The world of slalom water-skiing is a vast one when it comes to choosing the most high performance boots. The most regular question I get asked about bindings is “should I use a hard-shell or a rubber water ski binding?” The answer to this question is that you should use what you feel comfortable with. However determining this is easier said than done!
Rubber Water Ski Boot (Binding)
I started off my water-skiing life with a traditional rubber binding. This binding was perfectly suitable for learning how to perform deep-water starts, crossing the wake from side to side and water skiing comfortably on a slalom ski in a recreational environment, with no buoys to worry about.
When I was introduced to the slalom course, I swapped my traditional rubber binding for a HO Animal Boot (Binding). This boot supported me through learning the course and it was ridiculously comfortable! The binding still continued to support me when I increased the speed at which I was being towed through the course. By the end of last season, when I was still using the HO Animal Boot, it was carrying me through the course at a confident 36mph. The Animal Boot is a very comfortable binding because it’s not overly tight; however despite this the boot still gives excellent support around the ankle and heel of the foot – due to the insole of the boot. Over time the insole of the boot moulds to the contours of your foot, giving you the same feeling through the boot every time. Due to the lacing system on the HO Animal Boot, it is quick and easy to slip on and off which is a great asset, especially if you’re itching to get in or out on the water! Just a simple squirt of some boot slime and you’ll slip straight in there!
Hard-Shell Water Ski Boot
As much as I loved the HO Animal Boot, I decided to give the hard-shell option a whirl. The whole system was quite complex to set up once the releasing mechanism was bolted onto the ski. However, despite racking my brain for around two hours figuring out how it worked, I finally sorted it and found myself standing on the dock clutching my handle ready to water ski. I won’t go into all the details of that first set with the hard-shell because it would be rather embarrassing; but I will say I spent more time in the water than on top of it!
Despite this I persevered with the hard-shell. It is very different from the Animal, primarily because to hard-shell has a more snug-fit around the foot due to the plastic outer shell. This has often given me an aching sensation in my foot if I have over tightened the binding. However if the hard-shell is correctly tightened , this isn’t such a problem. Personally, I find the hard-shell a confidence-inspiring boot, allowing me to attack the wakes that little bit more.
Overall both the HO Animal Boot and the hard-shell are very good bindings. However there is a huge difference in price. Considering the Animal provides me with great performance at those higher speeds and shorter rope lengths, just like the hard-shell, it certainly the cheaper option. This is often found with most rubber water ski boots compared to the hard-shells.
Now these may just look like normal t-shirts to you, however there is an individual story behind each one, the O’Neill Heritage T-Shirt Collection by Jack O’Neill. Back in the fifties O’Neill started up as a small surf shop. Now it’s thriving more than ever and ready to include you in the journey; inside each t-shirt is the story behind the picture on the front of the t-shirt! Welcome to the world of Jack O’Neill……
O’Neill Heritage T-Shirts
The 1950’s t-shirt features a picture of the Surf Shop which was located behind the fence, indicated by the large piece of driftwood written on by Jack and his surfer friends. This is one of the earliest photographs of the surf shop when it first opened in 1952.
The 60’s t-shirt is made from a collection of photographs from the O’Neill Heritage archive. This particular collage of photos is called ‘First Name in the Water’ and is inspired by the old surf movie posters.
Two years ago, Tim Davies and I started the standard Haute Route (a high Alpine ski tour linking Chamonix and Zermatt) with Andy Cowan who 2 days in had to pull out due to injury. We managed to get as far as the Valsorey Hut where Tim developed appendicitis and had to be air lifted by helicopter and have an emergency operation; which left me on my own and having to ski back down over the glacier and crevasses by myself, which was quite interesting. The following year we did a few routes around the Imperial Haute Route but always planned to come back and have a go at the Imperial Haute Route proper.
Imperial Haute Route (Grand Lui Variation)
So after saying good-bye to the Oakham Lower School ski trip I met up with Tim and started to sort kit, huts, transport, etc. Our weather forecast for the week ahead was good and so two old men set out on a journey from Chamonix to Zermatt via La Fouly. The Integral Haute Route is two days longer than the standard routes, has more high gain and loss, and does not require you to book a taxi so is more of a pure journey.
We knew that the start was going to be a bit of a ‘bun fight’, as we had to do hand to hand combat with the queues at the Grand Montets Cable-Car Station. This is always a bottleneck and means a slow start wedged in with huge crowds. Luckily, the cable-car was running smoothly and after a couple of hours, we found ourselves deposited at the top station ready to go! Avalanche transceivers checked and harnesses on we set off across the Argentiere Glacier towards the Col du Chardonnet (3323m). We travelled quite quickly deand managed to overtake many guided groups, which meant that when we arrived at the Col there were only a few people, and groups in front of us. As there was a fixed rope already in place and we were a small team, Tim managed to persuade the French to allow us to jump the que, which was a great result. Once down we set off for the Trient Hut, but first had a great view of our route for early the next day whilst having a late lunch. Climbing the Fenetre de Saliena (3261m) had us skiing down the Trient Glacier towards our evening stop. The hut is well positioned with great views and is a mix of old and new even if the guardian is a little less than welcoming.
The standard route goes down to Champex where you get a bus or taxi to Bourg St. Pierre, however, we chose to ski over the Grand Lui to La Fouly which would mean we could ski/walk the whole route making it a little more challenging, purer and two day’s longer. We left the Trient and skied some excellent snow with no one else anywhere to be seen. It was great to be in these high mountains and have the place to ourselves. The Col de Saleina (3419m) was easy enough to get over and then followed some more fantastic snow, which started to change as we neared the valley to heavy slush, which made skiing a little more challenging. Scrabbling through some loose rocks and boulders gave access to the final stretch down to La Fouly and the Auberge des Glaciers. I had been through here a few years previously when doing the Tour De Mont Blanc with family and friends and remembered it as being very relaxing. The hotel was great and we had the dormitory to ourselves so we managed to spread out and sort kit. Being in a valley meant that the meal was exceptional in quality and value for money plus we had showers.
Day 3 was going to be quite a hard day but relatively short and would finish at the Plan de Jeu Hut which Tim assured me would be excellent, which it was. Walking along the road, we arrived at some steep verglas slopes with a huge amount of old avalanche debris that had to be picked though and we eventually passed the Lacs de Fenetre and climbed up to the Fenetre de Ferret were we saw our first people. The ski down to the road and on to the Great St Bernard Monastery was on exceptional snow and left both of us smiling from ear to ear as did the excellent coffee and cakes we devoured at the hospice. The Plan de Jeu is brilliant with smiling, happy/welcoming guardians, who love country & western music, great views and sound advice. Certainly worth a stop next year for a bit of day tour action with my wife. I might even try to get over later in the year for their beer festival! The beer, food and company made for a very memorable evening and again no one else was staying so we had the place to ourselves.
Travelling onwards to the Valsorey Hut (3037m) in wall to wall sunshine with 1600 metres of up and a good amount of downhill action was something I was looking forward to as it would take us to our high point of two years previous and mean we were well on our way. Once again the skiing was exceptional and certainly left us wanting more, however, the climb that followed from the valley floor to the hut was seriously hard in the full glare of the sun.
The start of the day was a little on the messy side as I had a bad case of the squits; which is not good when you are climbing steep iced slopes of around 50 degrees with skis strapped to your back. The wind was quite strong which made everything that little more exciting especially going to the toilet! We had no issues route finding and the snow conditions continued to be great. When we arrived at the Chanrion Hut I found that several people had been hit with the same bug, one having to be air-lifted off and others turning back. It is amazing how something so simple as a stomach upset or a broken binding could put an end to an expedition.
The Chanrion Hut was much nicer, the guardian very welcoming and interested in our well-being which was nice. Following a relatively good night’s sleep, we faced another long day with lots of UP! Climbing the Pigne d’Arrolla (3796m) was cold and windy and seemed to go on forever. However, having recovered from my illness and in good weather we climbed the last few metres to the summit to take the obligatory photos before heading down to the Vignettes Hut, which would be our final hut of the trip. Now that all of the various Haute Routes variants had joined, the route was a mass of people and the hut was not much better although still very welcoming.
With the final day looming we got our heads down and in the morning managed to be the first party out of the hut and to the first Col. The weather was forecast to change with much colder weather on its way. The clouds rolled in to make route finding quite challenging at times but this never detracted from the enjoyment of completing this amazing journey across the high Alps. Our final ski descent from the final Col was hard with man-eating moguls made of solid ice spread around big crevasses on steep slopes. The leg in to Zermatt was slow, as the snow had turned to slush so our skis having little in the way of wax on them tended to stick.
All in all this was a great seven-day tour with great company in amazing surroundings with some challenging descents and route finding. We had the mountains to ourselves until the Pigne d’Arolla where we joined the standard route. I would recommend the Integral Haute Route to anyone that wants a challenge. Our final photo’s where taken outside the Monta Rosa Hotel having skied into Zermatt then walked through the narrow streets towards the train station and our train back over the mountains to Chamonix looking forward to a good shower, meal and a few beers to celebrate.
Truly one of the best skis, wherever the mountain takes you, the Rossignol Soul 7HD. Although the Soul 7, with its 106mm waist, suggests its a big mountain ski; it is just as easy to ski on the piste as 85mm underfoot piste ski!
Taking the Soul 7’s away after two seasons out of skiing, and being use to a 85mm underfoot all mountain ski, it was safe to say that, even as a 23 year old confident chap, I thought I might of bitten off more than I can chew.
In my previous years skiing before my short break I would ski all of the mountain comfortably; including the odd hike to find some of the fresh snow in the untouched couloirs of the French/Italian Alps. Wanting to further my backcountry skiing the Rossignol Soul 7HD skis were highly recommended to me.
Rossignol Soul 7 Skis
The first day of my ski holiday came with the perfect conditions, lots of fresh snow, to throw me in the deep end with the new skis; the phrase ‘baptism by fire’ comes to mind. Although we are suggesting ‘fire’, myself and the Soul 7’s were in ‘heaven’. Instantly feeling so comfortable in the powder, strange noises of whoops of enjoyment were a regular occurrence. After each run through the trees or open couloirs I felt like my skiing had improved massively. The acknowledgement from my brother, a better powder skier than me (although I would never tell him), confirmed my thoughts. The family joke of ‘directional charging’ became much more of a reality as we were lapping the off piste sections.
As the week progressed unfortunately no more fresh snow was to come, no fresh powder but perfect corduroy piste with sunny conditions. This would be the real test on the hard pack piste with a 106mm waist. Again the Soul 7’s were unbelievably good. Carving made easy and edge hold with no chatter at all. Safe to say that I was highly impressed by the complete versatility of this ski. Towards the end of the week the snow became more hard pack, with some runs featuring ice patches. The best snow conditions were on the relatively untouched black runs which would prove to be the best test for the skis. The Soul 7’s is as easy to ski in the deep powder, and steep black runs, as it is on those leisurely blues and reds.
Therefore, for the advanced skier who wants to ski everything from deep powder to corduroy piste, with one ski, the Soul 7HD is the ski for you. But also for the more advanced intermediate who wants to get more into the big mountain skiing this is a great ski that makes life easier in all conditions.
Thanks Mark (skiing in January in the French/Italian Alps).
They will no doubt explain the benefits of the full wood core, the single titanium laminate, the power zone, and the all terrain rocker – to name a few – and how these XDR skis meet Salomon’s desire to produce a ski that, in resort (or frontside as they like to call it) will handle a variety of snow conditions, such as carving groomed pistes, powering through crud or floating on fresh powder.
What I will say, “there isn’t an emoji with a big enough grin to express how much fun these skis are to ski”! I’m not going to explain the all mountain C/FX Shape; I’m going to say these are the best skis I have ever skied on; they are the skis for me!
So who am I? I’m the average recreational skier, who once a year travels to the mountains (Alps) to ski for six days. I like to ski on piste, and I’m extremely comfortable on red runs. I’m sure that ‘technically’ I could improve, but I’m on holiday, and my main focus is to have fun skiing in the mountains! I’m on the first lift and will ski all-day; so the ease with which I skied these skis, made them all the more delightful – and they look good too!
These skis took me where I wanted to go, on large carving turn, with excellent edge hold; even on the few ‘black’ runs these skis gave me the confidence to attack. The faster I went the more stable and confident I felt. I was having fun, run after run, and thanks to the lightweight construction I could – all day long!
I even ventured off-piste! Well a little area of ‘powder’ between the runs. I was awful, but the skis gave me plenty of float as I manoeuvred myself back to the haven of the neighbouring run. I tried it a few times, and marginally improved, however it only reinforced my love of the groomed ‘corduroy’ pistes – which is where I stayed!
So if reading this you’re thinking, “he sounds a bit like me”; there is a good chance that these Salomon XDR skis are the ones for you. Chad Blanc
Whether you are cruising on corduroy, lapping the park or shredding powder, a decent pair of gloves or mittens is essential for keeping warm as your hands are usually the first thing to get cold on the hill.
For many people, choosing between gloves or mittens is down to personal preference. Gloves will give you a bit more dexterity for picking up your poles or putting your goggles on, while mittens tend to be warmer than gloves as your fingers produce more body heat when next to each other. If you are unsure my advise would be to try both types on and if you are a skier hold a ski pole to see which feels more comfortable and gives you a nice grip.
The key things to consider before purchasing either models are the specifications. Do they fit well? How waterproof are they? Are they windproof and breathable?
To stop your fingers from freezing, it is important to get a pair which fits. If you go too small and your fingers are pressing on the end the cold will sooner seep into your finger tips and moisture is more likely to get inside the lining. If you go too big there will be a lot of space to fill with wasted body heat and you’ll lose some dexterity with the extra material. I would recommend trying a few on to get the best fitting pair.
One of the most important features to look at is the waterproof rating because no matter how insulated your gloves are, if your hands get wet there is no stopping them getting cold. (This is even more important for snowboarders who tend to have more frequent hand contact with the snow). Most waterproof ratings for snow wear will range between 5,000ml and 20,000ml. I would advise an absolute minimum of 5K which will give you only some resistance to water. 10K plus for general conditions would be better but 20K plus is essential to keep you dry in wetter conditions.
With warm temperature and low snowfalls it hasn’t been the powder full winter we dreamt of but that doesn’t mean you can’t get out on the hill and have a great time. As Jeremy Jones said “if you need to have powder on the mountain to have fun then you are in the wrong sport”. So with that in mind we have been embracing the spring conditions and have been taking advantage of the low avalanche risk and pushing further into the backcountry than would usually be possible in January.
Refuges are one of the great traditions of the Alps and provide great opportunities to explore the mountains in winter. Usually allocated with a guardian to host walkers in the summer months and provide them with a warm meal and comfy bed; the winter experience is a bit more DIY. Usually only one room will be open with a log store, fire, gas stove and some blankets to keep the worst of winter away.
This week we planned to visit the Refuge Gramusset it sits at the north east end of the Aravis Chain and is located under the dominating Pont Percee peak. We started our tour below the tree line in the small hamlet of Troncs. The climb up is 1000m of vertical and the first 450m is a steep pitch up through the forest avoiding a large exposed cliff line over the ravine below. The forest trail had limited amounts of snow and we spent a fair bit of time trying to dodge tree roots and fallen branches. Once out of the forest and into the high alpine the conditions began to improve. The final 550m is a testing 40 degree slope all the way to the refuge. One of the most enjoyable aspects of ski touring is the continual puzzle of choosing the safest route up. This particular face had a variety of challenges with the constant steep gradient and multiple exposed cliff bands it was both a demanding and rewarding climb.
Having reached the Refuge just before sunset we had time to start cutting logs and getting the fire going before nightfall. Once the fire is lit and the refuge is heating up you must start to melt snow for water. With three of you this becomes a full-time job due to the small quantities of water that snow holds. Refuges tend not to have electricity and make for long evenings with the sun going down at 5.30 in winter and not showing itself till 7 in the morning. However this simple existence is the most magical part of the experience, how many opportunities in modern life provide you with such a chance to be in the present. Even one night living like this reaffirms the amount of distractions society has built for itself. It may not be everyone’s idea of a break but the simplicity of being in the mountains and providing for yourself is an incredible experience and offers true escapism.
Around 11pm the wind started to really pick up and the metal roof was chattering by this time you are torn between staying under your blankets or getting another log on the fire. You dose in and out of sleep for what seems like an eternity waiting for first light to have a glimpse at the conditions.
Unfortunately we woke to strong winds and the couloirs above the refuge looked ominous. We made the decision to head back down before conditions worsened. The ski down covered some great terrain however the snow wasn’t great with lots of exposed rocks. Sometimes things change in the mountain but you are always inspired by something when you venture into them. You make mental notes of possible lines to ski in the future or wonder what terrain lies over the next peak. It truly is never-ending and that is the greatest aspect of ski touring you are opening up opportunities for discovery all the time.
As people back home have probably heard Europe has had a slow start to the season with unseasonably high temperatures throughout December. However when it has snowed this year it has been falling intensely with two 50 cm plus snow falls in 24 hour time periods. This has provided us with a wide variety of condition to test the Dakine Prospect Bib Snow Pants!
Dakine Prospect Bib Snow Pants
The first impression you get from the Prospects is how incredibly light they are compared to other winter pants. This lightness provides a fantastic feel when skiing and touring as you aren’t restricted by any heavy materials. They are built from 3 layer Gore-tex which provides the trousers with a formidable shell against all conditions. Despite being out on a few torrential ski days this year I am yet to see the trouser soak through even when sat on wet chairlifts. The bib design is a great feature for any powder lovers as it ensures protection of your base layers even on the deepest of days and the occasional tumble!
However it is not just in miserable conditions that the Prospect shines. I have been touring in them in +15 and there lightweight breathability means that they control your temperature very well. With multiple vents featured on the trouser you are able to make quick adjustments whilst on the route up as well as insulating your warmth at the top.
We have been skiing for eight weeks now and as stated the condition have been tricky with plenty of grass and rock on show. This has highlighted one of best features of the Prospect.The reinforced cuffs at the bottom of the legs have made them considerable more durable than other snow pants. Despite being scraped between rocks and ski boot on numerous occasion they are yet to show any sign of wear and the strong boot gators stay firmly attached to the boot.
Firstly we are keen to provide our customers with products that are fit for purpose; products we know will perform in the extreme environments we call our playground. Whether skiing or snowboarding; we have a selection of Patagonia clothing that will enable you to remain comfortable on the mountain. By layering a mixture of the breathable, insulating and waterproofing garments you can regulate your body temperature to the surrounding weather conditions; ensuring you can perform to your best.
The ladies and men’s specific fit are both made to the highest standards, and should last you for years. However if it doesn’t Patagonia are keen to repair it for you; check out their ‘Ironclad Guarantee’.
Secondly, like us and our customers, Patagonia care about the environment. We all love the ‘great outdoors’, so it’s important we take care of it. Patagonia, and many of the other brands we stock, is looking at ways to produce products of an environmentally friendly nature. They have gone to great length to ensure the sourcing and production of the garments has the least impact on the environment. And because Patagonia products are built to last, the impact is reduced further!
In the last decade there has been a revolution in ski and snowboard design that has enabled more and more participants to access the backcountry. With wider templates and more forgiving tip and tail shapes riding powder has never been so accessible. The joys of getting off the piste and into the mountains is the very essence of skiing’s (snowboarding’s) roots and for many has become a healthy addiction. However as more of us dream of escaping the lift queues and laying down first tracks, what are the risks involved and how can we minimise them.
This article will provide an introduction to some of the tools available to us and how they can benefit backcountry riding. However reading will never be able to replicate the experience of being in the mountain and I would recommend anyone who wants to start spending time in the backcountry to attend one of the many avalanche courses available and venture out with experienced riders or invest in guiding and instruction for your first couple of years.
Attending an avalanche course will provide you with an understanding of the snowpack and what avalanche danger ratings represent, how to avoid and recognise avalanche terrain and how to minimise risk when travelling across it and finally how to manage a rescue situation. Here we will be covering the equipment needed to access the backcountry and how each tool works.
The four key tools needed for backcountry travel will be a transceiver, probe, shovel and backpack. These are essential items and you will need all four in a rescue situation. We will now go through each item and discuss the part they play.
A transceiver is attached to your torso with a harness and sends out radio signals. As soon as you enter the backcountry it will need to be turned on so it is transmitting a signal. Every individual in the group will need one. In the event of an avalanche you are able to turn transceivers into a search mode and it is the tool used to find casualties under the snow. Transceivers can be digital or analog and it is critical you understand how the model you use works. This is where courses and search training exercises are vital. Practice in safe environments is the best way to get familiar with rescues and build trust amongst you fellow tourers.
A probe is essentially a long lightweight metal pole with a quick draw cord running through its length. Similar to a tent pole it collapses down into connecting parts to make carrying it easier. The cord through the middle means you can snap the pole together into one length by pulling the looped handle at the top. The other end of the probe has a rounded point for penetrating the snow. The probe is used when the transceiver has located the rescue site and probing is needed to locate the casualty under the snow.
A good touring backpack will have multiple designs to facilitate comfortable and practical backcountry travel. Common features will include secure ski/snowboard carriage, quick access safety pockets so you can get to the above equipment without wasting time, back support and customisable fit.
ABS Bags and Avalungs
The above equipment is the bare necessities for anyone who wants to explore beyond the resort slopes, however there have also been two developments in avalanche safety in the last decade which are worth noting. These are ABS bags and Avalungs neither will ever eliminate the danger of avalanches but do provide some form of preventative measure towards the risks. ABS bags are essentially a large inflatable within your backpack that can be triggered in an avalanche to increase your surface area to reduce the chances of being buried. Whilst Avalungs are a breathing tool that takes CO2 away from you when you are buried. This buys you and your rescuers more time which is hugely beneficial when you look at the statistics involved with drowning in Avalanches. These tools have made backcountry travel safer than ever however as a cautionary note I will say this. No piece of equipment will ever be 100% foolproof and to truly minimise the risks, educating yourself in when and how to travel in the backcountry is the most important factor.
I hope this article helped people to get an idea of the basic equipment needed in the backcountry and look forward to everyone having a snowy winter wherever you are!