Black Crows launched the Atris back in 2015 and with all the associated hype I had to give them a try. The cool graphics and colours were easy to fall in love and with double rockered, full under foot camber design, I expected these to be a high performance all mountain ski that would speed scrubs and be equally happy floating over pillows as landing fakey. Now with a lower spine that barely rotates, landing faley isn’t in my list requirements for a ski unless I start planning on skiing backwards while looking through my legs. But the soft tail that allowed this ski to ride fakey also ate into my confidence that it would lose its edge on the steeps and high side me down the slope. Try as I might, this ski just didn’t do it for me and I reverted to Navis FB for big mountain touring and steeps.
Fast forwarding to the 2018 season and the new redesigned Atris arrived with everyone saying I had to try it. To be honest I was pretty skeptical but I did have an ulterior motive. I needed a ski to guide clients on, one with smaller radius and very quick pivot, even at lower client speed. So I decided to give the Atris another go.
The new Atris has the same turning characteristics as the old one but it was immediately evident that the ski had a more homogeneous stiffness from tip to tail tailoring it for the big mountain environment. Very quickly I was using this ski up the Argentiere basin on Col des Courtes, Couturier or Col de la Verte. Whether powder or chalk, charging hard or going slow, this ski worked and it felt lush. For me its easily the best and most polyvalent ski in Black Crows line up and this season I’ll have one pair with PLUMs and one with a harder charging free ride binding in my quiver.
At 108 under foot its fast edge to edge and while it weighs more that the dedicated freebird touring skis, the extra dampening material in the ski is what makes it perform so well without being prohibitive for tours up to 1000 m. For sure if you are touring every day then you’ll want something lighter but if you want to maintain the performance for the downs this is a great choice.
These days Alpine summers are somewhat different to what they used to be. I grew up reading about climbing on the big North Faces and summers so rainy and snowy that impatience got the better of many and they packed up and went home in disgust. Now its all about just how hot its going to be and how long the drought will last. Temps soar into the high 30s during the day with the sun so strong that shelter is required. At night the temperature barely drops and I find myself unable to sleep before midnight with the thick granite walls of our 200 year old house radiating heat. The idea of actually pedalling a bike uphill is my idea of a heat stroke inducing sweaty hell and its restricts me to lift assisted enduro through July and August. Then in September the temperatures drop below 30C and the magical world of Middle Earth opens its doors to riders willing to explore where the winding singletracks will lead. Valais, Savoie and Aosta all hold and incredible network of trails that linked one region to another switchbacking up and over Alpine cols for mile after mile. I spent so much of my life dedicated to racing bikes and the restrictive nature that entails of training hard, resting more than riding, not drinking…alpine biking offers a world of fun where I could probably avoid riding the same trail twice in this lifetime even though I’m riding almost every day. So as this season draws to a close with the first large snowfalls due at the weekend, here’s some of the good moments from another absolutely brilliant alpine biking season.
A big thanks to Oli Herren, Tim Nickles, Tim Longstaff, Graham Pinkerton, Minna Rihiimaki, Rosanna Hughes, Davide Capozzi and the donkeys for all the good times.
In a world where weight and packsize is becoming everyone’s current obsession, reviewing every item you carry and evaluating its necessity has become the norm. These days I use a 27 l Dorsa pack for 6 day hut to hut touring where 15 years ago it would have been 35 l. For years the near unbreakable nalgene was the go to water carrier but a rigid litre bottle does take up a lot of space in your bag. While bladders with hoses have their place, their use in the Alpine environment often lets you down as fluids freeze in the hose and they become frustratingly unusable. Enter the soft flasks into the marketplace.
The concept is simple, make a flask robust, flexible and compressible and once its empty it takes up very little room. Ideal for packs or even if you head out for a run with one in your hand that can then be stuffed in a pocket once its empty. I’ve used these for all sorts of stuff from alpinism, guides tests, hard multipitch rock, cycle tours, skiing and running and even on expedition on Baffin Island. They are pretty robust and in all that time Ive only punctured one, and in the same period the rough treatment my kit gets has caused two nalgenes to crack.
Hydrapak also make these flasks under the Salomon brand name but one of the features I love about the Hydrapak own brand ones is a lockable nozzle. If you are like me and avoid surgery gels, take your on hill booster in the form of expresso macchiato in a 150 ml flask and avoid milk leaking in your pack and going off. If you are a gel person then a few gels can be decanted into a 150 ml flask and you avoid the mess of empty gel packaging and that oozing sticky mess in your pockets. I also use a 250 ml if I’m only out for an hour or two and have a couple at 500 ml and a 1 l flask to cover all types of adventure. One minor downside is they are only rated for 60C so if you like your drinks really hot then you’ll have to take a thermos which will keep them warm longer anyway. I’m not too fussed by hot drinks on the hill and often mix the Marche tea from the refuges with some cold water just so I have a caffeinated drink with me. These are truly brilliant pieces of kit and a must have.
Sustained crack climbing after the easy intro pitch was the order of the day. A beautiful burly route on fantastic granite.
Me on the 6b warm up pitch.
Gareth seconding the 6b warm up pitch
Gareth engaging the 6C P2
Burly laybacking approaching the belay
Bulgy with a gravelly mantel onto the belay ledge
My view as I weigh up the physical layback and foot smears that lie ahead
And the view down from the belay
Gareth arriving at the belay after the crux 7A pitch
A German team behind starting off on the crux
Pulling hard on finger locks here.
Wooden wedges on the final traverse pitch
Indurain for me is the best of the Trident route with varied climbing on splitter, flakes, laybacks and grooves. So good!
Me on the initial warm up 6b pitch with required a forceful approach with a toasted body from a hard days cragging the previous day.
Gareth on the diagonal crack
Grovelling around in the offwidthSpanning out to the layback flake
Burly moves onto the belay ledge
Gareth departing on what I though was one of the finest crack pitches in the massif. A fine 6C hand crack heading up right.
Gareth fully engaged in the hand crack
Nearly there, on the steeper bulge at the top
Me on the groove 3rd pitch
Me on the crux 4th layback pitch
Looking down the layback pitch, Gareth’s white helmet just visible
The top 5+ pitch, a bit gravelly but the final 6th pitch is worth doing and takes you above Bonne Ethique’s ab line.
Last month I received a pair of Julbo Chamonix glasses through the post to review.
Julbo was created by Jules Baud in 1888 and founded in the Jura Alps just North of Geneva in a response to requests by the Chamonix crystal hunters need for optical protection from the harsh radiation at altitude.
To this day Julbo has continued to design wicked sunglasses to protect mountain users while branching out into other sports such as sailing and mountain biking which have their own unique demands for protecting your priceless eyesight.
In the 1950s Julbo produced the Vermont glacier glasses and the design went on to become a classic adopted by rockstars and climbers, and a collectors item.
1970s heralded the dawn of professional mountaineers and by that I mean athletes doing routes rather than mountain guides. Yannick Seigneur was an engineer and a product of the grand ecoles. His parents disapproved of mountaineering and it wasnt until his mid 30s that he went full time into mountaineering with an incredible resume of 8000 m peaks in the Himalaya as well as a legacy of new routes around Chamonix.
To this day Julbo continues to be a small family run business with a big heart and passion for what they do. On any given day I might end up rubbing shoulders, ski a line or working with many of the Chamonix stars that are supported by this brand. Vivian Bruchez, Sam Favret, Valentine Favre, Glen Plake to name but a few. World Champions to powder whores like myself.
So when I opened the package I wasn’t surprised to find a timeless classic design glacier glass that has evolved from the original Vermont 1950 edition. Construction quality is to Julbo’s highest standards with metal frames and category 4 glass mirrored lenses to combat radiation up high. White leather baffles stop anything getting around the side. Rubber nose pads and temple tip/earpieces so these babies will never slide down sweaty noses when you look down and spot your feet.
I took mine guiding to the roof of Europe, Mont Blanc. These sunnies are light despite the glass and I had no issues with soreness on the arch of the nose and after a long day on the mountain my eyes were free from the ache of overexposure to the sun. They are robust too, a wildly gesticulating Italian guide knocked mine for six straight off my head in the refuge – no problem!
So they do what they are supposed to but the thing I like the most is strip off the leather baffles and you basically have, dare I say it, a Ray Ban Aviator for looking cool round town or driving your car. I’ve fallen in love with these in a world where plastic frames and glasses have dominated for so long.