Chamonix Off-Piste Ski Clinic

This week I had the pleasure of joining Evolution 2 for their half day off-piste ski clinic. Although I’ve been skiing for a few years my off-piste experience was limited to the occasional foray off the side of the marked slopes, where I could easily bail into safer territory if my “sit back and hang on for dear life” technique wasn’t doing me any favours. I decided it was high time to take a proper lesson and iron out my bad habits – would four hours be long enough?!

Evolution 2 Off-Piste Ski Clinic at Les Grands Montets Argentiere

We met bright and early at Les Grands Montets and got on to the gondola before all the crowds arrived. Evolution 2 got off to a flying start with the choice of ski instructor – a handsome young chap by the name of Christophe who put everyone at ease with his friendly charms. He started by handing out avalanche transceivers in the gondola and asking everyone about their ski level to get an idea what he was working with. Our group was made of 5 skiers, all confident on-piste but with little or no off-piste experience.

Evolution 2 Off-Piste Ski Clinic at Les Grands Montets Argentiere

We started off with a few on-piste runs so that Christophe could check out our style (or lack of it) and give us some advice. It turns out that most of us were making the same mistakes – not keeping our upper bodies facing down the mountain and sitting back too much when we turn. Easy to identify but not so easy to correct, as it turns out.

Evolution 2 Off-Piste Ski Clinic at Les Grands Montets Argentiere

After a few exercises to give us an idea of the kind of stance we were aiming for we went up the Bochard and headed off piste in search of powder. It had snowed overnight but was a bit windblown and heavy, so it wasn’t the easiest conditions to learn in. The legs were working hard and within 5 minutes each of us had taken at least one tumble – into soft snow though so we all came up laughing. As Christophe pointed out, if we could learn to turn in these conditions then fresh light powder would be a breeze.

 

Evolution 2 Off-Piste Ski Clinic at Les Grands Montets Argentiere

Even with 5 of us in the group Christophe was great at identifying everyone’s weak spots and giving individual attention to help us correct them. Some people started the lesson feeling a bit nervous but by the time we stopped for a quick break halfway through everyone was relaxed and eager to get going again. This course isn’t just about floating effortlessly through perfect powder; we also learned how to attack moguls, turn on steeper terrain and control our skis in different types of snow – all without being able to see much through the clouds. After all that our first bluebird powder day will be a doddle!

 

12765662_10153964627683252_2042309634_o (1)

It turns out that one of my (many) bad habits is to use my skis independently of one another, stepping from one to the other kind of like I’m on a stairmaster machine. Having my skis wider apart makes me feel more stable but it also means that they’re far more likely to do their own thing and go off in different directions. It was Christophe’s mission to have me skiing more like an actual skier and less like an ice hockey goal keeper by the end of the session – and he managed it! Since the off-piste clinic I’ve been diligently practising my new skills; I’m not quite ready for the Freeride World Tour just yet, but I’m definitely more confident and skiing with more control than I was this time last week.

Evolution 2 Off-Piste Ski Clinic at Les Grands Montets Argentiere

At just 69€ the Evolution 2 Off-Piste Clinic is a great way to spend 4 hours having fun and improving your technique. If you get it done towards the start of your holiday you’ll have the rest of the week to enjoy practising your newfound skills – I wish I’d done it sooner!

If you would like to book a place on the Evolution 2 Off-Piste Clinic please contact us directly or visit this page for details on this and other ski lesson options.

 

Advertisements

This week one of the Mountain Lifestyle team enjoyed a great day out with the ESF on their Mont Blanc Discovery day; off-piste skiing in the Italian resort of Courmayeur. This is what she made of her Italian adventure…

The Italian flag, off-piste skiing in Courmayeur Italy on the ESF Mont Blanc Discovery ski day

We met at 8.30 at the Maison des Guides in Chamonix and everyone who didn’t have their own was lent an avalanche transceiver for the day. We then set off through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur, a short journey of about 30 minutes.

IMG_4107We were a bit of a mixed group so our guides used the first run to assess our ski/snowboard abilities and put us into appropriate groups, so that we could all keep up with each other.

My group was a mixture of skiers and snowboarders, all with a bit of off-piste experience under our belts. First of all we went to the top of the Crest D’Arp to go off-piste. It was a challenging morning of skiing steep terrain with a descent of about 1500m from Col D’Arp down to Dolonne, via a wide gorge and through the woods.

Our instructor, Raf, was fantastic – he had a very kind relaxed nature which made you feel at ease the whole way. He stopped on several occasions to give us information about the mountains that surrounded us and was happy to give tips and advice on handling the terrain.

ff-pistyeOnce we got back on the piste it was time to have lunch at Château Branlant. The food was delicious; we tucked into selection of charcuterie meats and cheeses to start with, followed by a main dish of risotto and ravioli, then a selections of desserts and coffees. They also catered for vegans with a lovely mushroom barley dish served with roasted vegetables. All with a few glasses of red wine, of course – viva Italia!

After lunch we split into different groups depending on what type of terrain you wanted to ski, then we all headed back in the direction of the car park – either down the pistes, or off-piste through Val Veny.

Everyone in the group commented on what a great day it was. It was so much fun to go off-piste with our lovely guides, have some delicious Italian food and meet a group of like-minded people.

IMG_4063

So, if this sounds like your kind of day out the Mont Blanc Discovery days offer an unbeatable opportunity to experience the first-rate skiing of the Mont Blanc region. You’ll enjoy the best off-piste routes in the Chamonix valley, the Aosta valley (Italy) and Valais (Switzerland) with a team of experienced mountain guides and ski instructors.

Every morning your instructor or guide will join you at your hotel or residence to drive you to the chosen site in a private minibus. Group sizes are kept to a small size of 4-8 people so that you benefit from the attention of the guide. You can book for one (87€), three (244€) or six (450€) days and explore a new area each day to enjoy the best of the available snow conditions. Your guides enjoy the day as much as you will and they’ll take you to their favourite places for lunch.

Forget the queues! Priority ski lift access and reserved cable cars means that you get to spend more time skiing and less time waiting in lines. Your guides enjoy the day as much as you will and they’ll take you to their favourite places for lunch.

Contact us now to book your Mont Blanc Discovery day

Our 3 Favourite Off-Piste Experiences for Skier & Snowboarders in Chamonix

It might have been a bit slow to start but with the arrival of a few massive dumps of snow recently, this winter is now looking pretty amazing!

So much snow fell last week that the pisteurs at Les Grands Montets were gob-smacked and have been hard at work ever since making the ski areas safe and avalanche-free for us to enjoy.

Pisteurs securing the ski area at Les Grands Montets in Chamonix

However, the late and sudden arrival of the snow unfortunately makes for fairly unsteady conditions up in the mountains. The avalanche risk has been consistently high and although there is huge temptation is to go ripping through the powder at every opportunity, mountain guides and pisteurs are advising everyone to be cautious and to ski or snowboard safely – especially if you are thinking of going off-piste.

Off-piste ski course with Chamonix Experience mountain guides

The Chamonix backcountry has so much to offer and there is fantastic off-piste terrain to discover. An ideal way to explore, and to learn essential safety skills, is by doing an off-piste course. Here are our top three…

All Mountain – one of our favourites, this 3 day course takes you all over the Grands Montets into bowls, gullies and powder fields where you’ll learn how to ride off-piste, make steep turns, attack moguls and handle bad conditions such as ice and hardpack. Your guide will seek out the best places for the conditions and teach you how to master the mountain like a boss. Split over 3 half days at 195€ per person, this is ideal preparation for doing the Vallée Blanche – your guide will let you know if you are ready to do it.
Book All Mountain Here

Off-Piste & Freeride – we’re not saying “don’t go off-piste”, it’s far too much fun to miss out on! You’ll have an even better time if you go with a pro and learn how to shred the pow and find the best stashes. Our freeride and off-piste courses go from half days to full weeks for everyone from complete beginners to experienced powder hounds. Starting from just 69€ they are definitely worth it, you’ll experience Chamonix in a whole new light.
Book Off-Piste & Freeride Here

Avalanche Awareness – learn invaluable skills and have a great off-piste experience. If you want to explore then you need to learn how to do it safely, especially with the snowpack being as unstable as it is this winter. This half-day course will take you into the mountains and teach you the basics of assessing the snow conditions, evaluating the avalanche risk, carrying out a search using a transceiver and what to do if the worst happens. At just 69€ per person it’s an investment that you’ll use every time you go off-piste. We also offer longer courses for those who want to learn more about avalanche, off-piste and glacier safety.
Book Avalanche Awareness Here

11043430_773513366072703_1994709164301509462_o

Once you’ve mastered the techniques of off-piste skiing you’ll be ready to tackle the Vallée Blanche – Chamonix’s most famous off-piste run. Riding the lift up to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi at 3842m, stepping out through the ice tunnel onto the arete, skiing down amongst the seracs and crevasses of the Mont Blanc Massif – it is an unbeatable experience for any confident skier or snowboarder.

Ski the Vallee Blanche from the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix

The Vallée Blanche is not technically a difficult route, it is often compared to being no harder than your average red piste, which is why it is so accessible even to those who don’t have huge off-piste experience. It is glacial terrain though, which is why it is essential to only ever ski the Vallee Blanche with a guide. Glaciers constantly shift and evolve, with crevasses opening up and changing shape with every different weather pattern. This is why none of our mountain guides would ever compromise your safety by taking you down if they thought that conditions were too bad or that you weren’t ready to tackle it.

We also have a ton of other options to offer such as private ski/snowboard guiding, off-piste lessons for everyone from beginners to experiences skiers/snowboarders, longer ski tours with overnight accommodation in mountain refuges, snowshoe treks and so on. Please visit our website or contact us for more details.

The Chamonix ski slopes are now in great condition and the next few days look like they’re going be as glorious as today’s webcam image from Flegere…

Chamonix webcam image of Flegere ski area

We get a lot of calls and emails asking us what the snow’s like – you can see for yourself with the daily video snow report, live webcams and local weather forecasts on our Chamonix Snow & Weather page.

Make this Winter the Best Ever : Off-Piste Ski Clinics & Private Guiding in Chamonix

After one of the driest summers and warmest autumns on record, Chamonix is looking forward to an epic winter. According to the long-range weather forecast, all the precipitation that has been holding back for the past few months is forecast to fall during December and continue throughout the season.

With plenty of precipitation comes plenty of… POWDER!!! So here are our best tips for making the most of all that lovely white stuff this winter.

December Off-Piste Ski Clinic
Powder skiing in Courmayeur Italy near Chamonix Mont BlancGet in there early and nail those powder turns right at the start of the season. This pre-Christmas off-piste course will not only show you the best untracked snow but will also give you a great start to the season. The 5 day course will teach you everything you need to ski all types of off-piste terrain, including essential avalanche awareness and crevasse rescue skills. Taught by qualified mountain guides and ski instructors, you will learn various techniques to improve your control and performance both on and off-piste; video analysis will help you pin-point whatever you need to focus on to become a much better skier. The course only accepts a maximum of 6 people, to ensure the best results, so book now as places are strictly limited!
Contact us for more details on the December Off-Piste Ski Clinic

aiguille-du-midi-chamonix-01Private Mountain Guiding
Looking to find the best powder, the gnarliest descents, the most remote slopes or the best mountain restaurants? A private mountain guide will ensure that you have an experience that goes way beyond waiting in lift queues and dodging snakes of snowploughing 5 year olds this winter. No matter what your ski or snowboard experience, your guide will tailor your day to suit you and to exceed your expectations. All of our guides are fully UIAGM qualified and know the Chamonix valley like the back of their ski mittens; from classic descents such as the Vallée Blanche to ski safaris and secret powder fields, let them take you on an unforgettable journey into the Chamonix mountains.
Chamonix mountain guides – see here for details


Ski touring in Chamonix with a mountain GuideSki Touring & Splitboarding

New to ski touring or an experienced backcountry adventurer? The Mont Blanc mountains are some of the best in the world for exploring away from the lift systems and groomed pistes. Complete beginners can get to grips with the basics on our one day introductory course; there are plenty of gentle ski tours that are easily accessible from the Chamonix ski areas. Lead by a professional mountain guide, you’ll learn how to use crampons and perform kick-turns to trek deeper into the alpine wilderness. If you want to take your ski touring to the next level we also offer 2 day and 5 day courses, where you will venture further afield and see even more of the incredible Chamonix backcountry.
Ski touring in Chamonix – see here for details

Avalanche transceiver training in ChamonixMountain Safety & Avalanche Rescue
Nothing could be more important than playing safe when you’re in the mountains. Exploring off-piste and skiing fresh powder is amazing but knowing about avalanches, glaciers and crevasses could save your life – or enable you to save someone else’s life. We offer a choice of mountain safety courses from 4 hour basic training to 4 day advanced search and rescue skills. Prices start from just 69€ per person – it could be the best investment you’ve ever made.
Avalanche Awareness & Glacier Safety Courses – see here for details

Ski Touring in Chamonix : Escaping the Crowds & Skiing Empty Pistes

I did something very out of character today and got out of bed at 5:45am. No, not GOT IN at 5:45am, but GOT UP at 5:45am. I’m still a bit in shock to be honest, the only usual reason for this would be if the house was on fire.

Chamonix ski touring
Skiing. Uphill. In the dark. Why not???

Today’s reason was because some “friends” (who needs friends at that hour of the morning?) had persuaded me to go ski touring with them. Why people feel the need to do these things at the crack of dawn I have no idea, I’d be much more keen if we could have a decent night’s kip, a good breakfast, a hot shower, maybe catch a bit of This Morning, and then head up. But no, to be a real outdoor person you must embrace the rising of the sun and learn to love the sound of the first lark. Or something like that.

Anyway, we met at Les Houches this morning in the Prarion car park at 6:30am and fumbled around with bindings and head torches for a bit (still half asleep) before starting the slow trudge up the side of the home run to the start of the ski touring track. Despite my initial reluctance, once the sleep haze had cleared from my head and the blood had started pumping round my limbs I started to enjoy the peace of the empty of slopes, the soft morning light and the gentle rhythm of plodding up the trail.

Chamonix ski touring
Embracing the solitude of an empty mountain

Head torches were barely necessary as the sun had just started to come up and everything was filtered through a soft blue light, highlighting the ridges in the freshly groomed pistes and silhouetting the pine trees against the sky. Other than our little troupe of five, there was not a soul to be seen. I was hoping to see some wildlife, there were plenty of animal tracks in the snow, but I think my gasping for breath might have sounded too much like a slavering predator. Or possibly a hungry yeti.

The Les Houches ski touring trail is perfect for people, like myself, who want to get to grips with the basics of ski touring without venturing too far into the backcountry. Getting comfortable with adjusting the height of your bindings, traversing, mastering kick-turns on an easily accessible trail is a lot easier than doing it out in the backcountry somewhere with a load of gnarly mountain dudes getting impatient while you faff about. Alternatively, it’s also really popular with people who just want a good workout – it’s great training for runners and any other endurance athletes.

Chamonix ski touring
How often do you see corduroy like this in February? Or ever?

After 2 hours and about 800m of ascent (OK, so we didn’t break any speed records) we eventually came to the top of the Aillouds piste, just as the first lifts were starting to crank into action. Rather than push on to the top we decided to whip off the skins and start skiing back down before anyone else claimed our fresh tracks. One of the greatest joys of getting up early (indeed one of the only joys…) is the feeling of whizzing down untouched corduroy – just you and your mates and no one else in sight. Until I win the lottery and buy my own resort it’s the closest I’ll come to having my own private piste.

Ski touring is easy to learn once you have the right kit. To get started you’ll need touring skis – lighter than normal skis, they have special bindings that allow you to have free heels and to adjust the height according to the steepness of the climb. You’ll also need touring boots – lighter and more flexible than classic ski boots, they are a lot more comfortable for walking in. Alongside the skis and boots you’ll also need skins (to go on the bottom of your skis), couteaux (like crampons that fix onto your skis for steep ascents or icy conditions), poles (usually slightly longer than typical ski poles and with bigger baskets) and a backpack to carry your kit in. All of this can be hired fairly inexpensively from most Chamonix ski shops, have a chat with any of our partners to find out exactly what set-up you need.

Chamonix ski touring
Enjoying the view from Les Houches as the sun comes up

The real joy of ski touring comes from accessing the backcountry terrain and exploring untouched routes, trekking up through pine forests and across alpages, stopping for a picnic miles from anywhere and then skiing down through fresh powder, far away from the busy lifts and pistes. The solitude is especially appreciated during the crazy February holidays!

If this sounds tempting then have a bash at one of our introductory ski tours with a qualified instructor; they’ll guide you up a fairly easy ascent, helping you out with the technique as you go. A full day tour costs just 90€ per person and can even by done by snowboarders on a split board.

More experienced skiers will love our 3 and 5 day ski tour courses; you’ll explore the amazing terrain of the Chamonix Valley whilst honing your skills and learning techniques that will stand you in good stead for longer adventures like the Haute Route.

Of course, you can always hire a private mountain guide and plan your own itinerary – why not embark on a multi-day tour and spend the night in a remote mountain refuge?

Having tried it once I’m definitely more open to possibility of doing it again – but getting up that early is so painful that I may just stay up all night and go to bed straight afterwards!

Vallée Blanche – the world’s most famous off-piste descent is open!

It’s the news that we’ve been waiting for… the Vallée Blanche is now roped up for access and our mountain guides have announced that they are happy to take groups of up to 4 people at a time on to the glacier!

Vallee Blanche, Chamonix Mont Blanc

The Vallée Blanche has not been “closed” as such – as an unpisted, unpatrolled area anyone can access it at any time. However, the lack of snow early in the season has made it inadvisable up until recently and guides have been reluctant to take any more than 2 people down it at a time. Now however, the Compagnie du Mont Blanc has given the green light by equipping the arete (the ridge that leads out from the Aiguille du Midi) with safety ropes, making access to the 20km off-piste descent much easier.

Crevasses in the glacier, Vallée Blanche, Chamonix Mont Blanc
Crevasses in the glacier, Vallée Blanche (photo not taken this week)

That said, regardless of snow conditions, it is never a great idea to ski or snowboard down the Vallée Blanche without a mountain guide. The Vallée Blanche is not a technical descent and the route is not particularly difficult, anyone who can ski or snowboard confidently down a red piste and handle a few icy or bumpy patches shouldn’t find it too tricky. The point is that a guide is able to spot any potential dangers such as crevasses and seracs and steer you away from them before it is too late. If the worst happens and you do have an accident, your guide will know how to carry out a rescue and get you down the mountain safely. Could you handle that on your own?

Our favourite part about hiring a guide is that they always know all the best spots to find powder and can give you loads of inside tips about where else to go in the valley! This coming week is one of our busiest of the whole year, so contact us now if you would like to hire a mountain guide.

Vallee Blanche Chamonix Mont Blanc
Vallee Blanche in all it’s glory

If you’re not sure about your ability then why not sign up for a Vallée Blanche clinic? Half a day at the top of Les Grands Montets with a qualified ski or snowboard instructor, brushing up on your off-piste skills before hitting the VB for a full day. It’ll give you the confidence to enjoy your descent on one of the world’s most famous runs to the max! Just 150€ per person, includes half-day of tuition and one full day of guiding.

If you want to fine hone your skills on all types of terrain, including steep and technical descents then have a look at doing an All Mountain Course. During 3 half day sessions, your instructor (who is also a qualified mountain guide) will take you to the best spots to nail your technique in powder, in heavy snow, on ice… whatever the conditions can throw at you! By the time you’re done, there won’t be anything you can’t handle and you’ll have mastered skills that will last a lifetime. Not bad for 195€ per person (3.45 hours x 3 consecutive days).

Skiing Vallee Blanche Chamonix Mont BlancIf you really want to make the most of what the Chamonix Valley has to offer then consider buying the Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass – not only do you get all the ski areas including in Chamonix Le Pass but you also have unlimited access to the Aiguille du Midi cable car, the Tramway du Mont Blanc and the “top bin” at the Grands Montets. You can now buy your lift pass online at Mountain Lifestyle and have it waiting for you when you arrive – no more trotting off to wait in line at the lift pass office on your first morning! We’ll hand it to you on arrival, together with a piste map and any advice we have about the upcoming week and then all you have to do is decide where to ski first.. check out the different Chamonix ski areas here.

Freeride World Tour Comes to Chamonix

freeride world tour chamonix mont blancOne of the biggest events of the winter drops in to Chamonix this weekend – the Freeride World Tour.

This international competition pits the best freeriders in the world against each other in incredible locations on some of the most extreme mountains on the planet – starting off right here in Chamonix!

freeride world tour chamonix mont blanc ice sculptureUnless you’ve been walking around with your eyes closed, you’ll have noticed the excitement building in town over the last few days – there’s a pretty awesome ice sculpture of an Audi outside the post office, massive TV screens are going up and the North Face and Swatch crews are there with plenty of entertainment lined up over the next couple of days.

The competition takes place at Le Brevent from 8:30am until midday tomorrow – make sure you’ve got a lift pass so you can watch the action take place as the pros battle it out on the Chamois face (by the Cornu piste) and the juniors go head to head on the Hotel face (by the Blanchot piste).

freeride world tour chamonix off-piste skier
©freerideworldtour.com / David Carlier

This year promises to be a bit different as the competition has never been held on the Chamois face before and has only just been confirmed as the official venue, so it’ll pose a new challenge for the riders! Chosen for having the best conditions at the moment, it is south-east / south-west facing with plenty of nice features and potentially interesting lines. No where else will you see so many world class riders shredding steep lines one after the other – it’s an amazing event to watch!

All the riders were up there today, inspecting the faces and scoping out the best lines for tomorrow – head over to the centre of Chamonix tonight if you want to bump into some of them at the opening ceremony at 5pm followed by a DJ set with free mulled wine (yes, “free” and “wine” in the same sentence, we’ll be there!).

As well as the pro and junior races, there’ll be heaps of other cool stuff going on up Brevent tomorrow and Sunday such as free ski and snowboard tests where you can take the latest gear for a spin.

freeride world tour chamonix prize giving place balmat
©freerideworldtour.com / http://www.jeremy-Bernard.com

If you can’t be up the mountain then catch the live stream on the big screen in the centre of town and celebrate with the winners at the prize ceremony at 5pm. During the day there’ll be all sorts going on including slacklining, beacon searches and concerts finishing up with the Official FWT Party hosted by Mons Royale at La Terrasse from midnight to 2am and the FWT After Party at The Bunker from 2pm until… very late indeed.

If you’re inspired by the skills of local boys Jonathan Charlet and Camille Armand why not sign up for one of our freeride or off-piste clinics where you’ll learn to drop in and shred the pow like a pro!

In the meantime, there’s more snow forecast for the coming week and temperatures are dropping, enjoy!