infrastructure takes the strain. As this week appeared on the horizon the weather predictably changed to an unsettled pattern with intermittent dumps of snow followed by rapidly rising freezing levels combined with high winds. Now it has to be said that this is a challenge! This was evident to such an extent that the week was nearly renamed "All About the Weather" before we even started. But some careful planning, combined with just a bit of luck, allowed us to stay at the optimum altitude and aspect to reap the rewards of good powder, while avoiding the wind scoured snow at altitude.

With James, the 'All About the Down' team of Alan, Terry, Robert and David enjoyed some excellent skiing on the Vallée Blanche, in the trees at Courmayeur, at the off the grid ski station of Vichéres and at Haute Combloux. We also experienced arguably the worst crust ever witnessed at Les Grands Montets. 

Glacier Rond 24th Feb 2016

Chamonix Steeps - The Glacier Rond

In February, James and Kenny Grant had a day off and snatched a descent of the much sought after line of the 'Glacier Rond'. It's fair to say that in Chamonix there are lots of skiers operating at a high level and dropping down all sorts of steep descents on a daily basis. For James and Kenny this was a nudge into the "steeper" terrain that makes Chamonix so famous.

The line of the Glacier Rond is visible on the North West side of the Aiguille du Midi, and for many will need little introduction. The upper slopes being accessed by an exposed traverse from near the Cosmiques Refuge. The entrance to the upper slopes was quite scraped and necessitated a short abseil, before coming off the ropes and started to put in the turns.

Kenny Grant is pictured above on the upper (allegedly 45 degree) section.

Learning to Ski... 15th Jan 2016

The Transition from climber or mountaineer to skier, Alison Culshaw explainsThinking of learning or improving your skiing? We thought we would share Alison's  ideas on how to translate that hard won mountaineering experience to life on the planks… Note: Edited from an article for Mountain Pro Magazine

If you are a keen winter climber or mountaineer you might well have spent some time toiling to the bottom of an alpine couloir or mixed climb on foot or on snowshoes. This often torrid experience is nearly always enhanced by some flash looking continental beating you to the base of your route on skis. Getting around in the winter in Chamonix and other popular venues is often more logical on skis and increasing numbers of British climbers and mountaineers are looking flash too.

Inevitably as a Ski Instructor I often get asked by mountaineers about the best way to get into skiing. Here are my top tips to get into the sport, with mountaineers in mind.  There are pros and cons and everyone has there own budget and time limitations. Hopefully this will give you an insight into which might be the best option for you, as well as where to spend and where to save you hard earned cash.

Firstly, as a climber and mountaineer YOU are probably already really well placed to learn to ski quickly for a variety of reasons. It’s more than likely that you will be used to being on steep snowy slopes, will be used to physical activity and are more than capable of picking yourself up, dusting the snow off and starting again. Of course a positive mentality is really important, and you are more than likely to say “well how hard can it be…?”

You will probably also be used to climbing movement, experimenting with balance exercises and be motivated to improve, any of these skills being transferable to skiing.

With all this in mind the next stage is to consider the equipment that you might need before hitting the slopes. Skiing is an expensive sport, and there are limits to everyone’s budget. Don’t fail at the first hurdle and make sure that you have the right kit for the job. Skiing is after all supposed to be fun. We don’t want to blame our tools; but in skiing we can, and remember it is more difficult to acquire the right skills without the right tools.

In most cases I would recommend concentrating on the technical equipment that connects you to the snow: boot, bindings and skis. As a climber and mountaineer you will have plenty of technical clothing that will be idea for skiing, it’s certainly not essential to buy really baggy trousers from day one. Hardshell’s are excellent for cutting out the wind, and allowing you to dust off the snow quickly before you mates have noticed you have ditched it.

Boots

We have probably all climbed in rock shoes that are too big at some point.  That is the equivalent of what I see many people do when learning to ski. Progress is slow and enjoyment is limited as the ski simply won’t move accurately. If you only have money to buy one piece of kit then boots it should be.

I would recommend going to see a specialist boot fitter and finding out which brand of boot fits your feet best. Go into the shop without any preconceptions of which boots you might like. The best boot for you will be the one that fits your foot best (not your outfit). So there is no point picking a boot on its write up. If you have the right boots you should feel that every movement you make with your feet is transmitted directly to your skis.

Skis

Use modern skis.  Look out for deals from last season but don’t buy a pair on eBay from 10 years ago.  For off-piste skiing the ski should be a minimum of 80mm underfoot. Ski technology changes so quickly that if you are only skiing once a year it may make sense to hire.  Then you can get the latest model each time you go skiing and you will not have to pay for ski carriage if you are flying.  Skis such as the K2 Wayback have become very popular with ski mountaineers and are a great all round ski at a reasonable price.

Bindings

Which bindings you go for will depend on what you want to do. 

What do you want to do?

What weight?

Examples

Mainly uphill, weeklong ski tours, expedition skiing.

Lightweight (approx 600g – 1.2kg per pair)

Dynafit, Plum

Mostly downhill, off-piste skiing, day tours.

Heavyweight (approx 2 – 3kg per pair)

Marker, Salomon

I’m not sure.  I’m just getting in to skiing/touring.

Mid weight (approx 1.2kg – 2kg)

Fritschi

Dynafit bindings can take a bit of getting used to, and in most cases are worth considering when you are skiing confidently. The Marker and Salomon bindings are the closest thing to an alpine binding, and are easier to use initially and have a much better release mechanism than other models.

What about learning…? Everybody is different and learns in a different style, no one solution is the answer and it’s more than likely that a combination will work for you.

DRY SKI SLOPE

Learning at a dry slope gives a good introduction to the sport that is close to home and cheaper than going to the snow.  They are scattered all over the UK so there will be one near you.  You can find a list of them here http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/infoandadvice/uksnowsports/ukslopesmap.aspx Expect to pay between £5 and £15 per hour. It’s a good way to find out if you like it. Avoid using your own skis on a dry ski slope as it’s not great for the bases. There is a risk of injury when skiing on a dry ski slope, as there is with skiing anywhere, but pay particular attention to your thumbs! Depending on the slope the runs are quite short compared to what you’ll experience on snow.  Just view it as training much like going to one boulder for the day, as opposed to doing a big mountain route.

INDOOR SNOW DOMES

There are now 6 indoor snow centres in the UK.  These are more like the real thing than a dry slope but they are more expensive.  Expect to pay £15 - £30 per hour.  Most centres will state that you have to have a lesson if you haven’t skied before.  They can be busy and you might have to book a slot.  This is more like “real” skiing because you are skiing on real snow.  You’ll not get the powder days that you do in the Alps but it is a good way to work out if enjoy the sport.

GROUP LESSONS

This is the cheapest way of getting instruction and provides a sociable environment to learn in.  Some people enjoy the company of others when learning a new skill; some people find this adds to the pressure.  You’ll know if this is the best way for you to learn or not.  If you’re looking for a cheap way to start skiing but think you’ll progress quickly then one group lesson may be enough to get you going.  Make sure you get advice from your instructor about what it’s best to do next.

PRIVATE LESSONS

Private lessons aren’t cheap but there is a reason for this. With a smaller or 1:1 ratio your contact time is increased and generally people make progress much quicker in private lessons than they do in a group. For private lessons I’d recommend having this in your first language.  It gives you the option to ask questions and have things explained in another way if you don’t understand.

PRIVATE GROUP LESSONS

This is a good compromise between group and private lessons and you’ll find most ski schools and instructors will offer this.  Create your own group to reduce the cost of hiring an instructor but it will mean you know who is in your group.  You can ask people of a similar level and fitness to join your group and people that you know you’ll feel comfortable learning with.  This normally results in quicker progress then in a group lesson but still maintaining the sociable aspect.

SELF COACHED

As a Ski Instructor I simply wouldn’t recommend self coaching initially. One of the advantages of having a lesson is not only the coaching but the instructor will take you to an appropriate slope or area of the mountain. You don’t want to be firing off down a 40 degree couloir with no idea how to stop. With a few lessons under your belt you can ask your instructor which slopes to go on and spend time consolidating good technique.

Another thing to think about is location. I learnt to ski in Scotland which was convenient as I lived within a short drive of a ski area. With cheap flights to the Alps it no longer provides a cheaper option, but it is one for many. When conditions are good the skiing is fantastic, just go with an open mind. As a climber and mountaineer you can always switch skis for boots and crampons depending on what’s best at the time.

For most people there view of skiing involves plenty of snow, sun and beautiful alpine views, and that means skiing abroad. It can however be a costly investment if you have no idea if you are likely enjoy the sport or not. If you decide to learn abroad spend some time finding the right resort, plenty of slopes at the right level, a good ski school, other activities if you need them.

If you decide to have lessons make sure you book them well in advance so that you can get the instructor and time slot that you want. Remember each of these ways of getting into skiing need not be used in isolation; you might have a private lesson to get started, spend some time practicing on your own and return to have a group lesson specific to the aspects of skiing that you want to learn. Whichever way you choose make sure it’s safe and best suited to you.  Skiing is fun and we should learn it in a way that ensures that it stays that way, and maybe there is the bonus of being the first to the bottom of that dream couloir.

 

Alison Culshaw holds the BASI International Ski Teacher Diploma (Level 4) and has been teaching skiing in Chamonix since 2004 (www.offpiste.org.uk).  The majority of her clients are ski mountaineers that want to improve their off piste skiing.  Her course “Ski Performance for Mountaineers” has become increasingly popular with climbers, ski tourer’s and anyone with a love for the mountains.  She works as a trainer on BASI Mountain Safety courses and offers CPD to the British Mountain Guides.

Skiing in Stubai 26th Nov 2015

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It's been great to start the season with a visit to a new area.  Lewis and Jane were keen to get some early season practice in and suggested skiing on one of the glaciers near to them. Stubai Gletscher looked like it had some of the best conditions so we headed there for the weekend. With the forecast suggesting hurricane conditions, we were doubtful as to how much skiing we would be able to do. We were delighted to find that all the lifts were open when we arrived on Friday, and that there had been some fresh snow.

The conditions over the weekend were very good for November and improved with new snow falling, and the temperature dropping, throughout the weekend. As the temperate dropped I was particularly impressed with Stubai's "heated chairlift". Normally we get cold on the skis lifts and warm up on the way down.  Not in Stubai.  There we warmed up the chairlift and got cooler skiing down! 

A big thanks to Lewis and Jane for allowing me to explore another part of the Alps, and get a fantastic view as I flew back across to Alps on Monday morning. It was lovely to see some of the major Alpine peaks so clearly from the air: Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Grande Jorrasses and Grand Combin.  Not forgetting some of the lesser know peaks, there was a fine view of the meadows we skied on Le Môle last year.

It's Time To Get Fit For Skiing! Here's Why? 30th Oct 2015

skifit-iphone-sourceWe all know that we should get fit for skiing, maybe we'll even manage a few of the exercises that we see in the magazines, a wall squat here and there or some single leg dips and hops. Have you ever thought about why? Why do we need to be fit for skiing?

Well we're here to give you our clinical reasons why.

Skiing will be easier.

When you're fit and strong it all just becomes a little bit easier. With a strong core supporting your spine your arms and legs are given a solid platform to perform from. Your body will be in alignment and your joints will be working in their optimal positions. From this good starting posture the muscles that you have been training can optimally perform, using less energy and making it all a little bit easier.

You'll have better technique.

Muscles that have been practicing ski specific exercises are more responsive to requests that the brain makes upon them. They can learn movement patterns and learn to perform certain movements in specific positions. The more you repeat these movements the more ability your muscles have to perform well in these skiing specific positions. They are better conditioned to accurately and powerfully respond to the requests that your brain makes on them.

You'll be able to spend more time skiing.

Muscles that are conditioned to repeatedly perform ski specific movements for minutes at a time at home will be able to easily translate this fitness over to the piste or mountain. It's important to replicate the time that you spend skiing at home, intense powerful ski specific exercises for minutes at a time over a period of an hour, replicating the time it might take for one trip between chair lifts and/or coffee stops! This is going to mean less fatigue and therefore longer days out on the hill.

You're less likely to get injured.

This is the big one, no-one wants to come home from their skiing holiday on crutches! Sometimes it's just bad luck but most of the time injury is due to fatigue and the resulting poor technique. You can do a lot to get strong and injury resistant before you go skiing but it's going to take more than a few wall squats for a couple of weeks before you go. Exercise programmes that use ski specific movement patterns, challenge dynamic stability and push your endurance to the limits are the ones from which you will reap rewards.

We thoroughly recommend SkiFit , an eight week programme of 2-3 hour long sessions of ski specific exercises per week. They have had phenomenal results with professional and amateur skiers alike.

Skiing on Ben Nevis 22nd May 2015

IMG_0884For a long time I have harboured the wish to ski some lines on Ben Nevis. There is no doubt that climbing and walking is special on Britain's highest mountain, but holding snow well into the summer makes the mountain a ski destination too. I joined James Thacker and Andy Nelson to put the final turns in of the winter season. Meeting in the North Face Car Park it was clearly spring but plenty of late season snow had left the north facing corries with good cover.

For James, walking into the CIC Hut was an interesting experience, this time with skis on his back rather than a pair of ice axes. The day had a different focus, and a mountain that he knows well was suddenly viewed in a different light. Rather than picking out the fault and crack lines that might make logical climbing objectives, his eyes were drawn to the unbroken gully lines.

Heading into Coire na Ciste we switched approach shoes for ski kit and skinned into the corrie proper, kick turning towards the base of No.3 Gully Buttress. Here we shouldered the skis climbing No.3 Gully to the summit plateau.
We made descents of No.3, No.2 and No.4 Gully's, completing the obvious trilogy of Coire na Ciste. However, many other lines remain, maybe there is time for just one more trip....
 

Skiing "The Godmother of All Couloirs" 8th May 2015

IMG_0859Towards the end of our trip to Lyngen I got the opportunity to ski a line I had looked at two years before. Stopping on the road between Lyngseidet and Storsteinnes the north facing couloir of 'Forholttinden' is strikingly obvious.

With a vertical interval of 1300m and a maximum gradient of 45 degrees, this definitely falls into the category of "terrain adventure". Only receiving a First Descent in 1991 by Sten Qvarnström, Petter Eneroth and Mårten Claesson the story of their trip makes interesting reading in it's own right.

Named "The Godmother of all Couloirs", this route didn't disappoint. This isn't a location for convenience skiing, the 5km approach along the shoreline of the fjord requiring a determined approach. But sometimes earning those turns make the experience even more worthwhile. It was after this protracted approach, and the godfather of all 'boot packs' that we clipped into the skis at the top.

It was already six o'clock in the afternoon and we had climbed through light snow fall all day. As we started the descent the weather started to clear, and the sun started to break through the clouds, making the final turns even more worthwhile.

Content as we slipped into trainers and shouldered the skis for the return journey, it was clear that for some the vertical skiing just wouldn't be worth it!? The problem is you need to go to find out...