This season has been described as once in a generation snowfall that hit the alps. This is my 20th winter working and teaching in the Alps and I have never seen a winter like it. We now have such an amazing snow base and cover for the rest of the ski season.
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: email@example.com or visit www.freefloski.com
It has been an amazing and extraordinary week of fresh snow in Tignes. Out of the 19 seasons that I have completed; it has probably been one of the best starts to the season for snowfall that I have seen in a long time.
Last Sunday and Monday we received nearly a metre of snow in two snowfalls with in 48hrs.The amount of snow falling in a short time with the snow level at 900m brought some disruption in resort. The opening of ski lifts were delayed as the pistes were being secured. Roads have been shut for a short time to ensure safety. People have been working around the clock clearing snow to keep footpaths, roads and entrances clear and open.
Wednesday brought more settled weather and everyone was enjoying the sunshine and the 100% visibility. Pistes were soft and in excellent condition. The avalanche rating increased to a four out of five for danger due to the large loading of new snow. However, if you knew where to go and skied flatter safer slopes you could ski fresh powder. The powder off piste on south facing slopes was light and heroic. With a great base of snow underneath you could ski more confidently as you wouldn’t hit the base.
On Thursday a new weather front came in bringing poor visibility and wind with speeds up to 100kmh. This has moved a lot of snow around and has altered our snowpack. Skiing off piste on the windward slopes are difficult to ski with a crusty layer and the lee slopes are loaded with fresh snow but are more dangerous.
Today we have been excited to receive another 30cm of fresh light snow on upper slopes as the wind dropped overnight. There is more good news as we are expecting another 20cm of snow tonight which will help build the snowpack even further and will give us a better snow base and piste conditions throughout the winter.
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
Step up your avalanche game!
Last winter season, 2016/17 there were more avalanches and incidents than in a normal season. This was a result of an unstable snowpack, caused by variation in temperature, high winds and the type of snow that fell. Out of the19 ski seasons I have done this one had the most avalanche activity I have ever seen.
New ski technology and the fast-growing trend in winter sports means more and more people are venturing into the off piste. They have good equipment but a with a lack of snow awareness and a lack of experience sometimes bad and riskier decisions are being made. The mind-set of getting ‘fresh powder tracks’ is creating a culture that shows little respect for others as groups and individuals are just focused on themselves.
Most of the time people get away with their route selection and decisions. However, it’s a risky game to play and sooner or later it could be you or your friends who get caught out and trigger an avalanche onto someone else, or even be in it yourselves.
This is when you need to be ready.
I have a lot of clients, friends and seasonal workers that ask me how they can be safer in the off piste and backcountry. So, new for this winter, with 16 seasons ski teaching and guiding behind me, I am delighted to be coaching and introducing affordable half day FREEFLO Mountain Respect Workshops in Tignes.
The workshops are designed to help you be safer and make better decisions whilst off piste and in the backcountry. They will give you more snow and avalanche awareness and you will learn the skills that I use to help make the best decisions I can in avalanche terrain.
FREEFLO Making the right decisions in avalanche terrain Workshop 13th Dec 2017
14th March 2018
FREEFLO Avalanche Transceiver Training Workshop 12th Dec 2017
13th March 2018
For more information on the workshops please visit FREEFLO If dates aren’t suitable or work for you drop us an email: email@example.com and we will be able to tailor other dates and workshops for you, your chalet staff, your clients or friends.
BE SAFE OUT THERE…..
BASI ISTD International Ski Teacher
APC Race coach Level 2
Mountain Leader MTA
Reading the book the inner game to tennis has made me realise how more of a ski coach I am compared to a ski instructor. After 17 seasons of ski teaching I didn’t realise how many techniques of the inner game of tennis I use in relation to my own ski coaching.
Steep skiing in couloirs is one of my passions and one of the many sides of skiing that I enjoy and coach in. For myself just being in a couloir and skiing in challenging and exposed environments naturally focuses my mind and attention. For many other skiers it is a different story as they become nervous, frightened and feel threatened with the exposure. Skiing on steep off piste and in narrow unknown corridors which are often surrounded by rock is where focus, skill and belief is vital for a good and safe decent.
Learning to focus your attention is a master skill that has unlimited application. When skiing in a threatening environment where your skills are being pushed you need to learn to focus awareness in the NOW. It means tuning in to what is happening in the present not the past.
Concentrate your focus on here and NOW, in present time and in the present space. Most accidents and falls happen when we lapse in concentration as we allow our mind to think about what is about to happen or to dwell whats has already happened in the past. Especially for women that are lacking self confidence. Don’t let your mind absorb itself in the world of “what if’s” “What if I fall over” “What if I can’t make that turn” and then let your mind wander away to “this happened to me last year and this is how I injured my knee” or something totally irrelevant “I can’t believe what that Facebook post said about me”. Since the mind has a will of its own and tends to wander, how can one learn to keep it in the present?The answer is by practise as there is no other way. Every time your mind starts to leak away, simply bring it gently back.
The next time you are in a couloir or on challenging terrain have this action plan. Focus your mind on the present, see and accept the environment that you are in and then ski it with one tactical or technical focus to block out any nervousness. Subconsciously believe in yourself and ability and you will be able to ski stronger and more effectively. For more tips on skiing follow our blog
Route: Val ClaretTignes/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 Grade: 2.1 Exposure: E2
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.
Route: Tignes/Pisteurs Couloir/Tignes Off Piste skiing between: 2770m-2441mN Max Gradient: 43/45 degrees Uphill: 25 to40 mins boot hike dependant on conditions Total Return Route time from Tignes:3.5/4hrs Skiers Level: Advanced off piste Start: From the top of the Grand Pre Chairlift Finish: At bottom Fontaine Froide Lift pass needed: Espace Killy Map needed: 3633ET Grade: 3:1 Exposure: E3
The north face of the Charvet is a super classic route reserved for skiers experienced in committing terrain. It is not route for the faint hearted. From the top the Grand pre chairlift you hike up to the rocher de Charvet . Continue along the ridge line to the end. The far right entrance normally avalanche prone so its better to access from the top different route opportunities on the way down. Hire a British instructor to take you to these amazing secrets to improve your off piste skiing and increase your route knowledge using fatmap.
FREEFLOSKIoffers Elite British Ski Coaching in the snowsure 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. Step into your next adventure with FREEFLOSKIwww.freefloski.com. We look forward to hearing from you!
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
Fresh powder from the Col du Palet, Tignes
Ski Touring up to Tuffs de Grassez,Tignes
Squash and Steve tourng up to the the Pointe De Vallaionsay
On the Ponte De Vallasionnay
Sun falling over the Refuge De Leisse
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.
Artist shot with the poor weather in the google vision
On the Col De Pierre Blanche
Squash touring up next to the river to Refuge De La Femma
Refuge De La Femma in sight
Inside Femma plotting the tour up St Mean Martin
The three day adventure-where we have been
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.
Short uphill for more downhill: Episode 1 Just after or even when it is snowing everyone rushes out on the mountain to ski fresh powder to get the adrenaline rush of skiing lines off piste with that remarkable floating feeling. Often the powder which is accessible by the lifts in big resorts are skied out by the end of the morning. Some days when I am teaching on the hill most places are skied out by 11am, thats when knowing the mountain is to your advantage. With knowledge and understanding you can ski further a field into the backcountry and go to the secret places to find the stash of powder where less people go. I really enjoy this new type of skiing as you have best of both worlds touring up hill and longer lines off piste downhill.
Route: Pointe Boussac Tignes/Val D’Isere Off Piste skiing between: 2407m -3070m NE/NW Max Gradient: 38-40 degrees Uphill: 40 mins Total Route time from funicular: 2.5hrs Total Return Route time from Tignes:3.5/4hrs Skiers Level: Intermediate/Advanced off piste Ski Touring Level: Intermediate/Advanced Start: From the top of the funicular in Val Claret Finish: At bottom Fontaine Froide Lift pass needed: Espace Killy Map needed: 3633ET
This route is a great route that you can achieve in half a day and you feel like you have achieved a bit of everything a summit, steep uphill ascent and a longer time skiing off piste. The difficulty is the last 200m of the accent where it is vertically challenging and you need to be good with your kick turns but if all else fails you can always boot up. The off piste lines off the Pointe Boussac are in abundance and are as varied and challenging as you want them to be!
Last 200m to summit Pointe Boussac
Skiing down from the Col
Enjoying the fresh tracks off the Pointe Boussac
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 and La Grave. Please visit our site: www.freefloski.com . Like us on Facebook and Instagram and we will keep you up to date on posts, photos and videos for free.
Step into your next adventure with FREEFLO. We look forward to skiing with you.