Tag Archives: backcountry skiing

Freeride World Tour

So you might be thinking to yourself what is freeriding? It’s basically skiing or snowboarding on natural, un-groomed runs which have no set course or specific set of rules. Many riders it is called off-piste or backcountry depending where about’s in the world you’re from!

The thought of riding this challenging terrain is what appeals to so many people, combining numerous skill areas such as freestyle and piste riding into one all mountain style giving you the freedom to take on any terrain you encounter. With any snow sports there are associated risks but these are amplified significantly when freeriding but on the other hand you get to experience untouched areas of the mountain challenging your skills with such varied terrain.

Back in the 1940’s freeriding was in its infancy and wasn’t until the 1970’s where gear had improved to such a level that freeriding attracted audiences on a global level. Closely following the French were the Americans where a group of young enthusiastic riders took on the steep terrain of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

This influx of new riders really set the scene for the first ever freeride contest, the ‘World Extreme Ski Championships’ WESC held in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains, Alaska! Not forgetting the snowboarders the ‘World Extreme Snowboard Championships’ was established in 1992 which soon transformed into the widely recognised King Of The Hill competition still running today.

For many years these two disciplines remained completely separate before a crazy business man by the name Nicholas Hale Woods launched the Verbier Extreme in 1996 with 2004 marking the year when ten of the world’s top freeride skiers were invited to take part, revolutionising the sport as we know it!

Today this pioneering man Nicholas Hale Woods plays a crucial part in the organising and running of one of the world’s most extreme snow sport competitions the Freeride World Tour! Featuring five stops in five countries riders battle against each other in search of worldwide recognition. Below we delve a little deeper into the five 2016 resorts!

Freeride: It’s basically skiing or snowboarding on natural, un-groomed runs which have no set course or specific set of rules! © Freeride World Tour

22nd January 2016 (Vallnord Arcalis, Andorra)

Located in the northern valleys of Andorra the Arcalis is a smaller slice of the much larger Vallnord skiing area. This resort features stunning views and multiple tree lined runs and is categorised into the most alpine resort in the Vallnord skiing area due to being north facing and its numerous steep slopes.

Handpicked from other resorts the Arcalis is home to some of the best off Piste skiing in Andorra holding on to its powder much longer due to receiving less sun. Here are some key facts about the resort:

30km Pistes with 27 runs
442 Hectares of skiable area
One terrain park
Longest run 8km
33% Beginner + 22% Intermediate + 37% Advanced + 7% Expert
Summit 2625m / 1940m Base

6th February 2016 (Chamonix Mont Blanc, France)

Located on the border of France, Switzerland and Italy this well known resort is at the base of the highest summit in the Alps, Mont Blanc featuring some amazing alpine skiing. Many people believe that Chamonix was the birthplace of alpine skiing with its claim to fame being the resort to host the first winter Olympics back in 1924.

It’s perfect mix of runs appeals to a wide range of riders and also features the world renowned 20km (12mile) Valley Blanche which is an extremely high off Piste run that circles the entire resort, a challenge for any aspiring expert skier. Here are some key facts about the resort:

119km Pistes with 106 runs
308 Hectares of skiable area
One Terrain Park
Longest run 20km
14% Beginner + 34% Intermediate + 38% Advanced + 14% Expert
Summit 3275m / 1042m Base

With any snow sports there are associated risks but these are amplified significantly when freeriding ! © Freeride World Tour

6th March 2016 (Fieberbrunn Kitzbuheleralpen, Austria)

Part of the much larger Triol skiing area the Fieberbrunn is a large resort in its own right with many of its runs tailored towards the intermediate rider yet still features runs for the more advanced rider.

Alot of the terrain here is extremely enjoyable with perfectly groomed runs with the option to head into the wide open powder fields to test your skills. Fieberbrunn is seen as a hidden gem within the Alps and one to visit during your riding career, below are a few key facts about the resort:

35km Pistes with 26 runs
34 Hectares of skiable area
One Half pipe
35km Cross Country
13km Blue + 22km Red + 3km Black
Summit 2020m / 830m Base

17th March 2016 (Haines, Alaska)

Haines, Alaska features some of the world’s best heli skiing terrain with over 5000ft of vertical drop and scenic powder runs that will keep you wanting more testing your skills to the very edge.

The mountain ranges surrounding Haines have a dry snowpack with some of the most stable weather systems found anywhere in Alaska. The sleepy community and picturesque landscapes makes this a centre for wilderness adventures in Alaska.

World’s largest non polar ice cap
5000ft of vertical drop
Situated at one of Alaska’s great fjords

Featuring five stops in five countries riders battle against each other in search of worldwide recognition! © Freeride World Tour

2nd April 2016 (Verbier, Switzerland)

Verbier is in the centre of one of one of the largest ski areas in Europe, the four valleys! The exciting terrain combined with scenic views and abundance of snow makes this resort a sure fire bet for late or early season riding.

Two recently open lifts has made accessing the four valleys area even easier and with the right conditions is host to a trail of 15km descending over 2500m making it one of the biggest and best vertical runs in the world.  Below are a few key facts about the resort:

177km Pistes with 37 runs
162 Hectares of skiable area
36% Intermediate + 37% Advanced + 27% Expert
Summit 3330m / 1500m Base

Event Feeding Into Products

This world renowned event has become so successful numerous snow sport companies are incorporating the name into some of their products for example Teko Freeride World Tour sock and Dakine Freeride World Tour Backpack both available at the Tallington Lakes Pro Shop both in store and online.

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Skiing The Bec Rouge Couloir

I have spent the last eight years wanting to ski the Bec Rouge couloir, and could hardly contain my excitement when we set off at 6am! The
conditions were epic with blue skies as far as you can see, a foot of fresh snow and temperatures set to stay at -10°C all morning.

Halfway through the two hour climb we had the privilege of meeting Marcel Gaidet; who ended up joining us for the remainder of the tour. Marcel’s son Manu was a three times World Freeride Champion. The wealth of knowledge that Marcel has of these mountains was phenomenal and I learnt so much in the remainder of the day.

two skiers
Marcel Gaidet (left) a true inspiration.

Marcel is 67 this year and has had a hip replacement; however he still put in the first track near enough all the way to the top – his level of fitness was truly awe inspiring. To put it in to perspective he averages 50,000 vertical metres of climbing a winter compared to my usual of 10,000. To be around Marcel for the day was amazing. He is just out there doing it and enjoying himself; I can only hope that I am still skiing lines like this when I am in my sixties.

“You have waited so long for all the elements to come together there is so much that goes into it.”

After eight years of waiting the couloir couldn’t of had better snow conditions. It is hard to put into words what it feels like on days like this; you have waited so long for all the elements to come together there is so much that goes into it. It is probably the one side
of the sport that I feel as a whole people don’t appreciate. You have to be so patient, nature dictates the small windows of opportunity you have to ski these lines.

So when you get the chance, you are almost over whelmed. It is just incredible that so many variables can fall into place and that is what makes it so special, I just hope I don’t have to wait another eight years to do it gain!

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Ski Touring: Escaping The Crowds

As February rolls in and the school holidays start it is inevitable that no matter what resort you happen to be in there will be an influx of people. I take this as an opportunity to go ski touring and explore the backcountry – escaping the crowds!

exposed traverse three monks rock face
Exposed traverse beneath the Three Monks rock face, on the way up!

Ski touring is essentially the essence of skiing, to climb and then ski are the very roots of the sport, going down is only one half of the story. The beauty of it is there are no limitations to your journey, you can travel to a new peak, traverse glaciers or ride a dream couloir all accessed by nothing other than your own legs. I have sat on enough chairlifts and heard enough quips about people walking up mountains to understand that initially it may not appeal to everyone however I truly believe that any advanced skier could benefit from experiencing and trying ski touring. In a a life where things are moving so fast and every corner of the globe is getting crowded ski touring offers the alternative. It will test you in every possible way not only is it physically demanding but the preparation into route planning and mountain safety will give you a whole new perspective of the mountains.

“Every step is earned and the value of your achievement is everywhere in your surroundings.”

So as always we meet early, that is the nature of touring, start climbing as soon as you can because you have a long day ahead. The night before I have double checked my bag to make sure all my avalanche safety equipment is packed and ready, the route has been planned and conditions are stable. Our plan will be to reach Montvalazan Peak in the Terantaise Valley and ski the north east face into Italy from France. As we start on the two and a half hour climb the wind is howling straight over the peak into our faces but the skies are clear and we have faith that the wind will be more favourable on the descent. The first stage of the climb is a steady incline along a ridge shadowed by a huge cliff band ahead. When we arrive under the cliff we have to traverse out into the bowl to access the valley leading up to the peak. This is where we can get our first inspection of the snow pack for the climb up. The snow is brutally wind hit with a thin layer covering the icy blue base beneath, in terms of touring this is tricky snow to manoeuvre on and we know we have a challenge ahead. As we zig zag our way up and the gradient becomes steeper it becomes harder to hold an edge and every step requires more effort. In these periods of the climb you are truly testing yourself, it is rare in life to directly pit yourself against something as immovable as a mountain and it is that which also keeps you going. Every step is earned and the value of your achievement is everywhere in your surroundings. No one but your group are there, it is hard, tiring and not for everyone but that is why it is so special.

happy faces walking up
The joys of the journey!

After an hour we reach the second stage of the ridge from here it a direct climb to the peak. The ridge is exposed especially on the north side but provides phenomenal views of Mont Blanc. Far below us in the valley you can see the huddles of people waiting for chairlifts or pistes looking like roads carved into the mountains. The freedom of being so far away from any infrastructure is truly awe-inspiring and only drives us on. The final part of the climb we have to take our skis off and attach them to our backpacks. It is a steep 50m chute which we have to ladder climb. We are nearing 2900m and have been walking for two hours straight this is the final hurdle.

standing at the top
You feel like you are on top of the world!

As we reach the summit, there are hugs and handshakes the feeling is truly euphoric a sense of group achievement that is shared only amongst us because no one else is within a square mile and we are 600 vertical metres above the nearest chairlift. As we enjoy lunch there is no urgency, no rush, no one wants to leave. In this environment there is no race, why would there be, I could descend in any direction and would be skiing untracked powder for 5km. In fact all we all want to do is slow down, try and take it in, capture the feeling as much as possible because we know we can only ever be visitors here despite how amazing it is. Then when lunch is finished and flasks are emptied, you pack your bag put your skis on, take one last look and the other half of the story begins…..


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