Black Crows Atris Review

22136901_758433944358535_5907316724986001978_o

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.

Atris evaluation

Hydrapak Soft Flask Review

IMG_4768IMG_4588IMG_2864

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.

Julbo Chamonix Sunglasses Review

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.

Sale Athee – The Dirty Amythist and Exped HL M Mat Test

IMG_20170718_153153 copy

The line of Sale Athee on the Charpoura side of the Aiguille du Moine

 

If you are looking for the lightest airmat for bivis and the fast and light approach, read on as this will be of interest to you.

IMG_20170717_210546

Time for a mountaineers snack of cheese and sausage at the bivi

IMG_20170717_203228_1

Will soaking up the rays at our bivi spot in the Charpoura

IMG_20170717_203558

Bouldering in the evening light

 

When I received the Exped Airmat HL M through the post I was impressed by the small pack size which similar to the size of Thermorest’s popular NeoAir. However when I opened the stuff sac I realised about 1/3 of the volume was due to the ingenious pump that is supplied to keep moisture out of the mat, although Exped claim the mat is impervious to hydrolysis. Leaving the pump at home will save a few precious grams and more importantly reduce your pack size.

IMG_20170811_161428

Small pack length of around 7 inches

IMG_20170811_161332

The inflation pump that fits into the stuff sac with the mat

 

This is a very comfortable mat with a shoulder width of 52 cm, length of 183 cm and thickness of 7 cm. The mat boasts next-to-skin comfort and anti-slip GripSkin honeycomb-pattern coating. I put the mat to the test in the Charpoura basin for an open bivi this summer on route to climb the mega Sale Athee 7a+ on the Aiguille du Moine – a contender for the best rock routes I have done in the Alps. Despite our bivi location being on rock I had a great nights sleep with no cold spots from the ground or dead arms from pressure points when lying on my side. The mats is full length so you avoid cold feet problems with ¾ length mats.

The low packsize to comfort ration means I’ve also taken to chucking the mat in overnight bags when I am away guiding in other places of the Alps and if I get the chance to ride the mountain bike tour of Mt Blanc this autumn it will be coming with me for a remote bivi.

Full metric specification can be found below along with a short video from Exped taking you through all the design features.

IMG_20170718_085502

Will putting into Yosemite style back foot/knee cams on the pod section

IMG_20170718_093615

Will heading off on a gorgeous 6C pitch

IMG_20170718_090828

Will further up the pitch with stunning views to the Dru and Sans Nom

IMG_20170718_101033

The crux 7A+ fist sized crack

IMG_20170718_123640

Will coming up another amazing 6C+ pitch

IMG_20170718_123756

Will nearly the belay

IMG_20170718_135857

Myself and Will on the summit

 

SPECIFICATION

 

Temperature: 

4 °C

R-Value: 

1.90

Thickness: 

7 cm

Length: 

183 cm

Shoulder Width: 

52 cm

Foot Width: 

35 cm

Weight Mat: 

310 g

Weight Pump: 

45 g

Weight Packsack: 

10 g

Packed height: 

18 cm

Packed diameter: 

7 cm

Pack volume: 

0.8 l

Product contents: 

Mat

Mini Pump

Packsack

Repair kit

instruction sheet

Repair manual

Warranty: 

2 years

 

VIDEO

http://www.exped.com/switzerland/en/product-category/mats/airmat-hl-m – prettyPhoto[node-nid-13015-field_video]/0/

Orb Freebird Review

The Orb Freebird has been in the line up at Black Crows since the conception of the Freebird touring range and is instantly recognisable by its iconic fluro yellow topsheet and matching sidewalls.

My initial ski test of the Orb Freebird back in spring 2014 was on a loaned pair. Back then the ski was traditional camber construction which provided plenty of pop and power but wasn’t the easiest thing to pilot on soft snow. I used them to ski Whymper Couloir during a traverse of La Verte from Couturier Couloir.  That day a cruel southerly wind stopped things softening but the Orb’s edge grip did the necessary.

This year the ski has undergone some changes and it’s designer Julien Regnier added a front rocker to the ski to bring it in line with the now well established Navis and Corvus Freebird skis. The Orb FB 178 has put 1 mm on its waist line bringing it to 91 mm and the pair weigh in at 2.99kg. I mounted mine with the 2017 PLUM race 170 bindings with the additional bolt on ski crampon mounts to give me a light but very strong ski for steep skiing above 4000 m, long days and expedition skiing.  The addition of the rocker has been a necessary revolutionary work over for the Orb and made it easy to ski while maintaining its founding characteristics.

Orb freebird evaluation

 

 

 

Black Crows Corvus Freebird Review

Black Crows Skis is the Cult  brand in France, conceived by Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet and born in Chamonix. The name derives from the friendly mountain crow the Choucas,  the legend being each bird is the soul of a dead alpinist or skier. Treat them with affection next time one pays you a visit on a airy ridgeline. Chamonix lays claim to be ‘the World Capital for Skiing and Mountaineering’ and whether you love or hate it, there is no denying that its the ultimate testing ground for high performance, big mountain skiing. The guys in the ski films like Glen Plake, Scott Schmidt, Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair, Seth Morrison, Sam Favret, Aurelian Ducroz, Oli Herren, Nate Wallace, Alex Pittin have all served time perfecting their arts in many different disciplines of skiing before coming to Chamonix and undertaking a long apprenticeship in the unforgiving big mountains  before they could turn on the style on the big test piece routes. This ain’t Alaska where you throw caution to the wind and tomahawk a line and walk away unscathed, make a mistake here and the next second will probably be your last. Its the perfect testing ground, equipment has to perform and withstand abuse (dry skiing, morraines rock, roots) or it gets left in the cellar.

The Corvus has been Black Crows Sovereign ski since the brands conception, and with each year they have added some extra width to drive the market trend. The Freebird version landed in 2016 and won many awards. It is a backcountry orientated ski, lightened to help you get up the hills,  and for a 109 underfoot ski at around the 3.6 kg mark, its boasts a lot of performance.

Like its full weight brother, this is a ski that likes to charge, and the harder you push the more impressed would will be with its stability as it shows its calibre. You can ski pow with dustbin lids but when its variable, crusty or firm then you start to appreciate the all round abilities. I’ve skied this on heavy touring boots but the combination of stability, ease of pivot and dampening has meant I’m happy to go out on this in the mountains with my Scarpa Evo F1.

Photos by Michelle Blaydon on the Shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul above the Mer de Glace.

dsc00586dsc00616dsc00617dsc00636

Black Crows Skis is the Cult  brand in France, conceived by Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet and born in Chamonix. The name derives from the friendly mountain crow the Choucas,  the legend being each bird is the soul of a dead alpinist or skier. Treat them with affection next time one pays you a visit on a airy ridgeline. Chamonix lays claim to be ‘the World Capital for Skiing and Mountaineering’ and whether you love or hate it, there is no denying that its the ultimate testing ground for high performance, big mountain skiing. The guys in the ski films like Glen Plake, Scott Schmidt, Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair, Seth Morrison, Sam Favret, Aurelian Ducroz, Oli Herren, Nate Wallace, Alex Pittin have all served time perfecting their arts in many different disciplines of skiing before coming to Chamonix and undertaking a long apprenticeship in the unforgiving big mountains  before they could turn on the style on the big test piece routes. This ain’t Alaska where you throw caution to the wind and tomahawk a line and walk away unscathed, make a mistake here and the next second will probably be your last. Its the perfect testing ground, equipment has to perform and withstand abuse (dry skiing, morraines rock, roots) or it gets left in the cellar.

The Corvus has been Black Crows Sovereign ski since the brands conception, and with each year they have added some extra width to drive the market trend. The Freebird version is touring orientated ski  that has been lightened to help you get up the hills and for a 109 underfoot ski at around the 3.6 kg mark, its boasts a lot of performance.

Like its full weight brother, this is a ski that likes to charge, and the harder you push the more impressed would will be with it stability as it shows its calibre. You can ski pow with dustbin lids but when its variable, crusty or firm then you start to appreciate the all round abilities. I’ve skied this on heavy touring boots but the combination of stability, ease of pivot and dampening has meant I’m happy to go out on this in the mountains with my Scarpa Evo F1.

I rated the ski on the 10 qualities I look for in a ski:

corvus-freebird-2016-evaluation

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screw Review

In the mountaineering and ski touring World weight means everything. Its simple physics that the amount of energy to elevate an object is equal to mass x gravity x height raised, hence why we are all obsessed with shaving a 100 grams off one bit of kit or another. For example, in theory to raise 1 kg 1000 m in elevation take 1 x 9.81 x 1000 = 9801 J or 9.81 kJ and that does not account for significant the additional frictional losses from walking or skinning or wind. So it can be seen that carrying one kilogram less will easily result in the energy from an extra bar or two being saved, plus the added benefit of moving faster and more easily and saving the accumulated strain on your neck, shoulders and spine.

In the last 2-3 years we have seen big advances in ski touring boots and skis. Right now a pair of boots weighing 2.4 kgs skis 90% as well as a 4 kg pair of boots did 3 years ago and the same is true with freeride touring skis loosing 1 kg/pair over the last few years – thats a 25% weight reduction.

Our attention to our kit should not stop there, every item of your gear clothing, hardnesses and equipment should be scrutinised for pack size, weight, is it overkill, can I make do with something lighter? This goes for clothing, harnesses, backpacks, crampons, axes, ropes, etc. As an engineer the downside of reducing the weight of an item is the fatigue life is reduced, and for the majority of us fatigue from every day use is the governing factor in the design life of an object. For those of you who are heavy on kit then the overall strength of an item will be the governing factor and maybe going light is not right for you.

Petzl have done an amazing job with their  Laser Speed Light ice screws reducing the weight from 192 g for a steel 17 cm screw to 101 g for the ‘light’ version, thats a weight saving of 91 g per screw. Thats 1.1 kg saving for 12 screws in a cascade rack! So how is this possible?  Ice screws have been around in the steel form for decades with the main innovation being the introduction of winder handles for quick placement and removal. About 20 years ago there was a short period where titanium made and entry on the scene with larger diameter tubes but these were difficult to sharpen and poor quality control of materials from Russia often meant these were unreliable. Petzl have taken a step back and have engineered a screw with an aluminium hanger and tube with hard steel teeth bonded to the tube to cut through glacial ice. Petzl technical spec states there is unlimited lifetime on laser speed light so there are extremely  confident in the new design.

So far I have used mine for climbing alpine faces where neve and ice are present or for ski touring where I’m most likely to use them for an anchor on glacial ice or for creating an abalakov v-thread anchor to abseil from. For ski touring its brilliant as 99% of the ice screw is just a precaution for glacial travel and rarely used in anger and I have not noticed any difference in performance between the ‘light’ and the steel versions.

Price wise they are only a few euro more than the steel version so make sure you check them out.

DSC05058

17 cm with bue winder handle and 21 cm with the green handle. 13 cm are also available

DSC05059

The steel teeth on the laser speed light

DSC05056

17 cm laser speed light on the scales at 101 g

DSC05057

17 cm steel laser speed on the scales at 192 g. Thats 91 g heavier than the light.

DSC04857

Equalised double abolokov in the shaded cooler ice backed up by the ice screw.

12752116_10207394017039963_1466449635_o

Skiing in wild places with exposure after coming through an icy mixed section

DSC_9004gearing-up

September 2015. Me racking up under the Grandes Jorasses photo : Ben Tibbetts

DSC_9404jorasses-ross

Heading up the initial ice field on Michto – Polish, Grandes Jorasses. Photo Ben Tibbetts

DSC_9117jorasses-ross

Its starting to get steeper now. Photo Ben Tibbetts

DSC_9296jorasses-ross

Shacking out on a small bulge. Photo Ben Tibbetts

Grandes Jorasses Michto Ben Tibbets-5

Ben Tibbetts enjoying the sunshine on the summit ridge