Category Archives: Resorts

Doing the splits

Standing at the summit of Figerhorn, surrounded by stunning mountains and a vast expanse of untouched powder, the four hour uphill slog to get there already felt worth every second, and we still had the ride down ahead of us. It was only my second ever day of splitboarding and here I was at a height of 2743m, having climbed 1000m of that on a bisected snowboard.

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We’d travelled to MoaAlm Mountain Retreat in the small Austrian resort of Kals am Grossglockner, to take part in their first dedicated splitboarding week. As passionate snowboarders themselves, owners Xania and Craig Wear were drawn to this lesser-known part of Austria’s Tirol region for the endless possibilities for backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and having spent the previous season exploring, were now keen to share the fruits of their research with people who, like myself, are keen to venture into the backcountry

Although physically demanding, the climb had been easier than expected, and actually surprisingly enjoyable. There’s something incredibly relaxing about steadily gliding though deep untouched snow, taking in the spectacular scenery, with only the swoosh of laminated planks and rhythmic tapping of boots on bindings to disturb the serene silence of the backcountry.

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It was a very different story to the previous day, where I’d learned, the hard way, many of the dos and (mostly) don’ts of splitboarding. Arriving at the top of the comparatively modest climb, dripping with sweat, my backpack brimming with superfluous clothing, I discovered that the mantra “be bold, start cold” even applied to cold-blooded Raynauds sufferers. Until that moment sweating hands was a phenomenon I’d only ever dreamed of, but after a few hundred metres of schlepping a bisected snowboard uphill, it soon became the stuff of nightmares. And it didn’t take me long to work out that heavy duty Hestra mittens aren’t the best hand attire for fiddling around with intricate splitboard bindings or fitting skins either, although having to do it with no gloves at all soon brought my hands back to their usual reptilian temperature. It was also the first and last time I wore my helmet to trek uphill.

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Learning what kit to wear and carry was just one of many invaluable lessons that we learned from our mountain guide, Sale over the course of the week. Our education covered everything from setting up and using the kit, to avalanche and mountain safety, and, of course, technique. It was learning the most efficient skinning technique that had allowed us to climb twice as high as the previous day without feeling anywhere near as wrecked, although it was by no means plain sailing. When trying to master kick turns, I gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘splitboarding’ when a loss of footing mid-maneuver resulted in me getting stuck in a somewhat undignified pose with legs akimbo, and a very near wardrobe malfunction.

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Now that we’d earned our turns, it was time for the fun part. But first we had to transform our climbing apparatus back into something resembling a snowboard for the ride down. This in itself was no mean feat, especially with six of us perched on an exposed peak in deep snow, all wrestling with snow-caked planks, sticky skins and metal pins. After much faffing, we were finally all set for the descent. Although excited at the prospect of all the deep, untouched pow that lay in wait, I was also a little apprehensive. The blanket of virgin snow that surrounded us may have looked pure and enticing, but I was all too aware of the potential perils that could be unleashed with one false move. It was now that I fully appreciated the importance of having an experienced mountain guide. Sale had already taught us a great deal, and led us to the top safely, but now we had to put our faith in his expertise and leadership to get us down unharmed. However, I knew at the back of my mind that if something was to go wrong, we were on our own.

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I did, at least, feel in safe hands, and as I watched the first of our group disappear into a cloud of light powder and snake their way down to rejoin Sale a few hundred metres ahead, my trepidation was replaced by excitement and the desperate urge to follow suit. Fortunately I didn’t have long to wait, and after leaving a safe gap, I launched myself into the whiteness below. I too was engulfed by the spray I’d created, and for a few moments couldn’t see a thing. It should’ve been a bit unnerving, but as I was floating through an open expanse of soft pow, with no rough terrain or obstacles to avoid, I was able to just relax and let my board carry me, shifting my weight every now and again to put in a wide sweeping turn. Unlike snowboarding on piste, where you can feel the ground beneath you, this felt like surfing, but without any of the resistance that you get from water. It was completely effortless, until, that is, a sudden dip caught me unawares and knocked me off balance. Falling in the soft snow was no big deal – I’d even go as far as to say it was quite fun – however, trying to get up again was a completely different matter. With such fine and light particles of snow, it was impossible to get enough leverage to push yourself up. After flailing around for what seemed like an eternity, getting increasingly hot and bothered, I eventually managed to get back on my feet and stay there, determined not to repeat that experience.

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Over the course of the week we enjoyed many more splitboarding adventures, with a good balance between touring days that were as much about the journey to the top as the ride down, and a couple of freeride days, which placed more of an emphasis on the descent, using ski lifts as well as our boards to clock up as many vertical metres as possible.

On the whole, we were very lucky with conditions and there were only a couple of occasions where our plans were thwarted by Mother Nature. One day, after climbing for around three hours, the weather closed in and we were forced to abort the tour and ride down in very poor visibility. Had it not been for our guide, it would’ve been a pretty scary experience, but Sale led us down in such a calm and controlled manner that we were almost oblivious to the potential dangers. Almost. It was a reminder that the mountains are a volatile and unpredictable environment that need to be respected, and demonstrated the importance of knowing an area well and understanding how to read and react to conditions.

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The team at MoaAlm recognise the importance of balancing strenuous activity with relaxation, and describe their holidays as being “relaxingly active”. As soon as you set foot in the chalet, you immediately feel the day’s exertions melt away, particularly when you’re served tea, coffee and delicious homemade cake in the cool café/bar. Whether you choose to unwind there, or in the comfort of your own room is up to you, but guests are usually lured back to the bar area early evening for a pre-dinner drink.

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The food at MoaAlm is fantastic, and in keeping with their healthy living ethos, most of it is organic and locally sourced, with a strong emphasis on vegetarian cuisine. Rarely have I tasted such delicious and creative vegetarian dishes, or indeed dishes of any sort, and at no point during the week did I find myself craving more meat. In fact, if I could’ve taken the chef home with me, I would quite happily have become vegetarian.

MoaAlm even has its own resident yoga teacher, Barbara, who hosts regular classes in the onsite yoga studio with its incredible views of the surrounding mountains. It’s the perfect way to limber up for, or stretch off after a long day of climbing up and cruising down mountains. Looking up at those peaks towering above, it was hard to believe that I’d been up there only a matter of hours beforehand, striking some poses that weren’t too dissimilar to the ones I was in now.

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My introduction to splitboarding at MoaAlm has left me hooked, and I’m now looking to get my own splitboard with a view to embarking on more backcountry adventures this coming winter. And with their wide programme of activity weeks including a snow safety course and advanced ski touring & splitboarding, I’d love to return to MoaAlm to explore more of the region and practice doing the splits.

Massive thanks to the team at MoaAlm for their incredible hospitality and an unforgettable experience. 

To book your own ‘relaxingly active’ holiday, visit the MoaAlm Mountain Retreat website. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

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Powder chasing

“Have you seen the snow forecast?” said Dan, grinning from ear to ear.

“Yeah, at last eh?” I replied, relieved that it was starting to look like the season wasn’t going to be a write off after all. It was the end of January, usually one of the best months for snow, and this was the first prolonged forecast of snow there St Gervais powderhad been all season.

“Shall we go this weekend?”

“I thought you were working?”

“I’ll sort it, let’s go”

And before I knew it, my powder hungry boyfriend had booked flights, arranged to stay with friends and even bought us both new avalanche safety gear. It was the best travel service I’d ever had, except for the fact he’d booked us flights at 6.30 in the morning. Surely he knows I’m not a morning person, sheesh.

Snow in St GervaisHowever, there was method to his apparent madness and, having arrived in Geneva at 9.30 am, we were on the slopes of St Gervais by lunchtime, relieved not to have encountered any of the travel chaos that usually accompanies heavy snowfall. In fact, we’d had no problems whatsoever until we arrived at our friends’ chalet and had to put snow chains on to get up the drive!

As we looked down from the chairlift at the trees practically collapsing under the weight of all the snow, there was absolutely no question that the 3am alarm call had been worth it. Off piste the snow was at least knee deep and still coming View from chairliftdown hard. It couldn’t have been more different to when we were here just before Christmas and the slopes and buildings were completely free of snow. In fact, in all the years I’ve been visiting St Gervais, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so snowy.

The next morning we awoke to the beautiful sight of the Aravis mountain range bathed in a pink hue, with the town below covered in a thick blanket of fresh snow. It was going to be a blue sky powder day!

Sunrise St GervaisThe only thing getting between us and the powder covered slopes was the small issue of a foot of snow that was blocking the road up to the chalet, and we weren’t going anywhere until it had been cleared. It took two strapping lads (yes, I am talking about Dan and Chris) close to an hour to clear it, which is probably enough to take the edge off a powder day, especially if, like Chris, you have to do it every time there’s a big dump of snow. Talk about earning your turns!

Clearing snowAs it turned out, we were actually quite happy not to have been up there first. St Gervais is relatively low so the powder can be slightly heavier than it would be at higher altitudes, and as its slopes don’t have the steepest gradient, if you get stuck it’s pretty hard work to get going again. There were still plenty of fresh tracks to be had but we made sure we kept an existing track within easy reach in case we needed a get out! At one point I bailed and was totally engulfed by snow, which was actually a little scary.

Avalanche transceiverIt seemed like quite an opportune time to do some avalanche safety and transceiver training so we took some time out to practice tracking buried transceivers under the guidance of experienced mountain man, Chris.

After half a day of blue skies the snow returned, and it kept dumping for the next few days, which meant lots more road clearing but also plenty more powder turns! In addition to St Gervais, we also took in the neighbouring resorts of Megève and Combleux, all of which have loads of great runs through the trees that were perfect for the snowy conditions. The combination of steeper gradient and lighter snow there also made it a dream to ride, and as the resorts were quiet, there were always freshies to be had.

Megève tree runs For the last couple of days of our trip we’d planned to head somewhere a bit further afield and opted for La Clusaz on the other side of the Aravis, which is a resort I’d never been to before. It’s also pretty easy to get to from St Gervais, in theory, and normally just requires an hour-long drive up and over the Col d’Aravis. As the snow had eased and the roads seemed fine we set off, hoping to get to La Clusaz for an afternoon shred. The road that winds up to the Col d’Aravis had been well cleared, however, just as we approached the top, we came round a bend to find an abandoned snow plough in the middle of the road, which ended abruptly by its enormous blade. It was pretty apparent that we weren’t getting any further.

Les SaisiesWe could hardly believe it – we were practically there, but were going to have to go all the way back down, do a massive detour to Annecy and approach from there. If we hadn’t already booked and paid for accommodation in La Clusaz we’d have sacked it off and gone somewhere else instead, but we were committed now. However, rather than write off the day completely we decided to spend the afternoon in one of the nearby ski areas before embarking on the tedious detour. On the way up I’d noticed signs to Les Saisies, a little resort that I’d visited briefly when I worked for ski tour operator Ski Independence, so we headed there.

Fresh tracks, La ClusazMuch of the terrain in Les Saisies is fairly gentle but we managed to find an area with some great blacks and reds, and fantastic snow. On our way up there we passed over some very enticing expanses of untouched snow but when dipping into them on the way back down it was easy to see why no one had ventured in too far as the lack of gradient meant you’d soon grind to a halt.

When we finally made it to La Clusaz that evening we were pleasantly surprised by what a cool town it is and both agreed that it was worth the ball ache of a journey to get there.

Col de Balme, La ClusazThe next day we discovered that the ski area was equally good. We spent most of the day up in the Col de Balme area of the resort which had wide open bowls, challenging terrain and loads of great snow. Despite the fact that it hadn’t snowed for two days, the snow was in great nick and there were still fresh tracks to be claimed. Word had quite clearly got out that the Col de Balme was the place to be and there were quite a few people heading up the lift to get a piece of the action. It was a massive bowl though so everyone dispersed pretty quickly at the top. Next time round we decided to take the other, decidedly quieter, chairlift, which linked to a drag lift that Col de Balme, La Clusaztook you up to a practically deserted bowl that was far less tracked out and had some awesome lines to take, as well as stunning views. We ended up lapping that drag lift for the rest of the afternoon doing “one more run” after another until the light went and we decided we’d really better head back.

If we weren’t already feeling smug enough at having found such a sweet spot to shred, it was intensified further still when, on riding down, we realised that the rest of the mountain had been sitting in thick cloud while we’d been enjoying the sunshine higher up.

It was a fantastic end to what had been an amazing impromptu trip. We’re now back in the UK recovering from a serious powder come down, counting the days until our next trip and praying that we’ll be blessed with similar conditions. That’s the only problem with powder – it’s pretty addictive!

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Snowboarding in Scotland: When it’s good, it’s very, very good…

GlensheeWhenever I go snowboarding in the Scottish mountains, I’m reminded of a nursery rhyme that my Grandad used to recite about a little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, that went: “When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.”

I’m quite sure it was never intended to be an analogy for skiing and snowboarding in Scotland, but it pretty much sums it up perfectly!

Glenshee ski areaUntil a couple of weeks ago, conditions had been frustratingly horrid, with storms and hurricane force winds that not only made winter sports impossible but blew away the snow and caused loads of damage. However, things eventually took a turn for the better mid January when a band of high pressure moved in and the weather calmed down enough to allow the ski areas to repair the damage, clear the roads and groom the runs. By the weekend of 17th January all five Scottish ski areas were open and people flocked there in their masses to enjoy fantastic snow and clear blue skies.

Glenshee cafeHaving been unable to go that weekend, and taken to the snow on my mountain bike instead, I was desperate to get up there before conditions deteriorated again. We had a small window of availability on Tuesday and Wednesday, and after checking the forecast, Wednesday seemed to be the better option.

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Photo: Philly Waygood

It was a lovely morning when we left Edinburgh and it stayed that way all the way to Glenshee. The journey up is usually fraught with anxiety over just what you’ll find when you get there. Will the road be open? Will it be too windy for the lifts to operate? Will there be enough snow? Will we be able to see anything?! Even if it’s forecast to be good when you leave Edinburgh, it can have changed completely by the time you get there, which, on occasion, has resulted in an about turn at the Spittal of Glenshee, or sooner.

Fortunately the road was completely clear and the metre high wall of snow lining it was an indication that we ought to be ok on the snow front. The weather was also unusually calm with patches of blue sky visible, so all in all things were looking good. This was confirmed when the ski area came into view, and not only did most of the lifts seem to be operating, but the slopes were bathed in sunlight. Phew.

Butchart's Coire GlensheeAlthough the weather was good, except for a bit of a fresh breeze, which was nothing compared to how it can be, we soon discovered that we were unable to get over the back to Meall Odhar, Coire Fionn and Glas Maol, presumably because there wasn’t enough snow cover. It didn’t matter though as the snow was so good everywhere else, and the slopes were nice and quiet. We spent most of our time over at Butchart’s Coire, and in a way it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as I’d normally just do a couple of runs on that side before heading over the back. It was great to explore Butchart’s properly and discovered Butchart’s Gully, an awesome natural boardercross, Glensheewhich I didn’t even know was there!

We rode all afternoon, loving every minute, until the descending sun started to turn the mountains a glorious shade of pink. On the way back, we stopped off at the Bridge of Cally Hotel for a wee après drink and reflected on what a great day it had been. There’s no doubt that skiing and snowboarding in Scotland can be a little hit or miss, but like the girl with the little curl, when it’s good, it’s very, very good.

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Searching for snow

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Morzine

“Maybe we should take our mountain bikes instead”, I said to Dan as we packed our snowboard bag, only half joking. It was mid December and there was worryingly little snow in the Alps. And with only a few centimetres forecast before the return of more mild temperatures, it certainly didn’t look like we were going to get much snowboarding on our first trip of the season. Fortunately we weren’t just going for the snow and were visiting friends who live in St Gervais, but I’d be lying if I said that the chance to get in some early season turns wasn’t a major motivation.

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Avoriaz

It’s always a gamble booking a ski or snowboarding trip before Christmas. Sometimes it pays off, like the year before last, where we experienced some of the best powder we’d ever ridden, and sometimes it doesn’t, as was almost certainly going to be the case this time. Arriving in Geneva it felt like it could easily have been spring, and the temperature didn’t change dramatically as we climbed towards St Gervais. The next day our spirits were lifted when it started to snow, but sadly it soon turned to rain. Our only comfort was that it ought to be falling as snow higher up, but even that wasn’t a certainty.

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The Stash, Avoriaz

With neither St Gervais, Les Contamines nor Chamonix open, the next again day we decided to head to Avoriaz where we hoped the previous night’s precipitation might have fallen as snow. By the time we reached Les Gets and Morzine it became glaringly apparent just how bad the snow shortage was. The slopes were almost completely bare, and a discarded umbrella by the otherwise deserted mountain base was a poetically depressing sight that seemed to sum up the situation perfectly.

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Lower slopes at Les Contamines

It was raining lightly as we climbed up to Avoriaz, and the higher we got, the more desperately we willed it to turn to snow. Sadly it didn’t and on arrival we were disheartened to find almost as many people carrying umbrellas as skis and snowboards. There has to be only one thing more depressing than a lack of snow in a ski resort and that’s rain. However, encouraged by the fact that there seemed to be plenty of people on the slopes, we jumped on the lift, optimistic that it might be snowing at the top. But it wasn’t.

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Upper slopes at Les Contamines

Wiping the drizzle from our goggles and congratulating ourselves for having invested in GoreTex outerwear last season, we strapped on our boards and prepared to make the most of it. Amazingly, other than being a little heavy in places, the snow was actually pretty good and we managed to get some great runs in the limited area that was open. The snow cover was good, however, a chairlift ride over The Stash with its features looking ridiculously unridable, revealed just how much snow was still needed for the resort to open fully. Unfortunately my GoreTex indulgence hadn’t stretched to gloves, and after a couple of hours my usually trusty Hestras were like saturated sponges, and my hands resembled anaemic prunes.

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Freshies at Les Contamines

While it certainly wasn’t the first day of the season we’d dreamed of when we booked the flights back in October, full of hope for a stellar start to the season, we left feeling pretty happy with the day we’d had given the way things had panned out. Unexpectedly ok as it was, we weren’t exactly desperate to head back the next day, especially as conditions weren’t forecast to be any different. There was, however, a decent dump of snow forecast in a couple of day’s time, which coincided with Les Contamines’ (rescheduled) opening date of Saturday 20 December.

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Powder butters

Fortunately the forecast came good and we headed up to Les Contamines for first lifts on the Saturday morning. The snow was pretty average lower down so we went right up to the top as soon as the upper lifts opened. As we rode up the top lift we could barely contain our excitement at the sight of an open bowl full of fresh, untouched snow. As we climbed higher, the people who’d been ahead of us on the lift started to descend, leaving deep tracks in the snow and us even more desperate to get up there. By the time we got to the top there was still plenty of untouched pow for us to get freshies too, which we took great pleasure in doing. We lapped that lift until the entire bowl was tracked out, and then some more. It was better than we could ever have hoped for and we left feeling totally elated. When we got back down to the town it felt like spring again and was hard to believe that we’d been blasting through fresh powder less than an hour beforehand.

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Happy!

We left a few days before the massive storm that caused travel chaos on the busiest weekend of the season but saved the resorts from a disastrous New Year’s week. Unfortunately the turnaround in conditions didn’t last long and the slopes are once again in dire need of replenishment. Hopefully things will pick up in the Alps soon but until they do I’ll be sticking to the slopes of Scotland, on my mountain bike!

Have you been riding yet this season? How was it?

Strange sightings in Bansko

Let’s face it, no day on the slopes is complete without spotting some outrageous ski gear or laughing at some dude flying down the hill on snow blades thinking he’s Bode Miller. There really is no better way to while away chairlift rides than a spot of idiot watching.

Comedy sightings are fairly easy to come by in most ski resorts but on a trip to Bulgaria this season we discovered that they are particularly prevalent in the resort of Bansko.

Here are some of the weird and wonderful sights that we witnessed during a fantastic week in Bansko where not only was the riding awesome, but there was never a dull moment…

Carrying snowboards on chairlifts

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When you first start snowboarding, getting off chairlifts will initially prove challenging and may result in the odd pile up now and again, but most people manage to get it sussed within a couple of days. In Bulgaria, however, the need to grasp this fundamental skill is avoided by merely unstrapping your board and carrying it on the lift. This unorthodox and frankly dangerous practice is banned in most resorts but in Bansko it’s commonplace.

Mind you, if the skiers are anything to go by, maybe it’s for the best…

Skier pile up Bansko

Needless to say, pausing at the top of the chairlift to experience the carnage is well worthwhile. Just don’t stand too close.

Keeping both bindings fastened to ride the chairlift

In contrast to the inordinate number of snowboarders choosing to avoid learning how to ride a chairlift properly, there was also a surprising number who were determined to make the process more difficult for themselves by keeping both feet strapped into their bindings.

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I guess the idea must be that they can ride straight off the lift at the top without having to spend the extra few seconds it takes to strap in your back foot. But is it really worth having to shuffle along the queue, pulling down the netting, bumping into people and generally pissing everyone else off, to then get onto the lift, have to negotiate the bar and sit awkwardly for the duration of the lift, only to arrive at the top and find that it’s flat? Nope.

Walking downhill with skis

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I was amazed at how many Bulgarians seemed to miss the entire point of skiing and chose to descend the slopes on foot, or arse, either dragging or carrying their skis and poles awkwardly. We stopped to ask one girl near the top of the mountain who was sliding down the slope on her arse, skis and poles all over the place, whether she’d like a hand putting her skis back on. “No thanks”, was her reply, “I’ll just go down like this”. She was remarkably chipper considering she still had several hundred metres to descend, and proceeded to divulge that it wasn’t even her first time on the slopes:

“I’ve been skiing for four years. I don’t know what’s happened”

Four years?! I think it’s time to give up, love. She then added that her boyfriend had skied off and left her there. No bloody wonder. We promptly did the same.

DIY impact shorts/back protectors

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Given the standard of skiing and snowboarding that we witnessed, it was unsurprising to see that protective gear is popular in Bansko. However, rather than fork out for a pair of impact shorts or a back protector, we encountered many thrifty Bulgarians who merely opted to strap a square of foam padding to themselves instead. Just how effective this makeshift body armour was, is dubious, but apart from anything else, it looked ridiculous.

Bulgarian twist on snow blading

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As if snow blades weren’t pointless enough, someone out there decided that it would be a good idea to attach snowboard bindings to a pair of mini snowboards and ride them like skis. Sadly we didn’t get to see them in “action”, or even who they belonged to. I like to think they’d been cast aside in disgust, but I suspect the owner had just gone to get himself padded up for a gnarly afternoon of, erm, snowboard blading?

Snowboarding with poles

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I get that the acquisition of a pair of ski poles can be handy on a flat cat track (personally, I prefer just to unstrap a foot and skate, but hey, each to their own) however in Bansko I actually saw a couple of snowboarders riding down fairly decent slopes, pole planting! Whether they felt it enhanced their riding or had nabbed them from some poor unsuspecting skier for the home run, is anyone’s guess, but either way, it was a unusual sight.

Après ski

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I’ve witnessed some pretty crazy après in various ski resorts around the world, with dancing on tables and nudity not an uncommon sight. However, in Bansko they take it to another level, with cage dancers performing alongside the live band in the main après haunt, which is unashamedly named, Happy End.

It has to be said that Bansko isn’t all crap skiers and snowboarders, and dodgy après bars. The mountain is great and there are plenty of more conventional après bars if you’re not up for a bit of cage dancing, not to mention loads of fantastic restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine. If you’re looking to go somewhere a bit different, not to mention dirt cheap, it’s an excellent choice. I love to experience different cultural quirks and it’s great when they even extend to the slopes. I certainly won’t forget our trip to Bansko anytime soon, which is not something I can say for many trips to the mountains, which can have a tendency to blend into one. I’ll certainly be going back, and I’ll be taking my homemade impact shorts with me too!

Read more about my trip to Bansko here

Over to you…

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the slopes?

From slush to pow in 24 hours

Just when I thought this season couldn’t get any stranger, on my most recent trip to the Alps I experienced the most dramatic turnaround in conditions I’ve ever seen.

Horses on piste

Horses on piste!

When we arrived in Morzine, mid March, it felt like summer. Temperatures were in the high teens in the town and people were wandering around in shorts and flip flops. It hadn’t snowed for three weeks and although there had been loads of snow prior to that, the high temperatures were starting to take their toll on the slopes, with bare patches starting to appear lower down. There were even horses out to pasture on a run that was still open to skiers!

Spring shredding is a lot of fun, especially on a board, and beers in the sun are an added bonus, but after three weeks of spring conditions already this season (in December, February and March!) we were craving a bit of snow.

24 hours later, at the same altitude. Photo: Chris Barrow

24 hours later, at the same altitude. Photo: Chris Barrow

Typically it was forecast to snow on the day that we were due to leave, and when it became apparent that it was going to be more than just a sprinkling, we were helpless to resist the urge to stay out, especially as our flights would only cost £30 to change and we were able to go and stay with friends in nearby St Gervais.

On the Saturday morning we left Morzine it was pissing with rain and we were starting to doubt our decision to stay, but consoled ourselves with the thought that it must be falling as snow higher up.

Sure enough, as we drove towards Chamonix later that afternoon the rain gradually turned to sleet and then snow the closer we got. It was still snowing when we got to St Gervais that evening and we went to bed early, excited at the prospect of our first proper powder day of the season.

Photo: Chris Barrow

Photo: Chris Barrow

The next morning we awoke to find winter restored and the landscape once again covered in a white blanket of snow. However, it was only when we got up to the ski area that we were able to appreciate just how much snow had fallen overnight. The snow was at least knee deep* in unpisted areas and it was still coming down hard. It wasn’t the lightest powder I’ve ever ridden but it was powder nonetheless, and after a winter of spring conditions, it was heaven.The slopes were also empty and we were still enjoying fresh tracks well into the afternoon.

It continued to snow for the rest of the day and most of the night, so the next morning we headed up to Les Contamines for first lifts. The snow was even deeper and up to waist deep* in places, which was awesome, unless you fell and had to dig yourself out! Visibility wasn’t great early on but by mid morning it had brightened up, allowing us to take full advantage of the conditions. Once again, the slopes were quiet and there was untouched powder in abundance all day long.

Photo: Daniel Leadbetter

Photo: Daniel Leadbetter

By the next again day it felt like spring again but the snow was still great, if starting to get a little heavy and tracked out in places.

We headed to Argentière in Chamonix for our last day where the snow was deep but chopped up off piste. It was fun but after nine full days of riding, we were definitely starting to feel it in our legs.

Sitting in the sun after our last run, beer in hand, we felt tired but elated after such an unexpectedly awesome end to our trip and possibly the season. I’m hoping to get out to Spring Break at the end of April, but if those turn out to be my last few days of the season, I couldn’t have hoped for them to be any better.

* Measurements are based on my diminutive 5’3 stature.

For more photos check out the Riding Switch Facebook page.

 Over to you…

How was winter 2013/14 for you?

Highs and lows in the Scottish mountains

IMG_5767Skiing and snowboarding in Scotland is like a bag of Revels (what box of chocolates doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re going to get?) You might get a toffee or it could be a coffee*, but more often than not you’ll get the whole bag. I’ve made the journey up from Edinburgh twice in the past few weeks and had so many Revels, I’m still buzzing from the sugar rush.

With all the snow that’s been falling in the Scottish mountains, I’d been desperate to get up there for a shred. Reports of more snow than Whistler and pictures more reminiscent of the Alps than the Highlands were pretty hard to resist. So, when Dan and I found ourselves with a couple of days to spare that didn’t appear to coincide with a tempest, we decided to head to Nevis Range where conditions looked like they were going to be best.

IMG_5768As we left the house at 6am(ish) I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in my stomach that we were heading for disappointment, but tried to remain optimistic and put it down to the early start. That’s the problem with riding in Scotland. The weather is so unpredictable that conditions can change in the blink of an eye and even if it all looks good when you leave, by the time you get up there it can be a very different story.

As we drove north it started to snow and got increasingly heavy the further we went. However, as we approached Nevis Range the snow ceased and cloud parted to reveal snow covered mountains bathed in blue sky and sunshine. We could hardly believe our luck and headed up the gondola as quickly as possible. Not long into our ascent, the gondola started to sway and the sinking feeling returned to my stomach. As we exited the gondola station we were hit by what felt like, and probably were, gale force winds, which did their best to wrestle our boards from our hands.

Frozen fenceUndeterred by the breeze, we strapped on our boards and headed up the only couple of tows that were still running. Once we were headed downhill it was fine and other than a few patches where it had been wind blasted, the snow was great. The views were also stunning and we thanked our lucky stars that we were at least able to see where we were going. Sadly that wasn’t to last and the weather closed in after a few runs which lead us to seek refuge in the café.

Needless to say the café was packed but there were still plenty of hardy souls out there braving the winds, driving snow and bad vis; not least the ski school kids who were being ushered out into the wilds while their parents looked on from the warmth and comfort of the café.

IMG_5922The wind did die down a bit as the afternoon went on and we got some good runs in the limited area that was open.

The next morning it looked like it was going to be another clear day and when we pitched up at the ticket office we were told that there had been loads of snow overnight, the wind had dropped and the slopes were looking great. However, in the time it took us to get our gear out of the car, conditions had deteriorated so much that they’d had to close the gondola. It’s a frustrating scenario that’s been all too common this season.

Our trip to Nevis may have promised many a toffee Revel that turned out to be coffees but the opposite was true of our trip to Glenshee a week or so later.

IMG_5936Predictably enough the promise of light snow and a bit of sunshine that had been forecast the night before had changed to rain and fog by the morning, but as we were already up and ready, we decided to make the journey all the same.

We’d barely crossed the Forth Bridge when the fog started to set in, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day, but we kept going, ever hopeful of the chance of toffees.

The fog lingered for the entire journey until we got to the Spittal of Glenshee where miraculously it lifted, taking our spirits with it. By the time we got to the car park it was drizzly and overcast, but it was at least mild and, most importantly, still.

The visibility wasn’t the best for our first few runs and we needed wipers for our goggles, but we were just happy that the snow was good, if a bit heavy, and the whole area was open.

IMG_5920After a few runs on the lower slopes we headed up to Glas Maol in the hope that the drizzle might be snow up there. As we suspected, it was loads better, and although we couldn’t see much on our first run, the snow was incredible so it didn’t matter.

As we rode up the Glas Maol tow for the second time, the unthinkable happened.  A glow started to appear in the sky and by the time we got to the top, the sky had completely cleared to reveal the huge bowl in all its splendour. The ride down was among the best I’ve ever had in Scotland and by the time we got to the bottom we both had massive grins on our faces. Sadly we only got a couple of runs like that before the cloud closed in again as quickly as it had lifted, but by then we knew where all the fun hits were and which bits to avoid. We did see a few people accidentally send themselves off the cliff half way down though!

IMG_5931As the afternoon went on, the cloud lifted and sun broke through again periodically but rarely stayed that way for more than a few minutes at a time. It did brighten up again right at the end of the day though allowing us to enjoy our last run in a spectacularly lit, empty bowl. It’s always good to finish the bag with a toffee although it always leaves me wanting to open another one straight after!

Conditions may be a bit hit or miss in the Scottish mountains at the moment but it’s going to be amazing when we get a period of high pressure and settled weather. And with the volume of snow that’s up there, we should still have loads of time left to enjoy it!

*My favourite Revels are toffee and least favourite coffee. Please substitute your own preferences accordingly.

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