Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A week of two halves

Bill Mills and Greg Knott arrived towards the end of a period of weather that had been bakingly hot. In fact my view was that the Off- Piste lift accessed skiing was shot. The snow was awful. It was just as well that our plan was to go high and ski tour.
We drove round to Arolla and headed up to the Dix Hut , firstly negotiating the ladders at the Pas de Chevre
The Dix Hut has a new guardian and they have really upped their game- it was a really delightful place to stay and the sunsets were magical.
The next morning we headed off to climb Mt Blanc de Cheilon 3870m.
The ascent was far from simple, a combination of high winds and concrete snow and the need to traverse under some menacing seracs made the whole thing seem serious. Mind you the view from the top was worth it. Five hours up and 45 minutes later we were tucking into Hut Rosti and a second night in the Dix Hut.

Then the weather broke. The next morning it was windy and horrible. The decision was simple we had no choice but to bail to Arolla. We checked into the absolutely magnificent Kulm Hotel and then went skiing in Arolla for the afternoon where we didn't see very much and quite frankly it was pretty miserable.

On Sunday morning we awoke to 40 cm of fresh snow. Clearly the ski touring options were not good so we left Arolla and headed for the resort of La Tsoumaz where I hoped there would be good skiing through the trees. I hoped but was not sure because most of the snow had fallen above the tree line. However the risk paid of and the skiing was very very good. In the afternoon we traversed over to Verbier and got a memorable descent of the Vallon d'arbi.

It was then back to Chamonix to ponder the weather forecast for the next day. It was for snow. So if we were going to ski then we needed trees so we could see. The logic was to head through to Courmayuer [There is limited off-piste tree skiing in Chamonix] This plan went wrong when we exited the mt Blanc Tunnel because there was no new snow and the weather was clear. We almost turned round , but decided to suck it and see . This turned out to be the right decision because although the snow at tree level was dire high up it was sensational and because the weather was actually good we had some of the best lift accessed of the season.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First night in a Hut

This was a trip a long time in discussion and as the date for departure neared the excitement levels increased. The team consisted of Catherine Lewis ,Lucy-Kate Hunt and Bella Noakes. Between them they are mothers to 10 children. So organizing the trip around their families was a challenge.

We met and drove to Bourg St Pierre from where we skinned up to the Velan Hut. I was keen to choose a really good hut because this was to be their first ever hut to hut tour. The Velan Hut did not disappoint. Everything from beer on the terrace to the good food and the calm atmosphere made sure my team were content.
The next morning we set off about 7.30am and climbed up and over the ridge behind the hut before skiing the steep slope on the other side before skiing up to the col to the north of the Petit Velan. From there we managed to catch perfect spring snow where we skied down the vast comb to the old Super Gd St Bernard lift station.
It was now very hot. As Catherine suggested it was like wearing Ugg Boots in the Bahamas. We skinned up to the Gd St Bernard where we spent our second night.
The next morning , still with absolutely stunning weather we headed of into Italy before climbing up to the Fenetre de Ferret.
From the col we skied all the way down to La Fouly through some very technical terrain . Arrived in the village where we had a welcome beer while discussing plans to try and do it all again next year!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Seems like winter has ended we have missed spring and jumped staight to summer

The weather has been magnificent clear and hot. I had four days skiing with Reuben and Fiona who were joined by their son Antony who we worked out has been skiing with me for over half his life! He is now married with kids! It was good to catch up with him.
We had good skiing at Les Contamines skiing through some stunning foret scenery although I never did really find the perfect spring snow because it was very windy and the snow remained rippled.
We had two days skiing at Les Grands Montets mainly skiing off the top and making long glacier descents

Monday, March 03, 2014

Some observations about skis & knees

Skiing Knees. Things are not always what they seem

I ski a lot, over a hundred days a season. Most of it is off piste some times in marvellous conditions sometimes not. Of course this is a good job. But it is suddenly not good when your knees start screaming with pain and you have to continue otherwise you can not earn a living.

A brief potted history of off piste ski design evolution :

Skiing off piste has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years . The primary reason for this is because skis were developed for solely skiing off piste. They were much wider and shorter allowing them to" float" on top of the snow and because they were shorter they would turn faster. The generic term for these skis are “fat boys.” They acquired their name because they were wide under the foot and also because big fat and mostly rich people could now ski off piste and the Canadian Heliski industry particularly embraced them. ( the skis that is.)

The big draw back of these skis was that they were so wide that it was difficult to engage the edge. This is essential for skiing on anything other than bottomless powder snow. Off piste skiing involves skiing all types of snow , some of it being rock hard and icy to snow that is commonly referred to as "porridge."

Gradually skis were developed so that they could be used on and off piste and a whole new concept was born. The buzz word being " Free Ride skis ."

These skis were Game Changers because people like me ( Mountain Guides ) had a much bigger potential pool of clients because off-piste was now comparatively easy.

It was also easier for me too!

What then gradually happened was that the ski manufactures to a great extent cracked the problem of wider skis inability to be skied well on the piste. The manufactures made the skis torsionally more rigid. This meant the edge could bite into the hard snow and the grip was better.

What started to happen was that skis gradually got wider and wider again. The thinking being that you could truly have a big fat ski that you could carve on the piste apparently the best of both worlds .

Fast forward to earlier this season. I was due for a new pair of skis and as I get older I am always looking for ways to make it as easy on my body.

It is perhaps easy to see that it made sense for me to buy a fatter pair of super modern skis . This is exactly what I did. A stunningly well made pair of skis which the manufacturer promised were good in all sorts of snow but also I quote "allowed me to carve my way home on the hardest of pistes"

They were not wrong ! These skis charged through the powder the breakable crud and certainly did allow me to carve on the piste. I skied hard on them all week then one day I started to get pain on the inside of my left knee. Now this is something you get use to as a Guide . You learn to live with it, when you get home you ice your knees and stretch and by the next morning it's mostly okay. Yet this pain was different because within half an hour my right knee was hurting in exactly the same place as my left. Still I just thought “oh well these pains come and go.” But this pain did not go, it got worse and by the end of the day I was in considerable discomfort . Self diagnosis told me that it was cartridge problems. My Hypochondriasis made me conclude that it was the beginning of the end - my knees were starting to fail me.

That evening I went to see my physiotherapist ( about a completely unrelated problem : tennis elbow) but when he saw me hobbling through the door he asked me what I'd done. Meaning have you had a ski crash or something.

I told him I hadn't done anything that I hadn't been doing for 20 years.
Any way he sat me down examined my knees and then asked " have you bought a pair of new fat skis?"

"Er yes I said , thinking me must have a side line as mind reader " I thought they made skiing easier?" I said.

He raised his eyebrows and said " well that's your problem! Your new skis are too fat."

The Physiotherapist [who not only looks after me but also looks after the French Ski Team] then explained that it was a relatively common problem because when you put the skis on their edge( which turns them ,) because they are so wide your knee joints twist too much and you put undue stress on the cartilage.

This was both good and bad news . It was potentially bad because I had bought a pair of skis which I couldn't use , while it was good in the sense that there might be quick solution to my sore knees.

The next day I fished my old skis out of the skip and went skiing again and there was no pain.

I have discussed this with various skiers and it seems that I am the only person who didn't know about Fat Skis causing knee pain. Many confirmed what my physio hold told me.

A modern off piste ski might be something over 8 cm wide under the binding

It seems that once a ski is wider than 10 cm under the binding then this kicks off the potential for sore knees. 10cm is okay , but my new skis were 12cm . This 2cm appears to be the tipping point. Some of the really really outlandish are skis are 15 cm underfoot.

Needless to say I have been convinced. I have another pair of skis.

Clearly this is just my personal experience but it does seem to follow the adage that when progress is apparently made in one direction often there are contrary problems in another.