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How my ski dream turned to reality- My Story Freefloski

‘Ski teaching is not a proper job… Get a proper job…’ is what everyone would tell me.

My story is different from most other stories. The majority of ski instructors come from a ski racing background. They are people who are born in the mountains and on skis. Just like you, I was an ordinary British person who was born in England where there was no snow or large mountains to ski down. A career of being a ski teacher was not recognised as being a proper job.

My first ski experience:

I will never forget my first ski experience. I was on holiday at nine years old with my family. We started skiing in a small resort in Spain and the whole week was a total disaster and a bad memory for me. I hated every moment of it, carrying my skis, wearing heavy and uncomfortable boots and being cold.

My instructor didn’t speak any English and had very little patience. To make matters worse, my brother picked skiing quickly up and was zooming effortlessly down the mountain. Next was my sister, with a full face of make-up, who adopted the perfect ski technique. I was a total disaster. I couldn’t turn left, I couldn’t turn right and I couldn’t get up to the top of the slope on a lift. It was a real struggle and not easy. I was scared and I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t know the ‘How to ski..’

skiing
Mastering the technique of falling over at 10 years old

At the end of my first week of skiing, the instructor did manage a sentence in English. He said to my parents, “Skiing is not for your daughter. ” Hearing that sentence just destroyed me and gave me no confidence at all. 

However, my Dad had other ideas. I wasn’t allowed to give up. Through his eyes giving up was a failure. Because of my Dad, I was back skiing again with the family on the next winter holiday.

A few years past, like millions of other people I found myself going down the path of getting a proper job. I finished my GCSE’s then my A’levels and started University in Nottingham. But I wasn’t motivated, fulfilled or happy and I knew deep down that something was missing.

After University:

After one teaching term, against my parent’s wishes, I left University. I started the next winter as a chalet girl in the ski resort of Courmayeur in Italy with Ski Inghams. The drinking and party culture of being a chalet girl had completely influenced me. One Sunday I was hungover and sitting on the chairlift in resort when I found myself talking to a stranger. The stranger’s name was Brian Fern. At the time he was a ski trainer for BASI which is the British Association of Ski Instructors. I remember thinking WOW, how cool is that he skies for a living. ! Working your passion.  I then saw him ski for the first time and I thought to myself that he was a SKI GOD…because he was amazing and made every turn with no effort. I was in love!

off piste skiing
European Mountain Safety in Chamonix     2007

That was the beginning of a fourteen winter struggle through the ski instructors system. I gave up everything and followed my dreams. I was a ski bum in pursuit of a ski teaching career in France! It wasn’t easy. Most summers I was working two jobs to finance the winter training and exams. I slept on some floors to save accommodation costs and sometimes I would sleep in my car. 

I remember starting my APC Level 3 Ski Coach course in a pair of twin tips skis and baggy pants. At the time I couldn’t afford the race skis and a nice shiny lycra race suit.

The ISTD level 4  is the last level out of the four levels of the system. It was the hardest and took me five winters to complete. The training and exams took their toll financially and physically. I remember the start of my 30’s being the broken years. I had encountered so many injuries, several broken bones, a couple of dislocations, torn tendons, concussion and a fused c8 vertebrae. Despite all the injuries and lack of funds I still had the drive and determination to finish the diploma. I didn’t want to be old in my rocking chair and have any regrets about life.

The turning point:

What was a turning point for me in this difficult time? I looked into how to improve different parts of my skiing. With research and speaking to others, I tested new strategies.  I developed ways of becoming a better ski athlete. I listened and made the changes and improved my skiing. From the inspiration of reading the book the Inner Game to Skiing and later the Inner Game to Tennis I also started to train my mind and to improve my mindset and as a result, my skiing and understanding went to the next level. I still coach these methods today and you can read another post on the Here and now in skiing that I have written.

It was the difference between night and day and in December 2012 with bib number 75 in Alpe D’huez I passed my euro test. I was the fastest girl in the race and .92 of a second inside the time. This achievement was the passport to my career in teaching skiing in France. I was so thrilled and overjoyed!!!! I was the 37th British woman to have ever passed this particular ski race. 

Today:

Now I teach people all the lessons I have learnt. The lessons. The mistakes. The secrets. The ski adventures. The ‘How’ …

If you’d like me to take a look at your skiing or give you some invaluable ski holiday advice drop me an email to [email protected]I have some free available one to one call sessions available.

I will look forward to hearing from you soon.

All the best

Floss

P.S: For more skiing advice and tips subscribe and like us on youtube.

Ski Touring
Jocelyn Cockle, Director of FREEFLOSKI

P.S.S: Further reading that I recommend to help you to control your mindset is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. It is a fantastic read which can help you in your day to day routines.

 

Part 1: Ski touring Col Des Fours, Val D’Isere

Part 1: Ski Touring the Col Des Fours in Val D’Isere

Ski touring the Col Des Fours in Val D’Isere is part 1 of my top five classic ski tours in the Tarentaise Valley in the Northern French Alps. It is also part one of the series Best Ski Touring Routes on my Freefloski youtube channel

Its a low intermediate ski tour with only a 480m of ascent. For your efforts, you are rewarded with amazing views and over 1000m of vertical off-piste descent into the Vallon Des Fours. It is a great introductory tour for skiers who have some experience in ski touring already. But it is a tour where your timing is everything! You need to make sure that you have big enough weather window and that you time the last traverse to perfection.

Ski touring Col Des Fours

Route: Fornet, Val D’Isere- Col Des Fours- Fornet, Val D’Isere
Off-Piste skiing: 2976m -1915m W/NW/N
Max Ski Gradient: 38 degrees
Uphill: 480m 1.5 to 2hrs
Total Route time from Fornet: 5-6hrs 
Skiers Level: Intermediate off-piste skier
Ski Touring Level: Low Intermediate
Start: Fornet cable car
Finish: Fornet cable car
Lift pass needed: Val D’Isere
Map needed: 3633ET

Depending on your size of the group and the speed of the group this tour in the winter you can actually start in Tignes and ski over to Fornet and ski back depending on your size of the group and the speed of the group. In springtime when the snowpack is warming I would advise you to start in Fornet in Val D’Isere so you aren’t depending on a ski lift home.

You start on the Col D’Iseran and ski down southwest to Pont de la Neige. At the bridge, you will find a flat area so you can transition to uphill skiing. From there you climb 480m to the col. If you are careful with your line you don’t need to be able to do a kick turn. The last two hundred metres of the tour is the most difficult and its when the timing is everything.  It’s a 200m traverse which is slightly exposed and often icy. As the pitch above the traverse is southeast facing it has the sun on it early and the snowpack warms and often releases some slides.

At the Col des Fours, Val d’Isere

After you reach the col you have endless options of skiing different lines to the Refuge Des Fours. Choosing your ski down after the refuge becomes a little bit more tricky as you are in more complication terrain. Depending on snow conditions you can then decide to keep left or right of the river des fours back and then back to the Manchet chairlift.

For more ski touring tips see blog:  5 Ski and Snowboard Touring Technique Tips

Ski tour in comfort and performance; I choose nothing but the best and highly recommend the backcountry selection from Floâ Sports,’ Jocelyn Cockle (Floss) Director of Freefloski

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.

Ski Touring Decision Making-Tignes 20th Nov 2019

The Preparation:
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.

On 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.

Col Du Palet 20th November

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 

Happy Skiing 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski Touring Col De I’Iseran to Col de I’Ouille Noire, Val D’Isere, France

Ski Touring Col De I’Iseran to Col de I’Ouille Noire, Val D’Isere:
This is a simple ski touring route that you can build your skills and confidence on. It is good physical training at high altitude as you start going uphill at 2700m to 3200m.

Ski Touring up to Col de Ouille Noire, Val D’Isere

Route: Col De I’Iseran to Col de I’Ouille Noire 3229m, Val D’Isere, France
Off-Piste skiing between 2700m -3229m W/NW
Max Gradient: 36 degrees
Uphill: 2.5-3hours
Total Route time from Fornet lift: 4-5hrs
Total Return Route time from Tignes:3.5/4hrs
Skiers Level: Intermediate
Ski Touring Level: Beginner/some touring experience
Start: 9 am Fornet Cable Car, Midpoint back at Col De I’Iseran  12.50pm
Finish: 2 pm at Fornet Cable Car 
Lift pass needed: Val D’Isere
Map needed: 3633ET

Why did I choose this ski touring route? 
The snow conditions this winter are different compared to last winter. The snowfalls have been far and few between and have brought warm temperatures and high winds. At the beginning of December, it rained up to 2900m and last Monday it rained up to 2400m which affected our snowpack.

Knowing the history of the snowpack in the ski area that you want to ski in is crucial to making the right decisions and finding the good snow.  I knew that the area of the Fornet and the Col De I’Iseran had more snow than any other area in the Tarentaise Valley. Looking at the weather forecast the night before and reassessing in the morning, I made the decision to ski tour Col De I’Iseran to Col de I’Ouille Noire in Val D’Isere. I could keep at high altitude and find the good snow in the gullies. It is a smaller route on simple terrain with navigation points that I could use if the weather got worst. The temperatures in the day would stay warm and consistent which meant that the summits and ridges wouldn’t be too icy.  I was really happy with my decision and with good route finding, we managed to find some good snow and reach the Col de I’Ouille Noire.

Pointe de l’Ouille Noire in background
At Col De l’Ouille Noire, Val D’Isere

 

Improve your mountain skills and get in touch with FREEFLO.
Follow our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and Blog.

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.

Meet the Team

BRINGING INDEPENDANT SKI INSTRUCTORS TOGETHER:

For the first time, FREEFLO has joined forces with the school operator Activ4 to create a team of independent ski instructors. FREEFLO will provide top quality ski tuition in the famous ski resort of Tignes in France.  A small team of experienced, independent, French and English ski instructors has been choosen. This December the team will teach Shrewsbury Private School for girls. Each ski instructor has their own story and shares the same passion for the mountains and for skiing.

MEET THE TEAM OF SKI INSTRUCTORS

Meet Floss from FREEFLO

Hi my name is Floss, I have been ski teaching for 18 years in the Alps and worldwide. My passion for skiing all started when I was a chalet girl at 18 years old. I haven’t stopped since. Three years ago I created FREEFLO to share my passion and experience for the mountains. FREEFLO provides ski lessons, ski touring and women-specific courses in Tignes, Val D’sere, La Grave and St Foy. This year I am excited as it will be my 21st year in the mountains. I am also excited about working with our team of instructors and sharing our great experience and passion for the mountains.

Floss from FREEFLOSKIFloss from FREEFLO

Meet JP McCarthy from Aim Snowsports
JP McCarthy has been teaching skiing since 2004, he has a wealth of experience gained teaching across the world in the UK, France, Switzerland, Austria, and even Australia.  JP has a wide range and a depth of knowledge gained from various ski instruction systems including the British Association of snowsports instructors, the Irish Association of snowsport instructors, Swiss Snowsports, Snowsports England, and Snowsports Scotland.  JP loves the variety in teaching all levels of skier and sharing his enthusiasm for enjoying the mountains.  He now runs his own ski school AIM Snowsports based in Les Arcs.

JP from Aim Snowsports

Meet Pierre from Pierskival
Pierre has a great passion for the mountains and has taught skiing worldwide for over 15 years. He holds the French equivalent to UK Mountain Leader and also guides groups in the summer in the French Alps. He teaches in all resorts of the Tarentaise Valley and in many different languages including English and Deutsch. He also has a great passion for skiing off-piste and touring. On his spare days, you will find him ski touring in the backcountry with his dog Domino.

Pierre from Pierskival

Meet Sian From Sianski
Sian is a BASI qualified Independent Ski Instructor based in Les Arcs and La Plagne. Having lived and skied in the french alps for the past 20 years her knowledge of the local area is extensive. Sian teaches all ages and all levels with emphasis on tailoring the lesson to your particular needs. She also runs regular Women’s courses throughout the winter. 


Sian from Sianski

The Skiers Guide to Ski Touring the Refuge Frey, Bariloche, Argentina

THE SKIERS GUIDE TO SKI TOURING THE REFUGE FREY, BARILOCHE, ARGENTINA
My dream is becoming a reality. For four years I have been dreaming of leading and creating my own Patagonian adventure. One small part of this adventure includes skiing the granite couloirs and ski touring around the refuge Emilio Frey near Bariloche in Argentina. To have a successfull adventure it is so important to have the right information and make the right decisions.

Refugio Frey, Bariloche, Argentina

Refuge details:
Surrounded by granite towers Refuge Emilio Frey is on the shore of the Toncek lagoon at 1700 meters above sea level. The name is a tribute to the engineer Emilio Frey. The shelter itself is one of the most picturesque in the region. Its a true masterpiece of carved granite lintels, sills, edges and other details of high quality to ensure that the refuge blends into the landscape. The inside is lined with wood and its roof is made of tiles.  On the ground floor is a kitchen and a spacious dining room with a log burner for warmth.

How to make a reservation?
It is only possible to reserve a night in the refuge 3 days before on line as there is no telephone service in the refuge. For three nights in the refuge including food we paid around £25 per day. The refuge only takes US dollars ($) or Argentine Pesos (Ars). For more information you can visit the website  Refugio Frey.

How to access the refuge?
There are two ways to access the refuge in the summer and in the winter.
a) Skiing from the ski station Cerro Catedral: You can hike to the ridgeline Punta Princesa. Traverse west to a col and drop down a valley then ski tour up to the pointed ridgeline. The ski down from there will only take ten minutes to lake Toncek.  At the lake traverse along the plateau to Refugio Frey. Ski touring from Cerro Cathedral will take 4-6 hours.  Make sure you have a good weather window as its difficult to navigate. You will need to pay for a Cerro Catedral lift pass which is around £22 per day.

Sunset at Refuge Frey, Bariloche, Argentina

b) The main walkers route from Cerro Catedral.
Difficulty:
 Medium to Hard depending on snow conditions and how much weight you are carrying in your packs.
Distance : 10 km
Elevation : 700m +\-
Running time : from 4 to 6 hours but the lady from Club Andino will tell you that you can do it in two hours!
Access mode : Cerro Catedral line bus 55 from Bariloche. The bus journey will cost under a pound.  You have to buy a SUBE card which you can buy in the newsagents, no cash accepted on the bus. The bus normally goes every hour and you need to get to the bus stop early to get a seat.

Maps: 
Totally different to the IGN map in France.  Finding a good backcountry map to navigate from is difficult and hard to find. We used the PIXMAP Bariloche y Angostura 1:125. NB: Don’t be fooled by the distance.

Weather Forecasts:
The most reliable weather forecasts we have used have been Snow Forecast and Windyty App

What are the granite spires?
The spires of the refuge are granite and granodiorite towers are intrusive igneous rocks that have slowly cooled deep underground in magma chambers called plutons. This slow cooling process allows easily visible crystals to form. Both rocks are the product of the melting of continental rocks near subduction zones.

Follow us and our adventures on the #theskiersjourney inPatagonia.

The team on #theskiersjourney, Patagonia 2018

Creating, Leading and Sharing Mountain Adventures with FREEFLO

Keep up to date with the FREEFLO Patagonia Ski and Climb Adventure 2018 and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Blog. 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. 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. Step into your next adventure and email: [email protected] or visit www.freefloski.com 

Climbing: How I came back to climbing after a 14 year break 

Climbing: How I came back to climbing after a 14 year break 

Every climber or good athlete will have a fall, an injury and hurdles to overcome. The more you want to achieve and to get to a higher level you have to put the time, money and training in.

In 2002 I was running a ski school in Switzerland and on our weekends off I would go ice climbing with friends. I was still learning. It was a chain of bad decisions, wrong equipment and the ‘Halo Effect’ that resulted me in falling. That particular morning I woke up tired and hangover. I had left my proper boots in a different place to where I had woken up. My ice axes I had to borrow and weren’t the same model, weight or make. We had hiked close to an hour through some woodland before we arrived at the ice waterfall that we wanted to climb. I can’t remember the fine details as its all distant memory that I wanted to forget and to delete . All that I remember was that I was struggling and feeling weak. There was water running under the ice and my gut feeling was that I shouldn’t be there. It wasn’t long before my right crampon went into my left calve and broke the skin as I felt my blood pouring out of my leg. I was hanging off three points of contact, then two.  Then my right arm and ice axe didn’t hold and I started to fall. I can’t remember how far I fell. The first gear pinged out of the ice then the second. The third bit of gear held and I slammed over an ice shelf. My left ankle folded over and I was very pleased to have stopped. After some time and effort I was then belayed down and I hobbled back to the car. We got back to camp. I was fortunate as my injuries were slight. I had a compressed vertebra, stretched ankle ligaments in my left ankle and few stitches in my left calf.

How I conquered fear:
Fourteen years later in 2016, I was approaching a mile stone in birthday years. I wanted to overcome my fear for climbing. I needed to get use to exposure once again. So I started back on the climbing wall. I remember my first 10m climbing pitch on the inside climbing wall. I was so scared. Saturated with fear and re living the fall in 2002 I then completed all the Via Ferrata’s in Val D’Isere and some different ones in the Tarentaise Valley.   It wasn’t until I completely scared myself on the route of the Aguille De Franchet in the Sassiere Plateaux that I overcame my bad fall. I was confronting fear dead on.

Route Mon Ami Janot in Rodellar, Spain

Now today climbing means so much more to me. I enjoy the intensity and the problem solving on the rock. Like skiing I enjoy being in the zone when climbing and not thinking about anything else. It is a sport that I look forward to doing in the summer. Its not about the highest grade to climb. Its about having a good day at the crag or multi pitch with my dog and friends and enjoying the real outdoors.

Route Dents Du Loup, La Cluse in France

 

Val D’Isere re-opens 3rd June 2018 for spring skiing

Winter 2017/18 still continues….spring skiing and ski touring in Val D’Isere and Tignes 
This winter the snowfall across the French Alps has been phenomenal.  Locals of Tignes have said that it has been the best winter for snowfall in twenty years.  Out of the my twenty winter seasons it has been one of my biggest snowfall seasons by far. With all the snow Val D’Isère has announced that it will re-open some winter lifts for spring skiing on 3rd June 2018.  This will be the first time in 82 years that some of the winter pistes above the resort will re-open in summer. The pistes are planning to re open for summer skiing between 7am-12pm.  The lifts that plan to be open is the Furnival and the Marmottes chairlift in Val D’Isere.
 
The lifts have now closed in Tignes and there still is enough snow to ski tour up to the glacier from Val Claret.  All refuge huts are open till the middle to end of May. The guardian of the refuge du Palet believes that there will still be enough snow on the ground till June. 
Refuge Du Palet, Tignes March 2018
Last Thursday 17th I ski toured 5.5km up and around the Col Des Ves in Tignes with Clare and Dave and skied off piste back into Val Claret in Tignes. I was still amazed at how deep the snowpack was and the snow was still in great condition for May.
17th May Ski touring around the Col De Ves Tignes
 
FREEFLO SKI specialises in on and off piste ski instruction, ski touring and ski courses in the Tarentaise Valley. See more at www.freefloski.com.
Keep up to date with all year around adventure and follow us on Instagram.

 

Powder Paradise: Off-Piste Tree Skiing Sainte Foy

Yesterday in Sainte Foy was a ‘un jour de blanc’ a white day with low visibility.  I woke up with the lowest expectations and had one of the best off-piste powder days of the ski season in Sainte Foy. I was having fun,  ski guiding and teaching in Sainte Foy in the trees.  We were skiing fresh tracks all day and jumping off pillows of snow and putting our skiing to the test. The snowpack is so deep this winter that you can ski confidently off-piste without bottoming out or hitting rocks and tree stumps.

This month we have had the heaviest snowfall in one month since 1981. Its been a once in a generation snowfall winter. I am now on my 20th winter season and its a winter that I will never forget.

We started off the TSD Marquise chairlift on a big open face then headed into the trees off the run Toboggan and kept to the fall line. Skiing across the walkers path keeping right of the river as we kept in the trees then headed left and took the next path back into St Foy. It was amazing, no one was around and fresh deep snow lied untracked in between the trees. The next few runs we took different routes close and under the TS Arpettaz chairlift working on line and precision following each other and filming. It was training for endurance and so much fun. Our ski cool down before heading to apres was then carving in low visability and soft conditions from the top of the Marquise chairlift all the way down to the start of the station non stop. What a great day and an amazing powder paradise.

Improve your skiing and have a great adventure with FREEFLO.

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 protected] or visit www.freefloski.com

 

 

Early Ski Touring Adventure in Val D’Isere, French Alps

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 early ski touring adventure in Val D’Isere.  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. 

Ski touring up the Manchet valley in Val DI’sere

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.

Route decision making whilst ski touring up to Col Des Fours refuge

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.

Refuge Col Des Fours, Val D’Isere. Home for the night

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. 

Ski touring back to the Col de Pisset

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: [email protected]