Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Ski Season Update

~ Saturday 27th February 2010

10 days of excellent off piste, ski touring and snowboard touring - so busy that I failed to take many pictures or update the blog...

It all started in Chamonix with 1 keen snowboarder. Unfortunately it was half term week and I was fearing huge queues - luckily (!) the weather was pretty awful, so no queues and some great snow when we could see it, with cover right to the road...Le Tour was deserted and excellent on the Vallorcine side, finishing with a descent to Trient in great snow. We missed the last bus - thanks Patrick for coming to rescue us! Grands Montets the next day had great snow but terrible weather, so we spent the day in the trees with an exciting run down the Tabé couloir. Day 3 brought more cloud but fantastic conditions below Plan de l'Aiguille. Fresh tracks and no-one else around. 2 runs on the Pré du Rocher and a final run with blue skies (at last) down the Combe des Glaciers - deep fresh powder with the inevitable "ski de combat" in the forest to finish.

This week I've been back in Arolla for the Advanced Ski Touring course for the Eagle ski club. Lots of instruction but still time for some very good touring. Pallanche de la Cretta, an exciting trip through la Cassorte and down the Vallon des Ignes, and an excellent but long day going from Arolla to the Pointe de Vouasson and down to Evolene, a great trip.

Fresh tracks from Tete du Tronc

Heading up to the Aiguilles Rouges hut

Looking back to Arolla

and with our route from Arolla in red

descent from Pointe de Vouasson, view from Pallanche de la Cretta

Col de Meribé

~ Friday 12th February 2010

 We set off today to reach this col, above the Evolene ski area. Great snow and no-one around, blue skies...

blue skies and powder


ABS Rucksack

~ Tuesday 9th February 2010

I've been using my ABS rucksack for a few weeks now so here are a few more thoughts.

First, I've got a base unit with the 18l Ultralight  zip-on plus the 30l zip-on. The 18l is a lot lighter, and a good size for day trips without a rope. Anything else and it's really too small. It's (obviously) less bulky too, which makes it a bit easier to wrestle on chair lifts. The airbag system means the sack is much bigger than a normal rucksack of the same load capacity, and the 30l is actually quite bulky on chairlifts. I think this is an advantage of the Snowpulse design - the airbags are in the shoulder straps so the body of the sack is smaller. 

The 30l is big enough for rope carrying days and probably multi-day trips, but I've not done any yet. 

Both zip-ons are well made - the 30l especially so, with really tough fabric which explains the weight. They both work fine, but I think they could be better designed. Both have slightly odd pockets. The 18l side pockets are really only big enough for map and wallet and if you stuff the main compartment it's hard to get anything in then at all. The 30l top and front pockets suffer the same problem. 

Carrying skis on the 30l is easy. Quick, solid attachments. The 18l is OK but I tend to remove all the extras straps to save weight and then forget to take them when it matters!

Overall - despite the gripes - the sack works really well and is comfy even on long days. Initial nerves have gone, even tree skiing, but I still remove the trigger on chairs and in lifts. This is easily done even wearing gloves and there is a neat pocket on the waistbelt to store it. The thought of an accidental release on a lift...

1500m up the Pointe de Vouasson


   WEIGHT. Yes, it's heavy. At 3kg for the 30l sack it's hard to forget the extra 2kg over a normal sack on long climbs. The 18l is 500g lighter. Really though, I suspect much of the problem is in the  mind...does 1.5kg really make a difference? How much does it slow you down during a normal day? Could you fail on a long skin because of it? Can't see the racing types going for it though. 

The other big issue is risk compensation...or taking bigger risks because you're wearing an ABS sack. Hard to tell of course, but I'm sure we're all guilty of this. Would you ski the slope without an ABS sack? Without a transceiver? On your own? In an ideal world of course you only ski stuff you'd happily ski alone - the same argument applies to transceivers too - but it's an interesting question and worth bearing in mind. 

One thing is obvious this season - there are a lot more airbag rucksacks around, both ABS and Snowpulse. 


Arolla Ski Touring

~ Monday 8th February 2010

 Perfect weather today so we set off for the long haul to the Pointe de Vouasson. This is also a great 2 day ski tour with a night at the Aiguilles Rouges hut, but it's do-able in a day from La Gouille. 

Unfortunately that means an unrelenting 1700m climb...there was already a track but it must have been made by a team wearing lycra and was ridiculously steep. I alternated breaking new track with slogging up the old one, trying to decide which was harder. Anyway, all worth it in the end with some great snow for the descent. 

Nearly there...

Plenty of fresh snow



~ Wednesday 3rd February 2010

 There were 3 more avalanche deaths in Switzerland this weekend, bringing to 12 the total for this season. The SLF site publish details of all fatal avalanche accidents in Switzerland - grim but interesting reading. 

Out of the 12, 7 were in the terrible Diemtigtal accident with the freak second avalanche. What stands out to me is that of the other 5 victims, 3 were not wearing transceivers. Getting buried without a transceiver means your chances are virtually zero. 1 of these was this weekend in Grimentz. I was skiing all weekend in this area so I have a good idea of conditions - 20+cm of fresh snow, very cold and strong W/NW wind.  The avalanche was on a steep East-facing slope in the Combe d'Abondance, a clearly wind-loaded aspect (corniced, and scoured on the W side which you can see from the lift and have to cross to reach the slope) The victim was found alive after 90minutes but died later, so it's fair to say that had he and his mates had transceivers, shovels, probes and some training he would have survived. 



Grimentz Off Piste Skiing

~ Tuesday 2nd February 2010

 Three great days off piste skiing in Grimentz over the weekend. Saturday started with pretty bad weather but quickly improved, and Sunday/Monday was excellent with blue skies and a lot of untracked snow. Very cold though! Sunday the coldest day skiing I can remember for a long time!

We skied some good snow in the lift area - Grimentz and Zinal have some incredible lift-access off piste - plus some longer runs from the Roc d'Orzival and a trip over to the Zinal lifts for the run down to the Moiry dam. Orzival is amazing, more so for being deserted - fresh tracks top to bottom with no-one around, 2 days in a row - well worth the effort of breaking the trail back out of the valley bottom.

I cleverly forgot to take a camera... 

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