Keeping an eye on the weather and the snow conditions, Tuesday 14th November was a perfect time to leave Tignes and go to Val D’Isere to start our backcountry ski touring hut to hut adventure which began in the Manchet valley. It would also give us a great opportunity to check conditions and the snow pack for the winter coming. I love my low season time in the mountains as less people are around and there are lots of adventures to be had. Ski touring this time of year is a completely different game compared to going ski touring in Spring. To go ski touring at the beginning of winter takes a lot of preparation and different skill sets. To have a great experience, to be insured and to be safe you are strongly advised to go with a mountain guide or instructor.
Off we set with all our years of experience, an open plan that gave us plenty of options, and knowledge of the snow conditions. Just before the Manchet chairlift we gained the access road. Little did we know that the two women walking their dogs would be last time we would see human life for two days. The road was a nice easy warm up before harder things to come. At this time of year days are short so we wanted to use our daylight hours wisely and make sure that we were in a hut by 4pm. With no running water in mountain refuges we were taking full advantage of topping up our water bottles in streams as much as we could and keeping hydrated.
Passing the Manchet chairlift we were in good spirits and excited about our adventure to come. We toured through the gates and entered the Vanoise National Park. Each National Park has different rules that you have to obey to so its good to find out about them before you go. The sun was warming up our bodies and the spectacular views were warming up our hearts. We started climbing steeper terrain and that’s when I could feel the weight on my back. I was carrying close to 10kg, which included 3 to 4 days food, water, clothing, first aid, clothing, stove and gas. We had to be self sufficient and prepared. Its always good to pack more food than you think just in case you get stuck in a storm and have to wait for better conditions.
The line that we normally take in the valley wasn’t achievable due to lack of snow and previous avalanche debris from the last winter, so we took a high South West route. We had to be skillful and concentrated as kick turns were tricky on steep slopes, and with the hard layer of wind crust our skis broke would break through the sugary faceted snow. With difficult snow conditions and, slowed down by the weight of our packs, we were behind our game plan. After nearly four hours of touring uphill we were pleased to see the Fond du Fours mountain refuge. Being on the side of caution we changed our decision to reach the Refuge de Femma and decided to stop and rest overnight. We finished a perfect day by watching the sunset with a whisky and coke. We then took off any cold and wet clothes and, putting on dry extra clothing, we settled in for the night. We made a fire, dried our boots, and melted snow to hydrate and cook the food that we had carried. We both fell asleep deeply listening to and watching the roaring fire and its embers.
By law every mountain refuge should have a winter room and be open when the hut is not manned by a guardian. It is always good to phone ahead to check with the guardian that the hut is open and what supplies are in inside before planning your route.
After a hot breakfast soup we packed up, taking all our rubbish with us. We left the hut closed and tidy after paying a small fee into the honesty box known as the tronc. We started touring uphill heading to the Col De La Rochure, half a day behind our original plan. The views were spectacular as the sun was breaking through the high rising mountains. The large peak of Mean Martin was looking down on us as we were breaking tracks in snow. No one was around; it was just us and the only signs of life was very faint old tracks in the snow. It was so silent you could hear a pin drop. The snow pack was thin, probably only a foot in depth due to limited snow fall and high winds. All north facing slopes were covered with sugary faceted snow. On south facing slopes the snow had consolidated but was even thinner in depth.
Changing our route slightly and after a small booting up we had reached the Col du Pisset. Totally on our own we could see for miles and miles into different valleys. It was exactly what I expected, all the snow had been stripped off the ridges and peaks and the snow was deposited in gullies. Finally we enjoyed making down hill turns and leaving our tracks in the virgin snow. The sun was dropping slowly out of the sky as the temperature plummeted. We were tired and behind our plan and the right decisions had to be made. There were cirrus clouds in the sky and collecting fast which is an indication of high winds and a change of weather. With this information we decided to change plan once again and head back to the Col Du Pisset towards home. We didn’t want the new weather front to come in early as we were a long way from home. One of the many lessons that I have learnt when in the backcountry or skiing off piste is not to be set and follow just one plan. Always adjust plans to timings, weather, snow conditions and to the group. Listen to you inner self and never be scared to turn back.
After one and half hours touring we were at the Col Du Pisset once again. We handrailed a ridge line and started our decent back home. My legs were feeling the strain with a heavy pack and the long day but I knew I had to be focused not just on the line to take but also my ski technique. The snow was thin and variable which meant that every turn was different and you needed to adapt your skiing to every condition. However, the descent was unforgettable, skiing open bowls, ridge lines paths and skiing over bridges then crossing the Manchet gorge. The views were stunning with the continuing silence. It was 4.30pm once we had reached the path and handrailed around the Charvet. It was impeccable timing and at 5.30pm it was nearly dark we had finished our adventure and was safe and off the mountain. It was another great ski touring adventure that I won’t forget and shared with a great friend.
FREEFLO specialises in progressive on and off piste ski instruction, backcountry ski touring and women specific ski courses. We offer personal British ski instruction for skiers of all abilities, though our sweet spot is helping competent skiers to improve their technique on and off piste and in the backcountry. Our intuitive coach-approach will help you to progress, have fun and enjoy the full freedom of the mountains in a safe and confident manner. Step into your next adventure and email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Route: Val Claret Tignes/Pointe De Pramecou/Val Claret
Off Piste skiing between: 3054m to 2107m NE/NW
Max Gradient: 48 degrees
Uphill: 3hrs 12 mins
Total Route time from Val Claret: 5hrs
Skiers Level:Advanced off piste
Ski Touring Level: Intermediate
Start: Bottom of Lanches Chairlift
Finish: At bottom Tichot chairlift
Map needed: 3633ET
I just love Spring time. Its warmer, the snow pack is more stable and I have more time to go on adventures. Last year touring up and skiing down the 48 degree North Face of the Pramecou on the 9th May 2016 with adventurer and good friend Squash Falconer was one of my vivd memories of 2015/16. From that day onwards we came up with the idea of running backcountry adventures together to inspire, to teach and to motivate people to adventure into the back country. With one of the largest winter store retailers Snow & Rock behind us, in a few days time I am looking forward joining up with Squash and to leading the Snow and Rock Back Country 5 day Backcountry Adventure in Tignes and Val D’Isere.
Teaming up with the Adventurer Squash Falconer FREEFLO is proud and excited to announce being a part of a very special and exclusive Snow & Rock evening ‘Inspiring Your Adventure’on Wednesday 19th October at the Snow+Rock flagship store in Covent Garden in London.
Enjoy drinks and nibbles whilst listening to adventures. Get FREE advice and take full advantage of the generous 15% OFF discount on the new outdoor collection in store. Tickets are only £5 and all proceeds go to the Bowl Cancer UK charity. For further details and bookings please visit: https://inspiringwithsquashandfloss.eventbrite.com
We are also teaming up together with Snow & Rock to run Two Off Piste and Backcountry adventures for next winter on the 8th January and 16th of April 2017 in the Espace Killy. Further details will follow.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Step into your next adventure with FREEFLO and Squash Falconer.
FREEFLO specialises in progressive on and off piste skiing, backcountry ski touring and women specific ski courses in Tignes, Val D’Isere, St Foy and La Grave. Please visit our site: www.freefloski.com and join our newsletter for free. Like us on Facebook and Instagram and we will keep you up to date on posts, photos and videos for free. Check out more adventures with Squash at squashfalconer.com.
Normally I am very good at starting and finishing blogs but this time it is totally different as I don’t know where to start. Most people start from the beginning and finish at the end. I am going to start with the words mind blowing, exceptional and amazing. Even for me when I have been ski coaching for 16 years this three day hut to hut big mountain ski touring adventure in the Espace Killy is up there with the best. Nothing was set in stone, plans weren’t rigid or even completed. I knew I had three days off work and I wanted to escape and to explore the backcountry and I choose three companions to join me, Steve, Jerry and the adventurer Squash Falconer. I had decided that the first day was about my goal. The second day was to conquer Steve’s goal and the third to conquer Squash’s goal which was to ski tour up Pointe De La Sanna the third largest peak in the Vanoise National Park.
Day 1: Val Claret to Pointe Vallasionnay 3020m to Col De Croix and Col du Palet to refuge Leisse, 16th April 2016
With heavy snow falling in the village of Val Claret it was uncertain what the day or how the day would plan out. With Jerry out of the adventure due to a broken collar bone Squash, Steve and I pushed for the summit. To Summit the Pointe de Vallasionay has always been a goal of mine in which I have tried twice to accomplish and hadn’t succeeded due to weather and the lack of skill and fitness of my companion. With a weather window this time it was possible. We were surrounded by pure beauty and silence of the backcountry until the French Ski Touring military was on our same route who we lost as we scrambled over the back of the pointe and made our own solitary ski tracks in unknown territory. The sense of freedom was overwhelming and with noone in sight. Once we skied to the valley floor, we then skinned up and around Aiguille Noire back to Palet then into Val Claret with a race against time to get the last chairlift to the top of the glacier then a skate to the refuge Leisse. We arrived at the refuge closer to 6pm with a hunger in our stomaches and a sense of achievement.
Route: Pointe Vallasionannay
Off Piste skiing between:
Max Gradient: 38-40 degrees
Uphill: 2 hr 15mins to Pointe 2 hrs to col du palet
Total Route time : 6.5/7 hrs
Total Return Route time from Tignes: 4hrs +
Skiers Level: Intermediate/Advanced off piste
Ski Touring Level: Intermediate/Advanced need to be able to kick turn on 38 degree slope
Start: Tichot Chairlift in Val Claret
Finish: At refuge De Leisse
Lift pass needed: Tignes
Map needed: 3633ET
Day 2: Refuge De La Leisse to Refuge Femma 17th April 2016
Waking up to silence and beauty with no social media allowed our batteries to be recharged and our minds to think freely. Without Steve on Day 2 and with Squashes physical fitness, mind set and with my mountain skills our thought process and plan changed completely. We knew that we could ski tour up Pointe De La Sana anytime but I wanted to tick of a bigger challenge. A peak that is more unknown which stands out from the rest, the peak of Mean Martin 3330m which is on the far edge of Vanoise National Park. It was a peak that could only be achieved by getting to Refuge Femma. With only 400m vertical to climb and a 7km distance I knew it wouldn’t be a big day on the hill but it would take on a totally different challenge. The challenge of navigation in poor visability on a unknown route. With a clearer weather window the following day we both knew that it would be achievable to reach Mean Martin if we could get to refuge Femma. We decided to go for it. From the refuge de Leisse at 2487m we headed South touring up the steep slope of Cotes De Leisse dessus in a ‘Un Jour blanc’ (white day) to the french, the English call it a white out. With low visibility and seeing only a maximum of 15 m at a time we were navigating point to point. Feeling the terrain putting it to the map and using bearings with escape routes if necessary. Its one thing knowing where you are but it is also so important to know your escape routes and how to get out and get home. We were welcomed with a break in the clouds at Col De Pierre Blanche 2842m. Skiing down down from the Col was relaxing as we started to take the itinerary route down to refuge de la Femma with only 5km to travel and a vertical drop of 380m we were then engulfed in thick fog. It was a temperature inversion and I knew it wouldn’t lift till the next day. Keeping in a bandwidth of 100m heading east our visibility went to nul. I wasn’t able to see two ski lengths away not alone Squash 4m away. With a cliff drop below and a rock band above, we then had to find the steep gully to take us to the back of the refuge. I knew that the consequences of getting the route wrong was lethal at this time. I had to think quick on my feet and think instinctively and we needed a change of tactic. Working together as a team and with trust we changed direction and headed South and found the river Genervrey which we followed all the way down to the valley floor. We called it Relief River as we were both relieved to be able to see as we skied to the valley floor and then continued East to the refuge de la Femma.
Route: Refuge Leisse to Refuge Femma
Off Piste skiing between: 2842m to 2352m
Max Gradient: 25-35 degrees
Uphill: 2 hr 15mins to Col in poor vis
Total Route time : 4.5hrs in poor vis
Skiers Level: Intermediate off piste
Ski Touring Level: Intermediate
Start: Refuge Leisse
Finish: At refuge De La Femma
Map needed: 3633ET
Day 3: Refuge De La Femma to Pointe de Martin back to Tignes, 18th April 2016
Keeping an eye on weather outside of the window from the refuge I was getting excited about the adventure ahead and after a rested and peaceful night which included a shower we were head of schedule being on our skis at 7.26am with a 4hr tour in front of us to the pointe and being chased down by a new weather front which was following us. With the fresh snow there was no tracks in sight just vastness of white snow and endless route opportunities. The peacefulness and the beauty of the backcountry was overwhelming and exhilarating. We were miles from anyone and with no sighting of human activity. We we three ridge lines and 5.5hrs of skinning uphill away from our home in Tignes. I just love the feeling of being closer to nature and the solitariness of the mountains and the immense freedom that you get being in the backcountry.
Once again ahead of schedule we were pleased to reach the summit of Mean Martin 3330m just after 11am after 3hrs 27mins of touring uphill. Leaving our mark on the mountain we skied fresh snow off the pointe and headed for Plan Des Fours where we ski toured up and dropped into a famous popular ski touring route Col De Fours. Stopping for refreshments in a solitary mountain restaurant off cugnei we then returned into the hustle and bustle of the Manchet Valley which took us into Val D’Isere and then back on the pistes to Tignes. What an adventure and finally a few goals ticked off.
Route: Refuge De La Femma to Pointe de Martin back to Tignes
Off Piste skiing between: 3330m to 1650m
Max Gradient: 45 degree
Uphill: 3hrs 27mins to pointe Mean Martin, 1hr 17mins to plan des fours
Total Route time : 8.5 hrs
Skiers Level: Intermediate/Advanced off piste
Ski Touring Level: Intermediate/Advanced need to be able to kick turn on 42 degree slope
Start: Refuge De La Femma
Finish: Tignes Les Boisses 1800m
Lift pass needed: Espace Killy
Map needed: 3633ET
So I will finish this blog with the words that I started with mind blowing, exceptional and amazing adventure and now I am looking forward to the next one.
If you would like to ski this route or another route similar please get in contact with FREEFLO. FREEFLO specialises in progressive on and off piste skiing, backcountry ski touring and women specific ski courses in Tignes, Val D’Isere, St Foy and La Grave. Please visit our site: www.freefloski.com and join our newsletter for free. Like us on Facebook and Instagram and we will keep you up to date on posts, photos and videos for free. Check out more adventures with Squash at squashfalconer.com.
New Year, New Start and New Courses
Winter 2015/16 has definitely arrived and its exciting times for FREEFLO. I have rebranded from JCSkiing to FREEFLO with a focused offer of progressive on and off piste skiing, backcountry ski touring and women specific ski courses.
Our brand new website has had a facelift and we’d love you to follow us on social media for updates and news. For full effect, check out the new Instagram account which allows you to share the passion without even being here!
As I start my 16th season of teaching, and my third season in the Espace Killy, my passion and skiing and coaching has never been stronger. There are always more mountains to explore and new routes to find.
This season I’m returning to the off piste mecca of La Grave in the Southern French Alps to deliver my Off-Piste Experience course. Unfortunately both courses are fully booked, however, I’m sure I’ll be heading back there in the future, I love La Grave!
With excellent feedback from last season’s courses FREEFLO has partnered up with Mountain Sun and the Melezes Hotel where the staff are so friendly and the food is so good. FREEFLO is offering a Womens Introduction to Ski Touring Weekend, which is made by women, for women! You can be relaxed and be yourself whilst skiing at your own pace and learning and making like minded friends on the way. For all you women out there step into your next adventure and come and join us. Get in touch via email@example.com
To finish our season with a bang we are offering an Off piste and Ski touring course for the intermediate skier who has had experience skiing off piste and a small amount of ski touring. This course is all about the search of good snow and stepping a bit further away from the pistes. You will stay in a comfortable 4* chalet where you will be fed and look after a great day on the hill. What could be more appealing?
With a focus on holistic performance, for all our courses we have a new partnership with Etixx UK, to offer complimentary elite nutrition to fuel your days on the hill and offers against future purchases. We are also kindly supported by Fatmap, Ember Gloves, Snow-Forecast and Tignes Spirit.
Great memories and adventures are up for grabs. Start your 2016 on a high and we will look forward to skiing with you.
Jocelyn Cockle (Floss)
Director of FREEFLO
The History and info about Skins:
Often when I am talking to clients about ski touring which involves going uphill I am confronted with their puzzled and confused face and the question of HOW? The answer is that we put skins on and go uphill which makes the client even more confused then before.
By most accounts skis and skins have been around for thousands of years. For a long time skiing was called ‘skilaufren’ (ski walking). The term for ski riding and downhill skiing wasn’t born until the 1920’s and 30’s. With technology advancing so much during the first world war and the postwar revitalisation programs in Austria and Germany led to the first Gondolas which along with ski lifts changed the face of skiing forever and was then called ‘skifahren’ ski riding.
Before lift-assisted skiing, the masses earned their turns by attaching skins to their skis for traction. At the time mammal skins were used and the cheaper option some people strapped fur twigs under their skis. The seal skin was a popular material because it fulfilled two contradictory purposes, gliding properties to go forward and to provide as much traction as possible to stop you from gliding backwards.
Skins contain three parts:
- The Plush
- The Backing
- The Attachment
In these modern times in Europe we often use mohair (goat hair) daily due to tradition where as synthetic skins are used more worldwide. Synthetic skins will last longer compared to natural fibre skins. You can have a combination of both. However, mohair skins have better gliding properties in colder snow compared to the nylon skins which last longer and are better in warmer conditions.
The Backing is what the Plush adheres to on one side and the adhesive to on the other which is generally made of nylon. Over there last couple of year recent technology has produced vacum base skins which don’t use adhesive.
For a long time a leather strap around the skis was used to secure the skins onto the skis which caused a lot of problems on the traverse. The Swiss Army come over this problem by drilling holes in the skis and bolting the skins onto the base of the ski. Nowadays we have more elaborated tail and tip attachments which secure the skins.
Step into your next adventure and experience ski touring and the backcountry: www.freefloski.com
After the summer in the UK its great to get back into the mountains and to start getting fit by doing some ski touring! In the Espace Killy you can find the best ski touring.What a great way to start the 2014/15 season.
Different to any ski school FREEFLO offers intutive British Personal Ski Coaching in the snow-sure resorts of Tignes, Val D’Isere and La Grave. We specialise in all mountain and off piste skiing, plus backcountry ski touring and women specific ski courses. Fun and passionate we are highly experienced and fully qualified to work in France. With FREEFLO the quality of your experience, and safety are our priorities. With passion we help people to improve, have fun and to enjoy the freedom of the mountains. For further information please drop an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Speaking with so many people and teaching people to ski on holiday I often hear that people book their ski holiday back to front. First they pick the resort that they want to go in, then they book where they want to stay and then finally they try and get into a ski school at later notice and find themselves disappointed or that the ski school is booked up . When you make that decision to go on a ski holiday you make that important decision to go skiing. Skiing and improving your skiing is the most important part of your holiday and its so important to be taught by good ski schools and good teachers.
So try and book your holiday in reverse you won’t be disappointed.
Research the ski schools and independents and then book ski tuition.
Look at where you want to stay then book the accommodation.
Then book the flights and transfers.
Happy ski holidays
Its great to hear to share the same passion!!!