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.
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!