Confessions of a very amateur freerider: why it’s good to fall over

There are quite a few unwritten rules in La Grave but there is one very important one: don’t fall over. The place has earned itself a very fearsome reputation because so many people haven’t abided by this rule and the outcome has been devastating. Unintentionally, I decided I’d flout this rule myself last week whilst skiing the Vallon trade route, Trifide One.

Alan McHardy skiing Trifide One

Alan McHardy skiing Trifide One

Trade route it may be but it’s not a line that should be underestimated. As I hauled my arse up from my triple somersault, my heart in mouth buddy and true La Grave local, Lars-ake Krantz, informed me that to date 25 people have never stood up again after falling in here. Gulp.

I’ve skied a half decent number of the infamous La Grave road runs now and managed to stay upright in all the important places, falling being something that I’m pleased to say I don’t do very often anymore. So what happened this time?

Well I was probably trying a little too hard to impress my local friend, after all it was the first time I’d skied with him. Lacking the crystal clear focus that such routes demand, I went into freefall. It went something like this:

  • With my weight too far forward on a steep slope, the front tip of the ski went under the snow and my skis flipped me over. It took the time of the first somersault to even realise I had lost all control
  • On the second somersault I felt the tip of the ski plunge into the snow again but I knew they hadn’t popped (lucky I cranked those DINs up the day before). But “shit” I thought, I really need to stop myself now or I’m taking a very long and very fast ride down a 200 metre couloir
  • And that’s where my mountaineering training kicked in… the first thing you get taught on a mountaineering course is how to walk in crampons and how to self-arrest with an axe if you fall on a steep slope. I didn’t have an axe but I still had my skis and I had an elbow! Hearing Lars shouting at me to flip myself around, I managed to do just that and at the same time thumped my elbow into the snow as hard I could. I stopped.

I like to think I stood up quite nonchalantly but inside I was mad, though quite relieved also, especially when I saw the big hunk of a rock I had been charging towards.

But why is falling sometimes a good thing? Because it’s a very abrupt and scary reminder of all the important things that you need to do when choosing to play in these demanding areas, namely:

  • Think you’re a dope skier? You’re probably not… go ski with the big boys and it’ll help with perspective. Skiing backcountry requires a very different style from piste skiing and fortunately there’s some amazing guys and gals in La Grave to learn from.
  • Learn the art of falling. If it does all go to ratshit then, as proved,  you need to be able to make some rather important life decisions even whilst you’re upside down!
  • Want to freeride? Get some mountaineering training, there’s more crossover than you think and you’ll feel much more comfortable in high mountain terrain.
  • And don’t try and impress the locals, they’ve seen much better than you. Stay focused and concentrate on your own game, you’ll look far more R.A.D!
Old photo of a very good friend falling in Les Freaux Couloir, La Grave. Not fun to watch.

Old photo of a very good friend falling in Les Freaux Couloir, La Grave. Not fun to watch.

Easter (2013) in La Grave and Les Deux Alpes

Wow, I can’t believe how long this blog update has taken but here it is! A quick reflection of last year’s trip back to the homeland with the boys (and girls) from England. Here’s some snaps from our adventures that included a ski tour up the Pic Blanc du Galibier, an attempt on the ridge of the Col du Laurichard (West Ridge of the Roc Noir de Combeynot), some lovely powder skiing in the trees in Les Deux Alpes and more than one trip down the ‘Nuns’. We also did the trip to Saint Christophe and I ended the season with my one and only La Grave road run of the season: Girose Right.

As ever, I’ll let the pictures do the talking!

This season’s plans are taking shape with a 3 week stretch over Christmas starting in Tignes, then onto Morzine for Christmas Day, a few days in La Grave (of course) and hopefully a quick dash to Risoul.

C.A.N. N.O.T. W.A.I.T

Do the Okey Stokey: 2 weeks in Revelstoke B.C.

Probably a record for late blog updating but midway through the season I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Revelstoke, Canada. What a couple of weeks it was, it took me another week to recover. Revvy is simply awesome and the snow out of this world mainly because it just keeps falling and falling and the backcountry is divine.

Thank you to our fantastic hosts Si and Fi who looked after us like Kings (and Queens) and congratulations to the Spilligans… the Cone and Lee who got engaged whilst we were away!

In total I managed 8 days skiing, 3 days touring and 1 day ice climbing. 1 planned extra day of ice climbing was lost due to avalanche danger – check out the Bumbling Mountaineer’s Avalanche Masterclass. But I did manage to get my main objective for the holiday skied, Brown Shorts, a lovely looking big wide couloir which drops off the side of Mount Mackenzie and which you get to ski the top section of the Mac Daddy face to access, one of the venues for the Freeride World Tour. Checkout Backcountry Skiing Canada for the full info.

We also had two days touring in Roger’s Pass, heading up to Balu Pass. Wow, check out the pictures, days like that are a beautiful remind of why I love being in the mountains so much and how lucky I am to be there. Not another person in sight, knee deep powder, great friends and amazing views. Life don’t get much sweeter. On another day of touring we tried to get to the top of Mt Macpherson via the ‘fingers’ but got completely lost. There was a rather funny incident on the way down though, check out the Bumbling Mountaineers Freeride School!

Amazing times so here’s some pictures and a couple of comedy videos. Next stop, back to La Grave and Deux Alpes in a couple of weeks to bring the 2013 season to a close. In the words of a Revelstokian… ‘that’s seriously sick dude’. And Collymore has just been in for a service and fridge installation from Mr. Ward at Kombiwerks

 

Beginning the season in style: La Grave & Les Deux Alpes

I’m coming the conclusion that I’m not a very good blogger… it seems I’m incapable of updating it on time. So, three weeks after my last trip to Les Duex Alpes and La Grave, here’s a selection of photos from my pre-xmas trip.

I had 10 days out there in total and managed to ski 7 of those. One was missed due to weather, one to a wasted body (due to such good skiing) and one because of the mother of all hangovers. Worth it though as it was to celebrate my good friend and the ultimate ski buddy Flossie Cockle’s success in her Eurotest, she is now the highest qualified British ski instructor you can be, yay! So glad I was there to experience her do it as I know it’s been an emotional journey!

But the 7 days skied I have to say were pretty damn epic… it just didn’t stop snowing. Somehow I managed to find and ski more off piste in Les Duex Alpes than I managed in the whole of last season and, with all the snow, it was freshies after freshies. With variable avalanche conditions, the snowpack was pretty stable despite all the snow (certainly towards the end of the trip), so the resort based off piste was open for business – as the local UIAGM guide said on the lift “you can ski anywhere it’s white!”. The backcountry was a bit of a different story so didn’t get any touring or ridge hikes and drops done this time and, because the La Grave lift didn’t open until the Saturday before I left, I only spent one day there. So no road runs unfortunately but they’ll still be there next time I’m back.

Next stop Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Canada, on the 26th January. I think the word is ‘siiiiick’!!!

Summertime in La Grave!

Winter has started… I’m excited, not least because I’ll be back in Deux Alpes and La Grave again in a 4 days time, though unfortunately not for the season this time (unsmiley face). But Collymore is being prepared for his travels again and I’m looking forward to a temporary return to showers in the swimming pool and thawing my contact lenses in my sleeping bag every morning. Sound like fun… it is! The epic skiing that goes with it probably helps though.

In prep then thought I’d stick up a few pictures from the Dalston Boys Cycling Club trip back to La Grave in the summer. Been meaning to do this for ages…

There’s no such thing as bad snow… just bad skiers…

Hey folks… so my blog updating has been crap I’m sorry. But I thought it time to write an update and also because this will be my last post. I’m actually back home now so my two feet are firmly not in La Grave (or Deux Alpes) but back on ‘home’ ground.

So the last month or so has been awesome. I’ve lost track of exactly what I’ve been up to so I’m just going to pop up some pictures and let them do the talking. Needless to say though I’ve had the most amazing time here and this part of the Alps will forever be very special to me. They have transformed my skiing from (in hindsight) a distinctly average (old skool!) British skier to something that I hope is far more respectable! In 5 moths I’ve also managed to add a whole 9 centimetres and how many people can say that… big skis man, I’ll never ski shorties again!

And I’ve met some amazing people on the way… you know who you are and thank you for the fun times that you given me. But to name just a few, I have to say special thanks to Floss and Susie for being such all round good eggs (and Floss for the countless hours of instruction that she no doubt gave me), Sarah for just being ‘fuckin A man’, Asefeh for being an all round gorgeous girl and Grigor and the La Grave crew for letting me into their fantastic little community. I hope to see everyone again in the not too distant future.

And as for La Grave itself… there’s no doubt that this place changes your perspective on skiing forever. I’m not even sure you can really just call it skiing… it’s not what most people would define skiing as being! Yeah, there ain’t no ordinary skiing here… not if you know where you’re going and thanks again to the ‘locals’ for showing me. I hope I proved that I’m a safe hand in the mountains… I didn’t kill anyone at least!

And I’m pleased to say that I finished on such a high… last week I skied the Pan de Rideau… an awesome route that has you dropping into a really tight couloir (ski width wide) and then traversing for 50 metres across a 55 degree slope with a whopping great couloir below you. The general adage is ‘fall and you die’… in fact I think only one person has ever survived a fall there and many more have been less lucky. Then it’s onto a 50 degree face that narrows down into a rocky couloir with a bergshrund at the bottom (the general adage again being ‘fall and you die’). We had to jump that (not an elegant landing… broke my binding) and then you’re on the loveliest of powder fields snaking your way across a beautiful but somewhat daunting crevasse ridden glacier for another 600 metres or so of descent. So pleased that I can say that I’ve skied this and I think it definitely ticks the ‘extreme’ skiing box.

So it’s goodbye La Grave and Deux Alpes for now… I should emphasise ‘for now’ because I will be back for sure I just need to work out in exactly what capacity! I’m proud to be a skier and feel so lucky to have had this chance to spend so much time in the mountains… anyone who doesn’t ski doesn’t know what they’re missing out on… But back home know to await my fate… if anyone knows what that will be then answers on a postcard please!

Useless…

That’s what I’ve been with the blog. My apologies. I seem to have been here there and everywhere and not done that much skiing inbetween over the last couple of weeks. And I’ve managed to get ill twice in three weeks which is making me think that having no fixed address might really be starting to take its toll now!

So what have I been up to? It’s all a bit of a blur but I will try and summarise:

  • Got another ice route done with a mate called Adrian from New Zealand. The next day we set off to try and ski a couloir behind La Grave… nice tour up but the snow was dire so we gave up on any couloir attempt.
  • Took a trip to Morzine to see good friends. I had to put all my ski snobbery to one side and dress up as a giant penguin. It was lovely to see everyone though – thanks loads guys.
  • Then I drove to Geneva and took a plane to Brussells for a few days. Lovely city it is too. Drank far to much strong (but incredibly nice) beer and managed to take only 2 pictures the whole time I was there… I’m not a very good tourist! I did learn though that some of Belgian’s favourite food is made by a company called ‘Cock’s fresh’. Of course me being as mature as I am… this had me in stitches. Begged the question at the breakfast table… ‘fresh cock anyone?’

Now I’m back in La Grave and realising that I have only one proper month left. Wow! Where’s it gone?! And to make it even worse I’ve been able to do nothing all week as I’ve had tonsillitis… this is something you really don’t want to have when you live in a van in the mountains! I spent 36 hours in the van in the car park and no one even knew I was there… Low point! Anyway lots of plans for the last month not least to get some good mountaineering done – the season for that has arrived. Will keep you posted!