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Thank you EPIC TV for an easy to understand informative guide on how to choose your next pair of trail shoes. If you have any further shoe & kit queries please get in touch as we are always happy to advise.

Snowshoeing using the latest lightweight equipment has opened up a whole new world to those who previously thought mountain walking was only a summer activity. Snowshoeing is neither technical or complicated and allows access to a wonderful snow covered playground. You don't need any prior experience to snowshoe in the Alps, just some warm clothes and a sense of adventure! With a little guidance you can soon pick up the skills: we regularly see whole families wandering through magical snow covered forests or across high meadows enjoying the views normally only afforded to mountaineers or skiers. There is also the myth that it's all hard work. Indeed, if you happen to have to break the trail it’s a bit of a workout, but if there is a trail already there, and there often is, then it's really no harder than normal hill walking.

It’s often overlooked that we have been snowshoeing far longer than we have been skiing - historians generally believe that snowshoes were invented around 6,000 years ago in Central Asia. A little closer to home, inhabitants of the Caucasus used to attach flat leather under their feet and the Armenians used round wooden surfaces. The aim of course was to travel on the surface of the snow pack rather than sinking knee or thigh deep.

A century ago snowshoes looked a little like something you might use for an early game at Wimbledon, and I do have friends who constantly tease when I suggest I am off for a spot of snowshoeing. 'Oh, getting the tennis racquets out then?' But snowshoes have come a long way since the French first referred to them as raquettes. Today's snowshoes are made of modern lightweight materials and come in many shapes, sizes, and colours. They are a pleasure to wear and without doubt a fantastic way to move around a snow covered landscape. For the fashion conscious you can easily tailor your snowshoe collection (let's face it, one pair’s never enough!) to match your winter wardrobe.

In the Alps snowshoeing has been credited with being the fastest growing winter activity. In France alone the latest figures show two million people snowshoeing on a regular basis. More people in the Alps have taken up snowshoeing than any other winter sport, with annual sales now at 140,000 snowshoes each year. Snowshoeing with Tracks and Trails is the perfect way to explore the mountains and valleys of the Alps - a magical experience of silent forests, beautiful mountains and stunning view. Join us this winter and enjoy fabulous snowshoeing in Chamonix or try one of our explorer trips to Italy or Switzerland.

Find out more about our snowshoe trips this winter here.


Our Family Walking Tour around Mont Blanc with Tracks and Trails was a really fantastic experience. We started the week feeling rather nervous about what lay ahead of us, but once we had done our acclimatisation walk to Lac Blanc and got to know a little bit about our really helpful, fun and nice guide, Julia, I felt much better and more confident about the whole thing. The first day was great, and we saw our first alpine animal- a chamois (a sort of mountain goat), which was really exciting!

The next two days walked through lovely Alpine meadows and on high balcony trails, through mushroom woods and past herds of cows. We stayed in a beautiful hotel called the Hotel Splendide, beside the lovely Champex Lac where we played table tennis and played on the swings. We also stayed in La Fouly, which was the only place on the holiday that it rained. On the way to Champex, we stumbled upon a normal looking chalet. Except it wasn't. Julia said to have a poke around inside and found that it was actually a secret Swiss bunker with machine guns and turrets and hidden doors! It was amazing! We then went on to the highest point on our tour, the Col de Ferret, standing at 2537 metres and the border of Switzerland and Italy, before going to the Rifugio Bonatti, where we stayed for the night and saw amazing views of the glaciers and mountains from our dormitory and played cards as the sun set. It was absolutely beautiful.

We then descended into Courmayeur, where delicious Italian pizza and gorgeous gelato (and the end) awaited us! There were many highlights of our 100 kilometre(!) trip including my favourite hotel (Hotel Splendide) which had fantastic views of the mountains and Champex Lac, and the delicious home made cheese from the cheese farm, along with buying a real Swiss Army knife from Switzerland!!! This has already come in very useful lots of times for when some serious whittling needs to be done! But my favourite part was when we saw the marmots running around next to Rifugio Bonatti, where we stayed on our last day, witnessing first hand a true Alpine experience.

In a nutshell, it was a really enjoyable trip that was not too hard, (but it wasn't too easy either!) and our guide (Julia) was really friendly and great company. I really felt like I had achieved something when I completed it and would thoroughly recommend it for a holiday.

Thank you!

Alf Broughton, age 12

Travel Writer in the Making

For the first time this autumn we are offering a week of Nordic walking and yoga in a gorgeous chalet in the Aravis area of the French Alps. Our base is Chalet le 4, with its great food, endless swimming pool, decking for yoga, gym and massage room, and, of course, the mountain location which is truly breathtaking. We love it there!

Yoga is being included in this trip largely due to my huge enthusiasm for yoga and all it offers. After a trip to India a few years ago I realised just how much better I felt after practising yoga on a daily basis. A chat with fellow converts led to the same result - we had heard of yoga, knew that people got 'into' it, but had an image of 'hippy dippy' bendy action where everyone had to chat OM and commune with their inner self! I was so wrong in my assumptions. Yes, occasionally we might be heard to chant OM, and you would be suprised at how good it can feel! But essentially my body became so much more flexible, I lost weight, became toned and honed, and my mind felt much calmer. I just wish I had discovered all of this much earlier in my life.

As someone who is very active, and always on the go, I know how important it is to keep my body in good condition, and I have every intention of keeping going as long as I can, despite my Mother's regular cry of "when are you going to grow up and calm down". Believe me I have every intention of growing old utterly disgracefully!

Nordic walking is also on the daily agenda and for those of you new to this activity, it is simply walking made a little more energetic with the use of very lightweight walking poles. Easy to learn and fabulous for upper body strength and mobility. It also burns more calories than normal walking and for some of us that is an added bonus.

Anyway, do try and join us at Chalet le 4 this September where you can eat great food, enjoy the mountains, and leave with a mind and body fully restored.

I have attached a PDF to this Blog of my 'paper' which I prepared for my yoga class. It extols the virtues of yoga for a long and active life, and hopefully it might inspire you to join us.

Best wishes


Running is so perfectly simple – if it’s good weather, all you need are your shoes, t-shirt, shorts, socks & you are ready to step out the door!

Modern day runners might see their GPS watch or mobile phone as their next ‘must have’ item. But on the whole running has never needed to be a kit intensive sport. However should you decide to run longer distances, especially in the mountains, then the kit requirements become more extensive but essential.

Having lived in Chamonix for 11 years and run and hiked many trails and peaks, I have enough experiences that being over prepared is never a bad thing. Reaching a summit on a beautiful sunny day can very quickly and unexpectedly turn into a downpour. The wind and air temperatures on the cols and ridges can get very cold turning rain to snow and wind stoppers and waterproofs become life saving items.

I realised this when training for the ‘CCC’ UltraTrail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). 100km A 24-hour run through the French, Swiss & Italian Alps. With the benefit of living in Chamonix and having expert advise on tap I can share my tips and advise that will help me pack for the big day.

What you need to take and why?

I’m not concerned about taking the lightest possible wind-stopper, it doesn’t bother me if I haven’t got the latest and greatest lightweight carbon folding poles either. I just want to comfortably complete the course within the cut off time and enjoy the experience!

Although nice to have the super lightweight kit and save a few extra grams finishing for me is determined by whether my training has been enough & appropriate to the course.

So the UTMB CCC obligatory kit list which is required by everyone to carry is extremely relevant and made up of the following items:

· a cup

· mobile phone

· water container (min. 1 litre)

· two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries

· survival blanket

· whistle

· adhesive elastic bandage

· food reserve

· jacket with hood made with a waterproof breathable membrane which will withstand the bad weather in the mountains

· long running trousers or leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely

· additional warm mid-layer top

· cap or bandana

· warm hat

· warm and waterproof gloves

· waterproof over-trousers

Bex’s Kit List

So we thought it would be useful to share my race day kit & clothing choices to help those preparing for a mountain trail event or ultra.

Ashmei merino carbon running jersey – Simply brilliant bit of kit. Wicks sweat and kept my temperature regulated. The top never rode up and there was no rubbing at all. It was the perfect thing to have next to my skin, no smell after 18 hours and the zip neck allowed me to cool down more when it warmed up and kept my neck warm when it cooled down.

Nike shorts – My favorite pair that I have run in at least 100 times and I thought would be great, however I think for future races I will only wear tight cycling-style shorts (of course without the padding!) due to the ease of other items being able to be worn over the top.

Ashmei merino trail socks – One pair, 24 hours and not a blister or even a hot-spot in sight. Brilliant!

Headsweats visor – Super comfortable, kept the sun and the sweat out of my eyes. And visors make you look like a trail runner… which is important!

Naked Runner sunglasses – Really light weight, the right level of darkness to the lenses and the most comfortable glasses I have ever owned – they never bounce on my nose! Well worth the money.

Scott T2 Kinabalu trail shoes – I had to choose between these and the inov-8 RocLite 315 which I really love running in. I wanted as much cushioning for the 20+ hours I would be on my feet and the Scott’s offered more than the inov-8s. In the race the Scotts were truly amazing: light, cushioned, grippy and just about roomy enough. A good choice for a race this long for most feet!

North Face Base Layer Light (long sleeve) - Necessary when the temperature dropped in the early hours, it was really comfortable giving me enough warmth for the early hours.

Adidas Supernova tights – I put these on earlier than I hoped because I had to change my shorts, due to chaffing from the short’s liner. They were great, but I probably wouldn’t have worn them if I had made a better shorts choice.

Compressports calf guards and thigh guards – The calf guards remained around my ankles until about 50km when my calves started aching. Once I pulled them up, they made my lower legs feel great. Essential kit as far as I am concerned. The quad guards went on at the start of the day and I kept them on all the way round. They seem to support my quads on the downhills, my hamstrings on the uphills and stop any rubbing between my thighs. Another essential bit of kit as far as I am concerned.

Montane gilet – This is a minimalist masterpiece. It is made from Pertex, so it crunches up super small (the size of a tangerine) and keeps the wind completely at bay. I wore this for the start of the race when it was a bit chilly and then later, once the sun went down and I was feeling cold again. One of my favourite items!

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest Back Pack – It is brilliant thought out, with some great features. I like the fact that it will carry heaps of kit without swinging around. Whether it is full or empty, it fits like a glove. I do have an issue though which is that the finishing is poor – zip pulls have popped off and can’t be replaced. The bungee holding the water bottle on one side snapped.

Black Diamond Carbon Z-Poles - Not something I wore, but these were not in my pack very much. They are vital! Light, sturdy and easy to stow away thanks to the folding mechanism. I think that poles are essential in the mountains and this model ticks every box. The use of poles helps take the pressure off your legs and back, making very long races feel much more manageable. And the winner of the UTMB used poles, so they must be right!

Suunto Ambit – This is a new bit of kit and I totally love it. The level of accuracy and detail is like nothing I have ever had before and I love the accuracy of the altimeter. The watch is really, really easy to read and the backlight is superb, so it is great for running in the night. Best of all, is the battery life. I had this running for almost the entirely of the 24 hours and 20 minutes that I was running the CCC, with a little break in the middle because I was worried that I’d run the battery flat.

Inov-8 Race Elite 260 Thermoshell – Another great bit of kit. I took this to the CCC as my mid-layer. It is really light and compact, but when you take it out and pull it on, there is instant warmth and protection. I would never venture out into the mountains without this again. During the race, I didn’t need to use it, but I have on other occasions and knowing it was in my pack, was extremely reassuring.

Mountain Warehouse waterproof trousers – Really compact and lightweight and with taped seams, these trousers fitted the bill as far as the obligatory kit was concerned. But they are not breathable, so I’d never consider running in them. They were for emergency use only and thankfully we didn’t have reason to pull them out.

Norrøna jacket – It fits me perfectly, is really comfortable, has useful pockets and pit-vents and is extremely waterproof. It certainly is not the lightest jacket available, but from a cost vs. functionality point of view, it was the best I could get and is definitely small enough and light enough for me.

LED Lenser headtorch – this is the business. It is really bright and whilst it can feel as though there is a bit of a lump on the front of your head, that is easily off-set by the huge amount of light that it provides. In the pitch dark it was perfect & I can’t stress how important the torch needs to be for the night running sections. For both speed & safety.


TORQ Bars – Awesome! I carried a lot of nutrition products with me and I was happy I did. My main sources of fuel were TORQ bars and gels. I had 12 gels and 8 bars (I was basing that on one TORQ unit an hour for 20 hours which is only a third of what they recommend you take, but I couldn’t carry 60 bars/gels and as I would be operating at such a low intensity level, I would be OK just topping up glycogen levels with what I had). I also took ‘pate des fruits’ that are sold to kids in French supermarkets – they are essentially fruit juice and sugar in a jelly-like block. Delicious!

I intended to eat at the aid stations but tried to limit myself to as little fat as possible (that worked for most of the race!). I was eating white bread, a clear broth with pasta that I found at some aid stations, ham and salami. I did eat the odd piece of cheese as I was getting hungry after 18 hours of running! I also had a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce at Champex Lac about half way round.

Towards the end of the race, I had used all my TORQ gels and only had one bar left, as I was feeling a bit worse for wear I sat in the aid station and had three cups of black tea with sugar and three chocolate chip cookies. I felt strong and fabulous after that and whilst I know that was not ideal nutritionally, the psychological boost and the sugar really got me going again.

Next Ultra

From a kit and nutrition perspective, that is my experience of the CCC. I think I had just the right amount of gear. The shorts were not perfect, but I know that I still need to learn and improve, there was bound to be one thing I wouldn’t get right. And everything else was really great.I recommend you write down exactly what you train or race with to make packing simple, especially when the pre event nerves kick in and your brain turns to mush!

I certainly won't be making many kit changes for this year…

For those reading this my advice would be to try and test everything! Don't over pack but don't skimp on kit especially if the forecast for an event is not perfect. Most events do check your bags and you wouldn't want to be disqualified for not having something to save a gram!

Test your kit in all weathers and at time of day that you are likely to need it in a race/event be it food, fluid, headtorch or clothing! Expensive doesn't mean it's the best but it's what works for you.

I now know that once my training is complete my kit is already tried and tested so I'm pretty much ready for the start line. Bon trails!

Bex Leigh

Ben Arogundade of the Daily Telegraph has written a great piece on Julia’s trail running camps in the Chamonix valley. Ben admits to a little nervousness at first about the running that lay ahead; whilst the distance was not a problem, trail running (off-road across undulating terrain in Chamonix at altitude) might well prove to be! For Ben trail running was a very different experience from anything before, however, our guests were all helped by an amazing team of specialists including a massage therapist, yoga and Pilates teachers and Neil Maclean-Martin, the Chamonix-based physio of the Team GB Olympic squad, all of whom assisted with everything needed!

Once into the swing of things Ben quickly adapted and became accustomed to the conditions and enjoyed immensely the camaraderie and spirit of the group. Indeed, Ben best summarises the enjoyment of the week in noting: “ The camp, by bringing us closer to nature, and giving us access to a range of specialist advisers, had improved us as runners which, in turn, meant that our lives were improved — and you can’t get better than that.”

Read the Daily Telegraph’s article here

Twice in the Norwegian media in one week!

It caused much amusement with our guests that we were targetted by Norwegian TV, and then by a Norwegian newspaper. Essentially, both media were interested in why we had chosen to spend Easter in Norway. Easy answer - because it is a fabulous place to cross country ski, and the home of the sport.

We spent three weeks with our guests on three different trips, a week centre based at Venabu, then two journeys, the Peer Gynt Trail, and the Trolls Trail. All of these will be featured again in 2016 and dates are already on line for the Peer Gynt and Trolls Trail. They proved hugely popular with our guests this year, and were a joy to guide.

This New Year we will be adding a special week at Venabu, which is a great base for 6 days of cross country skiing. Kick start your New Year with some cross country skiing - fresh mountain air and good exercise followed by perhaps yoga, sauna, or simply cake and coffee! Our hotel arranges a very traditional Norwegian New Year programme on the 31 December, and we can assure you, you will have a brilliant start to 2016. This trip will be on line very soon, and is pitched at our 'beginner plus' level, in other words those of you who have completed our beginners Italian Ski Break, and now wish to take your skiing further with a week in Norway.

The following article about our coffee stop at Vendalen on the Peer Gynt trail will, of course, only be accessible to those of you who speak Norwegian, but nevertheless it amused us to be featured. We had stopped for our lunch at the gorgeous traditional cafe beside the fishing lake at Vendalen, where many Norwegians were enjoying the Easter weekend. The journalist was intrigued to find out why there was a team of non-Norwegian cross country skiers in the area. Doing the Peer Gynt, of course!

If you are Norwegian, maybe you can tell us what the article actually says....

Styrer sjappa på Vendalen

Med barna som salgssjefer og fersk vaffellukt fra bakrommet har vi suksessoppskriften.


Det sier driver av Vendalen kafé, Ståle Nyhus. Sammen med kona Eva, har han og barna Paal(12) og Sivert(10) drevet kafeen i flere år. Helt siden han tok over i 1986 har han tilbragt hver påske der. Ferske vafler, pølser og både kald og varm drikke av mange slag lokker turistene, men også lokale til kafeen kun et steinkast fra Vendalsvatnet.


En vanlig dag på fjellet i påsken er mildt sagt hektisk. Det kan være så mange som 200 personer innom kaféen. De to sønnene Paal og Sivert er storfornøyde som salgssjefer, men innrømmer at det tidvis kan bli litt mye.

I forgårs fikk vi ikke lov av pappa å gå ut å leke litt engang midt på dagen. Det var så mange folk her, sier Paal og får et mutt og bekreftende nikk fra lillebror Sivert.
Men går greit likevel da, vi kan jo spise litt vafler, sier de. I går spiste jeg vafler for nesten 200 kroner, hvisker Paal mens pappa Ståle er ute i kafeen en liten tur.
Etter stengetid klokken 1700 byr det seg likevel muligheter for å leke ute. Da går gutta opp på Vendalshaugen og fester bindingene på snøbrettet.

På veg ned hopper vi på kulene. Det er kjempeartig, smiler Sivert.

Ståles besteforeldre var det som startet kafeen. Martha og Martinius Nyhus hadde på 60-tallet ei hytte på Jomfrusto og begynte kafedrift der i det små. Interessen ble større og større og de så seg nødt til å utvide drifta. De kjøpte derfor en stor, tømra driftsbygning fra Steberg og tok med seg stuedelen til Vendalen. I 1971 var drifta i gang for fullt.

Kafeen på Vendalen ligger fryktelig sentralt. 17 kilometer til Gålå, åtte til Fefor og det er heller ikke lange stubben til Kvitfjell. Til disse stedene er det kun mulighet for å gå på ski, noe som gjør området veldig populært, siden vi slipper så mye støy fra bil, sier Ståle.
Det er også ei lita gulrot for ungene å komme fram til kafeen når en familie er ute på skitur, føyer Eva til bak grytene inne på kjøkkenet.
Mens folk kommer inn og ut og en hører det veksles språk fra mange ulike land, forstår en at populariteten har vokst de siste årene.
Det ble kanskje ekstra populært under OL i 1994. Da kom det utrolig mange turister hit, spesielt fra Kvitfjell, sier Ståle.

Over årene har ting forandret seg. Mens Martha og Martinius drev på 70-tallet kan vi tolke Ståle som at det var lystigere stemning på Vendalen i gamledager. Martha ivra veldig for å ha fester på kafeen. Det ble det naturligvis god stemning av, sier Ståle.
I dag er det påskeskirenn for barn i regi av Søre Lia Hytteforening. Rundt 60 barn deltar på to ulike løyper, den ene på 800 meter og den andre på nærmere to kilometer. Gratis pølser og saft gjør slitne barn blidere etter målgang. På 70-tallet var påskeskirennet for folk i alle aldre. – Da var det langt sterkere dråper som ble servert i løypene, humrer Ståle.

«Vi blir ikke akkurat solbrune i påska».

Ståle Nyhus

Folk kommer fra over hele verden for å besøke den koselige og særegne kafeen. Ilana Magder, Alison Smith, Angie McDonald og Lindsay Cannon er fire damer som nyter en kopp kaffe i solveggen på Vendalen. Tre av de fire har reist fra forskjellige land i Europa, men Magder har tatt turen helt fra Canada. Vi er en gjeng på 14 personer som er på tur til Norge nå. Enkelte her har aldri før gått på langrennsski, så det kan bli morsomt, sier Smith fra England. Superlativene spares det ikke på, og selv en kar fra OL-byen Chamonix i Frankrike er strålende fornøyd med fjellområdene i Norge.

Jeg har aldri vært her før, men det er utrolig hyggelige og imøtekommende folk her, samt frisk og god luft. Denne påskesolen her takker vel ingen nei til, sier Blaise Verien som innrømmer at luften av ferske vafler frister såpas at han må forlate intervjuet i noen minutter.

Hele påsken er familien Nyhus oppe på Vendalen. Men det ble påskekos selv om det var hektiske dager. Kafeen er oppe fra 10:00 til 17:00, men etter den tid utnytter de muligheten for å gjøre andre ting enn å bare stå bak vaffeljernet.

Jeg vant «fire på rad» de ti siste gangene, sier pappa Ståle på trass til de to i sofaen. Unnskyldningene er mange fra guttene, men en kan med sikkerhet konkludere at familien har konkurranseinstinkt.

På påskeskirennet de to forrige årene var det jeg som vant, sier Paal stolt. Sivert på sin side argumenter flittig i mot, men kryper til slutt til korset.

Ja, vel.. Så har jeg blitt vandt til å tape da, sier han. Tap og vinn med samme sinn er kanskje ikke moralen for familien Nyhus. Men neste år møter de på ny opp ved Vendalsvatnet med kaffe og rykende ferske vafler.

Bildetekst: Paal og Sivert Nyhus betjener kundene på kafeen. Her med de lokale kundene, Iver, Bjørg og Vinja(7) Steig.

På taket: Ståle Nyhus har hatt ansvaret for kafeen siden 1986. Med skue utover Vendalsvatnet er det kanskje ikke rart folk kommer innom på kaffe og bite ti.

Brettkjøring: Paal og Sivert er ute med snøbrett og twin-tip-ski etter stengetid i kafeen. – Utrolig gøy å kjøre på kulene nedover fra Vendalshøgda, sier de.

Fire på rad: Konkurranseinstinktet er til å ta og føle på når Paal og Sivert setter i gang sine faste runder på «Fire på rad».
Turister norske: (f.v) Trond solem og sønnen Einar Solhem(4), Nicolas Kvedalen, Hans og Ruth Ørnulf var noen av de som nøt sola på Vendalen i påska. – Vi kom i dag, så vi har enda ikke fått testa ut skiføre, sier de.

Utenlandsk: Ilena Magder, Alison Smith, Angie McDonald, Blaise Verien og Lindsay Cannon har tatt turen fra andre Canada, France og England. Sammen med ti andre utforska de påske-Norge forrige uke.

We are pleased to confirm that Performance Nutritionist and Clinical Dietitian 'Rebecca Dent' will again be joining us on our 2015 summer Alpine Trail Running Camps.

During our camps Rebecca will be on tap to help you achieve your goals by offering:

- Easy to apply nutrition advice to suit your individual requirements what ever distance/level of your running/running goals
- The opportunity to have a body composition assessment, giving you a bench mark of your current health and fitness status
- On hand practical information whilst running the trails
- Plenty of time for informal discussion, questions, one:one advice during the week
- Take home resources including shopping lists, menu plans, personalised nutrition goals

Rebecca will not be making a note of what people choose to eat and drink, she is there as a resource to ask questions and gain a better understanding of healthy eating and nutrition for running. All meals provided on the camp are both nutritious and delicious and will provide the energy and nutrients you need to fuel your running for the week. Rebecca has overseen the menus provided by Chris at Runners Refuge and of course this is a holiday so puddings, wine and beer are served with the evening meal!

At the end of the summer Rebecca will be taking part in the Gore Tex Trans Alpine Race. Her plight is to ‘walk the talk’ gaining even more understanding about nutrition demands of endurance sports, to then be able to provide even better practical advice to runners for 2016!

Rebecca will be running the event as a female pair and will mainly educate/tweet/blog on nutrition requirements for women in adventure sports. However most of the information will be relevant to both sexes. Some key topics Rebecca will be covering are increased iron requirements for endurance sports, micronutrients, body composition (lighter is not necessarily better!), meeting energy demands in relation to; menstrual function, reproductive health and bone health. In addition, carbohydrate and fat as fuel sources, training nutrition, race strategies and the all essential nutrition for recovery. You can follow her twitter here or read her blogs here.

We wish Rebecca well on her quest and look forward to seeing her in June for our first 2015 camp.

***This trip is guaranteed with places available***.

Rebecca Dent RD, BSc, MSc, IOC Dip
Performance & Vitality Nutrition

Traverse of the Chablais

A fabulous week dicovering the skills required to guide a group across a stunning winter landscape.
A winter training course is part of the route to gaining the International Mountain Leader Award and in March 2014 I attended one on the mountain plateau of Hardangervidda in Norway. The course was provided by Plas y Brenin (, one of the UK's National Mountain Centres. It was led by British Mountain Guides, Simon Hale, Martin Chester and Steve Long, and included such delights as snowshoe journeys, micro navigation, transceiver work and animal tracking.

The IML award qualifies leaders to guide trekking groups in all mountain areas, except on glaciers or where alpinism techniques are needed. An IML can also take groups across snow covered mountains in winter, allowing access to some amazing scenery. In the debrief to my training course, and in preparation for the assessment, I expressed an interest in observing a qualified and experienced IML using the required skills 'for real'. The work of Tracks and Trails was immediately recommended to me, so that I might witness the best practice possible. And so almost a year later I found myself traversing the Chablais in the Haute Savoie with Lindsay Canon and Alex Langdon, as they guided eight clients through dramatic scenery in some exciting snow and weather conditions. The recommendation had been a good one.

The Chablais traverse itself was the brainchild of Lindsay. It's stats are impressive. In 6 days participants clock up over 90kms through snowy terrain - 5310m of ascent, 4710m descent—and, due to the shortness of daylight hours, this is all completed in as little actual walking time as 40 hours. The selected route takes in some impressive scenery, from high cols, ridges and optional peaks to forested valleys. In good weather there are views over to the Mont Blanc Massif, the Cornettes de Bise and Northwest to the Jura. And just when you feel the route can’t get any better, you come across the beautiful winter-deserted villages that make up the high Alpages and enter magical forests with trees transformed by snow into mythical creatures, before starting the descent via a balcony route to the shores of Lake Geneva: a final masterpiece that is entirely satisfying. Careful logistics mean that the clients luggage arrives ahead of them each day and a great selection of hotels provide three course meals, hot showers and comfortable beds, and the occasional jacuzzi and sauna. Did I mention free wifi?

These were the delights of the journey - but of course the trip was full of challenges, too. All participants were required to make each step towards their goal with a level of commitment not necessary on simple day walks. Basecamp was moving and so must they. This is why I was so privileged to be on this walk, both individually and professionally. No view was the same and neither was any decision that needed to be made. It was great to watch Lindsay and Alex using their skills to judge the constantly changing weather pattern of the week in relation to the route. It is hard to catalogue all the excellent practice I observed, but it included a teaching session on snowshoes and avalanche transceivers, group/expectation management, route and day planning in relation to the forecasted and actual snow conditions, liaison with taxi and hotel staff, as well as the soft skills of encouragement and genuine care for client welfare. All this took place in the context of winter conditions, with sometimes thigh-deep snow, when rigorous route finding and navigation skills were needed to minimise the clients' exposure to some truly harsh conditions and to allow for the extra fatigue involved in snowshoeing.

The happy smiles of the group each night, when - after being blasted by dramatic weather and amazing views -they arrived safely at their well-earned hotels, said it all. The sense of achievement by the shores of Lake Geneva were bitter sweet, as it is after all journeys that are completed in such style. The goal had been reached, but the fun was over and it was time for the parting of new friends. And as for me, I can only be truly grateful to Tracks and Trails for allowing me to be part of such a fantastic week, for the advice, instruction and encouragement received and for a clear demonstration of the standards required for the IML award, which has put me one step closer on the journey towards qualification.

David Barber, Trainee International Mountail Leader

In 2007, aged 30, I began to follow my passion for Nordic skiing and start the journey of adding it to my sports coaching skill set.

With the encouragement and enthusiasm from both Nigel Williams (my previous employer at Scotland's National Outdoor Training Centre Glenmore Lodge) and Tania Noakes (now an IFMGA guide and BASI Nordic Trainer) I qualified as a Nordic Ski Instructor through BASIthe British Association of Snowsport Instructors.

Some 7 years, several courses, assessments and sliding on white stuff later I am now delighted to have reached BASI's highest Nordic Ski Teaching level. Having then completed further modules & courses including a second snowsport discipline I am now a member of the International Ski Instructors Association. Yeeha!

As part of the ISIA students must complete a research paper on a element of snowsport teaching. Using my background as a personal trainer and interest in health and fitness I chose to research age in relation to snowsport. My study appropriately entitled 'Is 72 the New 30?' explores the ages of those participating in snowsport, the physiological signs of ageing and how we can stay fit & healthy on the slopes later on in life.

My research did of course did conclude that ageing is not something that we can hide from, but we can reduce some of the physical effects of ageing with a balance of a healthy eating and taking regular exercise, which therefore has positive results not just in respect of our snowsports but throughout life.

If not teaching I certainly plan to still be skiing at 72 and hope you do to!


You can download my research project here. Thoughts & feedback most certainly welcome.

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