WINTER SPECIAL Last Frontier Heliskiing, Red Mountain, Finland, Ice Climbing in the Dolomites
* NO RELIGIOUS CONTENT
contents 3. About Us 5. Intro 6. Last Frontier Heliskiing as big as it comes
12. A Road Trip along the Aosta Valley 20. Red Mountain it’ll sneak up on you
26. Photo Gallery Elli Thor Magnusson
35. Finland making all the right noises
41. Ice Climbing in the Dolomites beauty and the beasting
46. Ski Boot Fitting The secret revealed
49. Sheffield Star JAMes ‘Woodsy’ Woods interview
53. On Top of the World Kenton Cool & Lakpa Rita interview
59. Gear Reviews the best outdoor gear for this winter
77. TouchScreen Travels 81. Room with a View 84. DVD Review 87. WINGMAN COMP
WELCOME TO THE CHURCH Thanks for taking the time to take a look at Church of the Open Sky. First off, let’s get the title out of the way. We’ve taken it from a phrase used by pioneering Hawaiian surfer Tom Blake (1902 – 1994) to describe the outdoor playground that is a fundamental aspect of our lives and our sense of identity and wellbeing. Amongst his many achievements Tom invented the hollow surfboard,
the surfboard fin and the sailboard and was also an accomplished contest surfer and all-round waterman. His actual phrase was ‘The blessed church of the open sky’ but that would have been too long for a magazine title… What we hope your visits to the Church will provide are eclectic, unusual and inspiring adventure travel features undertaken (on the whole) by ordinary dudes whose lives revolve around ‘the outdoor life’, be that surfing, skiing, hiking
The editor of the Church of the Open Sky is Alf Alderson (www.alfalderson.co.uk), an award winning adventure travel writer and author who has contributed to a huge range of newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.
The designer of ‘the Church’ is Pete Roberts of Globe Orange (www.globeorange.com), a highly respected and innovative website development company. As well as surfing the internet Pete also surfs real waves, rides real snow and cycles real roads.
or just undertaking a funky road trip across some wild corner of the globe. We’ll also be reviewing the best outdoor gear, cool places to stay, hip joints to dine in, good books to read and loads of other stuff to make your indoor life nearly as much fun as your outdoor life. Well, maybe…
Our Nordic correspondent is Icelander Elli Thor Magnusson. Elli is based in his home country where he works as a freelance photographer focusing (literally) on outdoor adventure sports
Our resident ski dude is Paul Garner, a founder and director of The Development Centre (TDC), based in Val d’Isere France.
Our North America correspondent is Christian Williams. He currently specialises in Canada, Germany and Scotland, though he’s written extensively on destinations in Austria, Spain and the USA too. He divides his time between Québec and Scotland.
Joining the Church’s contributors this issue is Daniel Wildey; you’ll see quite a bit of his work throughout the mag. Daniel is primarily a photographer, specialising in adventure, travel and hotels; based in the Lake District he has no shortage of subjects, and has worked with many well-known outdoor brands.
introduction Church of the Open Sky – winner of Best Digital Media Award 2013 Who reads an Intro? Anyone? Probably not so we’ll dispense with it in this issue. Just dive in and enjoy the feast of winter action we have for you, from heliskiing to ice climbing, Sibelius to ski boots, interviews to gear reviews. Gotta dash, I have some skiing to do… Alf Alderson, Editor
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‘A DAY IN THE MOUNTAINS’ Alf Alderson heads to British Columbia’s remote Skeena Mountains with Last Frontier Heliskiing…
One of the biggest dangers encountered in the wilds of northern British Columbia’s Skeena Mountains is avalanches, so it wasn’t looking too good as four heliski guides broke out probes and shovel and set to on a slide that had just settled a few seconds earlier. Not too good for the resident cats at Bell II Lodge that is, for this particular slide had come whooshing down from the roof of one of the guest lodges at Last Frontier Heliski’s base in the foothills of the Skeena range, and any cat, dog (or even human for that matter) that had the misfortune to be underneath it was in serious trouble – really.
wouldn’t want to be underneath it all – the guides calculated that around 150 tonnes of snow had thudded down from the roof.
Because it snows with conviction in this part of the world. There was at least six feet of snow on that roof before it decided to let gravity do its thing and you really
Fortunately neither guests nor pets suffered the ignominy of death by avalanche only 50 metres from the bar so all was well, but it kind of put things into perspective – you
do all your beacon, probe and shovel exercises on arrival (and if you have any sense before you get to the lodge too); you listen intently to everything your guides say before you set off on each run; and you may get avalanched walking out of your lodge door…
OUT OF THE ORDINARY But everything up here on the border of Alaska is out of the ordinary, and one of the most extraordinary things of all is Last Frontier’s tenure – at 2.2 million acres, or 9000 sq kms it’s the largest in the world. If that doesn’t mean much to you, that’s over six times the size of Greater London, all of it uninhabited by humans, in which there are around 450 named runs. The superlatives continue – between 65-100 ft of soft, fluffy BC powder floats down onto these limitless acres every winter, the snow base is between 15-18 feet, and an average day’s skiing will see you cover 25,000 ft of vert (although take my word for it, there is absolutely nothing ‘average’ about skiing here). Another splendid thing about Last Frontier is their helicopters – funky little Bell 407s flown by incredibly skilled pilots that take a maximum of five skiers and one guide, which means very little down time after each run so you certainly get the miles under your belt.
IT GOES LIKE THIS… In fact you clock up those miles a bit like this: It’s 9.15am and I’m standing in blinding sunlight on the summit of 7582-ft Delta Peak, the fourth highest summit in the Skeena Mountains, with guide Colin Moorhead and fellow over-excited skiers Klaus Hosner and Helmuth Ainedter from Austria and Jaako Kaivonen and Risto Koivula from Finland. Pilot Michel Seguin has just left us in a blur of snow crystals to head down to the base of a 2,600-ft run called Nunatak Right, and in
between throwing our packs on our backs (everyone is provided with an avalanche airbag pack) and clipping into our big, fat K2 skis we take the opportunity to gaze about us at the north-western reaches of a mountain range the like of which you just won’t find in many other places on Earth. As far as the eye can see are snow plastered peaks, inhabited only by wolves, bear, moose and approximately 18 other skiers in the other three groups that Last Frontier are taking into the mountains today. That gives us around 375 sq kms each to play in… Colin points out the line we’ll be taking down the mountain, states the blindingly obvious “Follow me!” – which we’re only too happy to do, and one by one off we go down soft, delicate shin deep snow powder. The sheer and absolute joy of scything through untracked snow on a vast powder field in the middle of nowhere - in the sunshine - on a Wednesday morning in March - when normal life would have me sitting behind a desk tapping at a keyboard – well, I can’t help thinking I may have inadvertently
slipped through a ‘wormhole’ into a parallel universe.
HEROES There’s nothing special about my skiing abilities but snow like this allows you to ski like a hero in terrain that makes you feel like a hero and you even have ‘hero transport’ awaiting you at the end of the run. After all, is there any more macho, adrenaline-rushinducing kind of transport than a helicopter ride through wild mountains? This run is such ski perfection that were it the only one of the day I’d be happy - the snow is never less than perfect and you feel and hear the hiss of a million glittering, dust-dry snow flakes against your thighs at each turn whilst the terrain varies from easy cruising to steep, tight turns where the snow sloughs excitingly behind you as the landscape moves from high alpine glacier surrounded by purple walled mountains to fir bedecked valleys where the aroma of pine hangs in the cold, blue air. Over the course of a day bathed in brilliant sunshine we do fifteen more runs, notching up just under 34,000 feet of vertical and it’s all
so thoroughly brilliant that each of us, Austrian, Finn, Englishman and Canadian share a universal language all day in the form of an inane ear-to-ear grin which says it all. Heck, so good is the snow that the skiing is not even that tiring – well not until we arrive back at the lodge where, beer in hand and body in hot tub, you’re well aware that you’ve had ‘a day in the mountains’. A day that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry…
Alf Alderson travelled with Elemental Adventure (www. eaheli.com) the world’s leading provider of heliski vacations, operating in 15 countries. The trip included Two nights hotel accommodation pre and post heli skiing at the Fairmont Airport (pre) and the Fairmont Waterfront or the Pan Pacific (post) Return flight from Vancouver plusto Bob Quinn Lake ground transfer from to Bell II Lodge 7 nights accommodation All meals 6.5 days heli skiing including 30,500 vertical metres guaranteed Guide service Use of avalanche transceiver and ABS Airbags Use of powder skis
For more go to www.lastfrontierheli.com
A ROUGH GUIDE TO THE AOSTA VALLEY
Now here’s a conundrum…why do so many British skiers head to Chamonix, the Tarentaise or the Three Valleys when Italy’s Aosta Valley is just as accessible? And it’s less busy; and cheaper; and the food and wine are arguably better… I guess it’s probably not as wellknown as the famous ski resorts over the border in France, but after a recent five-day road trip there I can’t recommend the area highly enough. And the whole adventure is easy-peasy. Here’s how to do it: First off, take the short flight to Turin, then rent a vehicle. From there point your wheels north, put your foot to the floor and some 90-minutes later you can be in Champoluc (www.visitchampoluc. com). Once you’re checked in at your lodgings (I’d recommend the Hotel Castor – the friendly English owner may even show you around the local slopes) get a lift pass for the Aosta Valley region. This allows you to ski all the
resorts of the Aosta Valley (plus La Rosiere in France) – that’s 800km of pistes served by 200 lifts in over a dozen resorts. Spend a day exploring Champoluc’s superb mix of piste and backcountry skiing (or if your wallet’s bulging you could try some heliskiing), then hop in your car for the one-hour drive to Cervinia (www.cervinia.it). Here you can enjoy a day skiing in the shadow of the magnificent Matterhorn, where the altitude almost guarantees great snow conditions. And at day’s end it will only take you 90-minutes or so to get to Pila (www.pila.it) for your third day’s skiing.
Here, book into the cool Hotel La Chance and enjoy a day of quiet slopes, great side-country and some fine mountain dining before heading back down to the autostrada for the quick one-hour blast up to La Thuile (www.lathuile. net).
Check in at the convenient Planibel beside the slopes and have an international ski experience by heading up and over to La Rosiere (www.larosiere.net) n the French side of the Alps – if the snow isn’t great in one of these two linked resorts it almost certainly will be in the other, so this is a fine ‘two-forone’ option. Finally, head for the iconic mountain town of Courmayeur (www.courmayeur.it) in the shadow of Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco as it’s known hereabouts). It’s only twenty-minutes from La Thuile and above the attractive, car-free village you’ll find skiing that covers the whole gamut from easy cruisers to off-piste adventures amongst glaciers and beneath the highest mountain in Europe. You’ll be feeling the strain of all this action on the slopes, of course, but you can refuel in style at excellent mountain restaurants at every one of these resorts – check out our recommendations below. But first, here are my favourite bolt holes from the road trip:
AOSTA VALLEY ACCOMMODATION HOTEL LA CHANCE, PILA http://www.hotellachancepila.it/ Tucked just beneath Pila’s lower slopes, the Hotel La Chance has a very hip and contemporary design and is built on the site of an old alpine barn with superb views of the Mont Blanc massif and down towards the ancient Roman town of Aosta. Local craftsmen used traditional materials with an emphasis on wood, stone and iron in building the hotel, combined with very modern interior designs and simple but
contemporary furnishings in all 35 rooms. There’s also a lovely spa which features a sauna, Turkish bath, whirlpool and chill out room, whilst a variety of massages are available – I enjoyed a sports massage after skiing (if one could ever be said to ‘enjoy’ a sports massage) which certainly left me feeling looser, more relaxed and ready for a beer in the spacious bar, where I chatted with the extremely welcoming half-Scottish owner Natascia Romeo and resident dog Iago (in my opinion a hotel without a dog is like a pint without a head).
HOTEL CASTOR, CHAMPOLUC www.hotelcastor.eu The Castor is a family hotel in every sense of the word. Run by the same family for four generations and popular with families from the UK, Scandinavia, Holland and elsewhere, as well as couples and the occasional single guest (me) there’s a welcome feeling and a pleasant hustle and bustle about the establishment from the minute you walk through the door. There are no airs or graces about
the Castor, which is a traditional, friendly Italian alpine hotel with menus based largely on local produce, a busy and cosy bar where daily papers from all over Europe are available every morning, and easy access to some marvellously varied skiing to suit all abilities. I skied with co-proprietor Herman Buchan who did a fine job of persuading me to return to sample the region’s off-piste and maybe even some heliskiing later this winter – not bad salesmanship considering I’m based in Les Arcs for the season! And talking of off-piste, a great value option that the Castor offers every Thursday is guided off-piste skiing amongst some of the best backcountry terrain in the northern Alps with affable local mountain guide Stefano Percino for just €25 per person. And yes, there’s a resident hotel dog…
ST. HUBERTUS RESORT, CERVINIA www.sainthubertusresort.it If money is no object the St. Hubertus ‘bio-resort’ will impress the most jaded of travellers. Elegant and luxurious in the extreme, skilled craftsmen from all over Europe literally built the St. Hubertus by hand over a period of seven years. A combination of skilfully worked stone, timber, glass, wrought iron and steel features throughout the hotel, with each suite having its own individual design and simple yet classic furnishings, along with an iPod touch entertainment system. The lounge in each suite also features a fireplace with firewood provided for an even more cosy and romantic feel, and bathrooms comprise marble suites, hand carved sinks and a stash of Hermes toiletries. Clever touches abound – for instance, one suite looks onto the north face of the Matterhorn
around which the main window frame has been designed to give a stunning view, particularly at sunrise and sunset. There is also, of course, a fantastic wellness centre and swimming pool (which I most unfortunately didn’t have time to put to the test), and should you get socked in by the weather in Cervinia I really can’t think of a better place to sit it out – in fact you’d almost want at least one day of bad weather to give you the perfect excuse to idle in the lap of luxury in the St. Hubertus. Right, that’s your gaff sorted out, now where do you get some scran (food for our American friends)?
AOSTA VALLEY DINING I’m not exactly a bon viveur when it comes to skiing and dining and am generally quite happy chomping on a cheese and ham baguette at a nice viewpoint in the
sun, but my recent road trip along the Aosta Valley has changed all that. Why? Well having skied at five different resorts and eaten at five different mountain restaurants not once did I come away with anything other than ecstatic tastebuds, not to mention a wallet that still had a decent amount of euros within its moth-eaten covers. The secret of the Aosta Valley’s fine mountain restaurants seems to lie in four things: they’re often run by the owner who is always on site and may well be cooking the food; they specialise in local, quality controlled ingredients; prices are far from astronomical; and you’re always welcomed with a smile. The raw ingredients of most meals are the time honoured specialities of most mountain regions – cheese and various meats, particularly pork, venison and beef along with regional specialities such as chestnuts in honey (a particular favourite of mine), mushrooms and various breads. And things are kept simple – one of my favourite dishes was ‘zuppa valpellinetze’ a soup made from local Fontina cheese, cabbage and bread which I enjoyed at Maison Carrell in La Thuile (which true to form is run by the owners and uses family recipes in its menu). A bowl of zuppa valpellinetze is a meal in itself and the ideal fuel for a day on the slopes – and costs only €9 too. Fontina cheese features heavily in most local dishes, with a sweet taste and a fragrant aroma which intensifies as it matures – it’s produced exclusively from the milk of Aosta Valley cows and is one of the best alpine cheeses I’ve tasted.
A more unusual option is lard d’Arnad, which is exactly what it sounds like – lard. However this particular form of lard, which is served with a selection of thinly sliced cold meats, is far removed from the stuff we’re used to in the UK. As with Fontina cheese it’s a product with a protected designation of origin (PDO), and its obtained from the back of the pig then seasoned in old chestnut or oak containers for at least three months with a mixture of salt, water, spices and aromatic mountain herbs. When served in thin slices it almost literally melts in your mouth and has a pleasantly sweet taste – a far cry from the stuff we fry chips in back home. Another very pleasant surprise was the local wine – I prefer reds and as such am not used to getting anything that special from the northern Alps, but the Aosta Valley’s warm and sunny summer climate seems to be ideal for producing crisp, dry reds with a surprisingly full body which are in turn pretty good for producing spectacular wipeouts of an afternoon in Cervinia when one too many glasses has been downed…. One of my favourites was the Vallée d’Aoste Torrette, which by definition must include in excess of 70% of Petit Rouge grapes, which can be blended with Pinot Noir, Gamay, Fumin, Vien de Nus, Dolcetto, Majolet or Prëmetta. I’d advise going for the Supérieur version, which is produced from the sunniest vineyards and tends to have more body due to its greater concentration of grapes and longer aging. You can find out more about the food and wine of the Aosta Valley through a local organization called “Saveurs du Val d’Aoste” (www.regione.vda.it/turismo/ scopri/enogastronomia/
saveurs_e.asp), which is committed to guaranteeing a high standard of food and wine presentation and quality among its ninety-plus members. Here are my own top mountain restaurants based on my own whistle-stop tour of this superb corner of the ski world: Chateau COURMAYEUR Branlant. Located close to the top station of the cable car with lovely mountain views and a traditional rustic feel, my favourite dish was Chateau Quiche - puff pastry with mocetta (air cured goat meat), potatoes and Fontina cheese. www.chateaubranlant.com
LA THUILE Maison Carrel. The affable proprietor Giorgio Carrel is an ancestor of the first man climb the Matterhorn from the Italian side, and Mama Carrell is responsible for their excellent zuppa valpellinetze – soup made from cabbage, Fontina cheese and bread using a family recipe. www.maisoncarrel.com
PILA La Chatelaine. A splendidly located mid-mountain restaurant with a friendly, bustling ambience, their top offering in my humble
opinion was actually a wine - La Source Torette Supérieur (I’m afraid I didn’t get the price but am assured it can be purchased for around €7 in local supermarkets). CERVINIA – Bontadini Restaurant. Packed to the rafters in the chaotic but jolly way that’s unique to the Italians, one of the Bontadini’s top dishes is Corn Cake Valdostana
(€12) featuring Fontina cheese (of course), noisette, butter and sage. CHAMPOLUC – Rifugio L’Aroula. As rustic as it comes – set off the side of the piste on the edge of a centuries-old mountain village, Rifugio L’Aroula served up a splendid selection of cold cuts also featuring a delicious vegetable quiche and lard d’Arnad
www.rifugioaroula.it P.S. One more thing I should point out – I’m addicted to my morning coffee (cappuccino or Americano, I’m nae fussed) and never once paid more than €2 for my fix; in some place it was only €1. Try finding that in France or Switzerland…
COOL FOR CATS Alf Alderson enjoys some of the best value cat-skiing on the planet in British Columbia
There’s a popular anecdote you’ll hear in Rossland, a former gold mining town which sits beneath the small, holistic ski resort of Red Mountain in British Columbia. It tells of a local who once skied the ultimate steep, powdery line between Red’s tightly packed trees, emerging at the bottom as a gasping, snow plastered, beardy mess (beards are big in Rossland) to exclaim “That was the best run of my life”, after which he rushed back to the up the mountain to repeat his descent – but to no avail. This wasn’t because he was eaten by bears or swept away by an avalanche - he just couldn’t find the same run again. For Red’s heavily wooded off-piste terrain is all but unmapped (the piste map indicates the vague whereabouts of named runs but there are few if any signs on the ground) and unless you know the exact two trees you snuck between to enjoy such a run, the chances of finding the same line again are minimal. Ski Canada Magazine’s writers, who know a thing or two about gnarly skiing, have voted Red Mountain as having the country’s
‘Best Steeps’, ‘Best Powder’ and ‘Best Trees’ whilst Forbes Traveler regards the resort as being one of the top ten in North America for expert skiers; and Canada’s most famous female skier, 1968 Olympic gold medallist Nancy Greene, grew up here and reckons that after having learned to ski at Red “everything else seemed easy and not very steep”.
‘POSITIVELY HAZARDOUS’ Her legacy has been carried into the 21st century by hot young local freeskiers such as Dane Tudor, 2009 Canadian freeski champion and Leah Evans, one of the country’s top big mountain skiers. Red’s reputation and their talents are built on the back of terrain described by at least one North American ski guidebook as ‘dangerous…and positively hazardous’; runs like Cambodia with its mandatory cliff drops (small cliffs but cliffs all the same), Third Slide, where you’ll easily lose your ski partner between the maze of trees; and the pick-up-sized bumps of Red Towers which are conveniently located underneath
the rickety old Red Chair, so that those gliding serenely uphill can be entertained by you sliding uncomfortably downhill on your backside. I’d always seen Red as a challenge that at some point in my ski career I had to face up to, and despite having first visited in a previous century it’s only in the last few years that I’ve felt I have the ability to really start to appreciate what’s on offer here. For instance, my first descent on this particular visit came in the form of an off-piste black diamond run called Powder Fields. Mountain guide Roly Worsfold led the way between relatively open trees, powder hissing over the top of our boots as we descended through a classic British Columbian landscape where summit after summit of forested mountains seemingly marched north towards us from the US border like an immense blue-green ocean swell. By heading away from the centre line of the run it was possible to find untracked powder stashes, although this search for the fluffy stuff can make skiing at Red a
potentially solitary experience as I found the following day when I joined Roly and a couple of his mates to ski the more closely packed trees of Pale Face.
LISTEN TO THE SILENCE We all headed off on our own lines with an enthusiastic whoop or whistle to indicate our location as we snaked in and out of the trees. Eventually I stopped, mainly because a large conifer insisted that one of us should give way, and slumped back into the snow to listen to the silence. It was so quiet I could hear the swoosh of the snow slicing off the skis of the other guys as they dropped gracefully away beneath me, an occasional “Who-hoo!” echoing back off the trunks of a thousand trees, and then suddenly there was no sound at all other than my heavy breathing.
Neither could I see Roly and co. below me. So I got back on to my skis and began the process of threading my way between tree trunks until, like the local dude who skied the ‘best line ever’, I emerged at the bottom of Pale Face onto an empty cat track knowing I would never be able to find that exact line again. There was no sign of the others, but more shouts soon brought us back together. We’d all become spread out over about four hundred yards, not one of us having come out in the same place at the bottom of the run – the search for your own best line and the hunt for hidden powder stashes ensures that tree skiing at Red often follows this format.
CHEAP AS CHIPS And in the last few years Red has rather silently grown bigger and
bigger, first opening up a third ski hill Grey Mountain (the original hills are Red – of course – and Granite) and then this season a fourth, Kirkup – it shouldn’t go unnoticed that this has in fact been the largest expansion of any North American ski resort in some four decades. I skied Grey last year, which has a rather special feature which this season moves to Kirkup – cheap as chips cat-skiing. Just ten Canadian dollars in fact. Elsewhere in the world this would cost you hundreds of dollars. Fair enough, your ten bucks will get you just one ride up Grey Mountain, but it’s quite possible to get in eight or more runs a day, which is much the same as you’d get in a regular cat ski operation for three times the price.
Each time you hit Grey in the cat you’ll be skiing with just the twelve other passengers so it takes ages for the terrain to get tracked out and pretty much ensures that wherever you choose to ski you’ll have it to yourself. Perhaps the only downside is that the cat operates on a ‘first come, first served’ basis so you have to wait in line for your ride, but Red is such a quiet ski hill that you rarely have to wait for more than 20 minutes max. Red has also seen the recent development of some fine luxury ski in-ski out condos beside the slopes, but this shouldn’t be seen as an excuse for neglecting the five-minute drive down into Rossland to wine and dine after your day on the hill.
GIVE IT SOME GRUNT This is the oldest ski town in western Canada, and there’s still
a hearty backwoods feel to it lumber trucks grunt along the wide main street past ultra-cool ski and bike emporiums, eclectic coffee houses and bookshops offer a warm invite and we found ourselves regularly drawn to the sushi restaurant Drift on Columbia Avenue for fresh sashimi, maki or frazzled prawns. The whole set up of ski hill and ski town is small by European standards, but good skiers who enjoy challenging terrain and want a taste of ‘real’ British Columbia rather than the overcrowded glitz and razzle of Whistler won’t get bored here, especially as there are also the options of ski touring on neighbouring peaks, day trips to the equally hard core ski hill of Whitewater, and local cat and heliski operations if your wallet is feeling heavy. Not a sensation I can say I’ve ever had – but then I’ve been cat-skiing on Grey Mountain for ten bucks, so who care…?
Frontier Ski offer eight-day package deals to Red Mountain including flights, overnight stay in Vancouver, transfers, slopeside accommodation in Slalom Creek luxury condominiums and lift pass. Go to for more details and prices (www.frontier-ski.co.uk). For more info on Red Mountain www.redresort.com
IN THE PICTURE
Elli Magnusson ‘In the Picture’ is a new regular feature for the Church in which we present a portfolio of the work of a top outdoor/adventure photographer. In this issue we feature the work of Icelandic photographer Elli Magnusson. If you’re a regular reader of the Church you’ll have already seen some of Elli’s surf and ski shots in the mag, and they’re so good we thought we should have some more. All the shots you see here were taken in either Iceland or Greenland. You can see more of Elli’s work at www.ellithor.com
MUSICAL FINNISH Ace outdoor photographer Jon Sparks explains why, for him, music and Finland go hand in hand Words and pics Jon Sparks
What makes you want to go to a particular place? Seeing appealing images is a common trigger; reading or hearing stories is another. But there are many other ways in which the desire to go somewhere can be implanted. For me, for example, the desire to explore Finland began with the music of Sibelius. This needs some explanation. Listening to Ry Cooder didn’t fill me with the desire to explore Santa Monica, California (or even Paris, Texas). I loved Talking Heads, but had no particular desire to go to New York. But Sibelius’ music seemed – and still seems – to be all about landscape. Around the time I really got into Sibelius, I was trying to be a landscape photographer too, and I wanted to take pictures that looked like the music sounded: airy, expansive; the sound of wide open spaces.
It may seem odd to talk of orchestral music in relation to the outdoors; the natural home of a symphony orchestra is the concert hall. Some years ago I photographed a number of outdoor concerts – the sort where people take picnics and that ends with fireworks – and an abiding memory is the string players tying themselves in knots during rehearsals to keep the sun off their precious fiddles. For the performance itself, the orchestra were miked up and amplified and, even so, it only worked for short, upbeat pieces. I’m not sure what would be the ideal music for performing outdoors (though I keep thinking of bagpipes); of course, these days you can take any music you like wherever you go – but when I first heard Sibelius, even the Sony Walkman didn’t exist. But what Sibelius’ music did was take me places in my head. Imaginary
places, for the most part; vague, half-formed visions of wide, almost limitless landscapes. The vision and the reality didn’t meet until many years later.
I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Sibelius’ music. It must have been when I was at University. I suspect it was a friend, Mike Thompson, who first played me the symphonies of Sibelius. (Mike had quite a lot to do with my discovery of rock-climbing, and serious cycling, too: where is he now?) But also I was starting to listen to Radio 3, especially when studying in the daytime. It was the inane prattle of Radio 1 DJs, rather than the music, that turned me off: Steve Wright, in particular, would have me reaching for the dial, and in those days Radio 2 didn’t play any decent music at all.
‘austere’ (I think the word they are really looking for is ‘Northern’). Apparently Sibelius once said that when more ‘modern’ composers were engaged in manufacturing cocktails, he offered the public pure cold water. He also said that the Sixth Symphony “always reminds me of the scent of the first snow”. If I felt echoes of landscape and nature in the music, it didn’t take any special insight. There were whopping great clues in the cover photos, and I’m sure there were plenty of references in the sleeve notes, too. (Remember sleeve notes? When all you had to do to read an essay on the music was look at the rear of the LP cover? You don’t get that on iTunes). Sibelius loved nature and was a regular walker to the end of his life. Most of his music was composed at Ainola, a house among trees near a lake. He kept binoculars to hand to watch for migrating geese and cranes.
Sibelius and Finland
Sibelius’ music isn’t just about the Finnish landscape; it’s part of Finland’s national identity. In fact, it’s hard to think of any other composer, and any other country, which have so strong a link.
I thought, too, that instrumental music would be less distracting. But it didn’t always work that way. Some pieces would suddenly catch my attention, leave me transfixed for minutes on end. It wasn’t only Sibelius, but his music more than any other seemed to convey a mood, an atmosphere, even a sense of place, that I connected with on a deep level. Having no musical training, I can’t properly say what it is about this music that has this effect. It’s purely a feeling. And can I even say what that feeling is?
Sibelius wrote a wide range of music – no opera, thank goodness, but songs, solo pieces for piano and other instruments, a violin concerto and more… but what I heard first, and still listen to most, are the symphonies. There are seven of these, composed between 1899 and 1924. (He’s believed to have worked on an Eighth Symphony, but there’s no trace of it). Compared to some other composers, Sibelius’ symphonies are relatively modest in scale. Critics often describe them as ‘restrained’ or even
Excuse a brief history lesson: Finland is a comparatively young country. The region known as Finland was a province of Sweden for many centuries, before passing to Russian control in 1809. It had never been an independent nation, until Russia’s internal strife and ultimate Revolution opened the door in 1917. However, a sense of national identity, of Finnishness, had been growing for some time. Poorer people, especially in the generally backward rural areas, had always spoken Finnish, but Swedish had mostly been the language of the middle classes (Sibelius himself grew
up speaking Swedish); in the late 19th and early 20th century they began to embrace Finnish language and folklore. Painters and poets celebrated the legends and the landscape and so, in his music, did Jean Sibelius. His most overtly patriotic piece, Finlandia, was effectively banned for a time under Russian rule, though it was often smuggled into concert programmes under the alias ‘Impromptu’. Landscape and nature seem to be part of the Finnish soul. Even the blue and white of the national flag is said to represent the blue of its lakes and the white of its snows. It is also one of the most northerly countries on Earth; although Norway reaches further North, a greater portion of Finland’s area is north of the Arctic Circle, and its most southerly point is further north than the Orkney Islands. Helsinki is the second most
northerly capital (after Reykjavik). Finland has about 40% more land area than the UK, but less than a tenth of the population. It’s a land of starkly-defined seasons and vast spaces. All this was guaranteed to appeal to me, but I felt it through Sibelius’ music long before I knew the plain facts. Discovering Finland Naturally, I wanted to go to Finland, but I was busy establishing myself as a photographer and writer and had to go where the work took me. Ironically, my first visit to Finland wasn’t in a professional capacity at all. My partner was invited to a conference in Jyvaskyla and when she asked if I fancied coming along I took all of a nanosecond to agree. Jyvaskyla is a medium-sized University town in the Finnish Lake District. (There are lakes everywhere in Finland; the Lake
District just has more and larger ones). And, as it was the middle of winter, most of those lakes were frozen. Daytime temperatures rarely climbed above –15o C, but the air was still and dry and I found it surprisingly comfortable – though I do remember my fingers sticking to the metal body of my camera once or twice. (That was pre-digital, and I was using a Nikon FM2). While Bernie sat in conference rooms, I wandered around photographing birch trees and people walking and cycling; when she escaped for a few hours we played at the modest ski slopes a short bus-ride from town. We never got far from town and I didn’t really experience Finnish wilderness on that first trip, but what I did discover was a nation that embraced the outdoors. There were more people cycling to work, school or pub, over packed snow at –20, than you’d see in any
UK city even in ‘perfect’ weather’. Walk past a school at playtime and the kids would all be running around in the snow; on the skislopes tiny tots who’d only just mastered walking would be snowploughing better than I could. It was a short and unstructured visit, but it rounded off something that had begun with first hearing the symphonies. I knew I wanted to know this country better, and I began looking for proper professional opportunities to return. The first of these came with a cycling trip around the Turku Archipelago, and my tally of visits is now in double figures. I’ve even had the chance to write a travel guidebook, which meant crisscrossing the country to all the towns and cities I hadn’t already visited. (Sadly, as Thomas Cook have recently pulled out of the guidebook business, the fourth edition of Travellers Finland will be the last).
I still speak hardly any Finnish, because everyone speaks excellent English, and there are still vast areas of Finnish wilderness I haven’t explored, but I do now know it better than any other ‘foreign’ country. Above all, it’s a country where landscape and nature are integrated into normal life, far more than they are in the UK. This is underpinned and embodied by the long-established tradition known as ‘Every Man’s Right’ (Jokamiehenoikeus in Finnish, Allemansratt in Swedish) – though of course it applies to women too! It sets the global gold standard for access to the outdoors, and provided a model for the Scottish Access Code (itself far ahead of England and Wales). It includes the right to walk almost anywhere, and to travel in other low-impact ways, such as by bike, on skis or by canoe. It also includes the right to gather wild food such as berries and mushrooms. And this isn’t just a theoretical
right. Taking the train and bus from Helsinki to Nuuksio National Park, we were briefly bemused by the numbers of people carrying baskets and buckets. It soon became clear that they were for collecting fungi. Crosscountry ski-trails thread through and around every city, town and resort; a common sight along these are simple wooden shelters with a fireplace and stock of logs, enabling a hot al-fresco snack. And if you want the true sauna experience, take one in Finland in winter, and when you need to cool off, step outside and roll yourself in the snow. In winter the long darkness is moderated by the reflective power of the snow that blankets the land and bows down the trees, and often brightened further by the Northern Lights. In summer, even in the south, there’s no darkness at all. Midsummer is the great festival, celebrated with bonfires and dancing (and, yes, just a little
bit of drinking). Staying up all night is just the natural thing to do. Natural… yes, that’s a key word. Nature is in the soul of Finland and in the music of Sibelius. They’re almost the same thing, anyway.
Do you have to listen to all seven symphonies to get a feeling for Sibelius’ music? I’d recommend it, of course, but if time is too short try these shorter pieces and excerpts: Finlandia: far more Finnish than the national anthem, it mixes stirring, almost martial passages with a glorious romantic melody. Look out for the choral version to appreciate this tune to the full Andante Festivo (1938 version for string orchestra and timpani): More ‘typically Sibelius’ than any other short piece I know, it’s sparse, evocative and lovely
At the Castle Gate: You probably know this already, as it’s been the theme tune for the BBC’s The Sky at Night ever since the Big Bang. It’s the opening movement of a suite called Pelléas et Mélisande Symphony No 5, final movement: one of Sibelius’ most dramatic works. He said himself he had an Alpine, rather than a typically Finnish, landscape in mind. Its final six chords are simply the best ending of any piece of music in any genre, ever
BEAUTIFUL PUNISHMENT Daniel Wildey kicks in his front points on some of the most beautiful icefalls in the world. words and pics Daniel Wildey
“My brother says it’s the most beautiful ice he has ever climbed.” Encouraging words from some clearly experienced Germans as they abseiled down to our neckcraning position at the foot of Pisciadu icefall in the Val Badia. Those words genuinely calmed my nerves as I geared up for my first lead on ice. We’d walked maybe 20 minutes from a chairlift in the village of Colfosco, secretly basking in the curious attention from the skiers. Convenient access to the icefalls is a feature of much of the winter climbing in the Dolomites, and the spread-out, relatively quiet pistes don’t encroach too much on the peaceful joys of climbing - despite being only a few hundred metres from the skiers the snow seems to absorb sound to deliver that unique silence of winter. And the proximity of civilisation is kind of comforting for a beginner. Except at the moment of tying in to the sharp end of the rope... At that point civilisation is a foreign concept, and only the climb exists. I’d climbed ice before and always felt comfortable with tools and front points. What I wasn’t relishing was placing ice screws - I found it hard enough removing them.
But here’s another confidence booster; compared to winter climbing in the UK, the ice forms fat and hard, so placements are solid and I’d cunningly elected to lead the first pitch which was short and easy - well, easier than the enormous WI4 pitches yet to come... A few warm-up moves on perfect ice, and one easy placement, led me to a kind of semi-cave which had to be bridged, and with a short
steep section ahead to get above the cave, I knew another ice screw was necessary. Despite a bit of disco leg from the scary (but solid) bridging position, the placement was straightforward and I was off onto the vertical with first-time axe placements and good footholds that needed much less of a kicking than I was giving them. Then the safety of a huge ledge, where the water runs flat for several metres in summer. Lead climbing on ice: Tick. The
whole first pitch is maybe only 15 metres, but the quality of the ice and the varied climbing made for an ideal introduction to leading. Starting at an easy gradient to find your feet, bridging between alternative curtains of ice, and a short steep section with an enormous ledge as reward. Beautiful; as we’d been advised and typical of the Dolomites.
Along the north wall of the Sella Massif there are plenty of icefalls in the creases of that enormous face that are just as accessible, both in terms of approach and climbing. My first experience of ice climbing was on Sasso Ghiacciato, down the road at Armentarola - literally five metres from the piste, and maybe 200 metres from the best mixed grill in the South Tyrol at Rifugio Scotoni. A morningsâ€™ skiing on one of the most highly-rated pistes in the world (the Hidden Valley, from the Lagazuoi cable car) makes a nice change from the approach slog that many winter climbers will be familiar with. The constant crowd of open-mouthed skiers congregating at the base of the climb will either make you feel like Ueli Steck or, more likely, give you stage fright. For a little more solitude try Serrai di Sottoguda; again a short ski-in from the Marmolada cable car at
Malga Ciapela or an even shorter walk from the car park at the village of Sottoguda. From either direction you enter an enchanting crack that could be the very definition of the word gorge; in places there is so little sky you might feel you are climbing out of a post box. Except it is plastered with ice. Fewer skiers enter the gorge than descend the Hidden Valley, but you will encounter more climbers, and you may attract the occasional dog-walker; a small price to pay when such beauty is so close at hand. At the Pisciadu icefall the pride of my first lead was short-lived as we wandered deeper into the crack that the water had carved and came face-to-face with pitch two. I have no idea how high that section was, because time and awe have distorted my memory, but I would estimate 600 metres. Give or take.
These things always look bigger from below, but it was an intimidatingly long piece of vertical ice that made my arms ache just looking at it. Seconding it took all my energy and resolve and gave me my first taste of hotaches. Great preparation for the third pitch, which was essentially more of the same punishment. Beautiful, beautiful punishment. http://www.colletts.co.uk/winter/
PUTTING YOUR FOOT IN IT If you’re thinking of ski touring this season, here’s some useful advice from Chiz Dakin
There’s nothing worse than getting half a day into a really good trip into the mountains and then spending the rest of the time cursing and hobbling from painful blistered feet. Sometimes your feet just simply have to toughen up a bit and get used to the extra effort you’re asking of them, but all too often, the true cause is that your feet and boots do not fit well together. This is especially true of skitouring boots, so I went along to one of the UK’s leading boot fitters, Backcountryuk www. backckountryuk.com in Ilkley, to find out more. There I meet Andy, their resident expert in ski-boot fitting.
The first thing Andy does is look at the shape of my bare feet. He’s looking for any areas that have the potential to cause difficulties of fit or instability. As well as typical heel spurs or bunions, such difficulties can include particularly low or high volume feet or even a sixth toe!
should be roughly 20mm (25mm max) for touring boots (5mm less for downhill/piste boots). Any larger gap will make it difficult to fit the boot snugly enough to the foot. Much smaller, and they’re likely to be too tight.
Whatever stability issues are found (and many of us have some) the normal method of control involves a pair of custom-made footbeds. As I already have a pair that Andy deems suitable, I get to escape that particular process.
Then he puts the inners into the boots and buckles them up around my feet to a moderately snug but not overly tight fit. I wander around the shop for 10-15mins, while the boots warm up and my feet get used to the feel of them.
As Andy explains: “A stable foot is very important for skiing, as skiing technique is all about power transmission from edge to edge of the ski. An unstable foot will introduce unnecessary wobble, which translates into loss of power and fine control over the ski”. There are various additional methods of checking stability which Andy can also use, including Brannock devices, thermal footprint plates, or even his most fun toy in the box - a small round sphere which projects a vertical laser beam down the lower leg from knee to heel. Although this looks to come straight from the props department of Dr Who, it’s used for checking correct alignment of your lower leg.
Because I have narrow heels and a fairly low volume but moderately wide front foot, Andy reckons that a pair of Dynafit boots are likely to be the best fit for me. As he thinks I’m just between two sizes, we try the larger size first. They’re too large but the shell check agrees the smaller size fits.
Already they’re feeling far more comfortable than rental boots normally feel, with none of the usual pinch points around calf, arch or heel. Andy asks whether there’s any significant lifting of my heels. There’s a little but no more than normal walking boots so that’s OK.
Now it’s time to play “guess the boot size”, which is made easier with the “shell check” method of sizing outer boots. Standing barefoot in the outer shell of the boot, with your foot just touching the front end, the gap between heel and back of the boot
I also try some Scarpas for comparison but as Andy predicted, it makes more sense to go with the Dynafits that are a naturally better fit for me.
While the inners get heated in a special boot-oven (which allows their foam to expand and become
soft and malleable), Andy pads out the pressure points on my feet with 3mm thick foam blobs and a toe-box for “wiggle-room”. The heated inners are placed in the boots, and then comes a delicate and quite awkward bit – stepping straight into the boots, without twisting feet or inners in the process (as this would stretch the inners in all the wrong places).
With the buckles are done up gently on the outers, it takes ten minutes for the heated inners to shape to my feet. They should feel very snug at this point – not painful, but not exactly comfortable either. Now it’s just a matter of dealing with any remaining pressure points. Out comes Andy’s “Backcountry Hi-tech Inner Boot Foam Compression And Remoulding Method” (aka small bits of wood, G-clamps and a hot air gun) for one on my right calf. The hot-air warms the foam to make it malleable again, and the wood and clamps compress it over areas which are too snug a fit. A rubbing bar moulds the outer right boot slightly wider at another point and finally a seam of the right inner near my toes gets the “Backcountry Persuader” (a small synthetic mallet).
This process should work for most folks. For the few who continue to experience problems, one thing to check is whether changing the type of socks you use relieves any remaining issues - well-fitting merino wool based socks can sometimes be more effective against blisters than “technical” socks. Finally I just need to wear in the boots for a couple of weeks – allow them to loosen up a little, bed down into their final shape, and discover any hidden snags before taking them on a serious trip. After all, a remote glacier hundreds of miles from anywhere is the last place you want to discover there was a final pressure point that got missed in the warmth of the shop fitting room!
GET ON THE GOOD FOOT Backcountry’s range of women’s ski-touring boots include Dynafit and Scarpa boots costing £265£470. Men get a wider choice with offerings from Black Diamond and Garmont also available from £250. Custom-boot-fitting costs a very reasonable £25 (note, this usually takes 1.5 to 3 hours, so it’s necessary to arrange an appointment - if you just turn up on the doorstep, their staff may already be fully occupied with other clients!) www.backcountryuk.com See more of Chiz’ work at www. peakimages.co.uk
As I stride out down Ilkley High Street, I’m hoping the late afternoon darkness would help my shiny new skiboots blend in during their first steps of wearing in. But I’d gone no more than 100m, when I hear a very strange sound, like air escaping through a narrow hole in my prized new boots, then being magnified by the surrounding tall brick buildings. I can’t help but giggle as I pass a van some 10m later – a carpenter was at work behind this, sawing a length of wood in almost perfect time with my footsteps!
SHEFFIELD GOLD? We spend fifteen minutes with ace freestyle skier James ‘Woodsy’ Woods. words Alf Alderson Pics Daniel Wildey and Salomon
It must be a Sheffield thing – well, two Sheffield things actually. The first is the hair – it won’t have escaped your attention that James ‘Woody’ Woods, Sheffield’s world beating freestyle skier, doesn’t wear his barnet like most of us. And if you’re old enough to remember the 80s it also won’t have escaped your attention that another Sheffield lad, Phil Oakey of the Human League, had a not dissimilar coiffure. There the similarities end of course, although Woodsy does admit to liking his music and I dare say that a taste that takes in everything from the Beatles to Sheffield ukulele band The Everly Pregnant Brothers (http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=qhnkt82GGXc) would also find a soft spot for ‘t Human League.
The other Sheffield thing is an inordinate pride in the Steel City. Like every other Sheffield resident I’ve ever met Woodsy loves his birthplace, despite having spent only 36 hours there in the past year (“For my brother’s birthday”) due to the demands of being one of the world’s foremost exponents of flying through the air on skis
and landing safely. Most of the time… It’s inevitable that in his line of work Woodsy will be asked by interviewers what his worst injury has been. “A broken back” comes the laconic reply; “And I once bit my tongue in half after a bad
landing” He reckons one if his favourite pieces of equipment now - other than his Salomon NFX skis - is his mouthguard… But these freestylers are made of – well, in this case Sheffield steel I guess, since Woodsy carried on skiing for two months before his buggered back was diagnosed and he even competed at the 2013 European X-Games in Tignes. Fortunately he’s now pretty well mended and, of course, looking forward to the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. I ask him how he feels about it – after all, he’s going to be carrying as much weight on his shoulders as any British skier ever has, since this will be the first time in Winter Olympic history that Team GB has a realistic chance of medalling in a ski event. The affable, easy-going 21-yearold is suitably relaxed about it. “No one puts more pressure on me than myself. I’ve achieved world number one ranking in the
past and I feel I can do it again, hopefully in Sochi. “This will be the first time the slopestyle event has appeared at the Olympics so it’s a ‘statement’ event and I want to do my absolute best. I enjoy the media attention it’s giving me, but I just need to make sure I don’t get over-excited by it all”. That he enjoys the media attention is obvious – when we met up he’d just done two days of TV, radio and press interviews in the run up to the start of the 2013/14 ski season, yet was all smiles and eager to help; I ran into him several hours later at the Ski Show in Olympia, still chatting to the press, fans and acolytes and still with a smile on his face. Add to that an intelligent, considered approach to answering questions and I’d say that in the far distant future when his ski career is over there’s a job for this lad on Ski Sunday… Assuming, of course, he’s actually residing in the UK. For some time now Woodsy has made Breckenridge in Colorado his base. The combination of one of the best terrain parks in North America, great snow conditions, a posse of mates who are also
supremely talented freestylers and ready access to sponsors makes it an obvious choice. Everyone remarks upon the blindingly obvious – that it’s a far cry from the dry slope he learnt to ski on in Sheffield – but this is one of the great appeals of freestyle skiing; as long as you have a halfdecent terrain park à la Sheffield Ski Village (before it burnt down a couple of years ago) it’s possible for lads like Woodsy to develop their talents to a level where they can take on and beat the best in the world, despite growing up somewhere that sees snow on just a few occasions each winter. He also feels that being from Yorkshire helps. “It must be something in the water here – after all, had we been a country we’d have come tenth in the medals table at the London Olympics,” he points out with a laugh. Since both I and photographer Daniel are from Yorkshire too a brief moment of northern bonding takes place as we sympathise at the misfortune of those not to be born in the White Rose county, but to be honest Woodsy is such a genuinely nice bloke I reckon he’d get on with anyone – even a Lancastrian.
Many of the questions I throw at him are somewhat trite, for another interview for an in-flight magazine, so there is a danger that I’m not really getting to know the man beneath the baseball cap and wacky hair do – and how well can you get to know someone in just fifteen minutes? – but when Woodsy is called away for his next interview I’m sure of one thing; you’d be hard pushed to find a nicer and more grounded athlete. When you consider the poncing around you see from overpaid Premiership footballers then you meet an equally talented and far braver athlete who earns less than a fraction of a Rooney or Messi yet comes with no air and graces or sense of entitlement you realise that there are some sports where you can reach the highest level and still remain a real and genuine person. So here’s hoping the lad with the Sheffield steel can transmute it to Russian gold this month. See Woodsy in action here h t t p : / / w w w. y o u t u b e . c o m / watch?v=cAOvzz5-MjA
On Top of the World Kenton Cool & Lakpa Rita interview
Interview by Daniel Wildey, pics Daniel and Sherpa Adventure Gear 2013 has been a remarkable year on Everest; the 60th Anniversary of Hilary and Tenzing’s first ascent, a disturbing report of violence amongst the climbers and some incredible feats of modern mountaineering. Church of the Open Sky talks to two legends of Everest, Kenton Cool, eleven-time summiteer and first to climb the three peaks of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse in a single push; and Lakpa Rita, a senior Sherpa who has clocked up a total of 11 years on the mountain in a 30 year career and is now the face of Sherpa Adventure Gear. Where does Kenton’s triple crown sit among the great achievements
in the Himalaya? Lakpa Rita: A lot of people have been thinking about doing it, I believe one or two people did the Everest/Lhotse combo but no-one was able to do all three in a season, which is one of the biggest achievements so far in climbing history. Kenton Cool: I think you’re being quite kind. I know you would have done it quicker. Where do I think it sits? I just think I was really lucky, I don’t think it really sits anywhere. I’ve always been to Everest for commercial reasons and for the first time ever I was allowed to climb on Everest for fun. The very essence of why we do these
things is because we enjoy it and we go into the hills because we’re looking for fun. And that’s what my Everest triple crown turned out to be, I really enjoyed it. Does it sit anywhere? I don’t think it needs to sit anywhere… Is it a big achievement? I steal this from Alex Lowe who once said “The best climber in the world today is the climber having the most fun.” Following Kenton’s triple crown, Ueli Steck’s solo ascent of Annapurna and Sandy and Rick Allen’s traverse of the Mazeno Ridge, where do you see the future of top level Himalayan climbing?
KC: I think what I’d like to see is the immense power and strength of people like Lakpa on the mountains because without a doubt the Sherpa people are more powerful at high altitude. It would be fascinating to see very technically competent, driven Sherpas in the high mountains because I think they’ll be able to do quite incredible things. You guys are powerhouses, so strong in the mountains. Would you like the opportunity to climb for yourself Lapka? LR: So far most of the climbs I’ve done were for my work, I’ve been doing this for a living but if I get the opportunity, definitely I would do a lot of my own climbing. KC: Perhaps we can go and do K2 together? We’ll all climb as equals... apart from you’d have a bigger rucksack, it’s the only way I can keep up! How has Everest changed since you’ve been climbing there? LR: My first expedition on Everest
was 1984, looking back from today a lot has changed. I’ve seen the glacier recede back a lot. In 1984 we used to camp almost an hour down from where we are camping right now, so much of the glacier has receded. In those days we didn’t have much technical gear, these days we have lot of great tools and lightweight ladders and stuff like that, it makes it a lot easier to set a route. But again it depends on the season, it can be harder or it can be easier. KC: It’s just a different place; a mountain is a constantly changing environment and the dangers come and go with that. Where my team camps at Camp 2, we call it the ghetto, down the hill a little bit underneath these big ice cliffs. As Lakpa was saying in 1984 you couldn’t camp there, whereas now the danger is these ice cliffs could potentially fall on you, they do crack off sometimes. I’ve only been there since 2004 so Lakpa’s been an extra 20 years - it’ll be 30
years next year, you could have a party at Base Camp. Everybody come along! Things have changed even in the ten years that I’ve been going there though. On the positive side it’s got a lot cleaner I think, the Dawa Stephen Sherpa has been very instrumental in tidying up the mountain, and it’s got more professional in terms of commercial outfits on the mountain which has been driven by some of the guiding companies but also by people like Lakpa. Does being the face of modern British Mountaineering put extra pressures on you as a spokesman for the commercial interests on Everest? KC: Well first of all I feel very flattered being called the face of modern British mountaineering, I’m sure some of my peers would say something about that! But I do occupy this interesting niche, that I’ve come from a mountaineering background
where I’ve climbed for fun, I climbed for me, all over the world with first ascents here, there and everywhere. And now I’m really quite commercial obviously and I do have this nice position where I can be quite vocal about commercialism in the mountains. I think ultimately it’s not just down to individuals but it’s opening up the whole panel to discussion with the likes of Dawa Stephen and Lakpa. The Sherpa have a very good idea about what western clients like and need, but also a very good understanding about what the mountains need and the demands that masses of people can put on the mountains. I do find I’ve been blackboarded a little by certain people in certain associations because of my commercialism and I can be very outspoken which rubs people up the wrong way. But I’m just passionate about the mountains and I want the best for people who go into the mountains, I want the best for the mountains. And maybe that’s commercialism, maybe it’s not... but I do like the way that you think I’m the face of modern mountaineering! Does this year’s negative press from Everest (the reported violence between a group of Sherpas and western climbers Ueli Steck, Jon Griffith and Simone Moro) impact on the relationship between western climbers and Sherpas? KC: I’m going to hand this one to poor Lakpa because we only hear in the west what the westerners say. I know Ueli, Simone and John, I’ve got a lot of respect for them and I consider them my friends. But I also consider the Sherpas my friends. And we never hear the Sherpa side of things. LR: Like Kenton says I really respect Simone, Ueli Steck and his partner John. Ueli is one of the
greatest alpinists and has done some big solo climbing. But I also respect those Sherpas who are working there. They were selected by a whole bunch of teams, they are very experienced, and they were trying to lay a rope to get hundreds of people safely up and down. But unfortunately these two great groups of climbers lost their respect for each other. After the incident everyone came down to Base Camp, we brought Ueli and his team down and the leader of the fixing team came with the high
Sirdars and myself. We sat down and talked about how to solve this problem. Both teams agreed on what mistakes they had made and both teams agreed to keep our relationship as it was for 60 years before, like Tenzing and Hilary, when western climbers and Sherpas climbed Everest hand to hand, together. And they hugged each other and shook hands, we offered a kata which is a traditional Sherpa white scarf. Then all of a sudden the next day it comes up in the media and
quite indicative of the press that they like to sensationalise things, and pick up on all the bad things. Great things were happening, fund raising, I did my Himalayan triple crown, Ueli wanted to go there to do something really amazing and no-one picked up on that. I mean Ueli went home a broken man. I think it’s a shame that Everest has become this sensationalised mountain because it is just a mountain. Well it’s not just a mountain, it’s the mountain, it’s the Sherpa mountain, it’s Sagarmatha, it’s Chomolungma, it’s the mother goddess of the earth, a mountain that deserves respect.
it left a big question mark whether there is going to be less trust between the western community and the Sherpa community, less respect for the mountain. But I think from talking to a lot of the Sherpas, instead of negative points I found a lot of positive points and I’m pretty sure it will not impact on the commercial relationship and it will not affect future climbs.
and there was this incident on the mountain which was a lose/lose situation.
KC: I think it’s just a really unfortunate thing and in a year that should have been a celebration, so much to celebrate, so much to do
But it was almost business as usual a couple of days later at base camp. You kind of need to put that behind you and I think it’s
I’ve spoken to both sides but we will probably never find out exactly why it became the incident that it did. I spoke to John Griffiths only the other day and John’s still quite bitter about it, he did feel like his life was threatened.
You should feel proud and privileged to be allowed to climb on her flanks and when something like this happens it’s a total disrespect by all parties on the mountain. I really hope that we never see anything like that again because that’s not what the mountains are about. It really saddened me and I really hope the media, especially the climbing media, move on. I see there’s a film just been released, the Reel Rock Tour, that almost sensationalises what happened. I just think that’s so sad because that’s not what we climb for, that’s not what Everest is about, it’s not what she deserves. I found the whole thing really sad. Everybody lost. It’s a real shame. What rescue services are there around Everest and how have they adapted to the increase in traffic? KC: Well essentially they don’t really exist. In so much as you can’t call a helicopter. Simone (Moro) has been quite instrumental in long lining from extreme altitudes. It’s getting pretty high now, stripped down B3 helicopters with a line coming out from underneath, pretty much as a snatch rescue. But the conditions have to be absolutely perfect. It’s at the max ceiling of the helicopters, they’re straining. I
know Lakpa’s was involved quite famously in 1996... LR: I’ve was involved in one rescue above South Col in 2005. One of the Nepalese women was left behind, another climber and myself brought her down. I think it’s pretty hard to do a rescue on a 8000m peak. A lot of people have been asking whether those dead bodies can be brought down or not. I mean it’s possible, but you have to look at to bring one dead body down, how many people’s lives are put in danger? KC: Just being at 8000m is dangerous, whether you’re climbing or not, just even existing. I think climbers and Sherpas need to understand that by making a decision to go to high altitude, that if something goes wrong at 8000m it compounds very quickly and the likelihood of effective rescue of someone who is critically injured is slim. It’s one of the few places on the planet other than maybe the depths of the ocean where you really do feel quite out on a limb. It’s a dangerous, dangerous place. We’ve both seen successful rescues but unfortunately we’ve also seen the flipside when things don’t go well, despite all attempts of near-superheroes like Lakpa and his colleagues. Is it a positive that there’s a danger element, is that what draws people? KC: There’s a glamour to it; to tread where the likes of Hilary and Tenzing trod 60 years ago, to go to the highest point on the earth. But many people wouldn’t be able to get to the top without our help and our support. And I do sometimes wonder if the paying clientele - and I don’t want to lump everyone in the same boat - understand that. They sometimes think that by employing Lakpa’s services, with his phenomenal success rate,
or myself, that not only success is guaranteed but that safety is guaranteed. In reality it should be the other way round, they should be more concerned about safety than success. It’s amazing how often you get asked ‘so what’s your success rate on getting people to the top?’, nobody ever asks ‘what’s your safety record?’ that normally comes later, which I always think is very interesting. But it’s about being very honest with the clients, they’re paying a lot of money, they’re doing something potentially very dangerous, taking them away from their families for a long time. You would think that they would fully research this, but not everybody does. You still have to be very aware of the risks. Look at 1996, some of the strongest high altitude leaders there have ever been succumbed in that storm; took their leadership away and what was left was a disaster. Does Sherpa Adventure Gear have a role to play in educating westerners about the mountain and the Sherpa people? KC: Obviously we’re both ambassadors for Sherpa Adventure Gear, Lakpa is the face of Sherpa Adventure Gear. Do you think SAG has a role to play...? LR: The main goal of Sherpa Adventure Gear is to educate the Sherpa kids who don’t have education back home. Seven per cent of our sales go back to the Paldorje Education Fund. And as well as that we want to be one of the best climbing outfitters. KC: So many people recognise Nepal for what it is, it’s a hub of trekking, it’s a hub of mountains, it’s a hub of the Sherpa people. And as westerners we go there all the time and we go there with our western products and our western brands, and I think it’s fabulous
now that there is a Sherpa brand. Tashi Sherpa was born in Khumjung above Namche bazaar in the heart of the Khumbu, he grew up in the shadow of Mount Everest. As did Lakpa. When I first met Tashi Sherpa a number of years ago he said to me, it’s not about the money, he’s made his money through other means, it’s about leaving a legacy. And I think that’s a really cool thing to talk about, in a day when we can look round the shops and we see these big corporate brands, and what Tashi wants to do is to leave something for his people. Lakpa, how long did you take to walk to school? LR: Four hours, one way. Five days a week. KC: So that’s eight hours a day just to get to school because Lakpa wanted to be educated. We’re soft in the UK, we have it on our doorstep. Can you imagine having to walk four hours? And Sherpa Adventure Gear stands for the Sherpa people, their morals, their values, they’re a ‘yes culture’ people, some of the friendliest, most welcoming people in the world, it’s all about community, about family, some of the values that unfortunately we lost sight of a little bit in the west. It’s owned by Sherpas, it’s designed by Sherpas, it’s made in Kathmandu. And it’s distributed to everywhere else. And there’s nothing more that we like than to see the product coming back home. When you trek up the Khumbu and you see some Sherpa Adventure Gear coming towards you, there’s that common bond between you. It’s the little things like the little prayer flags on the zip pull, and on the back the endless knot - the
little things that are really important to the Sherpa people and you see it all through the range. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve spent time with Lakpa and Perba, his wife, and immersed yourself in the culture but as soon as you do then you get it. You totally get it. LR: I think we have 11 or 12 kids in education right now in Kathmandu through the Paldorje foundations. KC: Children who otherwise just wouldn’t have a start in life. LR: And the goal of Sherpa Adventure Gear is to educate more of those kids who don’t have the opportunity. KC: It’s great, I feel very privileged to be part of it. Privileged to be an ambassador. Underneath Lakpa. He’s big daddy, I’m the little one. You don’t see my face on the swing tags! See more about Sherpa Adventure Gear at www. sherpaadventuregear.com
GEAR REVIEWS Here’s our regular review of some of the finest outdoor kit on the market. Anything that features here is pretty much guaranteed to be worth checking out – you can take the word of the Church for that….
Arc’teryx Caden Jacket £520
Being the lucky people we are, we actually got hold of the Caden last winter in order to put it through its paces in (lucky for us yet again) the best winter in years. And like last winter the Caden is a delight in the snow. It’s made from hard wearing Whiteline Gore-Tex which is significantly more breathable and also more durable than previous incarnations, which makes it ideal for the big mountain style skiing and riding its built for. The Caden has been designed with an ‘articulated pattern’ that anticipates the posture of a skier or boarder in motion and allows winter layers to move freely inside the shell. If this sounds a bit far-fetched it did feel significantly ‘looser’ in use (in a good way) than other jackets without being in any way bulky – this is great when you have several layers on which can be potentially restrictive, even uncomfortable. As ever Arc’teryx has included additional touches such as micro seam technology which further aids breathability and reduces the overall weight. Features include a watertight Vislon front zipper which operates smoothly in cold temperatures and is easy to use with gloves, a helmet compatible hood that’s designed to rotate with your head, generously sized internal mesh dump pockets, zippered hand pockets and a powder skirt. Add to that great looks and the Caden is definitely up there as one of the top options for serious skiers and boarders this winter. www.arcteryx.com
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Jacket £240
VISIT WEBSITE Ha! I challenge you not to pick up a Cerium jacket and covet it; slip into it and you’ll be desperate for sub-zero temperatures to descend so you can enjoy its warmth to the max. This streamlined, lightweight (275g) down hoody uses a mix of 850 fill-power white goose down and Coreloft. This is Arc’teryx’ ‘Down Composite mapping system’, which places Coreloft synthetic insulation which retains warmth when wet along the hem, collar, sleeves and underarms— areas prone to contact with moisture – whilst the down lines the core and sleeves where warmth is most needed. It’s ideal as a mid-layer in cold conditions or a stand-alone item in dry, cool conditions, and it looks so good you’ll be quite happy to wear it down the boozer or around town in winter too.
KREKLING MEN’S TIGHTS £60
These stylish pantaloons are just the job for the more discerning skier, cos not only do they feel great and keep you warm, should you at any point find yourself bereft of your ski pants (well, it could happen in all sorts of ways...) you’ll still cut a dash. The 260g/m2 Merino wool tights are medium weight and thus versatile enough to be worn in most conditions other than when it’s exceptionally cold, and the contrasting colours of the flatlock seams also make them look good. Merino provides great insulation, has good wicking properties and even stays warm when damp/wet, making the Kreklings a good choice for heavy winter use. And you can also get a nice matching shirt to go with them.
Dragon NFX Goggles £125
The NFX is not a pair of goggles for the retiring type - indeed, when mankind eventually sets out to conquer Mars it would be no surprise to see the space age looking NFK in the adventurers’ backpacks next to their cheese sarnies. The NFX features Dragon’s anti-fog technology using - how appropriate! - the same anti-fog chemicals as used by NASA for spacecraft windshields and space helmet visors - see, we weren’t kidding with our Martian reference... The goggles are frameless so you get a great field of vision, and they’re helmet compatible and very comfy in use – we especially liked that wide field of visions as there’s nowt worse than the sides of your goggles restricting your view. Bear in mind that they’re designed for a ‘large’ face though - if you have a small face they may look more like a space helmet on you than ski goggles. You also get a spare lens meaning you can use the NFX in pretty much any conditions, and they come with a two-year warranty to go with their cool looks.
Haglofs Vassi II Ski Pants £380
You probably need to be either a very good skier or not in the least bit arsed to wear the Vassi II since they’re brighter than the midday sun - but hey, we think that’s great cos when else other than whilst skiing do us blokes get to wear cheerful, happy colours? Made from taped Gore-tex 3 layer fabric which has also been DWR-treated, the Vassis have a generously sized, super-tough scuff guard at the ankles to stop your skis and boots shredding them, and a very comfy loose fit. You get hip-to-knee zippered vents on the outside leg, and two funky-looking, good-sized bellows pockets on the front of the thighs, below which are articulated knees for additional comfort. The waist has large Velcro adjusters as well as big belt loops and can be zipped to its partner Vassi jacket to keep snow from getting into places where you really don’t want it, and the relatively simple design and loose, light fit makes for an excellent ski pant which will especially appeal to backcountry riders. We’d have liked some more pockets other than just those on the thighs, but there again it’s not like you have your hands in your pockets when you’re riding anyway so it’s really no big deal.
Compound ski pants £500 Available online only
This is definitely one of our favourite garments so far this season. Build quality is bombroof and you can see that the Compound has been designed with thought and consideration for the realities of backcountry skiing. Utilising super-breathable and super-waterproof, award-winning Polartec Neoshell fabric, the loose fit is comfortable and it’s easy to layer up underneath, which is a good thing since the light weight of the Compound means you will need to do so. The pants have all the features you need for a hard day away from the lift lines – waterproof full-length side zippers and short crotch zippers for easy ventilation (without sacrificing comfort and durability during a storm), reinforced knees, five zipped pockets, large Cordura cuff reinforcements, internal ankle gators to keep snow out, and snazzy belt loop snaps that connect to your jacket’s powder skirt. The seams are fully taped and all the zips are waterproof and the fabric is also DWR treated for additional water repellency.
Flylow Lab coat £499
Available online only
If you’re serious about your riding and you give your gear a lot of stick you’ll love the Lab Coat from Flylow, relatively new kids on the block from the States who are well into their backcountry skiing and make gear designed specifically for that activity. The Lab Coat is built from the multi-award winning Polartec Neoshell fabric, the most breathable, waterproof fabric currently available and ideal for the particular demands of skinning up a mountain and tearing back down through powder. The design is really well thought out, and features articulated sleeves and shoulders to maximize fit and range of motion, a removable powder skirt, a
helmet-compatible hood, huge pit zips and zipped core venting pockets. There’s also one chest pocket (all outer pockets have waterproof zips) and three zipped internal pockets including two huge stash pockets for all your gear when you choose to ski without a pack. This is all rounded off with a removable powder skirts, adjustable hem and cuffs and great looks. At the time of writing it’s too early to have tested the Lab Coat fully in the conditions for which it was intended, but after a summer of disappointment at the performance of various Gore-tex products I’m looking forward to trying what looks set to be a better performing alternative.
Jöttnar is a British company (despite the name) that launched just two months ago, and to judge by this jacket they’re one to watch. Jöttnar don’t produce their gear in bulk and it’s also designed in close partnership with their team of sponsored athletes, so you end up with a garment that’s thoughtfully designed to work in the harshest mountain conditions over many seasons rather than simply look good for one season. The Fjörm uses seriously warm, eco-friendly 850-fill power 97/3 premium goose/duck down (the numbers are the ratio of goose to duck down) to provide great warmth for weight.
Fjörm down ski/all mountain jacket £295
In addition the down is treated with DOWN-TEK water repellent insulation which means that if it gets wet it dries more quickly than regular down and it also maintains its loft and insulation properties for longer (the first time I wore the jacket was in pretty heavy rain and although it was only for about 20 minutes or so there wasn’t the slightest sign of dampness anywhere). Indeed, this is one of the nicest down jackets I’ve ever used – it doesn’t just feel ‘right’, it works properly in that the articulated cut effectively moves with you, so that for winter climbing, backcountry skiing and the like in especially cold conditions it’s just the job. The filling is ‘body mapped’ to provide maximum insulation where you need it most as well as having a box wall construction and oversized zipper baffle to minimise cold spots, and the cuffs, hem and collar, which are the most likely areas to absorb moisture, are reinforced with Duoregulation ADVANSA Thremocool which probably means no more to you than me but apparently gives great moisture protection. The fit is ‘streamlined’ but still loose enough to layer up underneath, and once you’re zipped up and have the super snug Rentex lined collar pulled up and the helmet compatible hood in place you really do feel totally insulated from the elements whilst at the same time being able to operate efficiently whether climbing, skiing or drinking a beer. Little things like the oversized, insulated storm baffle on the main zip, the two zipped handwarmer pockets with front facing insulation, Rentex cuff liners and glove compatible zipper pulls all combine to make the Fjörm a jacket that’s a delight to wear. And it compares extremely well in terms of price when compared to similar products, so we’d advise you to listen to the Church when we say check it out if you’re looking to go down (as it were) this winter.
Deploy TR-3 ski poles £105
This three-section ski pole from MSR has a really useful one-handed trigger-release adjustment which makes it great for winter backcountry adventures when you need a quick adjustment for summit approaches and side-hilling, even with your gloves on. You just trap the pole basket beneath your foot/ski, pull up on the trigger below the grips and adjust the length to suit. Once locked in place the shaft is sturdy and secure. You also get really nice straps with the TR-3s which are very easy to adjust and cradle the outer and heel of your hand very comfortably when poling uphill. Even better, they’re designed to force-release if the pole becomes lodged in a fall which will prevent injury to you and damage to the pole. Obviously all this technical jiggery-pokery means the TR-3s are not as light as one-piece ski poles (the weight is 599g) but then regular ski poles don’t do all the things the TR-3s do – and there’s no reason why you can’t use them as walking poles come the summer.
Lightning Ascent 22 and 25 £280.00 MSR Lightning Tails (sold separately) £45.00
VISIT WEBSITE The Lightning Ascents are real snowshoes – 22” or 25” in length, made from high quality steel (which admittedly makes them relatively heavy – almost 4 lbs a pair) and rugged as Grizzly Adams. The price alone tells you that this is a pair of snowshoes that should last for years and should take you anywhere, although you’re gonna have to be well into snowshoeing to want to splash out to that extent. Assuming you are, you get frames with excellent edge-to-edge grip, and the split teeth of the Ascent’s crampons are designed to better distribute forces and offer more continuous contact – especially important on hard packed snow and ice. The two-piece, independently conforming bindings give a secure, freeze-resistant and comfortable attachment, regardless of what footwear you wear with them (within reason – trainers or flip-flops ain’t gonna be a good idea). However they do take longer to fasten than the
bindings on cheaper snowshoes since there are three forefoot straps and one heel strap – hence the security of said binding. I also liked the steel ‘Televators’ set behind the bindings which can be engaged with the flick of a ski pole grip on steep slopes to reduce fatigue and increase traction. And if you decide that some two-feet of snowshoe isn’t enough for you, you can buy the Lightning Tails, add-on ‘flotation tails’ which give you a further 5” of float in deep powder, and can be attached with gloved hands. If you’re new to snowshoeing the Lightning Ascent may seem like overkill, but as someone with almost 15-years-experience of plodding around in snowshoes I have to say that this is a top quality piece of kit that will probably last a lifetime, and for anyone planning on getting seriously into snowshoeing they have got to be worth checking out.
Norrona Røldal ski pants £399
Right, here you have our favourite ski pants this winter. Insulated with Primaloft for the cold mid-winter days ahead of us but also waterproof and breathable thanks to the Gore-tex outers, the Røldal gets it all just right. The cut isn’t too loose nor is it too tight; the ‘forest green’ model we tested was neither too bright nor too dull; and the features are absolutely bang on. They consist of a custom-fit waist system utilising big Velcro tabs, mesh outer thigh zips for ventilation on warmer days, really nice, effective gaiters and a ‘zipseal system’ to keep moisture out along with a ‘snap seal system’ to keep warmth in if you’re wearing a compatible Norrona jacket. There are two lined handwarmer pockets, a rear pocket and two cargo pockets, all zipped, and build quality is rock solid – when you’re wearing the Røldal you really do feel like the weather can do its worst and you couldn’t give a toss.
Jöttnar Alfar Midlayer
As a newcomer to a crowded market Jottnar have made a bold statement of intent, with extensive marketing, a website with gravitas, sponsorship of Kendal Mountain Festival and this, the most eyecatching piece in their small collection. A confident entrance. The Alfar is a hybrid with a clear purpose of design. Warm and light synthetic insulation in the core, and low bulk, high mobility Polartec Powerstretch Pro in the arms and side panels. A high collar, frogman hood, and genuinely slim fit immediately mark this out as a midlayer for serious alpine pursuits. And the colourway is another demonstration of confidence; they’re pretty sure they got it right. The fit is crucial for me - many premium brands use the term ‘alpine fit’ and the like, but they must be modelling that on body builders. I’d describe myself as athletic to malnourished, but that is not an uncommon physique in the outdoor world. If you’re similarly skinny then maybe Jottnar is for you. In use the Alfar is warmer than it looks. I spent an autumn day filming in North Wales; howling winds and much standing around were barely a challenge for this alpinists insulator - and neither should they be. But one or two colleagues in down jackets complained of being cold.... (Highly scientific, I know). Jottnar are aiming high in every way, and from this debut it seems there’s every chance they might conquer the industry giants. Daniel Wildey
The North Face Patrol 24 ABS pack £750
Along with transceiver, shovel, poles and insurance an ABS pack is something that costs a lot yet you hope you’ll never have to use. Well, not for it’s main purpose, although the Patrol is a fine day pack in itself. As for the ABS system, well at the time of writing it boasted a 97% success rate in the 262 documented cases of it having been used in an avalanche. That alone has got to be worth the cost of the pack if you ski off-piste... If you’re caught in a slide, you simply pull on the ceramic handle on the left-hand shoulder strap which deploys two high-volume airbags to keep you on top of slide debris by increasing flotation, as well as improving your visibility for rescuers. I tried it out with the spare gas canister which is included (although I should point out that I was in my garden rather than in an avalanche) and found it easy to grip and pull the handle (I’ve had earlier model avy bags on which the handle wasn’t that easy to grip), the bags inflated in no time (well, three seconds actually) and it gave me the confidence to feel that should the worst happen I’ve considerably improve my chances of survival if I’m wearing the Patrol. The gas canister which inflates the bags is easy to attach as is the handle (you can use the Patrol without them as a regular day pack) and the airbags could be re-packed easily in just a couple of minutes – with my previous avy bag it took literally hours to re-pack the bags. The Patrol 24 isn’t just a potential lifesaver though, it’s a great day pack. Build quality is pretty bombproof as you might expect given its intended use, and although there’s obviously a weight penalty (the whole shebang weighs 6lbs 9oz) there’s also a fine range of features including:
The Patrol 24 isn’t just a potential lifesaver though, it’s a great day pack. Build quality is pretty bombproof as you might expect given its intended use, and although there’s obviously a weight penalty (the whole shebang weighs 6lbs 9oz) there’s also a fine range of features including: Snow shedding back panel materials to prevent build-up of snow and ice Metal hip-belt buckle for superior breaking resistance during an avalanche Simple, stable, tuck-away ski/board carry system Big avalanche tools pocket, with organization sleeves and backcountry essentials checklist Internal pockets for gear organization Dual hipbelt pockets Reinforced high-abrasion zones on pack face Safety whistle located on chest buckle The gas canister I mentioned above is provided for practice deployment purposes – yes, you have to pay to get it refilled/replaced, but I’d strongly advise using it as intended rather than saving it for the real thing. Yep, the Patrol costs a lot - but isn’t your life worth £750?
SALOMON X PRO 120
For advanced and expert skiers wanting a boot with a bit more internal space and the best custom fitting the X Pro 120 is a great choice. Backbone, Twin Frame and Oversized Pivot technologies are combined to produce powerful energy transmission and outstanding control for fast all condition skiing. The 3600 Custom Shell is heated and moulded instore to your feet, evening out pressure and maximizing retention; the 3D Custom Fit liner is heated too, further increasing the quality of the fit and ensuring a comfortable, precise foothold. Size: 24.5-29.0, 30.0, 31.5 Flex: 120 Last width: 100/106
Fstop Tilopa BC-1 adventure photographer’s pack
Get all the small things right, and you make a huge difference says Daniel Wildey I recently ran a beginner course for adventure photographers and started with a very basic, but often overlooked principle; if your camera isn’t to hand, you won’t take pictures. Skiing is the worst. I remember taking off my pack, removing my gloves, pulling the case out, retrieving the camera etc., etc.. I think I got one shot that day. You need to eliminate as many of those steps as possible, which is easy with a compact. Add in lenses, maybe a flash and a tripod at the bare minimum, and you don’t just need bigger pockets, you need a solution. There are hundreds of camera bags out there, and plenty of them are called ‘rucksacks’. But we adventurers know the difference between a bag with two shoulder straps and a rucksack. I own more packs than my girlfriend has handbags, and all of them have their use, so to build a 48 litre pack with the scope of the f-stop Tilopa BC is an impressive feat. Here’s the single best compliment I can give the Tilopa BC: Even if I wasn’t a photographer, I would still use this pack for hiking, climbing and backcountry skiing/ mountaineering. Before f-stop I had never seen a camera rucksack that could function to the same level as those from the outdoor brands. Rather than a camera bag for the outdoors, this is mountain gear, for photographers.
So what makes it a mountain pack? It’s tough. DWR treated 330D double ripstop nylon, with EVA shoulder straps, hip belt, and raised padded back panelling for ventilation plus “industrial cross-stitching” in key areas. A good start. Then there’s the features that have come to be standard on mountain packs; hydration compatibility (with a mesh holder for the hose), ice axe attachment (with Hypalon garages for the picks), shovel pocket, A-frame ski carry and compression straps, snowboard carry, lightweight aluminium frame to support heavy loads, etc.... And what makes it a photography pack? Lots of wellthought-out features, like a square hypalon base to allow it to stand up, myriad MOLLE attachment points for any accessory you can imagine, ski and board carry doubling up as tripod attachments and even a laptop sleeve for lower altitude use. My favourite is the full zip back panel which provides easy access to all your gear - it means you can dump it in deep snow and grab a quick shot without digging through the bag, and without worrying about things falling out, or snow falling in. The real flexibility of the pack however comes in its interchangeable Internal Camera Units (ICUs) which come in many different sizes to allow a bespoke balance between camera kit and personal kit. Most camera bags have customizable padded dividers, but being able to change the units altogether is what takes
this pack from wild camping with minimal photography comes down to small factors. Since using this pack I kit, to full-on mobile studio for a mountain fashion shoot. have taken photographs that I simply would not have gotten without it, because it made the shot easier to I’ve used the Tilopa BC for both those purposes. I’ve get. I can’t ask for anymore. used it winter climbing on Ben Nevis, and backcountry skiing in the Dolomites. It’s not ideal for resort skiing http://www.naturallyparamo.co.uk/Garments/Fstopas it’s fairly big and heavy compared to what you would Shop usually carry - but that goes with the territory of being an adventure photographer, you have to do what your subject does, but with three times the gear! That said, it’s a great size for hut-to-hut ski tours, and is very compressible. Packing this many features into 1.79kg still impresses me. Success in photography, as in mountaineering, often
TouchScreenTravels Smartphones have revolutionised hiking and biking for many of us, but what about skiing and snowboarding? Being able to call and text to find your friends on the slopes certainly make phones invaluable, but what about the apps? In this issue Christian Williams has a look at whatâ€™s out there for iPhones (with links to Android where available) and if they are really any good.
image: Dave Silver
With the Church of the Open Sky being only quarterly, you may need other publications too: UK ski & snowboard magazine In the Snow (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/inthesnow/ id329974601?mt=8 ) produces a good app – full of features, deals and news – that’s of particular interest to UK readers, though it’s still worth a look for others. Freeskiier (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/ app/freeskier/id516022756?mt=8) is similar and also good, with many gear reviews, though my phone had technical difficulties with much of its content.
If you’re like me, then the first couple of days on the slopes each season get a little more painful each year. Then things improve – but you can short-circuit this process to not lose valuable slope-time with a bit of physical prep. This is where Skiing Fit (free; Apple https://itunes. apple.com/gb/app/skiing-fit/id377684671?mt=8 ) comes in. The app’s layout and delivery are a bit dry but all the most useful exercises are in here. Squats are the most effective exercise for me, so I’d recommend a dedicated squats app like Squats 0-100 (£1.49; Apple
For help with planning your ski holiday, you can pretty much forget the app world, though the slick Skiresortinfo (free; Apple https://itunes. apple.com/gb/app/skiresort.info-ski-app-ski/ id493907552?mt=8; Android: https://play.google. com/store/apps/details?id=de.appaffairs.skiresort) comes close with all its tick-box-style info and trail maps for hundreds of resorts. Liftopia (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ liftopia-ski-reports-snow/id485587348?mt=8 ) also deserves a mention for its clean interface, short write ups and useful lift-ticket ‘deals’ feature. These deals are probably only of interest if you’re lucky enough to have several resorts an easy dayor weekend-trip away though. If you are, weather and snow report apps are invaluable. My pick is the clean and attractive All Snow (free; Apple https:// itunes.apple.com/gb/app/allsnow-ski-reports-snowforecasts/id417601403?mt=8), with its at-a-glance convenience and handy browseable map.
image: Dave Silver
Ski and Snow Report (free; Apple https:// itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ski-and-snow-report/ id299120437?mt=8; Android https://play.google. com/store/apps/details?id=com.zumobi.snowreport) is also good, but its look is fussier. Ski & Snow Report (free; Apple https://itunes.apple. com/gb/app/ski-snow-report/id300412347?mt=8; Android https://play.google.com/store/apps/ details?id=com.skireport) lacked at-a-glance info for my chosen resorts, but provided a quick overview of snowfall over the last five days: a useful feature the others don’t have. Stats are all well and good, but sometimes you just want to eyeball the place – enter handy and quick Ski Webcams (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/ app/ski-webcams-free/id454175434?mt=8 ), though its resort list is far from comprehensive. And you can lose the app’s ads for £0.69. You’ll also find webcam links at the Ski Club Snow Reports (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/ app/ski-club-snow-reports/id350781416?mt=8 ), the app of the of the Ski Club of Great Britain which also features international snow reports, so should have it all, but it feels a bit too clunky for my liking.
image: Dave Silver
A few apps aim to help once you’re on the snow. The simple and free Skiing Fit (above) carries quite a few technique tips; but you’ll have to be good at visualizing body actions based on text. Meanwhile at the other end of the all-singing-and-dancing scale is Ski Tips 1 (Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/ app/skitips1/id351635939?mt=8; Android https:// play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.conjure. skitips); the first of a trilogy of technique apps (each £2.99) whose video tutorials make it one of the best smartphone instructors out there. Of course it can’t flag bad habits that may be holding you back; but it does provide a no-pressure self-guided learning environment – which is ideal for some – and it’ll save the cost of a few lessons for most others. A ‘lite’ version of the app (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ skitips-lite/id477034411?mt=8 ) provides a taster. If your mind and body are well beyond the need for lessons and have started to wander off-piste, then check out Mammut Safety (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/mammut-safety/ id316156014?mt=8 ). It offers guidance and tools that help with the avalanche risk assessment process – but only in the hands of those who already have a
clear idea of the dangers and procedures. Far more universally useful is iTrailmap (free; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/itrailmapski-snowboard-trail/id299785387?mt=8; Android https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com. bigairsoftware.iTrailMap), a neat little app which simply allows you to download resort maps to your phone. Basic, yes, but appealing to anyone who’s ever struggled with a torn, damp paper version in fading light.
Does it stay or does it go? Once this article is done I’ll be keeping In the Snow, Ski Tracks, Squats 0-100, iTrailmap, Ski Webcams and the All Snow apps. And if I was being minimalist about it then only All Snow would stay.
Tracking where, how far and fast your activities were has become a big part of the smartphone’s usefulness in many sports. For skiers and boarders Ski Tracks (£0.69; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ ski-tracks-gps-track-recorder/id365724094?mt=8; Android https://play.google.com/store/apps/ details?id=com.corecoders.skitracks) is the market leader in these things and the yardstick for all the others. A slightly lesser, but free, alternative is iSki Tracker (free: Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/iskitracker-for-real-skiers/id476298379?mt=8 ), which also offers something slightly different in its quest to be a sort of skiers’ Facebook. If it’s just the basics, you want then the activity tracker within the All Snow (above) may be enough.
Off the snow
It’s hard to believe the world needs as many racing games as are offered to virtual skiers and snowboarders. My pick of the bunch for stunts is Fresh Tracks Snowboarding (free; Apple https://itunes. apple.com/gb/app/fresh-tracks-snowboarding/ id490129379?mt=8 ) which is intuitive enough, though mastering the moves sometimes becomes a finger version of twister. But since I can grind, ollie and grab far better here than in reality, I probably shouldn’t complain. For straightforward racing there’s Touch Ski 3D (£1.99; Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/touch-ski-3d/ id309936844?mt=8 ), where you control your skis tips with your finger tips. It’s an interesting way of doing things, but you may end up obscuring much of the screen in the excitement of it all so this is probably best saved for the iPad. A free version (Apple https:// itunes.apple.com/gb/app/touch-ski-3d-presentedby/id312291745?mt=8 ) allows you to try a few courses before committing.
image: Dave Silver
ROOM WITH A VIEW In which we sample a very nice hotel with a very nice view
image: Alf Alderson
Cordée des Alpes, Verbier You could be forgiven for thinking Verbier has more than enough high end hotels; but there again, you could also be forgiven for thinking you can never have enough of a good thing. And since here at the Church we are very much in favour of good things the addition of the Cordée des Alpes to Verbier’s pantheon (nice word…) of classy hotels last winter was something we could but praise – especially since we got an invite to check it out. Naturally enough we hastened forth at maximum velocity… Swiss-Australian owner Marcus Bratter opened the Cordée just before Christmas 2012 with the intention of combining the rich mountaineering history of the region with modern international design. The lovely larch and pine wood exterior offers a modern take on alpine style, whilst the rooms feature warm and welcoming décor such as old wood cupboard doors,
hand-applied stucco wall finishes, hand-planed wood planked floors and hand-knotted Nepalese carpets. I had space to scatter my ski gear randomly around my large lounge before lighting the fire to add that essential cosy alpine touch; then a brief snooze on the king size bed before the tricky decision of whether to enjoy a bath or shower in my large and appropriately luxurious bathroom or head off for a massage in the hotel’s Spa Cinque Monde. I find that tricky decisions are actually quite easy when it comes to spoiling myself, so the spa it was… The Cinq Mondes spa has a 15 meter swimming pool, sauna, steam and chill out areas, making it the perfect place to relax and unwind after a solid day of
smacking through the pow like wot I’d just had. That said I made the perverse decision to go for a sports massage, that peculiar mix of relaxation and masochism, but it certainly did the trick. I had an appointment with friends at a mountain restaurant not long after wobbling out of the spa, oth-
erwise I would have dined in the Cordée’s restaurant which I am assured by those who have eaten there is little short of excellent – but not to worry, it gives me the perfect excuse to return again this winter! www.hotelcordee.com
DVD REVIEW RUSSIA: THE OUTPOST VOL. 1
A surf movie shot in Russia isn’t the commonest thing out there, and when the part of Russia that’s featured is Kamchatka you’re getting into territory that’s pretty near being a parallel universe. Located in Russia’s far east, Kamchatka is at the same latitude as Alaska and Norway; it’s the most volcanic region on Earth; it teems with grizzly bears, has virtually no roads once you get away from the capital PetropavlovskKamchatsky and the only way to access the surf in some cases is by helicopter – which is what Chris Burkard, Ben Weiland and their surf buddies did in order to
shoot much of this movie. That in itself would be enough to pique the interest of both surfers and travellers alike, and to be honest this is more of a nicely shot travelogue than a surf vid; and there’s nothing wrong with that. Seeing a bunch of American surfers adapt to a world that’s harsh, wild, beautiful and has water temperatures that never get above 7C is full of interest. Indeed, the waves Chris, Ben and co discover (literally) rarely get over head high, although they are invariably clean and crystal clear; the surf sessions that are featured reminded me of cold late winter
days at home in Wales with just a few friends enjoying shapely, fun waves. The film catches this well, and also succeeds in getting across what a very different place Kamchatka is, whether you’re a surfer or not. I was fortunate enough to visit some of the beaches featured in the movie whilst heliskiing there a few years ago, and the sense of isolation and wildness that is the essence of Kamchatka came flooding back to me. The style of footage harks back to surf movies from the 70s, as does the laid back acoustic soundtrack,
and I guess for 21st century surfers the only way to emulate our forebears from the previous century is to paddle out at remote locations like the Kamchatka Peninsula. It comes in a nicely presented package including a small booklet of words and pics from the trip, and it goes without saying this would make a great Christmas present for the surf explorer in your life. That said I doubt that many surfers would be tempted to make the long and arduous journey to this unique corner of the globe on the strength of the waves alone, but if youâ€™re looking for a surfari like no other Russia: The Outpost certainly points you in the right direction. Available from http://www. arcticsurfblog.com/ See more at http://vimeo. com/70995691
VISIT WEBSITE VIMEO
We’ve got samples of the cool new men’s toiletries from Wingman www. worldofwingman.com to be won in the taxing competition below. If you know the answer e mail us at email@example.com and the first correct ones out of da hat will soon be looking fresh and smelling good courtesy of Wingman.
WINGMAN COMP A ‘wingman’ is: A Your best mate in an emergency B A bloke who fixes aircraft C Someone who leaps of cliffs without a parachute Tough, hey? Send your answer to: firstname.lastname@example.org
W W W. FA C E B O O K . C O M / T H E 1 0 0 0 S U R F E R S P R O J E C T
« THE 1000 SURFERS PROJECT » is a cultural initiative which aims to highlight today’s world surf culture. Through a photographic exhibition piecing together 1000 portraits collected on our Facebook page, we want to show the diversity of the surfers’ profiles from all over the world. Up to now, the community has already gathered 250 portraits, more than 1200 fans in 40 different countries. To be a part of the project is very easy: you just need to like and post a picture of yourself in our Facebook page, mentioning your age, location and activity. It’s not about surfing pictures; we want to see who you really are and what surfing means to you. It could be a picture of you at work, during your free time, your travels, or whatever… Be creative! Be part of this community! It’s free, easy and open to everyone!
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