Not an airport transfer but today's stage in the Tour de France!
192.5 km and a staggering 3,257 m of climbing. They should be starting about now and finishing in around 5 hours, only about twice as long as a coach transfer.
Phil Ingle has a great photo story on his site showing his descent of the Brèche Nonne Evêque couloir in Chamonix.
Apparently it is a sustained 50º slope with sections up to 55º.
The current good conditions in Scotland are rare indeed and I like Winter Highland's advice: 'It's midweek, it's quiet, the snow is good, throw a sickie.....'
Sadly, its not always like that as witnessed by this piece I wrote last year for The Aspect Journal. I now offer it here too for posterity: my account of a typically wet day riding in Scotland.
We wanted to start the next thousand years as we wished them to continue. So when we slipped out of the village at seven in the morning on New Year's Day 2001, we felt rather smug. We envisaged the rest of our friends slumped by the fire at the end of the day, suffering from holiday bloat, when we would return as rugged, mountain-conquering heroes with tales to tell.
Fifteen of us had gathered in the west of Scotland to celebrate the "real" start of the millennium. An hour in, after a lavish Hogmanay dinner and ceilidh, two of the party had discreetly staggered off for an early night. So the fact that we were on the road so early felt like an achievement in itself.
The entire United Kingdom was in the grip of a vicious cold snap with most of the country covered in snow and we were certain that a trip to Scotland would offer some snowboarding opportunities. Unfortunately, Presbyterian Glencoe, the nearest ski area to our holiday village, chose not to open for religious reasons, despite rare good conditions. Further north, Nevis Range was reporting far less snow and had not yet opened for the season. For several days, however, the resort's Web site had promised that it would open on New Year's Day.
After two hours on the road we arrived at an empty car park. We quickly learned that there was too little snow to open properly but that the resort manager would make a decision within the next hour as to whether they could open anything. We settled down in the café with a few other hopefuls to rest our weary heads and wait.
Finally the manager announced that, as promised, Nevis Range would open. The shivering snow addicts cheered. However we would have to be patient, he explained, because to get us to the limited snow his staff would need to reconfigure a drag lift to start higher up the mountain.
By lunch time the lift was ready and twenty or so hardcore skiers and riders jostled enthusiastically to the chair lift that would give us access to the hill. From there it would be a short hike to the tow lift that now served the upper half of a narrow snow gully flanked by brown heather.
We savoured the first few runs as though they were the reward for climbing Everest. We revelled in the camaraderie that had developed between the resort staff and their most committed customers.
Then, perhaps inevitably for Scotland, the rain started. A slight drizzle at first, we barely noticed it. A few timid souls trudged toward the chair lift but we kept going, donning goggles and hoods, relishing the rain as an additional hardship to be overcome.
Water seeped through our clothes, running down our limbs while we cowered on the tow. Soon there were only a handful of people left on the hill and what little snow was left was fast dissolving. We made a final run, dodging the newly exposed patches of heather, and unstrapped our snowboards, smiling.
Two hours later around the fire, still wet, we recounted the day to our mocking and deriding friends. We had no doubt, though, that we had made the right decision to go snowboarding that morning. We only hoped that our perseverance would be rewarded with better conditions for the next thousand years.
This travel piece from the Guardian reviews a girls only learn to ride holiday with instruction from Becci Malthouse (a senior BASI person IIRC).
If you really are after powder it might be a bit tame but if you want to learn in a supportive environment with high quality instruction its worth a look.
SCUK has the latest on the ambitious plans to extend the Sheffield Ski Village.
There is a good piece in The Times about how important it can be to a resort to have a quality snowpark, without which they miss out on a crucial demographic group. The article goes on to list some of the best parks and pipes, not surprisingly most are in North America.
I remember being wowed at Blackcomb on finding an entire run with perfect tabletop after perfect tabletop all the way down and how impressed I was (and intimidated) by the perfect super pipe at Whistler. Although I am more of a free rider than a park junkie it does annoy me the way so many European resorts pay lip service to the idea of a park/pipe by building but not maintaining them.
There is a good thread running over at rec.skiing.resorts.europe on "How hard are the Courchevel couloirs?" - first hand descriptions from people who have skied them and discussion of how difficult they really are. There is also a useful link to further info on skiing the couloirs and one of the posters has some good pictures showing the couloirs and his party skiing them.
I have always fancied riding them but they do look intimidating, the best advice seems to be that, while they are not that technically difficult, you want to be pretty confident on steeps due to the exposure.
It is not as comprehensive as my favourite web cam site, Snoweye, but it is a good graphical representation, at least for Switzerland.
Piste Hors has an excellent article on the history of Courchevel. It is lengthy but well worth reading as it gives some fascinating insights, not only into the development of Courchevel, but of skiing and dedicated ski resorts in France in general.
Keystone pulled a neat stunt to open their season by running lifts for 36 hours continuously with riding through the night.
When I was in La Bresse last season they had dawn skiing from 6:00am and night skiing until 10:00pm at weekends. It certainly beats a Saturday night at Milton Keynes!
They have a gallery of their bluebird opening day. Nice.
The Observer has a good extract from the new Time Out guide to Skiing & Snowboarding featuring reviews of some recommended terrain parks.
The product is launching at the Daily Mail Ski and Snowboard Show on 13 October and should then be available from the MountMaps site priced at €5 (initially they only have a map of the Three Valleys).
The BBC reports on plans for a massive indoor winter sports centre in Suffolk, to be sited in a disused quarry.
I hate to seem cynical as I would love to see it happen but it seems like we have been here before. Anyone remember the ambitious plans for a National Winter Sports Centre at Shoreham in a disused quarry on the South Downs?
I thought it was time to start letting people know about a new experimental web project I have been contemplating for a while: Snowspots is a wiki web site about great spots to ride (or ski if you must).
A wiki, for anyone still unfamiliar with the concept, is a web site that anyone can edit. The most famous example is Wikipedia a collaborative encyclopaedia which itself has a comprehensive explanation of the wiki concept.
The aim of Snowspots is to offer a collaboratively edited database of ski runs. To contribute simply add some details of your favourite runs!
Update: Well I did say it was an experiment and I am afraid to say that after a year or so even I had not got around to adding much content so I have given up on the idea. 16-Sep-05.
Someone has done a nice job of listing the season open and close dates for many French resorts over at snowHeads.
Nice article over at Natives about a late season trip to Greenland. While the article talks about a trip in May there is plenty of snow right through the summer.
I have often marvelled at the seemingly endless snow covered mountains when seen from a transatlantic flight and it is somewhere I would love to visit one day.
After fantasising about a cat-boarding trip yesterday I went and dug out issue 01 of The Snowboard Journal, as I remembered that they had run an article on the subject. They conveniently listed 16 cat-skiing operations in BC and I hope I won't be treading on their toes by reproducing that list here for reference.
Baldface Mountain Lodge
Chatter Creek Mountain Lodges Ltd
Fernie Wilderness Adventures
Great Northern Snow Cat Skiing
Highland Powder Skiing
Island Lake Lodge
Monashee Powder Adventures
Powder Cowboy Cat-skiing
Powder Mountain Catskiing
Retallack Alpine Adventures Ltd
Revelstoke CAT Powder Skiing
Selkirk Wilderness Skiing Ltd
Snow Water Creek Lodge
White Grizzly Adventures Ltd
Wildhorse Cat Skiing
I had an email today about a new blog promoting Chatter Creek, a small cat-skiing operation near Golden in British Columbia. The blog is only starting out but hopefully it will develop to cover cat-skiing and boarding generally in BC and, If nothing else, I look forward to seeing more beautiful pictures of the BC backcountry.
I really like the whole idea of cat skiing. It offers many of the advantages of heli-skiing but has a much lower environmental impact and is more flexible in poor conditions, for example, if the weather is too bad to fly a cat can take you to an untracked tree spot. Of course, its cheaper too.
Reading up about Chatter Creek made me drool. I love the whole backcountry aspect of the location. They fly you in to the lodge by chopper (so its not without environmental impact) and there is only a satellite phone and a single connected computer should you wish to contact the outside world. They also advise you to bring ample supplies of any medication you might require. The thing that struck me was that
if when I stump up the two thousand or so Canadian Dollars (eight hundred quid) for a three day trip I would will want to take plenty of spares for my rather flaky Flow bindings!
Some nice photos of glacier skiing at Tignes yesterday (midsummer's day).
I missed this at the time but it makes Riksgränsen sound even more appealing.
Some brief notes on other summer destinations too.
I just found this fabulously geeky web site which has a worldwide database of ski lifts. It is by no means complete but they are looking for help to fill in the gaps.
My friend, Ross, took this rather nice shot of the southern side of Mont Blanc, as seen from La Toviere, during our recent trip to Tignes.
A friend pointed out this neat itinerary planner for the 3 Valleys (click on the "Taylor-made 3 Valées" banner). You tell it which resort you want to start (and finish) at, your level (expert, families or "fun") and whether the weather is sunny or cloudy. It then suggests a route taking in the whole 3 valleys (high or low depending on weather) and gives you a PDF route plan like driving directions to print off.
It is a pity it does not tell you the vertical gained and lost with each run and the distance to ski, rather than just an overall estimate of the time required, but its fun none the less.
There is an interesting discussion over at Piste Hors about whether or not off-piste hazards should be marked. This follows the death of a 17 year old British rider who fell 70 metres over a cliff in the Cote Brûne sector of Meribel last week.
I don't think anyone should expect such warnings when riding off-piste and nor should any ski area be expected to undertake such an onerous responsibility.
What is needed is better education about the dangers of off-piste riding which, to the uneducated, can often seem so benign especially when near to a marked piste and heavily tracked.
Things are still not working out at Glencoe and now both it and Glenshee are up for sale.
One wonders if any commercial operator can make a go of running these resorts or whether there is another solution, either some sort of club or co-op or public funding (shocking that Caingorm apparently received £20m in tax payer's money for the new funicular).
A friend just returned from 'Val Tho' and mailed me a couple of interesting data nuggets about the trip.
The descent from the top of the Col lift to the bottom of the Plan de l'Eau lift is 1314 m of vertical. The pistes - a red, blue, green, blue, red combination - cover 7,200 m. It took 10 minutes and 550 turns. Each turn, on average, covered 13 m and lost 2.4 m in height. A skier friend tucked the whole lot and did the run in 6 minutes.
The cost of driving from Calais to Val Thorens [and back I presume] was £195 for petrol [2.5 litre estate car] plus £85 in tolls, ie a total of £280.
I love the fact that he counted the turns - great stats - I will need a Suunto to beat that for detail!
During my Christmas break in Vermont I managed to squeeze in a couple of days riding at Killington so I thought I would post some thoughts on the place.
Suicide Six turns out to be a quaint New England family ski hill with two antiquated two man chairs and a small drag lift serving 200m of vertical skiing but lift tickets are a staggering $48/day during the current "holiday" season. Compare that with EUR40/day for the entire Three Valleys!
The future of Glencoe is looking brighter according to the following press release.
Sad news via TheBoarder that Glencoe will not be opening this year, or maybe ever again.
I had one of my earliest ski experiences there (admission: I was a two planker once) in about 1993/94. Actually, my recollection was not so much of skiing, but of being stuck on the access lift for half an hour in bitter gale force winds on the way down from the ski area at the end of a wet and miserable day.
Val Thorens, which is one of my favourite resorts due to its high altitude and early/late snow, is opening this weekend:
The opening of the Val Thorens skiing area should take place on Saturday, November 8th. Indeed, the current snow conditions as well as the expected snow falls which should occur by the end of the week should allow to operate the skiing area from this date on.
That is an amazingly early start, I think they normally open at the end of November. Now if only I could wangle a weekend getaway before Christmas.
Mont Blanc is closed. Whether this is really down to global warming or just a one off hot summer this is worrying indeed.
Glaciologists estimate it will take 30-40 metres of snow, which would normally take several harsh winters to fall, to make good the deficit of snow and ice that has melted this summer.