Sunday, 12 January 2014

Black Diamond Kandersteg Ice Climbing Festival

Last weekend before heading back to the UK after Christmas in Chamonix Josie and I made the quick dash over to Kandersteg for the annual Black Diamond Ice Climbing Festival.  In its 15th year the festival centers around a dry tooling competition which attracts many of the world’s top competition climbers.  Competitions aren't really my cup of tea, mainly because I wouldn't be able to get off the ground on the routes! But I still find it really inspiring to see such talented climbers doing what they do best and enjoy watching the finals each year.  Josie who hadn't seen any competitions before was mesmerized by the strength and fluidity of the competitors.

Getting upside down in the men's and women's finals
The festival is a lot more than just the competition though with lots of clinics running through the day, gear testing and some great slideshows.  We went to see Ines Papert who gave a really good slideshow with some amazing photography and film footage from a number of trips around the world.  I find it hard enough giving a slide show in my mother tongue and can’t imagine giving it in my second/third language (well I’d have to learn one first…).   But more importantly the whole weekend is just a great get together and a chance to meet up with old friends and meet lots of like minded and interesting folk.  All culminating in a big party after the competition finals on Saturday night.

A view down the valley from Kandersteg

There wasn't much ice around this year so instead of a days ice climbing on Sunday Josie decided to give me my first introduction to skate skiing on the endless Km’s of cross country ski tracks that Kandersteg has to offer.  Yes, a lot harder than it looks!  Once I’d got a vague bit of technique sorted and I’m using vague in a very loose sense of the definition I soon found why everyone raves about how good the workout is.  Don’t think I've ever gasped for air so hard going uphill and I finished the day with aching legs, arms and lungs.  Still to get the downhill sussed though.  Lets just say it was a good job there were some big run outs on some of the downhill corners as my ‘sod the snowplough and go for it’ attitude often ended up with me using them like gravel traps on a race track a number of times!  I would love to do more but unfortunately there’s a distinct lack of snow and cross country track in Nidderdale so guess I’ll have to stick to the running and cycling for the time being, too many sports to do….

Josie heading round the Kandersteg tracks
A big thank you to Christian and the rest of the Black Diamond team for a great weekend in Kandersteg.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A White Christmas

I headed back out to Chamonix for a guaranteed white Christmas again this year and although it wasn't quite a white as last year the snow did arrive just in time to give some good days on the skis. At the start of the trip conditions were mediocre to say the least but it was great just to be back out on the skis again after 8 months. I really had forgotten just how much I enjoy skiing, its just plain and simple fun!

Loving skiing again and enjoying the powder up at Brevent. (photo - Josie Allen)
Courmayeur was giving the best conditions early on in the trip and on top of that the coffee is so much better and cheaper there than in Chamonix.  So for various reasons there were quite a few trips through the magic tunnel, aka Le Tunnel du Mont Blanc – yes it really does transport you to another world of good coffee and snow.

In the first week conditions off the Aiguille du Midi (Vallee Blanche) did not sound great for skiing all the way down to the train at Montenvers unless you didn't mind trashing your skis at the bottom. But the snow up high sounded good and I was really keen to head up and just spend some time in the high mountains, I really do miss the ambiance and feeling you get up there. Ben was keen for a bit of cardio so we headed up mid morning and had a good ski across to the Col d'Entrèves and back. Just making the last lift back down from the Midi and both feeling the full affects of the altitude. A lot more breaking trail than turns but great to be up there again and just about have the whole Vallee Blanche to ourselves.
Mont Blanc du Tacul looking very wintry
Mont Maudit towering above
The snow did eventually start arriving and after fun Christmas Day in Courmayeur we got some good snow to ski in Chamonix. The Grands Montets was its usual Christmas/New Year chaos but we managed to avoid the crowds and get some good skiing around the valley and off the Midi which was filling in nicely to cover the crevasses (still a lot of open holes and weak snow bridges) and rocks.

Heading out from the Aiguille du Midi (photo - Roger Knox)
Letting rip up on the Midi (photo - Roger Knox)
Josie enjoying the snow on the Petit Envers
(photo - Roger Knox)
Roger heading into the shade lower down
Fun times on the last day of 2013 with Josie and Roger up on the Midi
I left for Kandersteg and then the UK last weekend but it sounds like there was another big snow fall and the season is at last starting to get going. The avalanche hazard in the alps this winter is extremely high and dangerous and has been very well publicized so I won’t say much apart from a lot of care is needed...

Roger making the most of the 'dust on crust' up at the Brevent
Looking down from Brevent on the Chamonix Valley clearing after a storm