Tag Archives: Snowboarding

The long road to recovery from traumatic brain injury

New documentary on snowboarder Charlie Elmore’s recovery from traumatic brain injury resonated with me strongly, for a number of reasons.

Nearly 19 years ago I was in a car accident in which one of my friends suffered a brain injury that left her in a coma. Unlike my friend, I still remember the moments after the crash vividly. Miraculously no one else was seriously hurt, but J, who’d been sitting in the middle of that backseat, had been thrown to one side and was unconscious. There had been no impact and were no visible signs of injury, but her brain had been shaken enough to cause severe brain injury that would change her life forever.

Charlie Elmore snowboarder

Snowboarder Charlie Elmore

For many years that accident made me a very nervous passenger and fastidious about wearing seatbelts (although I must point out that my friend was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident) but my caution did not necessarily carry over to the ski slopes.

As a snowboarder, I’ve taken many a tumble, hitting my head on countless occasions. It’s a horrible feeling. Not so much the pain, but rather the dull thud, and realisation that it could have been so much worse. Hearing that thud means that, on that occasion, you are one of the lucky ones, but it always makes you take stock and reflect on the fragility of your brain.

When Charlie Elmore hit her head while riding the Penken Park in Mayrhofen, she knew nothing about it until she woke up in hospital ten days later, and even then, had no recollection of the incident.

Charlie Elmore snowboarder

Charlie in the park before the accident

BBC Three’s excellent documentary “Me and My New Brain” charts Charlie’s journey through rehabilitation and beyond, as she tries to rebuild her life. While, four years later, she appears to have fully recovered, the documentary focuses on the more subtle psychological effects that can endure after such trauma to the brain, and which often go unaddressed or even unnoticed.

Incredibly Charlie was back on her snowboard after just a year, determined to resume her career as a snowboard instructor in Verbier. However, she soon discovered that, despite her remarkable progress, she still had a long battle ahead. After realising that fitting back into her previous life was not going to be as easy as she’s envisioned, Charlie decided to train to be an adaptive snowboard instructor so that she could help others with disabilities to enjoy the ski slopes. However, even that has proven to be a struggle. She also runs the GBOT2018 Campaign to help fund Paralympian and Invictus athletes.

Charlie Elmore rehab

Charlie in rehab

The effects of my friend’s injuries were much more severe than Charlie’s and it was a very long time before she was able to lead any semblance of a normal adult life. However, like Charlie, she’s an extremely determined individual, and against all the odds she eventually returned to university to continue the law degree that she’d only just begun before the accident, with a view to eventually helping others with brain injuries. She’s also an active political campaigner. It took a lot of persistance, but she’s now living a relatively normal, independent life. However, like so many other people who’ve suffered from traumatic brain injury, the obstacles that I’ve seen her overcome will only have been the tip of the iceberg.

For me, one of the most poignant moments in the documentary is when Charlie talks of a lack of ongoing support, and how, despite receiving messages, cards and visits from over 200 friends at the time of her accident, she could now count on two hands the number of friends who continue to offer support four years down the line. Her revelation sent a pang of remorse through me, as I know that I probably haven’t offered my friend enough in the way of continued support over the years.

It’s impossible not to be inspired by people like my friend and Charlie, who’ve not only overcome traumatic brain injuries, but have used their experience to help others. It’s a position no one would want to be in themselves, but you can only hope that you would be as strong and altruistic, but the brain is such a complicated thing that anything could happen.

Charlie Elmore adaptive snowboard coach

Charlie training to be an adaptive snowboard coach

The fact that I could just as easily have come off worse in that car accident, or in any of my many snowboarding and mountain biking crashes, is not something I reflect on often. If I did, maybe I would have been more sensitive to the need for ongoing support and understanding for people who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries. It’s undoubtedly one of the documentary’s overriding messages, and if it makes as much of an impact on everyone else watching it as it did me, it will hopefully go some way towards helping those recovering from TBI to reintegrate more easily into society.

As a snowboarder and mountain biker, another message I took away from it was the importance of wearing a helmet. The fear of it happening to me is not enough to stop me doing the things I love, but I always do what I can to minimise the risk of injury by wearing a helmet. After all, as the consultant who treated Charlie in intensive care told her, it was the helmet she was wearing that saved her life.

The BBC Three documentary “Me and My New Brain” is available to watch on iPlayer and is well worth a watch.

Advertisements

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.

snowboarding Glenshee

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

Higher Calling

UK premiere of Higher, the final installment of Jeremy Jones’s backcountry trilogy.

Looking around at the grand pulpit, rows of pews, and ornate stone features of London’s Union Chapel it seemed fitting that we were here to see the god of backcountry snowboarding. This divine setting played host to the UK premiere of Higher, the final part of Jeremy Jones’ epic trilogy, and the great man was there in person for us to worship.

WP_20141028_025Unsurprisingly the event was a sell out and when we rocked up ten minutes after the doors opened, there was already a massive queue running right the way along the street. We headed up to the balcony and chose a pew that was ideally situated to take in the beautiful surroundings and get a perfect view of the big screen and spot in front of the pulpit where His High(er)ness would be speaking.

Jez, as I feel I can call him that now that we’ve ‘met’, introduced the film and made an instant connection with the audience by reminding us that he too came from somewhere low and flat before climbing, quite literally, higher.

The film begins by touching on Jones’s upbringing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the early 80s and his progression from professional slalom racer to ten-time ‘Big Mountain Rider of the Year’.

jeremy_drops_in_HigherJeremy Jones isn’t a man who does things by halves. Like the previous two films in the trilogy, Deeper and Further, Higher follows him as he seeks out new and ever more challenging locations in which to test his riding skills and endurance. As the title of the film suggests, the focus of this installment is his assault on a series of previously uncharted vertiginous peaks.

Higher focuses on three separate expeditions, to Grand Teton in Wyoming, Alaska and the Himalayas, and follows Jones and his carefully selected riding partners (Bryan Iguchi, Ryland Bell and Luca Pandolfi) as they experience everything from the ultimate highs to most crushing lows in remote parts of some of the most inhospitable mountain ranges on the planet.

Not one for heli drops, Jones is a true mountaineer for whom a big part of the challenge is accessing his chosen lines under his own steam, even if that means being stuck for days in massive storms with nothing but a tent for shelter, which it invariably does.

over_the_edge_HigherThey target seriously impressive terrain with near vertical spine walls that look impossible to climb, let alone ride. At one point we see Jones and Pandolfi scale a 2,000ft near-vertical face, one energy sapping step after another, only for the weather to close in as they reach the top and thwart their descent. Over the course of the film it becomes apparent that these type of set backs are commonplace, and that for every few minutes of exhilarating descent, there are invariably hours, days or even weeks spent at the mercy of mother nature at her most brutal.

The film culminates with Jones embarking on his biggest challenge yet when he heads to Nepal to take on the Shangri La spines in the Himalayas – the biggest he’s ever seen. After weeks of preparation involving acclimatisation, trial ascents and descents, he finally attempts the line he’s been aiming for. Conditions are sketchy, to say the least, and he describes it as: “the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. It may not have turned out to be the dream line that he’d hoped for but in getting down that spine on the Shangri La, he certainly fulfilled his brief. After all, short of riding down Everest, you can’t really get much ‘higher’ than that.

Higher isn’t your average snowboarding movie. At 1 hour 40 minutes long, it’s a feature length documentary on the incredible feats of a true backcountry snowboarder and mountaineer. Unlike many freeride snowboarding films, which edit together footage of perfect descents, deep powder, backcountry kickers and pillow lines, this is a realistic, warts and all account of backcountry riding in its rawest form. Jeremy epitomses the notion of “earning your turns” and the ascents he takes on are equally as impressive as the descents.

Although there’s inevitably a certain amount of aerial footage, much of the action jeremy_climbs_ridge_in_ak_Higheris filmed using head cams, which make you feel like you’re there with them on every precarious ridge and heart stopping turn. Almost.

There’s also a refreshing absence of lingering shots of logos on boots or boards, or energy drinks being consumed. This is not a vehicle to promote Jones’ range of snowboards, or at least not directly. We know they’re riding Jones boards but other than the odd uncontrived glimpse of the logo, you wouldn’t know. There are obviously nods to his handful of sponsors but these are at least subtle.

The film by no means glamourises Jones’s adventures and doesn’t necessarily leave you longing to get yourself a splitboard and transceiver and hit the backcountry. Instead I was left reflecting on the hostile nature of the mountains, and the skill and expertise required to tackle them – something that was confounded further still by the end credits which dedicate the film to several of Jones’s close friends and mentors who’ve lost their lives in this perilous jeremy_climbs_in_nepal_Higherplayground. And although I’m not a particularly religious person, our situation in this place of prayer and worship made it seem all the more poignant.

I obviously wasn’t alone as the subject was raised in the Q&A session after the film, where Jones spoke of how hard he’s been hit by the deaths of his friends and heroes. He also touched on the inner conflict he now faces as a dad, continuing to put himself in potentially life threatening situations and risking leaving his kids without a father. It’s certainly not something that he takes lightly and acknowledges that “taking stupid risks is definitely irresponsible”. Ultimately though, he just can’t imagine living his life in any other way and feels it’s important for his kids to “see people living life and drinking life up as much as possible”.

Amen to that.

Higher is available to download on iTunes now.

Have you seen the film? What did you think?

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

IMG_6992

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.

IMG_5667

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

IMG_7001

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

IMG_7003

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

IMG_5496

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

IMG_5633

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

IMG_7015

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.

For more pictures check out the Riding Switch Facebook page.