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South Tyrol, known by the Italians as Alto Adige and German-speakers as the Südtirol, is a picturesque, tranquil region in northern Italy and home to the Dolomites mountain range. The Dolomites, also known as the ‘Pale Mountains’ for their limestone hue, are a UNESCO World Heritage site and the South Tyrol’s truly unique natural wonder. It’s no exaggeration to say that the forests and mountains here are widely regarded as being among the most attractive landscapes in the world. Indeed, the recognition given by the protected status of UNESCO since June 2009 is testimony to just how well preserved and unspoilt the natural environment remains.

This region of the Alps originated from the collision of two tectonic plates, forcing the rocks to soar skyward and create the dramatic limestone vertical walls, sheer cliffs, ridges and narrow, deep valleys for which the Dolomites are known. The mountain range in fact took its name from another Francophone, the geologist Deodat de Dolomieu, who spent much of his career exploring the region. In 1788 he identified the composition of the calcium magnesium carbonate that is found in varying proportions in the whitish-grey sedimentary limestone rock. Within the Dolomites, which extend across nearly 142,000 hectares, there are eighteen peaks that rise above 3,000 metres, while some of the cliffs here rise upwards more than a kilometre and are amongst the highest limestone walls found anywhere. In fact, the remarkable geology of the landscape is such that the Swiss-French architect and painter Le Corbusier once described the Dolomites as the world’s finest example of natural architecture!

The mountains here were first settled in the Iron Age, after which the territory was inhabited in turn by the Rhaetians, Romans and Lombards, who first brought the Tyrol its distinctive Germanic influence. During the First World War, Italy joined the Allies and the front line during the conflict ran through the Dolomites from May 1915 to November 1917: the Austrians on one side, the Italians on the other. Nowadays the via ferrata (or ‘Iron Way’), made up of steel cables and ladders used by the Italian soldiers and partisans to carry supplies through across along the cliffs and through the valleys, are used instead by climbers with a head for heights! Thankfully the rich cultural legacy, including the beautiful architecture of the Habsburg era in the Tyrollean towns from the period of Austro-Hungarian rule, was left unblemished for future generations to enjoy.

Today the unique cultural diversity of the province matches the two traditions that prove perfect compliments: a harmony of Austrian Alpine custom with the Italian dolce vita (and passion for great food!). The local way of life has been well-preserved and the traditional hospitality is very much alive and well in South Tyrol's inns (gasthaus) and is handed down through the generations. The Tyrol is truly renowned for the unforgettable warmth and friendliness of the local people. The area is also blessed with fertile valleys in the southern part of the region which are well-known for winemaking, fruits, cheeses and other alpine dairy products: these staples of the Tyrollean cuisine are a great attraction for hikers and runners with a good appetite!

We’ve scheduled 4 week-long hiking trips on which to discover the exceptional beauty of the Dolomites this summer and hike the Alta Via. For trail runners we’ve also created Alta Via running weeks to experience this amazing high altitude trail: read more on our dedicated trip page to the Alta Via Run. Along its 120km length we’ll explore the wild alpine meadows, scenic valleys and villages and dramatic vertical peaks that make this trail such a memorable experience. Choose from one of the scheduled departures to hike or run the trail in either July or September - contact us if you’d like help choosing your dates!

Do get in touch if you’ve any questions!

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

Top 4 Trail Running Poles

Poles have become an increasingly popular piece of running kit both on trail & fell, in races and in training.

Now available in a myriad of different formats from cheap to sophisticated, ergonomic or basic, aluminium versus carbon, fixed length or collapsible - this all makes it hard to decide what to add to your kit wishlist. With the mountaineering mantra of 'light is right' it's no surprise that pole manufacturers have got the designers in to shed the grams and reinvent the pole!

So, what do we look for in a running poles and what to use in long distance races like the UTMB? As part of the June/July 2014 Trail Running Magazine bumper gear review I was asked to test 4 of the best poles currently on the market so here are the results. You can also download the full article here:

TR Kit on Test.pdf 547.40 kB

A Bit About Poling

When used correctly, trail poles transfer some of the stresses and strains placed on the legs onto the upper body. For fell and trail runners who regularly run long distances with sustained ascents, poles are an excellent bit of kit.

Poling Facts?

  • A 'must have' for ultra-distance runners to save the knees and distribute the work load across the body
  • Extra leverage to help on long hills & steeper terrain
  • Encourage a good pace/rhythm for stages where you need to walk
  • When only using the legs for long periods of uphill your stance can stoop forward, constricting air from getting into the lungs. Poles can keep you upright and help you breathe!
  • Stabilises you uphill on awkward rocky / uneven terrain
  • Excellent toning / strengthening effect for the shoulders and arms
  • If you decide to use them downhill (quite likely at the end of a long race for a little help) they help to save the knees from too much pounding/ confidence on awkward terrain. But using poles to descend does also slow you down (4 placements to consider not just 2 feet!)

Top Tips on which Pole to choose?

  • Full length - when choosing the right trail pole size remember they are designed to be more of a climbing aid rather than a descending aid. To find out your desired pole length calculate your body height in cm's by 0.68. Normally poles are measured from the top to the tip...but this can vary with makes.
  • Size when stowed/not used – if collapsible will you stow the poles in a backpack or carry them?
  • Weight – light is 'normally' right for running poles but are they strong enough for you if you intend to do any long periods of descending with them? If you have a history of sore knees and intend to 'trust' the poles to aid a long downhill section I would look at more durable pole to prevent a possible break. Does ultralight mean you loose power from the poling action because they bend?
  • Carbon vs. Aluminium – generally carbon will be stronger, stiffer and more expensive. It's not unusual to have a carbon pole break/crack. Aluminium is normally cheaper, can also be light but for heavier runners will have too much flex.
  • Fixed length or collapsible? I would only consider a fixed length pole if I was intending to use them for the entire training session /race in mind. Otherwise collapsible poles are far more versatile, easy to travel with and can be stowed when on flats and downs. Modern designs mean they are now far stronger and do not have 'heavy' joints between sections adding unnecessary weight. Which is the reason to go for a running pole not just a normal trekking pole.
  • Comfort – in a long ultra event you will want to have tried and tested your hand grip to ensure you won't get any blisters on the hands and you may even prefer to wear a lightweight glove.
  • Price – the most expensive is certainly not always the best.
  • Easy to use – pole management on the move needs some practice, if you intend on being out on the trails for some time you will want to know that your poles are quick and easy to assemble and stow.
  • Durability – if you have a number of events and rigorous training schedule ahead you will want something that lasts the test of time!
  • One or two poles - for trail running the poles are certainly designed to be used as a pair and work more efficiently that way.
  • Do beware of very cheap poles they are awkward to adjust, bend and the locking mechanisms fail easily.
  • Whatever your budget there are poles that will fit your needs and save your knees!

Top 4 Poles on Test

Leki - Micro Magic Poles

Most Durable

RRP. £139.99

Weight: 400gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 105cm,110cm,115cm,120cm,125cm,130cm.

Available in carbon grey/black only

Minimum packing size: 35cm for the 110cm version

The Micro Magic looks and feels like it will last the test of time. A 100% carbon pole with carbide flex tip that feels strong and stable. It features a cork grip and the Leki quick release detachable 'Trigger Shark' hand strap which neatly & comfortably wraps around almost any hand size but in my opinion would not be that easy to release once fatigued! They are comfy to use over long periods and you really feel connected to the pole. It folds to be quite compact with an easy to use push button release mechanism. Although not the lightest the extra weight helps give a positive swing and pole plant.

Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails. Very sturdy excellent to train with ideal for heavier/powerful armed runners!

Raidlight Carbon Trail Poles

RRP. £125.00

Weight: 280gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 110cm or 123cm

Available in black only

Min packing size: 37cm for the 110cms

The RL Carbon pole combines light with strong featuring ultralight carbon tubing, tensioned with a simple strong paragliding a cable and finished with a Kevlar tip. The hand grip is a light mesh grip with a quick release detachable hand strap (an important feature when having to change clothes/ eat on the move) and their design works really swiftly. They are reasonably compact once folded. On test the pole feels strong and not as soft as most of the classic lightweight poles. It's a shame they've not made more sizes.

Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB.

Mountain Kingdon - Trail Blaze Poles

Superlight & Best Value

RRP. £75.00

Weight: 230gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 110cm,115cm,120cm,125cm,130cm

Available in black, blue, pink, magenta, green, orange and yellow.

Min packing size: 38cm for 110cms

The Trail Blaze poles are the only aluminium poles in the test and are noticeably the lightest collapsing neatly into 4 sections for easy stowing. The airflow hand grip is just a simple one sized wrist loop but very comfortable & easy to use it doesn't detach and for a small hand is a bit too big. They fix in place with a perlon cord under tension, finished with a carbide wear tip. They come in many sizes and colours with a mesh carry bag and mud baskets. For aluminium they seem particularly strong, whilst being as light weight as possible. They are extremely good value and offer replacement parts of all sections if needed!

Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB. Heavier runners may wish to test the pole flex if you intend to use them for long descents.

Black Diamond - Ultra Distance Trekking Pole

Good All-rounder

RRP. £120.00

Weight: 285gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 100cm,110cm,120cm,130cm

Available in carbon/blue

Min packing size: 36.5cm for 110cms

The BD Ultra Distance Poles are 100% carbon and combine super lightweight with compact and sturdy. They are not the cheapest on test but I think you do get your money's worth in design. They feature a 3-section 'Z-Pole' folding design with a coated inner cord & single push-button release. They smoothly take seconds to put together. They have a foam grip with a breathable, moisture-wicking non-detachable strap, carbide Tech Tips and stow bag. On test they score well for lightness on the ups and stability on the downs.

Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails & long downhills. Both sturdy and light excellent to train & race suitable for all category of runner.

Verdict

For a combination of lightweight and light on the wallet the Trail Blazer is hard to beat if you have more to spend then Black Diamond would be my next on the list.

Happy poling this summer :-)

Julia

Many of us that struggle to find enough time to dedicate to training wonder how best to develop our VO2 max, given busy lives and tight schedules ('VO2 max' is shorthand for maximal oxygen uptake, a standard measure of aerobic fitness). In actual fact about 50% of our VO2 maximum is innate i.e. it's based on our own genetics… so you're to some extent blessed with being born relatively fit, or rather less so. That however does mean that the remaining 50% is in essence entirely up to you!

Recently the New York Times published an interesting piece on the 'single best exercise' - if you could do just one exercise to achieve the best level of personal fitness.. what should it be? Well, if only it were quite that easy! One sports science expert noted: "Ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is best, and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies. “Trying to choose” a single best exercise is “like trying to condense the entire field” of exercise science, said Dr. Martin Gibala, of the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Canada.

Recently, in the debate as to the most time-effective way to improve VO2 max (given a limited amount of time to devote to training, what's the smartest, quickest way to get a boost to your fitness level) attention has turned to efficiency in training.

So, what is the best return on your investment time-wise? Traditionally the thinking was that you needed to go on lengthy runs to make the most improvement, but now the approach of certain experts is more toward high intensity bursts of more demanding exercise (interval training of a high intensity). High-intensity interval training (HIIT - sometimes also referred to as 'HIT') describes physical exercise that is characterized by brief, intermittent bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. The latest research appears to back up the idea that this exercise can prove especially effective.

Runner's World also published a good article on the concept - 'Train less for better results'. Too good to be true? Well, research does seem to indicate that HIIT has specific benefits. The Guardian also wrote on the discovery by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh that after just two weeks of HIIT previously sedentary men experienced considerable health gains. Bare in mind, though, that you should be careful when exercising at a high intensity level not to push yourself too far and, as always, be mindful of avoiding injury. Another key finding in sports medicine has been the need to stick with your fitness programme. You should focus then on regular workouts, even if you don’t spend a lot of time exercising.

The good news is that the health benefits of participating in an activity, even when short, follow a breathtakingly steep curve, and you'll certainly notice the benefits from a regular commitment to exercise!

Julia

Most of us like achieving a challenge, be it big or small. As a runner much of the time the goal is centred around a time, pace or distance. However for a mountain marathon there is a lot more to consider. In 2009 I wanted to run the Everest Marathon, and the main goals for this event is to reach Everest Basecamp healthy and acclimitised.

Read my top tips on trail running at altitude some of which are featured in this months 'Trail Running Magazine' attached.

Everest Marathon Race Tips
- Leave home healthy & well rested. Being run down or overtrained before you leave home will mean you are more likely to pick up a bug in the plane or in country.

- Sleeping at altitude is not always easy especially with the change in diet, water, medication you might be taking and being under canvas. Another reason to stock up on the Zzz's before leaving home.

- Time on your feet, hill walking & running off road, especially downhill is more important for this race than fast road training or intervals.

- Know the route profile. Be aware that the course route may change slightly from year to year. The Everest Marathon normally starts at over 5000m dropping to 3440m for the finish line, again practice descending however don't go off too fast you still have 26 miles to cover. If you over cook it not only will you hit the wall but you you will feel the altitude all the way. Acclimitisation is key to enjoyment and performance.

- Gain some understanding on high altitude illnesses and respect the basic protocols. Regardless of how fit/fast you may be in races ascend slowly, take on plenty of fluid and don't get the urge to race your way to the start line.

- Know what food/drink is provided already during the race, where the refreshment points come (i.e. distances) and decide whether you need to carry anything extra. Stock up on your favourite race snacks and training foods from home. The morning of a race - aim to finish breakfast 2 hours before the race start to allow yourself to digest it. Eat what you know works well for you - eg, porridge, bread and honey etc. Aim to finish taking on fluids about 45mins prior to the start. Learning to run on what feels like ‚empty’ puts a spring into your step!

- Know whether the race has any obligatory equipment and be happy with what you will need to use - practice with it.

- Don't drop any litter along the way, respect the delicate surrounding of the Khumbu Valley.

MOST OF ALL - Have the confidence that you will go the distance and most importantly enjoy this fabulous event ..... after all isn’t that is why you are running?

 

This years 'between seasons road trip' has taken my husband and I into Spain. We left Chamonix a month ago making our way where the sunshines, through France, Andorra and then the Pyrenees in search of amazing rock climbing, hills to climb on the bike or on foot and catching up with friends along the way. A perfect holiday! We are travelling in style in our custom-made campervan – our well loved home on wheels (fitted out by the other half). I think it's the best way to travel. We have food, a bed, transport and all the 'toys' on board!

For the past week we have been in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees, in a remote village called Rodellar, situated at the head of a limestone gorge. Amazing towers of rock to challenge the body and mind, along with fabulous trails to run on - for the rest days!

This weekend Chamonix is absolutely buzzing. Two weeks ago the valley was really sleepy with just the locals, a few walkers and the early alpinists filling the cafes and restaurants. But this weekend is seen as the true 'start to the summer season' as this is when all the mountain huts & refuges open for business - not to mention the warm weather we are now having. 31 degrees yesterday!

The last weekend in June also hosts the 3 Chamonix trail races, the 10k, the Cross (half marathon) and then the marathon which set off this morning. So Chamonix is not only full of walkers & climbers but is bursting at the seams with runners! It's a great feeling to take part in these events where you all have a common interest and everyone's really friendly. I've taken part in the both the Marathon and then the Cross so this year I thought i'd give the 10k a go. After the winter season and the lack of snow free trails & roads it always seems hard work to get your 'running legs' back. You wonder if your ever were 'a runner'? But training for the 10k has been really good fun and refreshing to the body. Normally i'd be training for the longer distances and concentrating my time on the 'long runs' but for the 10k i've enjoyed adding the speed seasons into my training and steadily noticing a difference. But although you need speed for a 10k this one also requires hill strength too, with 350m of ascent it's definately not going to be a fast PB (personal best) that you are after! The winning time for the course was 40:41 for the men and 47:06 for the women, I was pleased to come in 2nd senior lady, 4th lady over all with 51:13. I am now looking forward to my gentle long run today to head out to cheer on the marathon runners!

Janet and I spent a further 2 weeks continuing our training in preparation for the big day. In the Gokyo Valley we ascended Gokyo Ri at sunset and visited the glacial lakes surrounded by views of the Everest range and Cho Oyu, 8201m. Runners were able to take things at their own pace depending on their acclimatisation. Some runners, more accustomed to road running, had more than just the altitude to test them. My test was whether i'd last another 2 weeks in a tent! Now on my 8th week camping I was dreaming of my warm comfy bed and wondering what it would be like to not have to sleep in two down jackets and in a down sleeping bag (not to mention all the layers underneath to combat the overnight cold of -20)! That along with walking uphill for weeks on end didn't register as my 'normal' marathon preparation! In the meantime we kept our minds busy testing the lovely bakeries along the way (carbo loading I believe it's called?) and by soaking up the culture of the region visiting monasteries and enjoying living in the mountains.

Each runner was required to have a medical the day before the race to be deemed 'fit to run' the 42km course. As expected, many runners were recovering from stomach bugs, chesty choughs (commonly known as the 'Khumbu cough' due to the dry air in the Solukhumbu), altitude headaches and loss of sleep - but thankfully by race day most of us were given the thumbs up to race. Finally we arrived at our destination, Gorak Shep, 5140m, the race start and the Basecamp setting for several 1950's Everest expeditions. Here we all slept in simple teahouses and were woken at 4.30am with breakfast tea and porridge in bed - a luxury! The time always flies on race mornings and by 6.15am we were all stood waiting for the signal to start. At 6.30am we crossed the line, anyone would have thought the local Nepali runners were only running a 100 metres, they shot off out of sight. One lady was also wearing her regional dress over her running tights! The first mile I would say was technically the hardest due to the altitude and crossing the glacial moraine but thankfully on fresh (ish) legs - then we began our descent. Our route was mainly on good trails but being that high means when you are going down you can still feel the lack of oxygen. The descent meant I ran a little too hard at the start so my legs definitely suffered when we began the 1100m of ascent! The local support especially from the bright cheery children and regular drinks stops was really appreciated. Not to mention negotiating fully loaded yak trains on route! As the temperatures rose and we neared Namche Bazaar (3440m) I got my final boost of energy to see my tired legs up the last hill to the finish line crossing it in 6h36, 3rd non- Nepali lady. Anna Frost a pro- runner from New Zealand swept up breaking the female record flying round the course in 4h35! Janet excelled and came in 7h42, 6th non-Nepali lady and the first male was local Deepak Raj Rai in 3h59. The hardest bit was the 6 hour hilly walk out the following day!

Welcome to Nepal, Solukhumbu Valley, Everest Region! I have just completed a fantastic 5 weeks leading treks to Everest Basecamp and up the famous Everest view point Kala Pattar (5550m). What with wonderful scenery, challenging climbs, beautiful people and culture I already know that I will soon be coming back!

But for now I am preparing for my own challenge – the Everest Marathon! Joined by fellow running friend, Janet Lefton, we are currently amongst 80 other runners from around the world, medics and support crew who will all walk in and acclimatise together to Basecamp (5200m) where we will begin our 42km race back to the Sherpa Village of Namche Bazaar (3450m). Ok so it’s mainly downhill but it still definitely has its’ challenges along the way. Apart from acclimatizing and staying healthy the race start point has temperatures as low as minus 20 and moving at 5200m can feel like you are literally crawling along the trail, not to mention the cold/dry & dusty air that’s pouring into you with every breath.

Today is an another acclimatisation walk to 4000m, to the Everest View Hotel which gives an amazing panorama of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and awe inspiring Ama Dablam. Tomorrow we set off for a training run and higher camp and begin our ascent to the start line….!

Our 2009 Alpine Trail Running camp took place in Chamonix last week. This annual event ties in with the Mont Blanc 10k, half and full marathon events – so if at the end of the week if you’d like a challenge it’s there with all the support you could ever imagine! Our runners all had different running backgrounds and ambitions which meant there was a lot of experience and stories to share.

Based in a luxury Yeti Lodge chalet our runners were able to enjoy a daily run along mountain trails, amongst pine trees and meadows, visit high villages with inspiring views around every corner – not to mention benefitting from fresh mountain air in their lungs! On our return we’d enjoy lunch, sunshine and hot tub all under the eyes of Mont Blanc!

One of the weeks highlights were the excellent tips and advice from World Champion runner, Lizzy Hawker who also gave a very inspiring talk of her worldwide running tales.

To round the week off several of our runners took part in the various races in Chamonix at the weekend with podium results! Sue Smith got 3rd in her category at her first ever mountain half marathon, Mara Larson scooped up two prizes with 3rd overall female and also 1st in her age category, and Janet Lefton completed the full marathon in an excellent time of 7h30 giving her the points required for the full Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2010.

So what will your 2010 challenge be? To find out more about our running week check out the feature by journalist and runner Antonia Kanczula who joined us last week in the September issue of Health & Fitness Magazine.

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