Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Atomic Backland Ski Touring Boot

~ Saturday 17th December 2016

I've had a few days skiing in the Atomic Backland Boots now, so here are a few thoughts. Navigating the baffling range of available ski kit gets harder every year, so hopefully this might help.

I bought the Backland (dangerously close to K2's "Backside"!) to replace Dynafit TLT 6, which had replaced Dyna TLT 5s - I liked the TLT as it was lightweight, skied well, walked well and was OK for ice climbing. The 6 was better than the 5 but the new TLT 7 has changed a lot, going too far down the lightweight route for me - it has lost the toe lug for ice climbing crampons, and doesn't have a removeable tongue. Probably a great boot, but not versatile.

The Backland looks like a good option then, being light, stiff and comfy (more about that in a bit) It's not worth being obsessive about weight, but if you want to do big days touring then you can easily save a kilo per foot without going to extremes - and that will make a difference on a long day! Modern ski kit seems to be getting heavier again - Complex bindings, big skis, stiff boots, all oriented towards downhill performance. That's fine, but there's plenty of set-ups now that ski well without weighing a ton. I drank too much coffee then weighed all the boots in the cellar - they all fit me so are a fair comparison!

Obviously if you're going uphill you want the Alien. Downhill the Mercury wins easily... but sitting pretty close to each other the Backland and TLT6 are a good compromise and a sizeable saving over the stiff boot (There's also a Backland Carbon "Light" which is...errr...lighter, at a little over a kg)

Ski performance: The Mercury is pretty sturdy and feels like a "proper" ski boot. The Alien doesn't...but it works well with small skis and is brilliant uphill. The TLT is a good ski boot, tune-able stiffness by changing or removing tongues, and can handle a fairly big ski (100mm waist?) I think the Backland skis better than the TLT - it's a bit stiffer and more solid with good flex, and comes higher up the shin. Suits me anyway!

Fit is crucial in ski boots (or in any boot!) I have a very wide foot so the TLT, Mercury and Alien all needed extensive shell stretching and several repeat visits to the shop. Here the Backland is a clear winner - without getting too geeky, you simply heat the Thermo liner and the shell at the same time. While they cook, you stick the usual pads on your feet and prepare for 15mins of very hot toes. Cramming feet into hot shells and inners, the whole boot forms in one go and I've had a comfy fit from day 1. Brilliant.

Only slight grump is that the Backland is a bit fiddly to use, although coming from the super easy TLT everything else is fiddly. Firstly, Atomic use old-style Tech inserts - not the newer Quick-Step-In inserts. They're not as easy to use, but it's fine when you get the hang of it. The boots have a waterproof flap covering the front of the liner (for skinning with the tongues out) It works well (assuming it lasts) but needs velcro-ing in place when you put the boot on. The remove-able tongue allows lots of ankle movement when skinning but is harder to remove and replace than the TLT, needing quite a pull to remove, and a firm shove to replace. It needs careful positioning too - you can easily poke an edge inside the shell. Again, it's OK once you're used to it. The Backland uses a novel cable system for the lower buckle - this works well but (again!) is a bit fiddly. Conventional top buckle, and a separate ski/walk lever which looks a bit like the Alien but only does ski/walk (Both Alien and TLT have combined ski/walk and top clip systems) TLT users will ski off with the top buckle done but still in walk mode...Alien users will be in Ski mode but with the top clip open...until you get used to it.

Overall I'm very pleased with the Backland. I've skinned 1000m+ days, skied piste, windblown hardpack, crust and a few powder turns. Assuming it lasts - more on that as the winter goes on - I'll be very happy with it. It looks like being warm enough, comfy enough, stiff enough, light enough...just right. All very Goldilocks.

Arolla Ice Climbing

~ Monday 12th December 2016

Great ice conditions on the Cascade des Ignes this morning!

A few chamois on the walk in were our only company for the trip and with firm snow all the way from Lac Bleu it was a pleasant approach and descent. Mild temperatures and sunny views completed the perfect morning.

Veysonnaz Ski Touring

~ Monday 12th December 2016

Here's a bit of film footage from my first ski tour of the season at the weekend above Veysonnaz. Not bad snow conditions, considering it's been 5 weeks since the last snowfall...

Autumn Blog

~ Wednesday 16th November 2016

It's been a while with no blog! Autumn has been busy, but there's snow in the garden now and winter is just around the corner. It looks like a proper winter too - already there's enough snow to ski, and more forecast this week, and the lifts opened last weekend.

Whilst the Christmas skiing looks guaranteed (unlike last year!) it's worth keeping an eye on avalanche conditions. Snowfall last week came with lots of wind.

and many of the exposed ridges were blown dry. That snow has to go somewhere, so expect big accumulations on the other side!


~ Saturday 10th September 2016

Two very different types of Alpine climbing this week. First, a hotel-based trip to the Aravis for some multi-pitch rock. No glaciers, training shoe approaches, but an early start and a 20 pitch-long day!

Then back to "proper" alpinism with the 1650m approach to the Mischabel bivouac which sits at 3800m in the col between the Alphubel and Taschhorn. From the bivvy it's "only" 650m or so to the summit (and then "only" 2300m back down to the car!)

Remote summits of the Val d'Hérens!

~ Friday 2nd September 2016

We set off on Sunday for a couple of days with a flexible plan...and returned to the valley this morning, 6 days, 4 huts and 7 summits later. A great week of exploring around the upper Val d'Hérens.

Day 1 was a gentle approach to the Vignettes hut, ideal starting point for the classic Eveque traverse...

South west ridge eveque

After a second night at Vignettes we climbed a deserted Pigne d'Arolla on Tuesday then traversed to the Serpentine (a rarely visited summit with fine views) before descending the excellent North ridge to the col de la Serpentine.

We went down the Serpentine glacier, a long and remote-feeling descent. At the bottom you can go left or right bank...we should have gone right, and had a "refreshing" paddle to cross the glacier outflow!

We stayed at Chanrion, leaving early for the long climb to the Ruinette. This summit is higher than neighbouring Mont Blanc de Cheilon, but more remote and less frequently climbed.

Returning to the Col de la Lire Rose we still had a long afternoon trek round to the Dix hut, but as usual the team there provided a warm welcome and we spent a pleasant afternoon planning the next day...

La Luette is directly behind the hut, and from the summit a continuation ridge links the peaks of le Pleureur and la Sale, promising a fine traverse.

If you like climbing on solid rock...this is not the route for you! Sadly, although aesthetically very fine, the entire ridge is composed of cheese and rubble...even by Valais standards, it's loose! Apparently very interesting to geologists, the "rock" here leaves a lot to be desired and climbing on it needs a steady head and a good sense of humour. Surprisingly there are quite a few new bolts along the way!

A couple of quick abseils regain the snow below la Sale, with the Pantalon Blanc bivvy in sight. Some snow, rubble, snow, rubble...and we arrived at the bivvy in time for lunch.

Despite having time to descend to the valley we opted for a night at the bivvy. It's a fine spot with great views and a fitting end to a great week of mountaineering. We'd seen no-one at all on l'Éveque, the Pigne, Serpentine or Ruinette, and met only 2 people (going the other way) on the Luette/Pleureur day.

Eiger Mittelegi Ridge

~ Saturday 27th August 2016

It's been a busy week, starting with the Dent Blanche South Ridge, Petite Dent de Veisivi, and a day rock climbing.

I finished the week with the Performance Alpinism team on the Eiger Mittelegi ridge - a very fine way to spend Friday! A route with such history and reputation brings a risk of anti-climax - especially if you've waited years to climb it! - but the Eiger didn't disappoint. It's a stunning climb, sensationally exposed, and although there are a lot of fixed ropes you still have to climb some technical ground with the void of the North face below your feet!

The hut approach is a climb in itself with a surreal start out of a small tunnel from the Eismeer station before a couple of proper pitches off the glacier lead to some unlikely terrain up to the hut.

In the dark you can't see the drop down the NE face, but you can "feel" it! The climbing starts straight from the hut, with a couple of short pitches before the first fixed rope.

We reached the main fixed ropes around sunrise, but the ropes are on the NE face here so can stay icy underfoot. It's not that easy, and would be desperate without the rope!

There are a lot of fixed ropes on the Mittelegi, but also some real climbing, all in sensational positions!

At the end of the difficulties the ridge gets less steep, and snowy, so crampons on for the exposed ridge to the summit.

Standing on the Eiger summit is a big moment in most climbers' lives (certainly in mine!) It's a fine summit, with the history and iconic status of the peak adding to the emotion.

Getting to the top is of course only half-way - or less. The South ridge descent is long and quite technical. Down-climbing and a few abseils lead to the North Eigerjoch, where the linking ridge must be traversed to reach the South Eigerjoch and easy ground at last. A hot glacier trek leads quickly to the culture shock of the Jungfraujoch complex - part station, part Bond-villain base, part shopping centre - it's all very strange!

2017 Dates and Prices Now Available!

~ Thursday 18th August 2016

It's still peak summer season in 2016 of course, but we've just posted prices for next year and we're already taking bookings for summer and winter trips. The full summer dates will be available later today...

Sadly, the current weakness of Sterling has forced us to make some significant price increases. The Frost guiding "ethos" is based on providing maximum value (and maximum climbing!) for our clients - continuing the tradition established by Moran Mountaineering, we aim to help you get the most out of your time in the Alps. We will be using the same friendly chalet accommodation and the same team of enthusiastic guides, providing a very adaptable course programme so you can make the best use of time, weather and energy!

We have kept the cost of our ever-popular Intro and Progression courses as low as possible, with some small changes to the programme - these courses will be run locally when possible, minimising costs. If you've already climbed in Evolene and Arolla, perhaps on a previous Progression week, we've added a Progression "Plus" course with a bigger travel budget allowing more choices.

We look forward to seeing you here next year!

Alpine Progression Week

~ Saturday 13th August 2016

Another excellent "Alpine Progression" week, with 4 fit clients pushing the limits of their experience and certainly making a lot of "progress"! This course aims to be as flexible as possible, allowing people with previous UK, Alpine or Himalayan experience to develop skills. Great fun, lots of instruction and some fine mountain routes climbed. We started with the normal route on Mont Blanc de Cheilon - one of the best PD routes around.

The normal route went very smoothly, so after a brief summit discussion we continued on along the "reverse traverse". Usually climbed in the other direction, going the wrong way means down-climbing some tricky sections - an essential alpine skill!

The next day brought mixed weather and tired legs - but a very useful rock climbing session down the valley at Bramois. Climbing technique, multi-pitch climbing and abseiling, and the importance of not dropping things off the belay...

Legs refreshed, we tackled the long walk-in to the Grands Mountets hut, which surely enjoys the finest imaginable setting for a hut in the heart of the high mountains!

The hut is surrounded by great climbing. We chose the Besso-Blanc de Moming traverse, starting up fine red rock on the Besso SW ridge...

...and continuing along the joining ridge through a complex world of pinnacles to the Blanc de Moming summit.

There's no glacier at all on this route, so you have time to admire the view before descending!

Dent Blanche

~ Thursday 21st July 2016

The Dent Blanche is the emblem of the Val d'Hérens, Evolene's Matterhorn. At 4357m it dominates the view from the village. I'd been thinking (to myself) about trying to climb it in a day from the valley...then I carelessly mentioned the idea at dinner with friends. Unfortunately 1 of them is an ultra-running type. Predictably, he thought it was a good idea so more wine was drunk, and a plan made.

Next day, while in the Coop stocking up on biscuits to fuel the ascent I saw Kilian Jornet doing his shopping - it turned out he'd just been up the Dent Blanche, and had the nerve to Facebook about an "easy day". Well, we'd see...

2am in the Ferpecle carpark, time to finish our coffees and start walking. The Dent Blanche hut approach is famously long, an energy-sapping climb if tackled in the afternoon sun. Happily, in the cool early hours with a stunning full moon lighting the way the climb passed fairly painlessly.

We saw headtorches leave the still-distant hut as dawn broke over the Dent d'Hérens, and some time later we flopped onto the hut terrace for a quick break.

We'd now got most of the walking behind us - the climbing starts right behind the hut. Dry rock, then well-frozen snow lead up to 4000m where the trickier climbing starts. I'd been hoping the ultra-runner might slow down when we got to the climbing, but he had a mis-spent youth as a pretty handy rock-climber so sadly there was no change in pace!

By now we'd caught a few people but the mountain was quiet, with only half a dozen teams.

Introduction to Alpine Climbing

~ Tuesday 19th July 2016

Here are a few pictures from last week's Intro Alpine Course. Thanks to Andy Perkins for the photos and for running the course!

The 3 guests were all fit, and regular indoor wall climbers, looking for an instructional week before setting off together to climb in the Alps. The Moiry glacier is an ideal spot for day 1 glacier training on the way to the Moiry hut.

Day 2 brought perfect conditions for the Pointe de Mourti, and time to put into practice some of the skills from day 1

Unfortunately the Alps forgot it was summer - it rained, then snowed! The enforced valley day turned into an intensive skill-training session, with regular tea-breaks!

In more mixed weather the team headed over to the Dix hut ready for more big peaks.

La Luette provided a character-building battle with more unseasonal weather, and the ridges around the Pas de Chevre turned into excellent ground for learning to lead and move together, making a good finale to a thorough week's instruction.

Happily the following weekend saw the return of summer, and the guys took their new knowledge back to the Dix hut, climbing the Mont Blanc de Cheilon and Pigne d'Arolla in perfect summer conditions.

Rock Climbing in Switzerland

~ Saturday 9th July 2016

Rock climbing at Sanetsch yesterday. The Col du Sanetsch is the opposite side of the Rhone valley to Evolene and has fine panoramic views south to the high Alpine peaks - plus a 200m high limestone crag! We climbed "Au Bord Du Vide", a varied 7 pitch route with a "sting in the tail" finish.

sanetsch rock climbing

Sanetsch rock climbing

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

~ Thursday 7th July 2016

Cheilon adventure yesterday. After a comfy night at the Cabane des Dix we made an early start for the normal route. There's still lots of snow, but a good freeze overnight meant fast progress and we reached the Col de Cheilon at dawn.

The rocky scrambling up the ridge is dry and soon we were putting crampons on again for the steep snow above. Although there's lots of snow lower down, the steep slopes up here are getting quite icy and delicate already. The final ridge is still snowy, with some big old cornices, and we kept crampons on to the summit.

As it was still early and we were moving fast, we decided to continue along the traverse of the summit ridge. Excellent, airy climbing with huge exposure down the north face. The traverse works well in either direction but going anti-clockwise means there's some time pressure - the snow descent is sunny, and heating up fast!

As expected, the descent was a bit soft at first, but soon improved as we turned back onto the shady aspect. A fine day, and a great effort from Bloxham School climbers - good luck with your A level results!

North Face Week

~ Thursday 30th June 2016

We warmed up for this week's North Faces Course on the La Gouille Arete of Mont Vélan - not exactly a North Face, but plastered in snow and ice after the recent storms, it felt like one!

Confident that conditions had at last turned good, we made the long drive south to the Gran Paradiso for the classic NW face. This had been on the ticklist for a while!

Gran Paradiso north face

EU Referendum

~ Friday 24th June 2016

News of the result reached us by text this morning, halfway up the Weissmies, and a small team of shocked Brits exchanged a few words on the summit.

Of course, we'll be continuing with the summer programme of guided climbing and mountaineering courses, and trying to offer the best value we can.

Oh, and if you voted "leave" then please "leave" your politics at home this summer.

Valais Alpine Conditions

~ Tuesday 21st June 2016

Summer solstice today, the longest day of the year. Conditions in the Valais are anything but summery though - plenty of snow left over from the spring and some big recent storms have left very unseasonal conditions above 2500m. We climbed the Pointe de Mourti yesterday. This is usually a rocky scramble with a couple of steeper rock steps, but yesterday was more of a mini-Alaska - no rock, no track, but great fun and a satisfying summit!

It's not all bad news though. The forecast is good and in a few days there should, fingers crossed, be some very good conditions as the snow packs down. It might be a while before the higher rock ridges dry out, but glaciers should be well covered and maybe the snow routes will be in unusually good conditions this year.

Mont Blanc Preparation

~ Monday 13th June 2016

Our Alpine Mountaineering Courses started this week and with snowy conditions we decided to ski up la Luette for some Mont Blanc acclimatisation, skinning right onto the summit. Not the best weather, but some good turns on the way down. Snowshoes or skis will be helpful for a while yet!

We met one other team in the Dix hut winter room who are planning to stay all week! The hut opens fully on 25 June - a late start this season.

Alpine Mountaineering Courses

Mountaineering Holidays in Arolla

Dent Blanche South Ridge

~ Sunday 29th May 2016

The Dent Blanche is the emblem of the Val d'Hérens and dominates the view from Evolene. Often climbed in our Alpine Progression week, it's one of the trickier 4000m peaks as the "normal route" up the South Ridge route is a tough AD with the harder climbing all above 4000m. Even the hut walk-in is a challenge, with a relentless 1600m climb from the valley. The good news is there's great climbing on solid rock, positive holds, and the views are fantastic. It can be quite friendly in snowy conditions too, when the other 4k peaks are out of condition - as long as the snow is consolidated the rock sections are do-able in crampons.

Dent Blanche South ridge

Unusually for Alpine routes, the climbing starts almost straight out of the hut door - 5 minutes of steep scree lead to an exposed scramble up an airy ridge, usually in the dark!

British Mountain Guides

If the start looks as snowy as this you're in for a tough time! Happily, an easy snow section follows and allows some faster height gain. There's an easier rocky ridge (cut right before the top to avoid an awkward step) and then more snow. This bit is steep, often corniced and not to be underestimated.

Valais alpine routes

As the sun comes up the Grand Gendarme comes into view at 4000m. An easier section of rocky ridge leads to the foot of the pinnacle where the normal route traverses out left into a gully, with metal spikes for anchors and to show the way. This can be snow all the way, or dry later in the season. In dry conditions it's nice to avoid the traverse by climbing straight up the gendarme's crest on good, red rock - some of the best climbing on the route and rarely busy.

The "direct" re-joins the normal route and then follows a wide crack up the continuation ridge.

Next comes a long section of fine, airy ridge on good rock. There are a couple of pinnacles, best climbed direct on the crest or avoided on looser ground on the right.

The knife-edge crest leads to a worryingly steep final pinnacle. Happily this can be avoided by traversing on the left - steep rock but big holds lead to an awkward corner and back up to the main ridge.

Once back on the ridge, follow it turning a conspicuous lump of white quartzite on the right. Somewhere around here you'll need to put on crampons for the summit snow.

Summit! Well-earned success.

Dent Blanche summit. Guided climb

...but the summit is only half-way and getting off the Dent Blanche, like so many Alpine peaks, takes a fair bit of effort and concentration. First comes some careful cramponing down the summit snow. You can reverse the "awkward" corner, but it's easier to continue along the ridge for 50m where you'll find a bolt belay. An exciting abseil from here takes you to the foot of the final gendarme.

Some airy shuffling back down the crest and a couple of abseils off pinnacles leads to the top of the couloir. If you came up this way you'll remember the metal spikes. A mix of abseil and downclimbing from spike to spike gets you down and back out to the ridge, where easier climbing on rock, then snow, then rock...then snow...then rock...leads at last to the hut.

Many teams spend a second night in the hut, then walk out via the Tete Blanche and Bertol. (This can actually be a nice way to approach the mountain and acclimatise on the way) If you've made good time though, descending to the valley is tempting...cold beer and hot showers being "only" 1600m downhill!

Aiguilles Rouges Traverse

~ Thursday 26th May 2016

Next in the mini-series of Valais Ridge route-blogs comes the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla traverse. The striking, multiple summits of the Aiguilles Rouges stand out for miles around, and traversing the crest is something of a "Valais classic". It features in several coffee-table guidebooks, but a few years ago I couldn't find anyone who'd actually done it. This is classic Alpine climbing, a long day, and you're unlikely to meet anyone else up there. It can be climbed on our Grandes Courses or Performance Alpinism courses or as part of a Private Guiding package.

We stayed at the Aiguilles Rouges hut (With renovation imminent, this is one of the last great Alpine hut toilets, and quite an experience!) From there it's a short glacial approach to the ridge. Short, but this is "real" glacier, so you'll need crampons and crevasse rescue kit. The seracs mentioned in the AC guide are long gone though.

Steep snow leads up to the col, where the "fun" begins. Turn left and follow the ridge! The crest is steeper but more solid. An easy traverse out left is tempting but means crossing some very loose ground to regain the ridge. After that, some pleasant scrambling leads quickly to the first summit (3593m).

Next, descend good rock into the broad gap between the 2 summits. The AC guide mentions climbing a "gully" right of the ridge to gain the main summit - the obvious snowy line in the next picture. As mentioned elsewhere, the Valais isn't know for superb rock. There are exceptions...but this isn't one of them. The area around the gully is definitely type 2 rock.

After some character-building ground, the main summit arrives with fine views of the higher peaks - and the remaining ridge. It's not over yet!

From here, the AC guide was at best vague. There are a lot of pinnacles on the Cret de Coq - go over or round them following your nose, mostly on the less steep left (East) side. The rock is better (mostly) and there's some good climbing on fine red rock in great positions with a huge drop down to the Dixence dam focussing the mind!

This section does go on a bit. We lost count of pinnacles and gave up reading the guidebook, but the climbing is excellent and enjoyable.

We didn't make any abseils, down-climbing the south sides of each pinnacle.

Some time later we reached Col Slingsby. This is a classic steep ski descent down into the Vallon des Ignes, but the summer route carries on along the ridge before dropping onto the right flank above the Dixence dam. The AC describes this as "loose" and isn't exaggerating. Strangely the crest seemed even looser so persevering down easy rubble is the best option. In 2013 there were few signs of a path down here.

A col around 3264m is the end of the tricky stuff, and easy snow slopes make for a welcome, quick descent westwards into the Val des Ignes. Looking back, it's clear why this route takes time - the complex skyline is seen in profile - count the pinnacles!

Douves Blanches Ridge

~ Monday 16th May 2016

As the summer season approaches, here are some appetite-whetting pictures of one the less well-known Arolla ridges - the Douves Blanches. The central Valais isn't famous for top-quality rock but here you'll find great climbing on solid, red gneiss, and some fine positions with the crux near the top. Probably no white doves, but you might well see eagles overhead. In the AD-D range, this is some of the best climbing in the area and can be climbed on our Grandes Courses or Performance Alpinism courses or as part of a Private Guiding package.

The route isn't exactly remote - it's the left-hand skyline of the busy Bertol hut approach - but it's unusual to meet another team and much of the route feels fairly untravelled with just a few pegs in the crux pitch and a bunch of slings for an abseil anchor to show the way. Although the route is all rock the descent is on glacier. Not far, and all downhill, but not to be underestimated either! The Col de la Tsa can need an abseil depending on conditions, and there are some sizeable crevasses.

Although the approach uses the hut path, Bertol isn't a very helpful starting point as the hut is another 90 minutes up from the start of the route. Starting from the valley is one option - it's about 2 hours to the climbing - but the Plan de Bertol is a great spot for a bivvy and you can pick up the gear on the way down in the afternoon.

Finding the start isn't obvious. You could go for an epic "intergrale" from the foot of the ridge but this would be pretty long! Most teams head for the huge slab below the obvious tower of the Quille. Look for a line of chimneys and ledges heading up left, aiming for the lower left of the Quille. Harder options head straight up the cracks in the slab, directly onto the Quille.

Arolla Alps mountain guide technical course

Once on the ridge turn right and...follow the ridge! You could traverse round the Quille on slabs on the right, but going over is quite easy, and better.

Switzerland Alps mountain guide technical mountaineering

Beyond there the rock gets steeper...

...and the views open up! Mont Collon, Petit Mont Collon, Col de Chermontane and the Pigne d'Arolla in the background.

There are a few towers to go over, or round. The route description in the Alpine Club guide is fairly vague, but the route-finding is easy enough.

The climbing gets steadily better - and harder - as you gain height. Luckily the rock is good and you'll probably be climbing in the sun!

High on the route comes the crux. A steep lay-back out right leads...

...into a steep corner with a few old pegs. (But some good wire and cam placements too!)

A short descent leads onto the final section. Easier but airy climbing onto the summit - with a few false summits on the way, it's further than it looks!

The summit, when it eventually arrives, brings fine views West to the Dent Blanche and Matterhorn (If you're keen for those peaks then the Douves Blanches would make a fine acclimatising route) It's been a long day, especially if you started from the valley, but it's all downhill from here! Don't switch off - the glacier gets the sun all day and will be soft, and there are some big crevasses. You'll quickly pick up the Bertol-Aiguille de la Tsa trail, then turn right through the Col de la Tsa. This can be easy snow, but can also be steep, or bare ice, with a big bergschrund. An abseil gets you past the steep bit, then it's fast snow down to the Bertol path and a knee-bashing descent to the valley for a well-earned beer.

Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route

~ Monday 25th April 2016

Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route is probably the best known ski tour in the Alps...or the world! It's can be busy and is (consequently) often under-estimated, but in reality completing the whole route needs good conditions, good fitness and 5 days of reasonable weather. Reaching Zermatt can be very challenging!

We had a frustrating start last week as lots of fresh snow and wind meant it seemed best to skip the first stage - disappointing, but probably the right call as we then met several teams who'd tried and failed to get over the Col du Passon in deep snow and poor visibility.

Happily we got a last minute booking at a surprisingly quiet Montfort hut, and then perfect weather returned on Tuesday for some great skiing on the Rosablanche. Phew.

Day 3 gave us great views of the Patrouille des Glaciers race, heading the opposite direction to us as we climbed to the Dix hut.

Perfect weather again for the climb to the Pigne d'Arolla. The highest point on the route, the Pigne is a long, crevassed ascent with some steep skinning (and exposure!) on the Mur de la Serpentine.

Friday is the longest day of the route - a great finale - but sadly the good weather didn't last. With clouds and snow at Vignettes we opted for a safe descent to Arolla. Next time...

Slightly Steeper Week

~ Monday 28th March 2016

The "Slightly Steeper" Ski Tours week provided some excellent skiing and some challenging moments as usual - this is a week that does exactly what it says on the tin! With no recent fresh snow, Arolla still had plenty of untracked slopes, and day one started with 600m of fresh tracks off the Mont Rouge.

Day 2 saw us climbing to the Vignettes hut, and rattling down some surprisingly windblown snow through the spectacular scenery of the Vuibé glacier. Challenging skiing, but a great descent.

On day 3 we made the long climb to the Pallanche de la Cretta. The West face is rarely skied, but looked perfect...and it was!

Pallanche de la Crettaz, mountain guide, ski tour

Tired legs and cloudy weather sent us to Nax, where the lift system can take the strain. The shady side of Mont Noble was so good we did 4 laps, each time with a quick 250m skin back into the lift area.

British Mountain Guide, steep skiing

Good weather again on Thursday so we went to Mont de l'Étoile. The south face had excellent spring snow and had escaped the Foehn-blasting which seemed to have wrecked the higher North faces.

We finished the week in Evolene with a slightly disappointing ski on Pic d'Artsinol, and a very fine descent of Rionde de Vendes! A fine end to a great week.

Eagle Ski Club Grimentz Week

~ Saturday 12th March 2016

This Eagle Ski Club week proved so popular in the past that we decided to run 2 courses a year and it still books up fast. Grimentz and Zinal - the Val d'Anniviers - is increasingly well-known in the ski world yet still manages to provide a unique mix of great lift access with great off-piste and day touring whilst not being too busy. The queues in the Coop are bigger than any you'll find on the mountain, and as usual last week surpassed all expectations!

Eagle Ski Club Ski Touring Grimentz

Grimentz Ski Guide Val d'Anniviers Zinal

British Mountain Guide, Eagle Ski Club Ski Touring

On Wednesday we had to deliver a pot of paint to Vercorin...via Rechy and Mont Noble. It's a long story!

Graham Frost Mountain Guide Skiing Mont Noble

Mont Noble Ski Guide Graham Frost

British Mountain Guide Graham Frost Skis Mont Noble

Moiry Dam descent with British Mountain Guide

British Mountain Guide ski touring Grimentz

Val d'Hérens Day Tours

~ Saturday 5th March 2016

Last weeks Val d'Hérens Ski Tours saw challenging weather at times (although nice by Norwegian standards apparently!) but that meant we had great snow and miles of great ski touring. Not just untracked snow - whole, untracked mountains! We skied at Nax, Arolla, Col des Ignes, Pallanche de la Cretta, Evolene - Pic d'Artsinol, and Col de Bréona, and some days saw more Chamois than skiers...

British Mountain Guide, guided ski touring Arolla

Guided off piste skiing

Col des Ignes mountain guide ski day tours

Evolene day tours ski guide Graham Frost

Tree Skiing on guided ski tour week

Evolene mountain guide skiing

Arolla Mountain Guide Ski Climbing

dent blanche mountain guide

Eagle Ski Club Winter Room Tour Part 2

~ Wednesday 24th February 2016

Part 2 of the winter room blog...

After 3 nights out we were starting to run low on supplies. There was a 1.5kg bag of polenta on the shelf so we wouldn't have starved, but we decided to make a quick trip back over the Pas de Chevre to Arolla to get proper food.

With real coffee, flushing toilets and WiFi, Arolla seemed quite cosmopolitan for a change. The village at the end of the road....or the beginning. All depends on point of view. Anyway, with full rucksacks, and softened by our quick taste of luxury, we cheated and used the lift to get back up the hill. After that it was back to the plan, up pt 2959 then down in to the Vallon des Ignes before climbing to the Aiguilles Rouges hut. This hut has spacious winter rooms, and a famous (even in summer) toilet. One of the last "long drops", you get some nice turns on the way there but don't forget your skins for the return.

We'd hoped to go up the Pointe de Vouasson and down to the Evolene on the last day. This is a fine descent, 2000m vertical on a mostly shady aspect, but sadly the weather had other ideas. Skiing the glacier in poor vis didn't appeal, so we followed our tracks down and skied to la Gouille instead. Only 1600m, great snow, shocking visibility at times, but a fine end to the week.

Eagle Ski Club Winter Room Tour - Part 1

~ Sunday 21st February 2016

This might be have to be re-titled the Winter Room Mystery Tour next year! Originally inspired by Eagle Ski Club President Rob Collisters yearbook article on finding "sustainable" adventure closer to home by touring out of season in the hut winter rooms, the plan was to tackle the West Oberland Haute Route - a classic tour which can be busy in season. Unfortunately heavy snow and strong winds added to the already unusual snow-pack, and an easily ski-cut triggered windslab on the warm-up day confirmed doubts - time for a plan B.

Ploughing up to the Bouquetins Hut above Arolla wasn't a disappointment - deserted mountains, no tracks in sight, and fine weather.

col de l'eveque ski tour arolla mountain guide

Day 2 saw us trail-breaking to the Col de l'Éveque. This is the first col on the last day of the Cham-Zermatt Haute Route and is busy in season, but today was deserted. As was the Point d'Oren, a superb view-point and a fine ski.

point d'oren ski mountain guide

From there we skied fantastic snow down from the Col du Petit Mont Collon to the Otemma glacier. This, again, is part of the Cham-Zermatt "motorway" but there was no sign of life at all - exactly what we were looking for!

Feeling like the only ski-tourers in the Alps, tired legs ploughed a deep trail to the Singla bivvy. This is a great spot in a fine position on a rocky knoll, but impossible to heat - we cooked dinner and managed to raise the temperature to a balmy 6 degrees...

Next day after a quick ski down to the glacier we started the long climb to the Col des Portons. This was sunny and the snow had stabilised, but the Col itself was looking more challenging the closer we got. I'd skied down this a few years ago, but now it was a steep scramble on rock and snow - at least we got to use ropes and crampons!

From the col a long but gentle climb leads to the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla. The Vignettes side had been thoroughly heli-skied, but there were no tracks Dix side. Descending the Serpentine was quite serious skiing on windblown snow...

but below there we found excellent powder between the crevasses, linking as many turns as the legs could managed down to the Dix hut where we met the first other people we'd seen in 3 days!

Part 2 coming soon!

Evolene Carnaval

~ Wednesday 10th February 2016

Last night of the Evolene Carnaval last night, with the trial and burning of the Poutratze. At first the town square was eerily deserted...

Then the Peluches escort the Poutratze - the evil "Empaillé" - through the village.

Where he is tried, judged and burned, freeing the village from evil spirits!

This must be thirsty work and it gets quite hectic in the beer tent.

At midnight Carnaval ends, and the Pelluches take off their masks.

Ice Climbing Introduction Course

~ Sunday 7th February 2016

Here's a quick summary of last week's Ice Climbing Intro Course. Conditions weren't ideal - warm weather meant there was no ice at all around Evolene - but Arolla is 600m higher up the valley and provided plenty of climbing despite the spring-like temperatures!

ice climbing arolla mountain guide introduction course

After a warm-up day of top-roped climbing at the Tsa boulder - ideal for working on technique - we moved to La Gouille for some single pitch routes.

ice climbing course arolla introduction alps

And then multi-pitch at the Arolla tunnels, with a multi-abseil descent. This route is just shady enough to escape the thaw.

introduction to ice climbing

A day at the Cascade des Ignes with a snow-shoe approach and some genuine Scottish weather marking the return of winter.

Cascade des Ignes ice climbing mountain guide

And some time leading on single and multi-pitch routes.

ice climbing arolla l'Usine Electrique


~ Saturday 30th January 2016

Working as a guide makes you worry a bit about age and health. I need another 20 years service from these knees! Roger Federer was described on the radio yesterday as "maybe too old" when he lost a tennis match, aged 34...

A quick glance back through the photo album provides some inspiration and reassurance. Fair enough, you need a bit of luck with injury avoidance and genetics, but here are some of the keenest, most enthusiastic people I've been out with recently - all in their 70's...

And Rupert was just starting out on his epic summer. More here:

Off-Piste in Grimentz

~ Thursday 28th January 2016

Slightly cloudy today, for a change. We started with the hike up to the Roc d'Orxival summit, and some nice turns in the steep NE side before a big traverse left lead to the top of the "hidden" gully...This is steep at the top, a proper "aprés-ski" 45 degrees, quite narrow...and completely untouched soft snow. Brilliant!

grimentz off-piste ski guide orxival ski touring

That left us with the afternoon to fill, but the Col du Tsan delivered yet more untracked snow - although the top is completely dry at the moment and you have to walk in!

Col du Tsan grimentz zinal off piste ski touring guide mountain

british mountain guide ski Grimentz

Skinning back over the Brinta we were glad of the cloud cover, and happy also to find some more good snow on the descent to St Jean.

Grimentz Groundhog Day

~ Wednesday 27th January 2016

More of the a good way! Blue skies, fresh tracks and spookily deserted. After a few warm days and over a week without new snow it was a pleasant surprise to find so much good skiing today - really good snow and no-one else around. We started with the quick-but-steep traverse round to the Becs de Bossons hut, always a good wake-up in the morning.

Cabane des Becs de Bossons

From there, a quick descent on good snow leads to the Lac de Lona

and then it's skins back on for the climb to the Basset de Levron. Someone had been up to the Sassenaire shoulder, but there was no track to the Basset, and no tracks down the other side on surprisingly good spring snow (in January!)

Another nice pitch leads down to the Lac des Autannes...

You could make a fast traverse back to the Moiry dam from here, but you can put on skins (again) and head up for more skiing. We made it to the ridge at the 2943m spot height.

From there, excellent cold snow and fresh tracks for a pitch...

And another...

And another...

and yet another...

And to end the day, the descent from the Moiry dam is still ok to ski, with nice snow hidden in shady aspects.

Sex de Marinda Couloir

~ Tuesday 26th January 2016

Great skiing today in the Grimentz classic, the Sex de Marinda couloir. This is the obvious striking gully, clearly visible from Grimentz and reached easily from the top of the lift area on touring skis by a short climb, a pleasant ski and a second ascent. Despite being in the shade all day the snow is surprisingly firm and wind-packed. Fantastic to ski on but needing a cool head - it would be a bad place to fall...

Grimentz becs des bossons lona

grimentz lona mountain guide off piste

sex de marinda grimentz guide off piste ski

sex de marinda couloir grimentz moutain guide

sex de marinda grimentz off piste guide

Vercorin, blue skies and powder skiing

~ Thursday 21st January 2016

There's been a lot of "skiing by touch" in poor visibility recently, but today was a proper cloudless, blue sky powder day. Amazingly, there was no-one around. Fresh tracks up and down. Perfect. We'd left a car way down the lower Réchy valley so skied all the way down through the Mayens de Réchy.

Off-Piste Skiing in Grimentz

~ Saturday 16th January 2016

Excellent skiing last week in Grimentz with the Eagle Ski Club, with huge amounts of snow arriving just in time. The heavy snowfall also meant poor visibility, high avalanche risk (3 days of Cat 4) and most of the higher lifts closed, but Grimentz has plenty of trees and some great low-angle skiing for tricky conditions.

Ski guide in Grimentz Zinal

British Mountain Guide Off Piste

The dry start to the winter means we still have an "early season" snowpack, with lots of weak sugar snow at ground level on shady aspects, whilst the sunny-side is sitting on grass (or rocks) Strong westerly winds all week have scoured windward slopes and created thick windslab. The skiing is great but steep slopes will take a while to stabilise. Off Piste Ski Guide Zinal Grimentz

Ski Conditions in Arolla

~ Tuesday 5th January 2016

About 35 cm in Evolene over the last couple of days, but much more higher up - way too much for little skis! Getting back down was pretty much straight lining.

It's been a beautiful day, but windy high up with lots of snow blowing around. Great piste skiing in Arolla, no sign of action on the higher runs but the drag is open to the mid-station now.

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