Always a good day ski touring in the mountains takes some sort of preparation. The night before I checked three weather forecasts one included my favourite snow-forecast.com. I decided that the conditions for ski touring were good for two days. In the morning I reaccessed the forecast. I packed my bag with enough food and equipment that gave me optionality, as I wasn’t certain how long we would be touring for. The plan of attack was to start touring up a piste called Palafour from Tignes Le Lac. The slope is south-east facing and we could stay warm in the sun. We would then decide where to go on route. We had no other concrete plans to arrive at a summit or to achieve a particular route.
I decided to break trail off-piste as there were workers on the piste half way up. Once we arrived at Chardonnet Bowl, we could really start seeing the mountain and reading the signs. Routes in Chardonnet bowl had been skied and two skiers were skiing down and not making it look easy. The wind affected certain summits and cols. There was one group of 6 or 7 skiers or splitboarders going up a route called Grapillion Des Merles. The snowpack looked thin, the snow was uneven, there were sasturgi and plumes of snow. The group still decided to go up even if the route wasn’t inviting?
We decided to continue upon the piste to the snow park on Grattalu after discussing what we saw and how we felt. Our aim was to ski tour gentle and it was our second ski tour of the season. Two other ski tourers were happy to chat and to share some of their knowledge. They had told us that their friends had ski toured up Grapillion a few days ago and they found that the snow was dangerous, thin with lots of rocks. That news reinforced the decision that we made earlier not to follow the group. They also told us that they saw avalanche activity on west facing slopes and to be aware of the weak layers in the snowpack. We thanked them for their news and headed to the Col Du Palet taking on board what we knew and what we could see.
Knowing the routes into the col and knowing what I knew about the terrain, I decided to keep low and take a new flat touring line into the col to avoid rocks. Above we could see a man skiing on the ridgeline struggling with the lack of snow. So we kept our eyes on him and made sure we weren’t underneath him.
Reading the mountain for the ski down: Once we arrived at the Col Du Palet we could read the mountain and the evidence of where was the best powder route down. We looked on to the back of Chardonnet bowl and notice a slab avalanche on the west face on route to diamond couloir. At lower altitude the fresh snow had been cross loaded to north-east slopes and gullies. With this info and what we could see, we then decided to handrail clockwise to a north-east gullie and enjoyed making fresh powder turns on a gentle slope.
Ski Touring out: Enjoying the fresh powder by ourselves, we soon arrived at lake Grattalu. I had noticed that the lake hadn’t been frozen so it was best to stop before continuing any further. We then choose the easiest and most efficient route to get back to the col. Once we reached the col, temperatures had risen and we were tired. To be on the safe side of caution, as I was coming back from a ski collision. We decided to take our own skinning track back onto the piste and headed home. Another great day in the mountains. We were very happy with our decisions, we found the best snow, was safe and had a great day skiing powder with no one around.
I will be delivering mountain respect workshops throughout the winter. If you are interested please get in touch: www.freefloski.com
The Refuge De Leisse is behind the Grand Motte glacier in Tignes and can be accessed by many different routes. After my second season of ski teaching and guiding in the Espace Killy I am still amazed as to what this area has to offer. There are so many good off piste and ski touring routes beyond your dreams. I know instructors and people that have lived in Tignes and Val D’Isere for years and they have never seen the places that I have been too, the places that I have fallen in love with and places that I am still discovering. I get so excited when I have spare time which I spend hiking, touring and skiing these routes.
Refuge De La Leisse
Arriving at the refuge de Leisse
Chilling outside the refuge de Leisse
Room with a view at the refuge de le Leisse
Happy days with Celine
Off for a coffee at refuge de Leisse
Beyond the pistes of Tignes and Val D’Isere holds the wilderness and natural beauty of the Vanoise National Park. In the parks in France and around the world there are mountain refuges. The best way to describe a refuge is that they are very similar to lodges. Many of these refuges are on hiking or ski touring routes so you can actually travel refuge to refuge, hut to hut. A lot of refuges are not manned for the main part of the winter and they are left as a winter room where you can stay for shelter. End of March to mid May dependant on snow and conditions these refuges are open and offer food and accommodation. The guardian of the refuge often ski tours in the winter or hikes in the summer into them which can take hours and sometimes days, just to start work. Each refuge is self suffcient as there are no supermarkets or corner shops nearby, the water supply is often a mountain stream which is diverted to the refuge. The water from the trough of the Refuge De La Leisse is the best I have ever drunk. Most food and supples are heli dropped once every couple of weeks. Most refuges are ran by solar power and the light switches are on a timer, you also don’t have internet access or any phone signal.
The easier route is skiing off piste from the Genepy piste around the back of the Leisse chairlift and then over the frozen marshlands. If you wanted to embark a more difficult route you can drop into 35 Glacier couloir and get to the refuge. You also can also arrive to the refuge by the Col De Sana, Refuge De La Femma, Col De Vanoise, the list is endless. Celine Terryn is the guardian of the refuge de Leisse. She will welcome you with open arms and make sure that your stay is as comfortable as she can.
Celine can tell you many good stories, ‘ One day I was ski touring alone to the refuge and the weather came in. I ended up touring in circles as I couldn’t see anything. It took me hours to get to the refuge as the only ski tracks I could follow was mine and they were going in circles.’ I asked her what happens when the weather gets really bad. She replied ‘This season the weather has been very up and down, when the winds get very strong I often stay in a room which is underground.’ The word brave entered my head. Like most of us doing seasonal work we have many strings to our bow and have many passions. Celine is a chartered physiotherapist when she isn’t working at the refuge and she surfs when she can. She is living the dream.
For more information visit the website of the refuge de Leisse.
Nowhere are we more vulnerable to the weather than on a mountain top or when we are traveling in the mountains.
Reading mountain weather is a vital skill to ensure that you take the safest route in the mountains. I have taught skiing and lead groups in the mountains in summer and winter for over eighteen years. With my knowledge and experience here are some valid tips and some of my insights to weather.
Before you plan your adventure: Before planning a trip or adventure read two or three weather forecasts the night before. Work out if all weather forecasts are telling you the same story. You can also look at weather charts to assess low and high-pressure fronts and where they have come from. Reassess the forecasts in the morning to see if there have been any changes. One of the forecasts that I use is snow-forecast. I can access a nine-day forecast which allows me to see what the weather is doing further away. This is a good tool to have and helps when planning a two or three-day ski touring expedition.
Assess before you start your ski or mountain adventure: Assess the weather where you are. These are the questions that you need to be asking yourself. What altitude are you at? Is there any wind? What is the visibility? Are there any clouds in the sky? What is the temperature? Is the weather matching to the forecasts that you have seen? In most ski resorts there will be an information center where you can find out the forecast. Also at some ski lifts the weather and temperature are displayed. On my PEPS inclinometer, I have a temperature gauge so I can read the temperature throughout my journey. This also helps with the decision making in avalanche terrain.
Assess on the route:
This is where most people go wrong and get into danger whether it’s in an avalanche or they get caught in bad weather. NEVER have tunnel vision and solely focus on one goal, one summit or one route. You have to be flexible and adapt your journey to the weather you have and predict the weather that is coming. Assess the conditions where you are and ask yourself similar questions. What altitude are you at? Has the wind increased or decreased? What is the visibility? Is the weather changing for better or for the worst? What is the temperature doing? On average the temperature cools down one degree for every 100 meters that you climb. Is that happening? What are your exits? What is your plan B if the weather comes in?
In the French alps you can get weather forecasts in the mountain refuges if they are open. Some satellite phones and trackers allow you to receive forecasts whilst you are traveling. Check on the GTC website for which trackers or satellite phones to carry on your backcountry adventure.
For weather prediction get to know different cloud types and what they predict. For example, cirrus clouds are high altitude clouds which indicate a change in fronts. Get to know the altitude and what direction mountain peaks are around you. Is there any snow wind drift coming off the summits which indicate high altitude winds?
In the winter I run mountain respect workshops if you would like more info drop me an email at [email protected]
FREEFLO specializes 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. Our primary objective 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.
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.
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:
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
Tignes and Val D’Isere FATMAP put to the Test by FREEFLO: Off Piste Tignes/Val D’Isere
I have a great passion for the off piste and backcountry. I work and live in the ski resorts of Tignes and Val D’Isere as a British Ski Teacher which is why I was very eager to put the FATMAP of the Espace Killy to test.
I put the ULTRA-HIGH RESOLUTION 3D MAPPING Fatmap through its paces and completed the ski tour Col Du Fours in the Espace Killy in poor visibility last Monday on my Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. I solely used the fat map and my friend only used the OS map for navigation so we could compare notes. Being a ski enthusiast and not a huge computer fan (I only started to use a touch screen phone last year), I found the map easy to use and it gave me further support and confidence to navigate a new route in poor conditions. One of the main advantages of the map is that it doesn’t rely on internet signal and once downloaded you can use it anywhere on the mountain.
Use fatmap and find the powder in Tignes and Val D’Isere
The start of the ski tour Col du Fours using the Espace Killy Fatmap
Fatmap Espace Killy, Val D’Isere and Tignes
I used the 3D Fly-Through many times to ensure I was on the right track. It would have been easier if there was a setting that you could use to pause and to re-start the 3D Fly-Through to save time and battery, instead of starting from the beginning each time. Also if the dotted line on the 3D was illustrated in a different colour showing the uphill ski touring route, it would make it clearer to see the route in a uphill and downhill version. These are comments I have already forwarded to the active FATMAP team by using the Slack app. The description of the tour then backs up the 3D Fly-Throughs so it is even harder to take the wrong route. I accessed valuable information quicker and easier using the FATMAP about the route and found out the gradient, aspect, crevasse zones etc; without getting the OS map and compass out. With that information and knowing the weather, avalanche bulletin, history and with my mountain awareness and experience, I could navigate the ski tour and ski down the route safely.
Conclusion: FATMAP is the friend that you can fit in your back pocket. It is the most detailed 3D ski map that I have seen and used. I think that this is a great tool which will support your navigation while skiing off piste. Why wouldn’t you have it in your back pocket as you carry your phone anyway?
I will look forward to putting the FATMAP through its paces further and working with the FATMAP team to add new routes and improvements.
The FATMAP Story:
OUR FIRST 3D MAP
Dave has had a lifelong passion for maps, he made his first 3D map at the age of eleven. A few years ago, he became obsessed with the idea of creating the ultimate map for skiing. Scholarships to Oxford and Cranfield and 15 years as a software engineer have created the perfect storm.
Misha had a mis-spent youth with computers. In between games of Elite he wrote his first computer programme on his Commodore 64 at the age of five. Since then he has been busy building and running successful technology companies in the UK and skiing in his free time. Waiting out a storm on a remote ski expedition to Albania, the idea of FATMAP was born. The idea to use the latest mobile and gaming technology to create true to life 3D models of mountains and the information you really want to know as a skier; all on a device that you can carry in your pocket.
Main features include:
ULTRA-HIGH RESOLUTION 3D MAPPING:
PISTE MAPPING AND PROFILING
INTERACTIVE RESORT INFORMATION
SKI TRACKING, STATS AND SOCIAL SHARING
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: [email protected]