Our base in the Alps, Chamonix, makes one of the world's greatest Christmas destinations. What with the snowy activities, festive lights and warming vin chaud it's hard to go wrong and impossible not to get in the spirit to celebrate.
Have you been Naughty or Nice?
Following Lindsay's recent work on the BMC 'Rock Climbing Essentials' DVD we still have a few copies to give away for FREE to our clients. The DVD is the 6th in a series and covers skills for rock climbing in the UK. To receive a copy just drop us a line.
Winter Tasters for Women
As ambassadors for Lolë (active women's clothing) we are offering FREE cross country ski lessons & snowshoeing tasters for women in Chamonix. Lolë offer 'Meet Up's' every week for women in activities like yoga, pilates, running, skiing, boot camps (to name a few) to help encourage an active lifestyle and all the sessions are free to attend. Our next session is:
An Introduction to 'Skate Skiing', Thursday 3rd January 2013 at 10:00-11:30 (places are limited to 8)
To receive a copy of the DVD or to join a Meet Up please drop us a line via our Contact Us pages.
If you are still thinking about escaping to the mountains this winter then do contact us for current availability on scheduled trips or on how to create a tailor-made holiday, as bookings and trip statuses change daily. We would be delighted to share our winter wonderland with you.
Lindsay and Julia would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and we look forward to seeing you again in the mountains.
What a fantastic start to the season in the Alps - waist deep powder in the mountains and searing blue skies to dazzle even the most jaded eyes! It must be the best early season snow in ChamonixFrance for at least ten years, or certainly that seems to be what my memory is saying.
The Grand Montets and Les Houches ski areas are already open and the squeals and yells of delight can be heard all over the valley. The other ski areas are gearing up to open this coming weekend on the 22 December at Flegere, Balme and Brevent.
The Nordic ski tracks in Chamonix are in excellent condition right now and I had a fabulous time this week when I managed to get my first cross country 'skate' session done. A real joy to be cruising with light ski gear in a snowy wonderland and great to remember what a lovely way it is of travelling across the landscape. I am not suggesting you need to be an Olympic athelete to try it, but I have given a link HERE to a great film of atheltes 'skating'. We take a much more leisurely approach at Tracks and Trails.
The other style is of course 'classic' cross country which is more like the traditional running motion, but with skis on! This is also done on the same cross country ski area/track and literally runs along side the skate area.
We should also be set for an excellent snowshoe season as the forests and high meadows and tops are absolutely covered in a deep blanket of power snow.
Today I was checking out the Samoens area for our snowshoe week starting 13 January and it's looking good! Pines coated in crystals, the cliffs shining with ice, and the mountains sparkling as far as the eye could see. The full itinerary is HERE if you fancy joining us. We already have five people booked and it should be a good group.
We have more snow forecast over the next few days so I will be spending more time digging out the car!
Best wishes for Christmas
The British Mountaineering Council's DVD ‘Rock Climbing Essentials’ is the sixth in a series and covers all the skills for rock climbing in the UK. There are also two three snowy BMC DVDs, two of which, Alpine Essentials and Off Piste Essentials were filmed in the Alps and feature our very own Lindsay Cannon as the narrator.
It’s hard work making these films - carrying heavy tripods around the mountains isn’t easy! The weather can result in the best laid plans being thrown out of the window, and furious on-the-fly script changes being necessary, especially when trying to film a story on an Alpine 4000m peak in a few days! The DVDs are just one of the publications and training events delivered by the BMC. Visit the BMC website to view trailers of the DVDs, or to download free skills publications. The BMC will also offer Alpine Lectures across England and Wales in April 2013.
We will send out a copy to the first 5 clients who reply to our December newsletter requesting one. Good luck. On your marks, get set, GO!
Swimming with snowshoes? Traverse of the Chablais, France
“Right!” said Fred. “Six days across the Chablais mountains in winter carrying all our kit and a dip in Lake Geneva at the end?” He’s not one to be overly demanding is Fred, as long as I can come up with a decent snowshoe hike of more than 725 m ascent, and around 10.5 km in length, plus a good hotel at the end of the day with a huge hot-tub with views to the mountains, excellent local food, a masseuse on tap, and a very good red wine then he’s pretty much happy!
But before we head off across the Chablais a bit of beta on Fred and snowshoes in general. Fred and I have, over recent years, spent many a day snowshoeing our way around the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. He’s one of a growing band of mountain folk taking up this ancient winter activity. I would describe Fred as an enthusiastic hill walker who has embraced his snowshoes as his new best friends. They are, by the way, a very fetching pale blue in colour. I digress. Fred is a keen mountaineer andhas discovered that strapping on a pair of snowshoes means he has easier access to a winter wonderland. No more plodding through thigh-deep snow, but skipping instead through powder with all the grace and elegance of a chamois. OK, perhaps at six foot plus and being a strapping chap the analogy to a chamois isn’t quite accurate, but I am sure you get the general idea – it’s much easier with snowshoes than without!
I know you are probably scoffing, because the ‘unenlightened’ always do when I mention snowshoes. Yes, there was a time when snowshoes did indeed resemble ‘tennis racquets’ but no more, today they are made of hi-tech materials and come in many shapes, sizes, and colours. If you are terribly mountain fashion conscious then you can buy them in a suitable colour to match your winter wardrobe. This is a far cry from the original snowshoes, which were made of wood and leather and did indeed look like something, which come in handy for a game at Wimbledon. Their use can be traced back to Central Asia and today some 6,000 years later they continue to prove very effective for travel in a winter landscape. Indeed, recent sales of snowshoes in the French Alps show an increase of around 40 per cent year on year so there is no doubting their growth in popularity. The idea is simple really, the greater the surface area you have attached to your walking boots, the less chance you have of sinking into deep snow. Some say watching hares travelling across the snow pack inspired early humans to copy them in so far as they provided an understanding that large hairy hind feet stopped them sinking, Ok, no hairs on snowshoes, but it does make sense. Instead, the typical modern snowshoe comes with six studs on the bottom, and a front claw for gripping on steeper uphill sections and having pushed my fair share of snowshoes to the limit I can vouch for their effectiveness.
So to the Chablais, an area of France renowned for its marvellous snowshoeing country, a winter playground of high alpine pastures, forests, jagged ridges and peaks. Geographically speaking it is the first chain in the Pre-Alps Mountains between Lake Geneva and the Mont Blanc range and more often than not people normally whiz past it en route to Chamonix. Next time I strongly suggest you think about turning left half way along the autoroute and exploring the hidden valleys of what is without doubt a cracking setting for a winter journey.
I guess our six-day winter traverse really came about because I am essentially pretty nosy – always wanting to check out what’s over the next Col, or round the next ridge. Though a kinder description might be to just say that, like most of us who love the mountains, I have a strong sense of adventure and a continual desire to explore a new area. Working as an International Mountain Leader there is also the added push from folk like Fred. “So what’s on the cards next year then?” being his usual query before the current trip has even ended. Part of me dreads the question because I am wondering how on earth I can top the days we have just experienced, but a far greater part of me can’t wait to have an excuse to buy new maps and guide books and dwell on snowy vistas in a still to be visited area.
So after a summer of pouring over maps of the Chablais and attempting to ‘join the dots’ or more accurately the villages and valleys between St Jeoire and Lake Geneva we gathered at our departure point at Megevette. It’s a bit of a one-horse village – and as is often the case with trips on less frequented routes, there is one hotel, and that is your lot as they say! But given that most are family run, and they are keen to encourage trade you are usually guaranteed a warm welcome, even if the owners are a bit bemused by the concept of walking across the Chablais to Lake Geneva in winter. Actually, to be fair the reaction to our endeavour was more often than not one of respect rather than amusement!
Several beers later and our pre-trip briefing is going swimmingly. Fred has coerced his good lady Alison, and his friend Jo (that’s Joanne) to provide some company on the trip so we are three women and one soon to be long suffering male. There is much discussion (you have all been there) of how many fleeces, thermals, socks, knickers etc we will need for a week, or more accurately how little we can get away with and still be sensibly equipped for a long journey in potentially bad weather. Then there is the faff over the kit – who’s taking the group shelter, who’s carrying the spare compass, who’s got the spare maps, and does Fred really need a hip flask? The joys of trying to re-stuff the group shelter into its pack in the hotel bar after yet another beer, just because someone wanted to check out whether all four of us could indeed crawl inside – much to the bemusement of the locals who by now have been propping up the bar for around 3 hrs having decided my team are providing the best entertainment in Megevette for some time. It gets even better when the avalanche transceivers get fired up and our newcomer to ‘trannies’ Alison decides a wee practice is in order. At which point ‘diner’ was announced and she beeped her way to the table without incident while muttering that a St Bernard was surely a more traditional accessory.
Being kitted out correctly is of course an essential part of a safe and successful trip such as our six-day traverse of the Chablais. I always carry, and expect my team members, to also carry avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe and to know how to use them. Ok, at the start of day one they often don’t, but by mid-morning I like to have found time to instil the basics, and then throughout the following days we take time to practice. I often draw the analogy of opting for a car with an airbag fitted rather than one without, i.e. I am not planning to have a car crash but the technology is there so - hey, let’s have it thank you very much!
So it’s the morning of day one, and we wave goodbye to our luggage, which we will meet up with in six days time at Evian on Lake Geneva. There is a wonderful sense of self-sufficiency to setting off in winter with just a rucksack filled with the essentials to survive. As per normal at the start of a big journey there is a hot and bothersome first hour while the team work out their layering systems and remove and replace various undergarments, and jackets and squabble about why it takes so long for team member A, B or C to readjust everything.
A few hours later and we are into our stride and en route to our first summit the Pointe des Jottid at 1548m. A quick stop for views across the Chablais to the impressive limestone walls and jagged peaks, which in the days ahead we discover, are a daily feature of this beautiful landscape and then its onwards to our first destination. I have to say its not that easy to find your way through the forests through which you descend each day, with a maze of barely seen paths and tracks, especially as we were more often than not were breaking trail on virgin snow. But, hey ho, what a sense of adventure. By the time we reached Bellevaux at the end of our first day we were ready for a beer and fired up with enthusiasm for the days ahead.
Next morning, as with every morning, it was a steady climb through alpine summer pastures, often passing ancient chalets and farms on our way, before reaching our high point of the day, in this case Tre la Saix at 1486m. A blue sky and a stunning plateau awaited us and as per normal not a single person in sight. Where was everyone else on those perfect alpine days? Three Cols later and we are dropping down into yet another gem of a hidden valley heading for Biot.
There are so many truly lovely little villages in the deep-sided valleys of the Chablais just waiting to be discovered. Most with beautiful squares with impressive stonework and the inevitable elegant chapel with the sunlight glinting off the jewel colours of the stained glass. Although our days snowshoeing on the mountain were the reason we were making our journey, it has to be said that all of us eagerly anticipated arriving at our hotel each evening, not just for the hot shower and the beer, but also for the chance to check out another rural village where the cheese makers were happy to chat and sell us some fare for lunch the next day. At one farm at Biot we spent so much time ‘tasting’ that we really didn’t need to buy any for lunch – we had eaten enough to keep us going all day !
One of the great things of course about a multi-day journey is it provides such a wonderful opportunity to forget about the stresses and strains of everyday life. You get up in the morning, consume several mugs of coffee and several hot croissants with generous dollops of jam, pick up your rucksack and start walking, until eventually you arrive at another hostelry and another opportunity for eating and drinking. Oh, such a simple life if only we could just keep walking forever. Of course on a crossing of the Chablais that’s not possible, because eventually you would need to start swimming! As we headed up Mont Benand at 1284m on our final day I think all of us had a ‘little moment’ when we quietly reflected that our journey was almost over. But a baguette and a lump of Abondance cheese later, we were fired up for the last stretch and after another few hours we catch the first glimpse of the Lake through the trees. What a wonderful sight – a snowy horizon with this massive expanse of water beyond and the knowledge it was all downhill from then on. Well, Fred got his wish to get to Lake Geneva, but I don’t seem to remember him taking a dip! Funny that, maybe something to do with it being February? A short taxi ride and we were ensconced in our hotel in Evian, famed of course for its mineral water and its spas. It always feels strange to descend out of the hills into civilisation again, and this trip was no different. A few strange looks were cast in our direction as we stomped along the waterfront with our snowshoes on our packs looking like the weather beaten team we were but oh boy did we feel chuffed. Next morning we had the perfect ending to our trip. We all caught the early ferry from Evian in France across the Lake to Lausanne in Switzerland and so on to the train to the airport. “Right”, said Fred “What’s on the cards for next year then?” and so back to the drawing board. Actually, I already know…but I’m not telling, just yet.
Written by Lindsay Cannon
What to Wear Snowshoeing?
Believe me, what to wear on the mountain causes a lot of consternation. More than a few glasses of wine/beer have been consumed debating this all important question as our guests contemplate their ‘mountain fashion statement’ for the next day. In Chamonix, France we joke about the ‘mountain fashion police’ removing you forcibly from the mountain for not sporting the correct attire.
Of course, it’s not really about cutting a dash on the hill, it is about being comfortable and safe. Safe in the sense that you could literally freeze bits of yourself if incorrectly dressed in bad weather. We don’t want any digits snapping off as you attempt to adjust your snowshoes! The simple answer to the question of what to wear snowshoeing is to dress for winter walking, not for downhill skiing as believed by many otherwise you will be overheating very quickly. Salopettes are not designed for walking! So a quick run down of clothing for snowshoeing...
The Very Top Half
You know that most of our body heat is lost through the extremities, such as head and hands, so a warm hat is essential. Personally, I overheat easily so for me a headband/Buff is the way to go. In fact you can never have too many ‘Buffs’ in your sack! Handy for all sorts of things in my opinion. A neck warmer is also part of your standard kit, and of course sunglasses are vital. Not only so you look cool, but essential to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun bouncing off the snow on all those blue sky days when you are snowshoeing this winter. While on the subject of extremities (yes, I know they are not strictly the Very Top Half) but your hands need protection, and two pairs of gloves do the trick. Thin ones for general use and lounging around in the sun at lunchtime, and thick ones for bad weather and for when your thin ones get wet.
The Top Half
I generally wear a medium weight base layer of good wicking fabric, and to be honest the various pure wool options do a good job. These are however expensive and there are numerous other ‘mixed’ fabrics on offer with half wool/half synthetic providing a good alternative. Next, I have a waistcoat as I like to keep my ‘core’ warm, always a good idea anyway, and this will be windproof to stop the chill getting to me. On top of that I have a medium weight fleece and that, in reasonable weather, will be what I walk in. I usually find this is enough as snowshoeing is an ‘active’ sport. In my rucksack, however, I will have a waterproof and windproof jacket and a ‘down’ jacket which I keep for lunch stops and very cold weather. Under all of this you will be wearing an avalanche transceiver. This is a device which emits a signal (don’t worry you can’t hear it so you wont be irritated) and should you go missing then we can search for you. We don’t intend using this particular piece of equipment in earnest!
The Bottom Half
You will be walking when you snowshoe – just in case you are not clear that you will do some exercise when indulging in this wonderful activity, SO your legs need to be comfortable and have unrestricted movement. Wearing jeans is outlawed and I will in fact refuse to take you on the hill, as much from embarrassment as from practicality! You ideally need windproof warm trousers, and better still if these are also ‘shower proof’ as often there might be snow crystals floating around and this helps you avoid the damp. In my rucksack I will also have lightweight waterproof trousers. These act as another layer when it’s really cold, and also of course when it’s snowing heavily. Warm socks are the order of the day, and I like knee length ones to keep my legs warm. Ooops, forgot to mention that certainly bring thermal leggings on the trip as these come in handy when it’s really nippy.
The Very Bottom Half
Feet – easy answer, warm, waterproof footwear is required for snowshoeing. To be honest I often snowshoe wearing leather ‘summer’ walking boots which I find to be enough to keep me warm and dry. For snowshoeing you must have boots with ankle support for no other reason than the fact the ankle straps which attach your snowshoes need to be a snug fit and you will be sore if the snowshoe straps are against your legs rather than the boots. You do not need to have ‘stiff’ boots of the type that take a crampon. Your snowshoes provide a rigid platform for your boots and that is sufficient. Gaiters are also a good idea to stop the powder dropping into your boots. These do not need to be knee high and a simple short gaiter ‘cuff’ which sits just over the top of your boot does the job. Most of the time I do not wear gaiters, but do bring them with you unless you want to chance it!
The Very Very Bottom Half
Nearly forgot all about them! Snowshoes! NO they are not like ‘tennis racquets’, at least not any longer. Today snowshoes are high tech pieces of kit, and ideally adapted to walking in snow. They are to put it simply a device which you strap to your walking boots which allows you to walk in winter without sinking totally through the snow pack. We use TSL snowshoes which are made of composite plastic and come in a wonderful variety of colours and models. They have six studs on the underside which means the snowshoes ‘grip’ on any icy sections, and they also have a ‘front claw’ which again grips on hard snow. Otherwise they stop you sinking too far when enjoying fresh powder snow. And, of course, with the snowshoes come walking poles which are handy for balance while frolicking in all that wonderful white fluffy stuff :-)
The Back Half
On your back you need a ‘day’ sack of about 25 – 30 litres capacity. In this you will have all the above mentioned bits that you might not wear all day as you warm up. There will also be sunscreen, water, lip balm, lunch, and of course your safety gear such as shovel, and probe. A rucksack with the ability to attach your snowshoes is ideal. This is because on some occasions you may walk a little way with your snowshoes on your back till we reach the snowline. Most of the time we will, however, put the snowshoes on beside the car.
So there you have it. The perfectly dressed snowshoer, and I will expect you all to be suitably dressed and ready for action, just like Julie our ‘model’ who with no help from myself can turn herself out rather nicely, though she does, occasionally, require pulling out of a snowdrift which does mean she has to spent a bit of time ‘dusting off’ before she re-acquires her nonchalant mountain babe demeanour. Feel free to drop us a line with any questions!
It's great to get the chance to explore new areas and after weeks of pouring over maps and guidebooks we have put together two new trips. One is going to be based in the village of Nevache, near Briancon and it looks fabulous. Nevache actually means 'snowy land' and it seems it's already living up to it's reputation with lots of snow in valley already this winter.
Our other new trip is not so far from our Alpine base in Chamonix and takes advantage of some great routes on offer from the village of from Samoens where we can tackle such great mountain days as the Tete de la Bostan.
Both these trips take the nature of 'scouting' trips and we will only take people with a good sense of adventure who are up for having a day exploring! If you think that's you then do get in touch. It's best to email us to discuss the trips and we will be happy to talk you through the fitness required etc. However, anyone with a reasonable level of walking fitness should be up to the mark. I have attached the two itineraries below for information. We currently have 5 people booked on the Samoens Week, and 4 on the Nevache week, so there are a few places left as we take a maximum of 8 on each week.
Meantime, here in Chamonix it just keeps snowing and snowing so we are set for a great winter in the mountains.