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It has been a long time indeed. Lots of things have changed.

Competitive racing has finished for me. I feel I got what I came for in the 2 years of training and competiting. It was fantastic but its a time to return to just riding, adventuring and exploring. With that I undertook, as is my norm, a slight obsession with building a local trail. Its something Phil and I have wanted to do for a longtime and now, it is done. We weren’t expecting to complete it before the winter came but with the very late winter and awesome Autumn we did. I enjoyed every moment of it and have to say that the first rides on it were very satisfying. Seeign other peoples reactions were almost better than my own.

Part of the reason I wanted to make my own trail is that I wanted something very exacting so that with my future of less riding I would know where I would go and what I would get. Less riding? Yes, Kate and I will be (fingers crossed) having a Little HS in March. Life change but for all the good things.

Anyhow, Winter eventually rocked up with a few little snowfalls before the big storms rolled in. Before the big storms I met up with a guy called Adam Craig (www.adamcraig.net). Its the ol’ American Switcheroo trick, they come over and somehow they end up on my doorstep (its a small world). Adam is one hell of an XC racer (US Nat Champ), kayaker, skier and general adventurer. We got on. I thought I’d show him my fav place of Sex Carro.

As is normal, the snow pretty much sucked (got blow somewhere else) but it was great to be up there, seeing the mountains and checking in at the hut. Doesn’t feel like a winter without it. I have to say I wasn’t really feeling skiing. A funky knee made me feel very defensive and what with my change in mindset (Clips to Flats on the bike) I decided I was going to snowboard again….

I’d thought about this while I was in Costa Rica surfing (post to come), I like boarding, I like the feeling and the approach. I also snowboarded on the last day of the winter last year and loved it. There is a certain playfulness about it.

The big storm: Tempest Joachim rolled through Europe and precipitated an awful lot of snow on the Alps. Infact, it was more in 3 days than the whole of last season! I luckily got to sample it when Christmas Break came around and I choose to do it on a board. Also, my buddy had let me borrow his Burton Fish after I spent a day in Deep Conditions in the trees. I can’t believe the difference. Its really like snowboarding should be.

I got a GoPro Hero 2 from Kate for Chrimbo so this was its first outing:

 

I short Christmas break in the UK brought us back for more snowtime. With Kate pregnant but still wanting to ski meant we needed to find quiet skins and skiing. Nice trips up to Savoleyres when it was shut and Bruson made for great outings. Its pretty cool to think LHS is getting his first outings already!

Kate wanted to goto the Grand St Bernard Monastry and a sunny day dawned. It was go. I dragged poor Menso up there with the promise of some powder turns. That place is windy indeed. We had mandatory wine, cheese and soup and then I forced him up another 300m of steep, sunny, hotness. He was loving it (possibly not). The ski down was absoulutely shit. Very, very funny as it was full on carton snow with huge wind blown ridges. Still, it was fun. Sort of.

Another big storm rolled into Verbier and closed the lifts down. I managed to drag Menso up to Ruinettes in a tempest. Again, he loved it (possibly not). We skied the trees with 20cms of the light and fluffy stuff on boiler plate base. It was scary fast. Again. Top notch fun.

The freezing level went up and up and the rain/snow came down. I hit up Bruson with the Frennette crew. I have to say it may have been one of the few times where it was a wrong call. 50cms of Elephant snot BUT it really was fun. A lot of people having issues with the depth and weight of the snow.  A early finish for NY.

A little vid of what it was like. The GoPro was covered with snot most of the time.


 

Jonas and I started a 1st of Jan tradition last year and thus continued but this time with Jerry. Early doors and a road trip to a lesser known and high resort in the Valais. The sun didn’t play ball for a while but we had great fun and stress free riding. Easy hikes and no ‘Helmeted’ freeriders to speak off meant we had our pick of the terrain. We were just about to head in for lunch when the sun came out and we spotted a line. The day just got better and better. A perfect amount of riding done before we headed back to Planet Verbier.

The video to go with


 

One last skin in yet anther snowstorm with Kate for a cheese based lunch brought our Christmas period to an end. It left me with the terrible Snow Addiction again. Luckily, as I write yet another storm is pounding the alps.

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People say that Christmas is the premier holiday but that can’t be true. Easter surely must take the prize for almost winter and almost summer potential. The evidence:

Good Friday: A blessed day indeed. The mountains had received 40cm’s of fresh snow and the sun was shining. Temps were normal so a bit hot for south facing slopes but great for north. I’d tell you about the conditions but I was biking. In shorts and t-shirt down in the valley away from the hordes of revellers.

Ash and melissa had come over from France, Phil and Lucy from Chable. We met in the COU (Centre of Universe) and decided on the plan. Too much snow at 1500m upwards ment we kept it low and headed to the Bois Nois centre for keeping handlebar width less than 700mm! A good little play around there to get the juices flowing led us to a new trail.

Police Academy: A short, sharp 300m climb led us to the entrance of Swiss version of the Movie classic. Heading int the trail that I had only seen on chest cam it was a lot steeper than I expected. Pretty commiting tight corners that held that perfect balance between too tight and not wide enough. Technical turning that Flo gave us a master class in. Its here where Flo asked me why I set my Meta 6 up in its steepest position!!???

What an idiot. I have been running it with a steep head angle and wondering why it felt like its  diving through the front travel on steeper terrain! I suppose its been good for my riding though (putting a positive spin on it).

An uplift up 29 switchbacks to a little village perched above the Rhone valley and beneath the high mountains we sped into a Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. Slippery from the snow and rocks it was not a trail to get wrong!!!

Saturday: A spot of skiing with some new snow, okish light and quite a hangover. Mt Gele was fun and some fast punter runs on the piste. Highlight must have been when angry dad/man hit me with his ski pole. A slight over reaction!!

Easter Sunday: Wintery weather. Kate and I skinned from the apartment for a spot of exercise. Past Chez Dany and through the trees. Good to be out for a couple of hours. Sunday lunch was had with the Gents where wine and food was consumed.

Monday: A visit to a new and exciting valley. Its always to get out and see new places and this one is a gem. I have been instructed to keep it quiet though…invloved excellent skiing, steeps, powder and even for a busy, busy day we rarely queued for more than 2 mins! A return to the Valley of the Giants will be swift!

Pizza, catch up and the long Easter weekend finished. Giving me high class biking and skiing and a brown face! Easter rocks!

Fail = no structured exercise, quite a boozy saturday evening, no snow biking due to weather and conflicts.

Win = skiing with Nigel and Sam, showing them the wonders of backcountry skiing, seeing Kate ski with some of the best girls around and holding her own, seeing Kate’s confidence grow and skiing like a pro, Catwalk completley fresh and Saturday nights fun with Nick in the Shots bar (the flaming balls is quite a sight!)

Felt worked by the end of Sunday though so it was good. ^

Monday. Lunch run next to the lake was special and legs aren’t too bad.

Stunning weather and great snow conditions. Cold and light. Could have been a bit deeper but whatever. Plenty of soft turns to be had.

Friday nights blow out followed by Sat hearty breakfast and heading off up the hill. Cresting the ridge I was stunned by what a beautiful day it was. Crystal clear and cold. Dropping into the little face to get to our destination was a surprise. Deep, wind blown snow. A little whoop escaped my lips. Soft bumps and an easy traverse. Skins on. Bish, bash, bosh. At the top.

Choose to drop into the north side as snow seemed to be best there and it was pretty nice indeed. Quite blown and a little variable but great skiing! Ski out, muck around and some Olympic inspired DH piste run. I discovered that there are tools for jobs. Ski touring boots and soft skis do not fair so well in the discipline of amateur DH skiing!

Home for a read, tea and toast and then heading out for evening skin. Was a bit later than expected due to the book reading. Darkness came and up I went. Happy to be in my little world of skin, skin sugar. Head torch was not needed due to the moon peaking out and the piste bullies lighting up my world. Quite surreal. Cresting the top it was a bizarre scene with the big, powerful light on Mt Gele. A quick couple of snaps, change around and a very cold ski down due to forgetting proper gloves.

Sunday. Hearty bannana pancakes and maple syrup to start. Tasty. Off into the lovely day and upto Col des Gentianes with the masses. A skin across to Catwalk with a very difficult traversed skin. The top 3 inches constantly falling away made it tricky and worrying at times. We summited to Ferret and were met with 5 tracks. Nice! A very wind blown/slabby top led into better and better conditions. Love this run. Skin out and then round to Clueson Dam.

We took some more Olympic inspiration and did our best ‘We are good at Moguls’ impressions. No one was fooled. Up and over the ridge and finished on Rock and Roll. Love this couloir. Skied out but soft bumps and still fresh on the sides. Managed the Old Frog jump here and there which makes me smile.

Home. Finish book, old pancakes and coffee then a quick skin into the departing evening. Lovely.

Close to a perfect weekend I’d say…my legs feel it today.

Out every day that I was in the mountains come grey, cloud, snow or wind and we had a lot of that. Its definately a real winter with lots of cold but interspersed with brief warm periods. There is now plenty of snow and the fear of breaking knees/ankles on rocks has dissapeared.

Christmas bought more snow but a warming period. It was quite interesting to ski the very slow snow. I really enjoyed all the turns we got and its all good. Trying to take on the mantra of ‘no such thing as bad snow just bad skiers’.

27th Dec, Kate and mine’s 2 year aniversary, we decided to head over into Italy for some touring in the stunningly beautiful Mont Fouchon area (I think). I had been there once before and was blown away by the beauty of the place. Ian and Emily tagged along with Emily’s first split experience and Ian not in tip top form from one too many rum’s the night before.

 

 

Our route was different this time as the overhanging cliff and terrain trap was a) not cut and b) not a good place at this time. We followed a well cut skinning path through the Larch trees which was fantatstic (although the split boarders might not agree!)

I was loving the area and cruising along. Fanatstic tree terrain to lap on a stormy day but I noticed a crust on top. Quite a big one too! Not sure if it was rain crust, warming or wind.

We continued on breaking out of the trees to see the amazing alpine bowls with a great view of the back of the Grand Combin and views to the Aoste valley. To the left were some GREAT tracks down a good sized couloir, not sure how the got into it though so will need some investigation.

We hit a plateau and could see our destination. A col with a name I don’t know. Maybe I should get some maps!! the Col looked pretty close but that was an eye lie. the wind was really raging by this point and I noticed some cloud building up.

After a good solid 30 mins I reached the top, went to the col, looked at mountains and hunkered down from the raging wind. I thought I might be a while up here so decided to dig a snow hole in the wind lip. Was good fun, kept me sheltered and warm from the effort. Kate arrived and then Emily and Ian on the split boards. Not loving it by this point and Emily paniced when she saw the snowhole!!

A quick bite of sandwich, skins off and ready to go down. I must start bringing stove so I can make a hot drink. That would be GREAT!

The descent was, well, sub optimal with a pretty harsh crust and flat light but was still fun. After 1000m vert ascension peoples legs were tired and bellies ready for Italian lunch!

We rocked upto Etroubles and were just in time for late lunch. Some free champers from the proprieter, some parma ham to die for, pasta, Gelato and a red wine which was so good. In car, through tunnel and back o Verbier to hit Apres Ski at the Farinet!

A foot of fresh snow fell last night. Lovely.
Got the big skis out (Faction Royales) and met with Ian at Savoleyres lift. Was suspect of higher terrain and just wanted to blast around without to much worry. Lift took ages to get open but we were first 10 up.
Couldn’t resist a run beneath the lift all the way back down in the sun. Too flat really but a good leg warmer.
Loads of visible slides, some by patrollers and some natural. Really wind loaded on steeper north sides and at low level too. Can’t imagine what some of the higher bowls might be like.
Ian and I lapped the Nord lift and hit some steeper bits. First real chance this season to start letting it go as the snow depth is getting good.
A small hike gave us some short but great steep turns. Those turns flanked by avalanche debris!
Cloud came in and we hoiked over the shoulder to Croix De Coeur and enjoyed deep turns all the way to the bus.
Temperature had gone positive and with reports of more snow/rain we shall see what happens but in the short term care is needed me thinks.

The Christmas holidays arrive and with it Winter. Proper freaking cold. Saturday dropped some good snow so we decided to head to Bruson and skin up and along to Tete De Payenne. Cold. Very Cold indeed and very windy on top. Everything frozen.
Not too much hanging about but good ski straight down the North face. Funny ski touring skiing.
Had a “easy” day on Sunday. Skied Tortin Central Couloir and the wind has done some strange things. Very hard skiing. Quick much around in Siviez/Plan De Fou. Still not enough snow and a lot of rocks. Cheese Fondue and Wine to follow.
Monday dawns grey so a gentle Zone 2 skin from the house up to Tete D Etablons. Very difficult to stay in Zone 2 but took a pretty traversing route through Bacombe. Had to break trail the last hour and was draining.
Finally got to the ridge and checked out the infamous Frenette Couloir. Look good but suspected windloading.
Cut the cornice with skiis and dropped in. Lots of cracking but stayed stable. Jumped up onto a steeper ramp and cut it purposefully. Its slipped down about 20cm. Stopped and let it run out and skied the rest down. A tip I picked up from Greg Hill.
The foehn returned with 20ish cm of snow. Very strong winds indeed which is causing some pretty big problems up high. A SW direction means all the north facing slopes are loaded with snow on a hard surface. Will have to be careful in the coming weeks.
More snow (20-30cm) forecast tonight and a big warm up on 24th then freezing again post Christmas day.

Photos to come when I get them off the camera!

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