Ski Bums – The Photo Album

For me the last few years have been completely dedicated to skiing, following the snow around the globe in the eternal hunt for powder as the seasons change and clocking up close to 200 days a year. This search has taken me to Patagonia, Chile, Japan, Norway, New Zealand and included 2 major exploratory expeditions to Baffin Island. This has been a phenomenal experience, meeting and making many close friends who share the same obsession and also clocking up 36 first descents in the process. Glen Plake said ‘skiings a life sentence’ and those smooth weightless turns as you float down a mountain amongst a sea of slough is something most of us can’t get enough of. Its always been interesting to see how the rest of the World rank the Brits pretty far down the skiing ratings and since we aren’t an alpine nation its not surprising. Without a heritage of producing big mountain skiers it means that opportunities for funding ski trips are few and far between in comparison say with alpine climbing. Hopefully that will change with time and I live to see some Brits skiing AK in TGR or MSP films. To emphasise that point, I write as I find myself without a clothing sponsor for the first time in five years!

A big thanks goes to my current sponsors for helping me realise many of my dreams and going out their way to help and support me; Black Crows Skis, Scarpa, PLUM fixation, Julbo Eyewear, Birdwhere, Lyon Equipment, Petzl, Lenz Products, Exped, Hydrapak and Davide at Concept Pro Shop Chamonix. Another big thanks goes to Berghaus, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Arctic Club and Craig Stenhouse who helped fund the trips.

After so much time feeding the rat its now time for a change in emphasis as I continue with the guides training with a view to being able to share some of these fantastic experiences in the future with clients.

So here is a collection of photographs which reflect the incredible days shared with friends that have a particularly special place in my heart.

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Jim Lee slaying Grand Envers in a metre of fresh. Aiguille du Midi

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Adam Fabrikant a few turns in to the sunny east face of Mt Darwin, New Zealand. Tom Grant and myself hooked up the amiable Americans Noah Howell, Beau Fredlund Adam Fabrikant and Billy Whass to share a few turns and a lot of laughs while down under.

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Michelle Blaydon under biblical skies in Lofoten

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Polar Star Couloir looking majestic on the Beluga Spire, right after we skied it. Dubbed ‘The Best Couloir in the World’ by McLean and Barlage, its certainly and icon of lust

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Don’t be fooled by the warm evening light, brass monkeys at camped on the sea ice under Beluga Spire. With Michelle Blaydon and Marcus Waring

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Morgan Salen skiing to Minna Rihiimaki on the shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul. The snow was so good we skinned up the 45 degree approach couloir.

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Bird speed flying over the Frendo serac the same day we skied it

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The incredible 1500 m high north facing wall of the 70 km long Gibbs Fiord in Baffin

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Marcus Waring with a 1000 m to go, Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

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Oli Willet, Tournier Spur entry to Col du Plan

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Mika Merikanto, Ross Hewitt and Stephane Dan, Mallory, North Face Aiguille du Midi

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Michelle Blaydon in a very deep Bonatti Couloir

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Powder Panda getting over caffeinated for Palud lowers

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Roger Knox, Arete Plate, Aiguille Rouge

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Minna Rihiimaki, in the starting gate, Aiguille du Midi. It has been know for her to pose naked here!

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All time conditions on the Para Face. I miss those days.

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A first descent on the complex South Face of Mt Darwin, NZ. We took the steep headwall to the spur with a jump through the rocks near the bottom. As usual Tom got over excited and nearly skied off the bottom cliff. Photo credit: Ryan Taylor

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Just landed at Tasman hut and we sneaked a quick afternoon shot down the diagonal in the background. A nice wee leg loosener.

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Oo-La-La, Bird out of his cage and mind. Frendo Spur, Chamonix.

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Tom and myself started the day at Tasman hut about 20 km up glacier beyond the white ice in the background. This gruelling 9 hour torture session is not recommended except for the masochists out there. We didnt have a satphone to call a chopper to the hut and ended up doing this walk twice, being pretty dumb and not learning the mistake first time round.

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Argh. Hours in the pain locker. Tasman morraines

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Beau Fredlund harvesting perfect corn on Mt Hamilton, New Zealand

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After skiing a first descent on Elie de Beaumont, we got stranded in the fog trying to get from a glacier bench to the Tasman. Finally a window appeared and we took this ‘Brenva’ Spur type feature home

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Skiing a first descent on Elie de Beaumont’s West Face as cloud threatens from the West. We kept getting bumped off choppers so it was after noon when we got to Tasman hut forcing us to haul ass up Elie for 3 pm corn time. Tom Grant skiing on 45 degree slopes

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Mount Cook’s stunning east face illuminated under full moon. This will be one of the modern ski classics of New Zealand

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Dawn hits as we start the climb up the east face of Mt Cook

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On the East Face of Cook with uniform compact powder. A modern classic in the making

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Vivid, rugged and very beautiful – myself taking in the landscape above Mueller and Pukaki

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For once the wind wasn’t howling and we were able to enjoy a morning coffee without everything blowing away. Tom and myself at Wyn Irwin Hut

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Michelle Blaydon and Marcus Waring at base camp in Gibbs Fiord. This first trip to Baffin was rock n roll style as we travelled fast over hundreds on kilometers using kites, armed with rifles and pump action shot guns for bear protection,  and skiing every line that took our fancy

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Sheltering from a biting wind a cooking up some hot soup under the magical Great Sail Peak in Stewart Valley of Baffin Island. L-R Michelle Blaydon, Ross Hewitt and Marcus Waring

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The hard part of Arctic travel – sled hauling. Luckily good tunes and magnificent scenery provide suitable mind distractions to the 120 kg load

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North West Passage, a 1200 m. McLean – Barlage classic. Had to be done

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After a massive 10 hour walk out down the Tasman moraines we woke up feeling it and went for extra everything on our cooked breakfasts, washed down by a litre of cappuccino

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Michelle Blaydon smiling at the relative warm evening light on the plateau of Scott Island, Baffin. Descending into the fiords is like going into a chest freezer as the temp drops about 30 degrees

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We were skiing some sketchy icy section on Tournier Spur when a wooshing noise spooked us. A moment later that speed flyer went through the middle of our group. Scary

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Return to base camp after a day new routing on Scott Island. It always amazed me that the tent disappeared from view on flat sea ice once you were over a kilometer away

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Exit couloir on the Mallory, Aiguille du Midi. All the stress has gone by this point and all that remains is an easy 50 degree shot to the bar

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Marcus Waring in the 1100 m Polar Star Couloir, Baffin Island

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The late, great Liz Daley on one of those relaxed Palud days where we gourged on coffee and powder in equal amounts. Always missed, never forgotten

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Andy Houseman and Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet Glacier

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Myself on another massive Baffin line. This one came in at a hefty 1450 m vertical, 5000 ft

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May and a predawn start for the Diable Couloir with Tom Grant. We climbed the icefall, bailed due to the heat and then put plan B into action – skin to the top of Tacul and drop into the Grand Gerva – that saved the day

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Tom and Marcus with the 1500 m East Face of Walker Citadel where Superunknown is situated. We were on our way back from Mugs Stump Spire and just chilling in the sun before hauling through the night to Ford Wall

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Sunshine and shade as Minna makes those special turns on the North Face of Aiguille di Midi

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A first descent on Mugs Stump Spire. We also skied the background left hand line which was 1500 m to the top of Walker Citadel

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Cedric Bernardini, Bird, Brett Lotz and myself as the Foehn threatens on Eugster. Cedric’s eyes give away the seriousness of the situation while the visiting Brett is oblivious to the shit storm thats about to happen

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Caught in a Foehn storm on Eugster, Aiguilled du Midi. Bernardini and Lotz on the wrong side of the slough trains. One of those days you hopefully regroup at the bar

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Polar travelling for free (low calorie expenditure) using kites in Baffin

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After a 2 am start from a low camp, Im getting ready for my first turn down the East Face of the Matterhorn at 7 am

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Fresh water ice on the isolated Stewart Lake, Stewart Valley, Baffin

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Me on good corn on the East Face of the Matterhorn and carrying my SLR camera

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Me traversing the Aiguille Verte. We climbed Couturier and descended Whymper. What you cant see is the strong gusty wind that was trying to pluck us off the ridge. At the col we met Nate Wallace and Seth Morrison who had come up Whymper in downhill kit. With the snow staying frozen all they had to say was ‘you are going to struggle in touring kit’

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After a month on the ice we arrive cold and damp at Ellington Fiord hut after 10 hours on a komatik sled with 3 hours to go to get back to Clyde River. 2 of our friends are stuck in the fiords after 1 skidoo broke down and the responsibility for their safety as expedition leader weighs heavily on my mind. I’m completed beat after pushing my physical limits beyond the max trying to ski everything and mentally wanting to unwind. Deep in the Arctic rescue options are limited to skidoos

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Skiing in grand locations

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Ski kiting to the lines was run and saved loads of precious calories. The ramp next to the wing was my favourite line we skied. Big wide open exposed slopes led into a twisting couloir exit

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Showing Chipie how to load our 1942 303 enfield in case we get attacked by a bear. A nice light reliable weapon, perfect for skiing

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Enrico Mossetti with the slabs of the Droites in the background

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After a couple days waiting on weather we get dropped at the Tasman hut for our final hit of the trip, aiming to ski a first descent on the South Face of Mount Darwin. Tom trying to pull me down to his level!

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Another monster line in Gibbs Fiord on Baffin. in 2016 we were blessed with regular snow falls providing primo ski conditions. Wading up the lines was hard work!

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Playing mini golf above Plateau hut in NZ

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Approach to the East Ridge of Cook with her East Face and Tasman’s Syme Ridge behind

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Gazing up the Hooker Valley with my ‘rig’. Adventure skiing in NZ is not a light affair once bivi kit and stoves are added to the pack

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Late afternoon golden rays on the Mothership in my backyard

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The beautiful fan at the start of the Gervasutti. Tom Grant negotiating the cornice

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October, preparing for NZ

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A late night session to savour the evening light in Crosshairs Couloir in Steward Valley. We had spent the day triple carrying across faceted moraine and finally decided it was time to go skiing to boost moral

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The East Face of the Matterhorn after we skied it

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Stormy weather in Couloir de la Dent Jaune, Dents du Midi, Switzerland

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Michelle Blaydon at the cute Dents du Midi refuge

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Nate Wallace in the steep entry to the Grand Gervasutti

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Tof Henry in the Col du Plan exit couloir, North Face of Aiguille du Midi

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Enrico Mosetti making steep turns on Col de la Verte with the North Face of Les Droites behind

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Extreme coffee drinking while sheltering out the wind at the extrance to the 1200 m Mel Gibbs couloir, Gibbs Fiord, Baffin Island

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Steep and techy as Enrico Mossetti negotiates the lower ramp off Col de la Verte

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Michelle in the approach couloir to Aiguille du Tacul

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1100 m of May spring snow in Gibbs Fiord, Baffin. Another first descent.

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Summit of Mont Blanc on a frigid day late May as we head off down the Bosses Ridge and prepare to make the big turn left down the 2000 m West Face. Exciting times.

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The West Face of Mont Blanc

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Tom Grant dropping into the Mont Mallet Diagonal

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Happy days. This was my final day in Cham in 2016 before I headed to Baffin Island and I wanted a big day on the Midi but things hung in the balance as the opening time continually got pushed back as they dealt with the overnight snow. When it finally opened mid morning we managed to ski Col du Plan, West Couloir and Salopar.

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My team mate and good buddy Enrico Mosetti on the lower ramp of Col de la Verte

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Me skiing into the top of Breche Tacul with the North Face of Grandes Jorasses providing the backdrop

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Col du Plan in all time conditions

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Enrico Mosetti in the Brenva cirque with Col Moore behind while Italy sleeps under a blanket on cloud

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The Plan de l’Aiguille at its best. Michelle Blaydon in perfect pow

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Skiing on the Saudan route on the West Face of Mont Blanc. The seracs threaten the routes to the right and also the exit of our route focusing the mind on putting some distance between you and the face.

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Good snow on the Mallory as Tom drops into the steep couloir off the tower

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Stunning days on Lofoten as I get a look down into the line we want to ski

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I did a traverse of Les Courtes solo on day from the NE into the South Face. The ridge along the top of the North Face was slabby on one side and corniced on the other so slow going. Plus it was -30C but the skiing was good!

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Minna and Bird in the wee Gerva of Tour Ronde on the way to ski the North Face top down

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My turns on the Cordier Gabarrou of Les Courtes

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Playtime off Plan de l’Aiguille back in the days when it snowed

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Johnny Collinson spine riding in Gressoney

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Happy days. Mikko Heimonen on the walk out from Mont Blanc’s west face late May

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De Masi spine riding Palud lowers

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Oli Willet exiting Col du Plan. The shrund was like a catchers mitt

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Palud. Deep. Jeremy Bogen

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Bird. Midi North Face

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Me contemplating the steep rocky, icy section from Tournier Spur into Col du Plan and working out the acceleration on 50 plus degrees before committing to straighlining through the gap

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Flat light storm days in Lofoten confined us to couloirs  but I wasn’t complaining

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On the Mallory with Tom below

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Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet glacier

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Maybe a thing of the past. Deep days on the Plan with no one

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Late at night. Michelle Blaydon in Crosshairs Couloir, Stewart Valley, Baffin

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Michelle taking it all in, Lofoten

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Minna Riihimaki checking out conditions before we commit to skiing the North Face

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Michelle on the volcano  Llaima

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Dave Searle learning the steep game and making tentative turns on Col des Courtes in his first skimo season back in 2011

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Bird slaying it on the North Face of the Midi

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Me high on the West Face of Mont Blanc

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The Frey Hut and its superb backyard, Bariloche, Argentina

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Sunset from the Cosmiques hut as we prepare to go to the Brenva Spur

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Minna, Michelle and Cedric in Lofoten

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The road to Lanin, Argentina

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More than a lifetime of exploration back there in New Zealand

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Me amongst the granite spires of the Frey area, Bariloche

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Final rays at sundown on the Midi

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Searching out the entrance of Couloir de la Perche with the Griaz Glacier behind

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Tomasso Cardelli in the Vallencent

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Si Christy chest deep in what was dubbed Clit Route due to the topography. Photo Chipie Windross. Probably the shot of the trip for me

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On the easy ground of the Miage after crossing the chaotic glacier behind on our way down from skiing Mont Blanc’s West Face

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On stove duty at 5 am in Gibbs Fiord. I needed an early start to catch the sun on the 1300 m Canton Couloir before it refroze.

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The perfect backdrop as Searle drops in off Tour Ronde

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On the Brenva Spur with a snow lynx track on the crest. I hope it enjoyed it as much as us

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Perfect snow in this Baffin masterpiece allowing me to ski in front of the slough

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Bouldering at Castle Hill after 3 weeks in the Cook Range skiing

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Griffin Post riding pillows in Gressoney

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Going for a flyby of the Caroline Face to check conditions

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Gotta have a Midi North Face bin shot somewhere in your collection. Bird waiting for his hangover to clear.

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Summit of Lanin with Michelle in volcano country of South America

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Seth Morrison opening Col d’Entreves

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Tom Grant in the Fransson line, Footstool. We used this to stretch our legs after several days travelling and get a feel for the snowpack. What you cant see is the severe gale force winds that are a big feature of NZ skiing.

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Michelle Blaydon lining up to pass through the choke on this first descent in Lofoten

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Dawn on the Midi

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On a fly past the South Face of Darwin. This was the closest look we got of it before deciding it was a goer.

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A cheaky ice bulge guarded the entrance to this 500 m virgin couloir in Lofoten. Well worth taking a second tool for making it all to easy.

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Aperol spritzers at one of my favourite bars in the world, Riva del Garda, Lake Garda Italy.

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Sylvain Renaud in Couloir Cache leading into the Brenva Cirque

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Luca Pandolfi, Col d’Entreves

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Me on the aesthetic Tacul shoulder

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Si Christy heading off on a 1200m shot to the fiord in Baffin

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Michelle Blaydon en route to Marbree one blustery day

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De Masi looking for something to make the Toula more interesting

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A psyched team of Evan Cameron, Chipie Windross and Si Christy doing a final repack of food into week bags before heading into the Baffin Fiords. Somehow Evan persuaded Chipie to swap out the normal sausage for ‘damn hot’ sausages which our guts weren’t that enamoured with and often had us sprinting across the fiord to drop our trousers

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Me enjoying perfect conditions on the Tacul shoulder

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Sunshine powder days on the Toula with Davide de Masi

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My best buddy from school days, Paul van Lamsveerde, on a late afternoon down Cosmiques and spooky avi conditions on the Para face.  Paul passed away in a crevasse fall on Grands Montets in 2013

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Geitgalien, Lofoten

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Full moon silhouette of the Chamonix Aiguilles

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The Merlet trail with its stunning backdrop

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The Brits getting stuck into Digital Crack

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When Brevent is good, its simply the best. Michelle Blaydon about to drop

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Camp 2 in Gibbs Fiord. The couloir centre picture ran 1000 m to a col behind the tower

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The rock spires and couloirs of Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

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The Frendo Spur right after we skied it by the Hausseman Boulevard variation

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A very happy team of Pandolfi, Briggs, Rihiimaki, Bird, Hewitt after skiing the Frendo in AK snow conditions

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Skiing miles of white ice on the Tasman to avoid carrying any more weight on my back

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Sundown behind the prelimary points on the Dent de Requin after a dawn to dusk day

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Jim Lee, Roger Knox and Yann Rousset wading to Grands Envers on a rare day the Kuros found deep

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Jackpot. 1200 m of boot deep powder on day 1 in Baffin. Si Christy skiing with Chipie above

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Emerald waters in the Arctic waters of Lofoten

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Deep. Jim Lee with overhead blower skiing towards Roger Knox on Grands Envers.

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We got lucky with clear skies on several nights to watch the Lofoten light show

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Another one from Mont Mallet

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Norway and the beautiful bay that surrounds the Lofoten Ski Lodge

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A tired and happy crew after a 15 hour day skiing the West Face of Mont Blanc. L-R Ross Hewitt, Mikko Heimonen and Jesper Petersson

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A rare opportunity to sit outside Wyn Irwin hut on windless morning. Sefton and Footstool behind.

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Big Country under the Dent de Geant seracs after skiing Mallet diagonal

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Sunrise hits Aiguille du Midi while we climb Mont Blanc for the West Face

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Tom Grant harvesting corn on the Brenva Spur lowers with Col Moore behind.

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5 am start in Gibbs Fiord to go corn skiing in a sunny line

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Our camper van in NZ packed to the brim with those amazing green Navis skis under the bed. Luckily Tom is pocket sized which left plenty of space for me to stretch out.

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Enrico Mosetti above the arete on the Brenva Spur

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Dolomite days with Minna Riihimaki and Christian Dallapozza  on the Cristallo as we decided to head to the Vallencent Couloir

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Dawn catches us on Col de la Fourche en route to ski the Brenva Spur

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Quite possibly my all time favourite run as a ski mountaineer on the West Face of Mont Blanc

My 5 Favourite Places to Ski in the World part 3 – My Home, Chamonix Mont Blanc

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First please accept my apologies for the delay in getting this post up. The Alps has seen some of the best early season conditions that Ive had the pleasure of experiencing in 20 years and its been really fun to ski with visiting American’s Johnny Collinson and Griffin post and share some of our favourite spots with them.

An article on ski mountaineering wouldn’t be complete without a mention of my hometown Chamonix. Hailed as the birthplace of alpinism, it is the superbowl of steep skiing, where boundaries are continually pushed due to the healthy competition amongst the hoardes of very strong skiers who make the pilgrimage there to either learn and grow or cut their teeth on the established test pieces. Easy (lift) access allows the big faces to be studied close up until its judged enough snow has stuck for them to be skiable. These are serious committing undertakings, fall you die terrain, and the grave yards will testify about all those who made a slight mistake in their quest. These are the real steeps rad, gnarly, complex, and to be given utmost repect.

In an area with thousands of lines it could be hard to chose one which stands out above all others. The 800 m 50 degree Gervautti Couloir on Tacul is a beauty, the 1100 m 55 degree Couturier Couloir on La Verte is definitely up there. But for me I will go with Trevor Peterson’s and Eric Pehota’s simple philosophy of the big line on the big mountain and that means the himalayan sized West Face of Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak.

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The West Face drops over 2000 m from a start point 4810 m (15780 ft). It’s a line that comes into condition late May or early June once the snow starts sticking to the ice cap high on Mont Blanc and as you ski over the upper convexity you will feel all of that exposure! The upper pitch alone is 1200 m and can be skied clean, no ropes, no tricks, just great skiing. If you then take the Quintino Sella hut couloir, the change in aspect will mean its just softening up perfectly and the 600 m exit couloir will take just a few minutes. A quick traverse of the Dome Glacier and you take the line of the summer path down onto the Miage Glacier where you glide down past all the mega couloirs under Petit Mont Blanc. The final walk down Val Veni is charming where the smells of the grass and spring flowers are a strong contrast to the snow and ice in the high mountain and about 15 hours after starting your day, you arrive at the road head tired and very happy to have skied one of the best ski lines in the World.

Sylvain Saudan did the first descent of this line and by stroke of coincidence I was lucky enough to bump into him the day afterwards while I was out mountain biking and we shared a few memories of this incredible line.

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My 5 Favourite Places to Ski in the World – part 2 Patagonia and Chile

In the second week of this five part series we visit some of the finest spots of Patagonia and Chile.

This trip was ten years in the coming for me. Getting the right person, at the right time in the right place proved difficult. I was working on a large engineering project in Brazil that summer and travelled from there to meet Michelle in Bariloche. From there we followed the snow along with many other fellow skiers who we crossed paths with several times in both Argentina and Chile.

The light, wind, ruggedness, red wine, steaks, monkey puzzles and friendly people made this trip one that will guarantee I go back.  Everyone should ski a volcano at some point in their life and the fantastic Frey Refugio comes with its own reputation as a freeride destination.

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Michelle in the vapours and walking between the cauliflowers on Llaima volcano

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Dropping into another sweet run above the Frey hut amongst the granite spires of Patganonia with Bariloche’s lake Rio Negra in the distance

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The volcano Llaima and the beautiful characteristic Monley Puzzle or Auracaria trees

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Skiing on Llaima with moody afternoon light

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Wall art in Bariloche

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Tree warmers?

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Dropping off the back of Cerro Catedral en route to the Frey

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Ross enjoying a fast run into Frey

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Wall art in Pucon

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Quietly contented and very shy

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Villarica and plumes of volcanic vapours

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Summit selfie shot on Villarica

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Michelle on Villarica with an abundance of riming near the crater rim

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Good low angled skiing lower on Villarica with the deep contrast of the volcanic landscape

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Michelle on Llaima volcano and the surrounding landscape

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The Frey hut at sunset with its stunning backdrop

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The Frey hut is nestled below the rock spires with access to a group of valleys providing different skiing options. Its also low enough to escape the worst Patagonian wind which destroys the snow for skiing.

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Ross Hewitt on a line directly above the hut

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Cosy nights at the Frey for enjoying the pizza and wine

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Loads of variety between open slopes, faces and couloirs. We found the best snow at Frey

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Matt Livingstone shredding

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Me shredding

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The road to the Argentinian – Chilean border and the 3700 m volcan Lanin

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Lanin offers 2000 m of vert and has a 1000 m cosmique like couloir from the summit which we were aiming for

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The military concrete hut at 2800 m provides shelter for the night en route up the mountain splitting the climb into 2 days.

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We spent the night with fellow travellers Brodie Leven and Adam Clark who had a faulty gas cylinder and were happy to have our stove to use.  Michelle and myself had travelled to South America without sleeping bags and the ones we borrowed in San Martin were bigger that our packs and pretty cold.

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Dawn hit Lanin as we leave the hut

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Michelle just below the summit

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The stunning contrast between snowcapped peaks and the lakes

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Michelle and myself on the summit above the volcanic and lake district landscape of Chile

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Ross Hewitt skiing the north east couloir of Lanin

Verbier Opening Day

We went over to Verbier for its opening day and enjoyed a fantastic day of endless powder – here is a little edit from the day.  Lets hope it stays cold now! The ski season has got off to an amazing start this year after the last two dry years. I started skiing again on the Midi about a month ago and in the last two weeks Chamonix in particular got a load of snow.

My 5 Favourite Places to Ski in the World

This is the first in a series of five weekly articles which discuss my 5 favourite places to ski in the world.

I was recently asked what my 5 favourite ski lines were.  Thats a toughie. What makes a line great? The difficulty, the aesthetics of the line, the quality of the snow, skiability, or the overall experience you had on it? Some of the lines we skied in Alaska sure were fast, furious and a heap of fun but then I didn’t always earn those turns benefiting from the aid of a heli. Does that make a difference? Not really, its the same as any lift but for this article I have excluded Alaska as my experiences there in the Chugach, Heneys and Alaska range are a decade out of date. Why havent’t I been back to the velvet snow there??

The line has to be aesthetic, that goes without saying, and off the big mountain. It also has to have high skiability. What I mean by that is low reliance on abseils and maximum focus on skiing. Skiing is all about the sensation of turning, the control of the acceleration as gravity assists your descent and the flow state your mind can enter. Skiability generally is inversely proportional to difficulty. For example, a popular Chamonix test piece like the Mallory under the Midi cables is psychologically and technically challenging, but its also rocky and I’ve seen teams do as many as 9 abseils in poor conditions breaking the fluidity of a ski descent. I avoid getting caught up in that climbers game of chasing grades and go ski where the good snow is. Good snow can make a hard route ski well and easy, while poor conditions may mean you have the most harrowing marginal experience of your life leaving you burning a lot of hard earned cash at the bar afterwards to recover from the mental trauma. Aside from the snow, the overall experience I have on a route is heavily influenced by the people I share the experience with. So the ultimate line for me is the aesthetic one off that huge peak, which no reliance on abseils, great snow and a bunch of good friends to share the ride with.

Choosing 5 of the best lines has been so difficult so I finally settled upon selecting 5 of the must ski mountaineering areas of the World. There are all different, unique, and utterly brilliant in their own ways, varying from adventure skiing in the coldest, remotest area of the world where bringing an Everest down suit and a high tolerance for suffering is mandatory, to the more relaxed and accessible ski touring opportunities and fine dining that Lofoten Ski Lodge offers with everything else there is in between. The skiing isn’t restricted to the northern hemisphere either, every skier needs something to do when summer round and the quest for powder may take you to the other side of the planet. There is something for everyone here and hopefully a few things that might inspire of create ideas for future trips. I grew up reading book’s like Paul Pritchard’s ‘Deep Play’ or Chris Bonnington’s ‘Quest for Adventure’. I never imagined in my wildest dreams of ever going to Baffin, let alone to ski first descents there, or end up having Chris Bonnington as a Berghaus team mate!

So this is the first in a series of five weekly articles which discuss my 5 favourite places to ski in the world.

No. 1 .The Northern Hemisphere – Lofoten Islands, Artic Norway.

The magical archipelago of the Lofoten islands is located at 68° north on the western seaboard of Norway. Despite being in the Arctic Circle, the presence of the Gulf Stream keeps the Arctic weather at bay and instead one should expect temperatures more akin to those found in Scotland and since its west coast means there is a lot of preceip or snow. We headed up there in mid March to benefit from colder snow and dark nights in which to view the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. There are many options for accommodation and we elected to stay at the beautiful Lofoten Ski Lodge that is run by the charming couple of Maren Eek Bistrup and IFMGA guide Seth Hobby. They provide a fantastic homely relaxed atmosphere that allows you to completely unwind and adjust to the natural rhythm of the days in the far north. Starting the day with a full breakfast, Seth then gives you the beta on the best places to ski or sorts you out with a guide, go skiing in some marvellous places, before coming back to the lodge for afternoon tea and waffles and then relaxing in the sauna with occasional paddle in the fiord to cool down. Then its time for a beer, an excellent diner, and finally marvelling at the northern lights to end the evening. Despite being in the Arctic Circle Lofoten is well served by good net work of roads and served by several airports at Bodo, Evenes, Svolvaer , or Leknes. Just pick up a car and go ski where you want!

 

 

Lofoten 1 Aurora Borealis Northern Lights

Every clear night we were treated to a light show outside Lofoten Ski Lodge

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Michelle eyeing up potential ski lines and just taking in the beauty of it all

Lofoten 3 Geitgalien by Ross Hewitt

Geitgalien’s classic south west couloir. We skied the snaking line to the right

Lofoten 4 Ross Hewitt new line Nilsvikinden

A small ice bulge blocks my way to a 500 m first descent

Lofoten 5 Minna Riihimaki and Michelle Blaydon by Ross Hewitt

Minna Riihimaki and Michelle Blaydon in gorgeous afternoon light

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Minna, Cedric and Michelle high on Geitgalien’s normal route

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Checking out the stunning view from Breitinden

Lofoten 8 Ross Hewitt first descent Nilsviktinden

Ross Hewitt opening a new line on Nilsvikteinden

Lofoten 9 Michelle Blaydon Geitgalien

Michelle Blaydon slaying the pow on Geitgalien under a moody sky

Lofoten 10 Cod run heads drying

Cod fishing is the main industry in Lofoten. Once the heads are dried they are ground into fish stock

Lofoten 11 Cod lampshades Lofoten Ski Lodge

Even the lampshades are made from cod!

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The idyllic setting for the Lofoten Ski Lodge

Lofoten 13 sandy surf beaches

Emerald waters and white sandy beaches with a backdrop of snowy mountains

Lofoten 14 Michelle Blaydon Unstad Beach

Michelle trying to slime me with some giant seaweed

Lofoten 15 Surfing at Unstad beach

Surfers enjoying the swell at Unstad beach on a cold, dark day

 

 

10 Tips to Improve Your Ski Boot Fitting Experience

  1. Chose the Right Type of Boot for the Job

Ideally I want a boot that offers race stiffness in the forward, lateral and aft directions, with a warm liner and enough space to stop my toes getting frostbite, has a walk mode, vibram sole, and weighs less than 1 kg per boot. Unfortunately this doesn’t exist so think really hard and carefully what you want a boot for. If you are doing a lot of uphill or multiday tours then the Evo F1 could be ideal, but if its more downhill orientated you will appreciate the support of the Freedom. I run a World Cup race boot, a Freedom RS, and Evo F1 and the Alien to cover everything from 160 kph runs on my GS skis to skinning up hills for training. Spend a little time contemplating what you really want the boot to do and where you are willing to compromise.

Also bear in mind that a rockered vibram sole is not compatible with traditional alpine downhill bindings and flat DIN soles should be used like those that come with the Scarpa Freedom. Some newer alpine bindings have a height adjustable anti-friction device at the toe that allows adjustment for the additional height between the rockered sole and the top of the toe piece. 

  1. Chose the Right Shell for Your Foot.

This may sound obvious but the boot that is most confortable in the shop may just be the one that has most room around your foot and may end up being the sloppiest to ski. The choice of shell should not be based on colours, brand loyalty or magazine reviews. Each manufacture moulds it boots around its own last and they are all slightly different. i.e. Scarpa’s last for ski boots is 102 mm wide across the forefoot and mid volume in the heal and arch areas whereas Dynafits last is 98 mm across the forefoot and is very low volume throughout. That means a narrow foot with skinny heals will work in the Dynafit whereas a medium to wide foot with normal heals will be better in the Scarpa. The stock shell is just a starting point, and if its confortable straight out the box then its probably too big or has too much volume for your foot. The correct shell length can be confirmed by removing the liner and placing your foot in the empty shell and with your toes just touching the front, there should be 1 cm between the heal and the shell. Remember that the liner will pack out through the moulding process and skiing, especially when the snow is heavy as you put more force through the boot to turn the ski. Once you have a shell that will provide a glove like fit, the boot fitter will heat the liners, put them back in the shell and then strap your feet into the liners while the moulding process goes on.

  1. Customising the Shell for Your Foot

Once the liner has been moulded, the next step is to customise the shell for any tight or pinch points you may feel. It may be you need to ski the boot for a few hours to work out what needs modified or things may be apparent straight away in the shop. By removing the liner and applying some marker paint to any bone spurs, bunions, or bulges on your foot and then putting your foot back into the shell where the marker paint will be transferred to the inside of the shell. The boot fitter will decide if he can create more room in this area by grinding the internal surface of the shell or if the shell needs ‘blown’ out – a process involving softening the plastic of the shell with a heat gun and then applying and holding pressure to that area with a press. This is usually an overnight process as the plastic in the shell has a strong memory. The various plastics respond differently with grilamid being the easiest to work with and pebax having a stronger memory to overcome. I’ve found I often have to repeat the blowing process on a pebax boot to get the result I want. I usually blow all my boots in the 6th metatarsal area and also at the heal due to bone spurs.

Don’t forget boots that fit well in the colder months may pinch your foot when it swells in the heat of the spring months requiring the shell to be pushed along the side. I find myself pushing my boots again in spring along the 6th metatarsal area since my feet get warm and swell up skiing north faces in mild temperatures between April and June.

If you are bow legged or have other alignment issues you will need to adjust the canting (verticality of the upper cuff). Most shells have the options to adjust forward lean. Before you crank it right forward to the most aggressive angle, see how much you can flex you lower leg forward with your foot flat on the floor. For most people have a more upright forward lean on the boot will allow them to flex forward and absord bumps. If the boots is already forcing you towards the extend of your flexibility, there is little range of motion left for you to flex, and you will end up skiing backseat.

  1. Customising the Insole

Firstly throw away the piece of cardboard that comes with the boot. Choose a footbed that will support your foot, closely fit the underside of your foot and provide good friction so foot movements result in instantaneous boot and ski movements. A good insole will also prevent the down force from tight buckles collapsing your foot and that burning lactate sensation which has you reaching to pop open the buckles at every opportunity. Superfeet or the more expensive moulded Conformables are a good investment and you may choose to get an electrically heated insole if you suffer from cold feet or are off on expedition (I recommend Lenz electrically heated socks nowadays as you can use them in any boot). I prefer Conformables and run them in all my boots. Superfeet have a little too much heal raise for my liking. Raising the heal from footbed/insole/binding ramp angle (the angle off the horizontal due to the heal being higher than the toes) used to be common to try and make people more aggressive over the front of the skis. However it does the exact opposite. Try it at home, place a book under your heals and I bet you stick your bum out to compensate. In skiing this would make you more backseat. Now try this, feet flat on the floor, lift your toes and notice your weight going forward. Push your toes into the ground and you’ll feel your weight going backseat again. Try lifting your toes when skiing to get that weight forward.

  1. Choosing the Liner

Surely the liner comes with the boot? Well it does but again you need to decide what you will do with the boot. If the intent is to do day tours you may have no specific requirements but if you are doing multi-day tours or expeditions then you will love Intuition closed cell foam liners. The closed cell structure does not absorb sweat so at the end of the day its easy to dry overnight in a hut or sleeping bag whereas a porous liner will stay saturated and may freeze without a direct heat source causing you major problems. There are other reasons why you may discard the stock liner. An Intuition Powerwrap is warmer, stiffer and will take some volume out of the boot, and the Intuition Pro Tour is designed specifically with that with a hinge point, rear stiffener and a choice of tongue stiffness’s.

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Scarpa’s boots come with Inuition Liners as stock

  1. Customising the Liner

It’s now time to get the liner thermo moulded to your anatomy. The boot fitter will place the liner in an oven at 200 F for around 10 minutes until the liner looses a little stiffness. It will then be placed in the shell and you’ll be asked to slide your foot into the liner. The boot fitter may have already placed some foam pads on any bone protuberances to create more space for them while the liners conforms to your anatomy. If you are ski mountaineering make sure you mould with toe caps in place to create a warm air space for your toes within the boot. Its essential that you get the heal firmly into the back of the boot and you’ll be asked to stomp down on the heal which will create a nice heal cup to hold your heal securely – you don’t want heal lift touring and any lateral heal movement will make it tough to smear the tail of the ski when you are buttering the turns off. The boot fitter will crank up the buckles and ask you to walk around and flex for ten minutes or so. And that’s it, well, almost. Final adjustments to remove volumecan be done by adding customised shapes of self-adhesive foam to any problem areas. In the photo below you can see where I added 2 mm thick green foam around the heal to get the glove fit I was after with my skinny Achilles. These simple bits of foam can transform a boot from almost unskiable to world class so bear that in mind and if you think you’ll need some once the liner packs out ask the bootfitter to give you a sheet to take away. In the second photo below you’ll see how I put foam ontop of my foot to take volume out around the ankle to get the heal locked down in the boot – super important with modern skis where you can use heal pressure to control the ski at the end of turns. Alos if you have low volume foot like mine and your liner has a lacing option, use it.

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Customising the fit of your liner with self adhesive foam & use of laces

Read more about moulding liners here: http://www.powder.com/gear/gear-hack-how-to-cook-your-liners-in-an-oven/ – GpEHChwuVVLvCYdh.97

Finally I am going to mention a few other things I use to get that glove like boot fit. Don’t forget boots that fit well in the colder months may pinch your foot when it swells in the heat of the spring months requiring the shell to be pushed along the side.

  1. Spoilers – these typically come with alpine boots and are a wedge of plastic that velcros to the top back of the liner to take out any space. Skiing is a very dynamic sport and when you want to put power on the back of the boot the last thing you want is a delay as your leg chances angle to move from shin contact to calf contact. My calf muscles also disappear as I go from the climbing and biking season into the ski season so it something I introduce as my anatomy changes through the season.
  1. Volume Reducers

These are flat incompressible foam or rubber insoles that you place under your moulded insole to take out some volume. Typically 2 or 3 mm but if you need more a cork board might be the solution.

  1. Heal lifts

An incompressible foam or rubber wedge under the heal to take out room. I don’t like these much as it changes the ramp angle – its remarkable that you will notice a change of a couple of mm in heal height causing you to be more backseat or thrown forward – until you get used to it and subconsciously compensate.

Read more about tech binding delta (ramp) here: https://www.wildsnow.com/10733/get-up-rise-up-stand-up-for-your-ramp/

  1. Heal Space Frame

These cheap plastic frames create a more pronounced heal pocket by inserting over the outside of the liner. They do push your foot forward and you’ll notice more pressure on your toes. I also find that while they are good for downhill, they tend to give me blisters along the sides of my Achilles and so I always use adhesive foam.

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