Thursday, 7 July 2016

2017 dates coming up:

Dates for our 2017 off piste skiing and ski touring courses and adventures are starting to firm up in the calendar.

Steep Vanoise - yes, it's back (of course it's back!) - once again based out of Brides-les-Bains with easy access to the 3 Valleys resorts, Paradiski, Valmorel and more this is 5 days of steep skiing with coaching 'on the hoof'. In 2016 we scored all-time conditions - check out the pictures here!

Lofoten - once again we will be returning to the magical Lofoten Islands for 3 separate weeks of ski touring adventures.
1 - 8 April will be boat-based on the amazing Skydancer,
8 - 15 April and 15 - 22 April will both be land-based at Lofoten Ski Lodge

Check out this year's fun

Maurienne Valley Steep Coaching and Adventures will be running Sunday to Sunday this year, from 5 - 12 March based in Termignon, with Bonneval-sur-Arc, Val Cenis, Valfrejus, La Norma, Aussois and many many more close at hand. Last year's report is here.

Also in the diary:

Freeride Serre Chevalier : 18 - 25 March

Off Piste Perfection Tarentaise Explorer : 4 - 11 February

For more details of these courses or to enquire about other dates please get in touch!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Salomon MTN LAB boot and ski review

As followers of this blog may have noticed, this winter I have been skiing on/in lots of Salomon gear (thanks to those nice people at Salomon UK!).

So its about time for a bit of a review of the kit I have been using...

Photo © Ross Hewitt

Reviewer details:
Weight 82kg (-ish), height 1,90m
Boot size 28.0
Skier type: professional skier since 1995 (fully certified BASI Instructor / Diplome d'Etat Ski Alpin)
Previous boots: Dynafit Titan, Dunafit Mercury, Tecnica Cochise Pro 130
Previous skis: Volkl Gotama, Whitedot Ranger Carbonlite, Whitedot Director Carbonlite

MTN LAB boots:

Following my initial review, these boots have absolutely proven their worth throughout this winter season. They are a cut above any other touring boot I have had on my feet.
They may not be the lightest boot on the market at ~1.7Kg per foot in the 28.0, but in terms of the weight to skiability ratio there is no contest.
Initially I was concerned about the 2-buckle system and whether there would be enough to work with to hold the heel back into the pocket properly but there is very little problem with heel lift (one of big complaints with lighter weight 2 clip boots has always been heel lift - particularly in heavier snow). It is fair to say that thanks to the powerstrap this does behave more like a 3-clip boot...
Another point of interest for me was the material covering the toe box, but this has proven both durable and very effective at keeping moisture out.

In terms of skiability the MTN LABs have happily driven the MTN LAB skis (115mm underfoot) and the MTN Explore 95, along with a variety of other skis, in all sorts of snow conditions and have been more than capable of driving them both at high speeds and slowly. Flex is extremely progressive and smooth, but stiff enough to deal with bumps/rough terrain at speed. I have been switching between the stock liners and an Intuition Pro Tour (in preparation for Baffin Island where a closed-cell foam liner was a must) and have been equally happy in both.

Cuff movement is very good giving free and easy ankle movement for skinning/boot-packing or climbing. The boots have also stood up well to 4 1/2 months of almost daily abuse:

In short if these boots fit your feet then I cannot recommend them highly enough - I have tried many boots over the last few years and these have come closer than anything to being the 'holy grail'!


I have been skiing the 184cm length MTN LAB ski extensively this winter - it quickly became my go to ski for anything barring really firm conditions:

Courchevel powder heaven 15 Jan 2016 from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

The skis have a 115mm waist width and a nominal turn radius of 24m. Profile is a gentle traditional camber, with a subtle tip rocker in the front 1/3 of the ski (this is my non-scientific 'eyeball' measurement description...). My understanding is that Andreas Fransson had a large hand in designing this ski, and his tastes in ski were obviously similar to mine as this combination works perfectly for so many situations...

These skis are so much fun in anything soft, easy to pivot in tight spots, but stable at speed in big curves. On firmer snow torsional rigidity is good, giving good grip when needed. The progressive tip rocker is great for keeping the skis floating in deep snow, and smoothing out chopped up snow without being excessive and flapping around like an angry salmon. Overall the combination of camber/rocker is well balanced meaning the ski will skid very effectively and smoothly, making speed control on steep ground very easy.

Weighing in at just over 1,8 kg per ski then paired with a lightweight binding these make a perfect 'wide touring' ski.

Night skiing from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Still to come: reviews of MTN Explore 95 ski, Soulquest LAB jacket and pants, XMax Photochromatic goggles...

Monday, 13 June 2016

Baffin Island - Skiing the Ancient Hallways - part 2

On our trip to Gibbs Fjord we skied pretty much every one of the 21 days we spent on the ice - with 24 hour daylight if the weather is bad in the morning it may well be good come evening time... We skied 18 previously unrecorded lines up to 1300m high, along with repeats of 2 lines skied by a French team in 2014. No point in describing them all - suffice to say it mostly involved skinning across a flat fjord, booting up a couloir, and skiing back down again... So I have tried to pick out some highlights and other interesting points from this trip:

Melting snow - don't let anyone tell you any different, on a trip like this huge amounts of time are spent melting snow - every meal, every hot drink - wake up in the morning, get all your warm kit on, get over to the 'kitchen' and get the stove on. Get back from skiing - get the stove on. Fill thermoses for the night/morning - get the stove on... When it is -20C this all takes some time so patience is an essential ingredient for a trip like this!

Mind you, the views from the kitchen window weren't too bad:

Meanwhile, Ross & Ev scope out a line:

The revelation of the trip for me was kite-skiing. I had always sworn I would never get involved with kites having lost 2 friends to kite-surfing accidents in the mid 00's, but on the flat sea ice of the fjords they were a brilliant way to travel when the winds were playing ball - 5km cross-fjord in 8 minutes? Oh go on then!

Temperatures weren't as cold as Ross had experienced on his previous trip - we probably hit -20 or so during the first week, then gradually milder. Still glad to have plenty of warm kit... Neoprene overboots didn't get as much use as planned but were great for getting boots up to 'working temperature' before heading out (not my choice of colour...).

As soon as the wind blew every bit of skin needed to be covered though:

Opening ziplock bags with big mitts proved to be a challenge too far!

Most of our hot meals were freeze-dried - for fuel efficiency we had to avoid anything that might need washing up. Chipie is a chef though, so of course he came up with some high class improvised meals - Arctic MSR-grilled hot dogs:

Oh and the skiing, let's not forget the skiing...:

Monday, 30 May 2016

Baffin Island - skiing the ancient hallways - part 1

Baffin Island has been high on my 'bucket list' ever since I read an article by Andrew McLean on a trip he made in 2002 when he and Brad Barlage made over a dozen first descents in the Sam Ford Fjord and Walker Arm area, including now uber-classics like Polar Star couloir. Ross Hewitt and I had batted about the idea of a trip here for some time and it all came together for a trip in spring 2014. Unfortunately this also coincided with the arrival of my second child the previous autumn, and the timing simply was not good so I had to pass on that trip. I had resigned myself to having missed the chance as there are so many factors that go in to putting together a team for this kind of trip: a) partners capable of skiing the terrain, b) partners with a) and also capable of surviving on sea ice in -25/-30C temperatures, c) partners with a) and b) also with sufficient funds (this is an eye-wateringly expensive trip...), d) partners with a), b) and c) who have enough free time in April/May, e) partners with a), b), c) and d) who I would want to spend 3,5 weeks in a small tent on the sea ice with... etc etc

Fortunately Ross came back from the 2014 trip massively enthused to return, so 2016 was blocked in the diary and we started planning. The team was completed by Evan Cameron an NZ-based Scot and long-time climbing/skiing buddy of Ross's, and my buddy Stephen 'Chipie' Windross a Tarentaise-based roving skier and adventurer.

4 men and a whole lot of bags...

Iqaluit - probably the brightest airport in the world?

An omen...:

Clyde River airport 10 minutes after the plane has gone - best do lots of networking on the flight in otherwise it is a long walk into town...:

Big rabbits round here...:

The man the myth the legend - 75-year old Ilkoo still hunts and fishes and despite putting on a Yoda-like 'front' with a walking stick around town is still sprightly and hard as nails...

Chipie checking out our wildlife protection:

Skidoo and qumatik loaded and ready to go - possibly the most uncomfortable 14 hours I have ever spent - bumping across pressure ridges in the sea ice with very little padding...:

'I'm a livin' in a box' - Chipie & I in our 'kennel' on qumatik #2:

Polar bear gloves - warmer than a warm thing...:

Polar bear tracks - mother and cubs:

14 interminable hours later:

The views are 'alright' at 2 am:

Day 1: a late start after a long day, but blue skies were too good to waste - time to get busy!:

Today's target - the line to the right of the big cliffs - 1200m up to 50ยบ:

Goin' up:

And coming down...


Perfect cold snow for steep skiing:


Heading for the exit door:

1000m rock walls above:

Back down into the freezer - cold air pools on the fjord so most days we climbed into warmer air and then skied back down into coldness again...:

Powder down to the fjord:

More to follow at some point...

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Baffin Island - taster

I have finally made it back home after a long (and convoluted) journey back from Baffin Island. Awesome is an over-used word these days but truly deserved for this place. Lots of photos to follow, but here is one to get started... Ross skiing the upper section of our first line - 1200m of steepness to the fjord, first known descent, blue skies, cold powdery snow... mega!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Lofoten 2016 - East side - part 2

On Wednesday the planets finally aligned for a trip into Trollfjord - I have been waiting years to go in here but it was worth the wait!

It is always hard to follow up a high quality day like that, particularly when the forecast is for strong winds, low cloud and precipitation, but on Thursday we manage to find a sheltered and bright corner of the Island with a sheltered couloir line.

The forecast was once again poor for our last day on Lofoten. With winds coming in from the Southwe decided to stay very local on a peninsular that tends to stay clearer of the cloud than the main island and made a couple of steep laps before the snowpack started to get too moist and we retired for coffee, waffles and beer!

Thanks again to Pete, John and Steve for a great week, and thanks also to Seth, Maren and all the crew at Lofoten Ski Lodge and Captain Nick and Stella on the boat! See you there next year!