Cross Country Skiing is a great way of staying fit for other sports.
Jim Wilkinson, a guest of Tracks and Trails, talks about how cross country has made an impression on him, and his training as a rower. He joined us last winter for our Italian Ski Break, and then a few weeks later for our Haute Savoie Ski Safari, making an impressive progression from 'beginner' to confident 'intermediate'.
"My passion, my sport, is rowing. I’ve always loved water sports, swimming, windsurfing but always rowing. There is so much technical stuff to master and then there’s the satisfaction of all the effort too. There’s always something to perfect. A couple of years ago a friend suggested we try cross-country skiing and last year I had some spare holiday so booked on one of the Italian Ski Weekends. Oh boy was I hooked! I booked a second, longer trip with Tracks and Trails returning to the frozen water just a couple of weeks later.
What gripped me, apart from the amazing scenery, get company, excellent tuition, was the similarity with my passion sport. So many of the coaching phrases used by Lindsay and Julia could have been aimed at a crew. In last month’s issue of British Rowing’s magazine there was an article about cross training - lo and behold cross country skiing was featured.
Just like rowing novice I started off using a lot of effort and no technique. I had to work hard to keep up with the group. Getting to grips with the drive, just like the rowing 'catch', started to tip the balance from grunt to grace; well, in my mind at least. I’m back for more this year, so much to learn and an awesome workout!
I challenge you to try to keep up with Lindsay and Julia; as they cover far more distance each day skipping from the head of the spread out group to the tail and back again.
If you want a balance and core workout in a different environment I heartily recommend cross country skiing - but only with Tracks and Trails!
James Wilkinson, Coach and Captain of Pengwern Boat Club, Shrewsbury, Shropshire"
Two new transport options launched within weeks have made getting to the Alps even easier this winter. Eurostar recently announced a faster, more direct train service between London and Geneva, and now easyBus is to launch a new bus service on 20 December. The new bus line, developed by the 'easy' brand will run 32 times per day between the international airport in Geneva, Switzerland, and the alpine capital of Chamonix.
Bookings will open on Monday, 1 December, with the first 15,000 seats being offered for only 2 Euros each. The timetable offers plenty of opportunity to meet even the early morning flights with the first bus leaving Chamonix train station at 0415hrs, and the last leaving Geneva Airport at 0045hrs. The service is direct, and non-stop.
To launch the service seats are available for only 2 Euros each way, with normal fares starting at 5 Euros. The later you book the more expensive it will be, so it will be interesting to see what it is likely to cost for an average fare, and one booked just a week beforehand. We will be watching with interest!
Already a number of local companies offer airport transfers between the airport and Chamonix, such as Mountain Drop Offs with the average cost being around 30 Euros each way. These have for many years offered a very efficient service, and we hope that they will continue to do so, even if the new bus service appears to beat the price.
This is easyBus’ first Continental European service, operating in partnership with one of the existing transfer companies, Chamexpress. The Geneva to Chamonix route was selected because of the high volume of demand that exists between the two locations.
According to Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the “easy” brand owner: “For too long Alpine sports fans have found airport transfers expensive and difficult. We will provide a high quality service for them and their equipment, at a value-for-money price. I’m confident we can make a big impact on Chamonix’s year-round skiing, climbing and hiking holiday seasons.”
It is inevitable that the new bus service will impact on the local transfer companies, but hopefully there will be enough business for everyone to contiinue to improve the transfer service to Chamonix which in turn can only benefit the local economy as a whole.
Performance Dietitian Rebecca Dent joins Tracks and Trails to give us top nutritional advise on how to eat to keep eat ourselves healthy this winter!
"As the Winter season is about to commence now is the best time to think ahead and get ready for staying well and thriving during the coming months. What you eat from day to day will impact your energy levels, recovery from a long day on the snow, level of ability to ski day after day and overall health and well being. Those who have daily eating practices that emphasise good quality food, who are fuelled and hydrated adequately will be guaranteed to improve their performance on the snow, increase recovery, reduce the risk of injury and reduce occurrence and severity of illness.
1) Plan ahead - Create a shopping list of nutritious food items and plan daily nutritious meals to eat and healthy snacks to take to the mountains.
2) Eat enough energy! Make sure you are eating enough energy to sustain you for the full day, or recovery and refueling ready for the next day on the slopes! Carbohydrate is the preferred fuel supply at altitude so it is important to eat foods rich in this nutrient e.g. oats (porridge/muesli/homemade flapjack or energy bars, oat cakes with peanut butter/boiled eggs), potatoes (frittata, sweet potato fish pie, sweet potato mash with salmon), rice (chicken curry, brown rice with tuna and avocado, brown rice with chick pea and spinach, rice cakes with cottage cheese).
3) Eat nutrient dense foods as part of each meal and snack to make sure your body is getting what it needs to support exercise and health e.g. oily fish, red meat and offal, milk and Greek yoghurt, eggs, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, dark chocolate, berries, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, avocados and olives, garlic and turmeric.
4) Eat iron and antioxidant rich foods: Living and exercising at altitude also places a greater demand on the body for particular nutrients such as iron and antioxidants. Make sure your daily diet is rich in foods containing these nutrients. Iron rich foods include; red meat, offal, pate, lentils, kidney beans, green leafy vegetables, apricots, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa and brown rice. Antioxidant rich foods include; berries, citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, tomatoes, kiwi), dark green leafy veg (spinach, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, cabbage), nuts & seeds, red grapes, sweet potatoes, avocados and green tea.
Eating well day after day will also help you reach your full fitness and skill potential of your winter sport and also maximise the enjoyment of your day."
Stay tuned for Rebecca`s next blogs;
i) Breakfast suggestions (start the day as you meant to go on)
ii) The pros and cons of snacks portability, energy content, ease of digestion (freezing weather/breaking teeth!)
iii) Maintaining hydration at altitude and in the cold.
Produced by: Rebecca Dent - High Performance Dietitian November - 2014 www.rebeccadent.co.uk Twitter: @Rebecca_Dent
Great news for train lovers this winter with a new Eurostar train service from London to Geneva. Although it has been possible to take the train to the Alps previously, the new service makes it a whole lot easier. Until now taking the train from the UK meant a change in Paris, arriving at Gare du Nord before departing from Gare de Lyon. During busy times this transfer can take up to an hour.
The new service, working with TGV Lyria, means you only have to switch platforms at Lille, with a maximum wait of 30 minutes. In total London to Geneva is possible in 6 hrs and 18 minutes, at least one hour shorter than before and considerably easier.
Tickets went on sale on October 9. with the first service leaving London on December 14. According to The Telegraph "A refurbishment of Lille station is underway, in order to accommodate more connecting passengers. Eurostar will operate four daytime services each week, carrying up to 900 passengers to and from Geneva’s central station."
The new service is the result of a survey which revealed Geneva as one of the most popular destinations in Europe for travellers from the UK.
As well as being a gateway to the Alps and the European headquarters for the United Nations, Geneva has a rich and colourful history of religious turmoil and revolution, a handful of fascinating museums and grand monuments, as Sophie Butler reported for Telegraph Travel last year.
The route will also mean easier access to other Swiss cities, with connections which will benefit our guests, to towns like Aigle, Martigny, Sion, Sierre, Visp and Brig.
Research has shown that more and more people wish to travel by train to reach the Alps. With the ability to travel from city centre to city centre, and a generous baggage allowance it is expected the new service will prove popular.
So, which course would be best for you?
As each winter passes we find more and more people are trying cross country skiing. It's such a fabulous way to travel in winter, and you can do it at whatever level you wish. You can 'toddle' along enjoying the views, or really 'go for it' and give yourself an all over body workout! We offer various courses for different levels. Read to see where your skiing could take you.
Our Italian Ski Breaks are based in the wonderful Val Ferret valley, near Courmayeur. The terrain and environment is ideally suited for our introductory courses with a wonderful range of cafes and bars for the all important Italian hot chocolate and cake stops!
Mix your activities, and try snowshoeing and cross country skiing then combine the Italian Ski Break with our Snowshoe Long Weekends. You will spend time in the world famous Alpine town of Chamonix, and also get to spend the night in a mountain refuge - think mountain 'hotel', rather than basic hut!
In the Obergoms area of Switzerland which has 82km of groomed trails to explore between Oberwald and Niederwald. With the help of the local train, included in your ski pass and regularly passes through, it gives us the flexibility to ski in different areas of the valley and from village to village. This trip offers weeks either geared to beginners or intermediates, so do check the grading for the one which is suitable for beginners.
OK, so you have done some cross country skiing, perhaps our Italian Ski Breaks and are wondering "what next?". Our Jura Highlights long weekend is graded 'Intro/Intermediate' and is perfect as the next step in your cross country skiing career. We have based our weekends in Vallée de Joux, close to Geneva, to ensure it's easy to access and that we are on the doorstep of some of the region's highest cross country ski locations. The Jura's forested limestone plateau makes for perfect 'Nordic rolling' terrain. The region is very proud of both its traditions and sports and is steeped in history, geology and gastronomy.
For those of you who have already done our Jura Highlights, at Les Rousses, in France, the good news is that we have moved our base, and thus you might enjoy another weekend with us in our new location at Vallee de Joux in Switzerland.
We also have an 'Intermediate' week based in the Obergoms area mentioned above. Just check the grading against the week to see which one is for 'beginners', and which for 'intermediates'.
The 'Grand Ski Traverse' of the German Black Forest is a classic 100km point-to-point journey located near the borders of France and Switzerland lies north of Freiburg and Basel. The Black Forest extends from 150m above sea level to the upper reaches of the Rhine River to more than 1,400m above sea level in the highest mountains of the southern Black Forest. This is an excellent progression for 'intermediate' skiers, and sets you up nicely for our more challenging long distance ski trips.
If Norway is an attractive proposition, then I would urge you to consider the fabulous Peer Gynt Trail, this is brilliant for beginners with a good grounding, and confident snowplough, and excellent for intermediates also. A real journey across the mountains, but always on prepared tracks - it is wonderful!
You can also develop your skills on two of our other Norway weeks at Venabu, and at Geilo and Finse. Both these trips help develop your 'touring skills'; in other words, your ability to ski a journey on consecutive days through the valleys and across the rolling mountain landscape. Both these weeks include the next step in your cross country career in that they introduce the idea of 'off-piste' skiing where you make your own tracks in the snow.
I would suggest you consider Venabu first, then look to follow with our Geilo and Finse trip.
The obvious next trip is the Jotunheim tour, home to Norway's highest mountain, the Galdhöpiggen (2469m), this majestic rocky mountain range offers superb Nordic touring with an almost Alpine feel.This tour follows a classic south to north route providing a great way of skiing through this quieter area between the popular Hardangervidda and Finse area to the the well-known Jotunheim. The tour ends at one of best and most important lodges of the northern Jotunheim having skied passed some of the most dramatic peaks in the country.
So you've worked your way through all of the above and are looking for more challenging long distance skiing? Don't worry we have plenty for you to go at! I would suggest the following progression:
The Grande Traversée du Jura (or GTJ) is a fabulous journey over the Jura mountains crossing through France and parts of Switzerland. Located not far from Geneva, the journey is made on classic cross country skis. This 142km long-distance ski trail was first completed in 1978 and is nearly all on prepared, pressed tracks. If it is peace and tranquility and a true taste of authentic mountain life you seek then look no further!
The 'Trans-Jura Swiss' is a 'tracked' point-to-point cross country ski journey over the Swiss mountains of the Jura, and is a little harder than the French GTJ described above. Following the success of our Grand Traverse of the Jura (GTJ), which is mainly in France, we are pleased to now offer the 'TJS' - the Swiss version. Starting within easy reach of Geneva the journey, first made in 1976, is on classic cross country skis, nearly all on prepared, pressed tracks and covers 153km.
Norway, and a really brilliant trip with plenty of challenge is the fabulous Trolls Trail. A true mountain journey which requires commitment and stamina. It is a point-to-point ski trip across the Rondane mountains of Norway. This 200km journey takes us through a beautiful landscape of frozen lakes, plateaux, and forests which gives the perfect environment for a multi-day adventure on cross country skis. We begin in the north at Høvringen in the Rondane National Park, and ski south to the Olympic town of Lillehammer. The terrain is not steep, but offers views of the bigger peaks in the area.
Next up, it's the infamous Hardangervidda in Norway, and the route of the legendary ‘Heroes of Telemark’ raid to stop the nuclear ambitions Axis powers. This is a unique opportunity to retrace, visit and savor the extraordinary raid involving Norwegian and British servicemen to sabotage the heavy water atomic plant near Rjukan in 1943. This Nordic skiers 'must do' tour is designed for our 'Advanced Nordic Tourers' wishing to not only absorb the historic events but also complete a challenging and remote tour in the footsteps of our Heroes of Telemark.
Oh, nearly forgot to mention 'skating'! Skating has evolved as a separate Nordic discipline and is much loved by those who like to get a good workout on skis. It is very graceful and is wonderful for fitness and form. We run several skate long weekends each winter, and if you check the dates you will see these are divided into 'introductory' and 'intermediate'. People often ask "do I have to learn to ski 'classic' before I can 'skate'?". The answer is 'no'. It's often said that 'classic' is easier to learn, but harder to be really good at, and that 'skate' is much harder to learn, but that is is easier to be good fairly quickly.
I am hoping that the above will have given you plenty to think about, and will also help you with your progression as a cross country skier. Enjoy the tracks this winter!
When I think of Peer Gynt I associate the name with the character in the famous play by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, but I have to say that thoughts of drama on the stage have been replaced by drama in the mountains! Last year, for the first time, we took our clients to Norway to ski the 'Peer Gynt' trail, and it was stunning.
The cross country ski trail travels for 100 km along the remote Peer Gynt Mountain Road through beautiful scenery.The region is well known for its natural beauty and there are good chances of seeing wildlife such as elk, foxes and birds of prey along the way, it also gives magnificent views of the Jotunheimen and Rondane mountain ranges. On route to our first hotel we do in fact pass through the village of Sødorp by Vinstra, it is the highest village in Norway to be occupied all year round, and it was once the home of the real 'Per Gynt'. The same character that inspired Henrik Ibsen when he wrote his world famous masterpiece.
The Peer Gynt ski tour is a first rate introduction to the idea of travelling on nordic skis through the winter mountains. The skiing is all 'on track', and after each snowfall the track machines set out to prepare the trails to ensure they are in tip-top condition. On my visit last year we saw virtually no other skiers, and found it hard to believe that we had this wonderland of snow all to ourselves. In Espedalen, our start point, they begin to prepare the tracks as soon as they have enough snow and usually keep going until mid-April. Track machines in Espedalen have GPS with GSM transmitters so that the status of preparation are updated in real time and published on www.skisporet.no
It was the first time I had seen this type of 'track' forecast and it makes a huge difference to the day if you can set out knowing what you are likely to find on the trails.
We use classic nordic touring skis, either waxing skis which are the ones for hire locally, or 'fishscales', and it is a great chance to learn the art of waxing. I think what is also really enjoyable is that you have a feeling of being part of the Norwegian culutre of skiing. This is where it all started, and developed as a way of travelling between communities in winter, and there is a strong sense of that history as we ski between remote village and lodges.
The terrain is typically 'nordic', in that we ski on rolling mountains and across plateau, enjoying views to the far Rondane and Jotunheimen peaks. The days take on a sense of exploration, something I think which is largely due to the lack of other skiers. For our first trip we had a great bunch of people, some old friends from previous Tracks and Trails trips who were very experienced, as well as some new guests who had limited skiing experience, but a very good attitude and fitness. The great thing about the Peer Gynt Trail is that it provides a real sense of journey, but without hugely challenging conditions. Last year we had two guests who rarely get the chance to nordic ski, and who to be honest had limited experience, but they managed fine! A good sense of balance and fitness stood them in good stead, and this year they are both back for more and aiming to ski the Grand Traverse of the Jura with us this winter.
The hotels were also rather a surprise for the group - proving to be 'much fancier than we imagined'. Great Norwegian food, and a sauna in every hotel, and sometimes even a pool, meant that any tired muscles were well catered for at the end of the day. I was ticked off for not having made enough of this in the itinerary! We have now tried to make this clear in the trip description, so yes, do bring your swimsuit.
One of the highlights for me is staying at Fefor by the lake, in an old hunting lodge with roaring log fire, and a stunning buffet meal. The only problem was that we all ate too much, and struggled to get going the next day. The lodge has a rich and fascinating history and has played host to Kings and Queens, polar explorers, and the rich and famous. It was here that Scott chose to test his motor sledge before the polar expedition to the south pole of 1912.
We already have bookings on this years Peer Gynt trip and are very much looking forward to getting back to the land where skiing was born. Join us in 2015, you will love it, and I am sure it will just be the start of your ski touring career.
A question we often get asked:
"What exercise or fitness programme can we do prior to our winter holiday?"
As guides and instructors our work keeps us healthy and our fitness level high. But like our guests we too have to consider getting ready for the next season. A long life of snowsports can be maintained by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, appropriate fitness training and an injury prevention programme. The latter for us all being of great importance.
Prior to a change of sport (like an up and coming ski holiday) or physical intensity level it's important to prepare the body accordingly. Here are a few tips during to consider prior to the winter season be it on skis, a board or snowshoes.
A fitness programme should train you aerobically and for strength. Specific strength, core stability and progressively challenging balance exercises should be prioritised into this training to help both performance and protect against injury: aim to include 2-3 strength and conditioning sessions per week.
As a guideline we recommend the following:
- An 8-12 week training programme before your holiday
- 2/3 hours per week of moderate cardio as a baseline increasing to higher intensity and duration
- Cross train in different sports to prevent overuse/overtraining
- Strength & conditioning 2-3 times per week – such as weights, pilates, core stability or SkiFit
Our physio friends at La Clinique du Sport in Chamonix (who also feature on our running camps) have just launched a specific pre-ski strength and conditioning program known as ‘SkiFit’. Designed for all levels of snowsports (but will also be useful for all other activities too) they have taken time to look at how we ski & board and broken the movement patterns down. The program has been developed to help everyone improve their strength and technique. This ‘pre-habilitation’ training programme is split into four phases over 8 weeks with the aim of improving strength in key muscles as well as developing flexibility and balance. Practised either in a class (classes are currently only available in Chamonix!) or with use of an 'app' can be done at home each phase builds on the previous one with over 100 individual ski specific exercises.
We are delighted to be able to promote SkiFit, part of the Be Fit Apps programme, as the perfect way to help you train specifically and adapt your body for your ski or snowshoe holiday. It's easy to set up & follow, enjoyable, affordable adding a trust worthy science to your pre-trip training.
Some of the Tracks and Trails team tried and tested it last year and really noticed the results that when stepping onto the snow for the first time that season the body already felt "prepped, ready and strong".
Prior to any change in exercise programme it is advisable to seek professional guidance to ensure its suitability however we feel that we've found the ideal pre-winter training programme that you can adopt anywhere.
If you have any questions at all about how to train for any of our holidays then please feel free to get in touch and we'll be happy to advise.
Make the most out of your winter holiday by feeling strong and fit before you've even touched the snow!
Preparation is underway in the Chamonix valley for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2014 - just 10 days to go! The race always creates a unique buzz around the whole Mt Blanc massif, not just in France - but also along the winding trails in Italy and Switzerland. Clare Abram of ultrarunning.com has written a good intro article on preparing to run this epic race - to read it click here
Ailsa and Jamie's garden at Lavacchio in the Garfagnana of Tuscany is truly stunning! The grounds of the agriturismo are a wonder at that this time of year, with olive trees, vines, lavender, fig and plum trees. These last few days we've enjoyed gorgeous weather, making for a really relaxing time. We'll be back in autumn for some amazing hiking here in the Apuane Alps, just before the olive harvest. Read more on our Wild Tuscany trips in September-October here.