Wednesday, 29 December 2010

More on slacklining

For anyone who read my last post on slacklining, you might want to have a look at this pretty inspiring video made by some crazy French people who are really good at it...

Monday, 13 December 2010

Off topic plug - Paintings of Cows

This is nothing to do with skiing, but it's my blog so I guess I can post what I like ;-)

I just want to give a quick mention to my friend Nikki's recently revamped website. Nikki is an artist living in Cheshire (one of the flattest and least snowy parts of the UK, so really not to do with skiing), and she is currently promoting her Funky Cow range of original artwork, limited edition prints along with themed gifts and cards. Daisy (below) is one of my favourites. If you like it have a look at more cow themed artwork at Nikki's website.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Fit for your ski holiday?

Are you fit enough to cruise the pistes all day?
I have mentioned ski fitness a few times before in this blog, but I thought I would revisit it as the winter season is kicking off right now (in the Northern Hemishpere at least). Let me say first that you do not need to be super fit to enjoy a ski holiday. On the other hand if you are very unfit you will struggle, and you may find yourself not having much fun at all, or even giving up early and resigning yourself to sitting in the hotel with a book. I have talked before about fitness for more advanced skiers, but this time around I want to cover fitness for beginner and intermediate skiers, especially those planning their first or second week's holiday.

Skiing is a sport which can be enjoyed at many levels, but it is still a sport. If your skiing holiday is the one week of exercise you take in a year then you will not get the most out of it. At the least you will be on your feet several hours each day, at a higher altitude than your body is used to. Add in the pressures on your legs, and the fact that you will be relying on muscles that are often under used in everyday life, and it is not surprising that the first day on the slopes really takes it out of a lot of people.

So to get through the days with enough energy left to enjoy the apres ski (which is an important part of the holiday of course) what do you need to do? Basically, for the average recreational skier, you want to have a decent level of aerobic fitness and endurance. Skiing does not have to be strenuous (although it can be if you want it to be) but it does keep you working all day, so if you are happy going out for a long walk in the country for a few hours, for example, you should be happy skiing all day. Any sort of aerobic exercise is going to be good of course; running, cycling, football, tennis and so on. If you don't do any other sports already then start gradually - all the things you will have heard before like walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the lift, maybe joining a gymn or fitness class. The key here is not to do too much too quickly -  try to enjoy getting fitter. It is all too easy to get enthusiastic about getting fit, do everything you can for a couple of weeks, and then get tired and lose motivation. Keep in mind that goal of being able to cruise the slopes effortlessly when you get to your holiday.

You may hear about 'ski exercises' such as adopting a sitting position with your back against a wall so your quads support your weight, or using leg extension machines in the gymn. Ignore any such well meaning advice - these exercises are not effective, and can do more harm than good. If you want to do weights, or ski specific exercises, you should concentrate on legs (not just quads) and core. Squats and lunges are good, as are crunches, the plank and other abdominal exercises. For me though, balance exercises are the most useful. Kneeling on a Swiss ball, standing on a balance board, riding a unicycle or walking a slackline have all been part of my ski training at some time.

Remember though, it is supposed to be about enjoying yourself, so whatever you do, keep it fun.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Winter's nearly here

Les Marades, Arinsal - Yesterday

Well, I guess summer is finally over, although I've had some pretty good days rock climbing in shorts and T-Shirt as recently as a week ago. Winter is fast approaching, as you can see from the photos above taken whilst ski touring yesterday (well skinning up the closed pistes which is sort of like ski touring). Over the next month or so ski resorts around the northern hemisphere will be opening - some in November to cater for the early bird skiers, others waiting until December giving them more time to get the pistes in good condition. Opening early is good publicity for a resort, but doesn't necessarily mean they have better snow than their neighbours. It is also true that resorts opening early may well have quite a limited portion of the ski area open.

Having said all that, there is something really satisfying about skiing up to a month before most people even consider taking their holiday. The resorts are quiet apart from the arriving seasonal staff, and the pistes that are open will probably be well prepared and empty. Squeezing in a ski weekend in November is not that dificult with budget flights and a hire car - renting a car is recommended though as it can be harder to find transfers  at this time of year. A hire car also gives you more flexibility to drive in search of the best snow. If you work Monday to Friday you will probably need to take some time off on the Friday or Monday, but it will be worth it for the envious looks of your colleagues when you get back from the slopes.

Don't be worried if you arrive in the resort and there is no snow on the ground. The best skiing will usually be higher up, and the natural snow will be backed up with snow making. Unless you are very lucky you probably will not be skiing much back country and powder, so just enjoy the empty pistes and the privilege of being amongst the first people on the slopes this year.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

New Hobby - Slackline

You may remember me writing about the benefits of riding a unicyle as training for skiing. Pretty much any activity that develops good balance should be helpful in improving ski technique, since good balance is such a big part of skiing. Unicycling, Swiss ball excercises, wobble boards, balancing on a beam and even the Wii Balance Board (more on that in a future post) will all be useful in this respect. There is plenty more to be said about the importance of balance, but for now I want to talk about slackline.

For those who have not come across it before, a slackline is like a tightrope, but (perhaps stating the obvious here) not as tight. The idea is to walk on it, like a tightrope, and progress to various tricks. Since the tension is far lower than a tightrope (although still pretty tight) it can be set up more easily and cheaply. I have set up mine in the garden between two trees, but you can find plenty of footage on Youtube of the experts doing crazy tricks over gorges or between rock spires - something to aspire to perhaps. For now I'm still a beginner, but as you can see from the photo - taken whilst rock climbing in the UK Peak District - I can at least manage a low level line already (until I try to turn around anyway).

I was inspired to have a go at slacklining after seeing Jelena Schradi and Ingrid Laillaut de Wacquant slackline over the Arve river in Chamonix to promote their film 'Send it Sistah' (see below) at the Chamonix Adventure Film Festival in late August. I found it surprisingly easy to get started, but surprisingly difficult to be able to do it consistently well, even on my short line in the garden. It really is a great exercise for leg and core strength and stability and balance, as you are constantly moving and making adjustments to stay in balance.

I made my slackline from old climbing equipment and a couple of lengths of webbing tape which I picked up cheaply from climbing shops in Chamonix. If you don't happen to have spare climbing gear lying around you can buy a slackline kit, like these for example, or look at slackline sites like or (in French) for loads of info on how to set up a slackline and where to buy the bits you need.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Summer photos - Rock

I have had a bit of a break from the blog this summer, as regular visitors will have noticed. Now we are into the autumn, I expect to be writing new posts more often again - I think winter and summer are the times to be doing things whilst spring and autumn (the 'Interseasons' in mountain resort terms) are the times to write about them.
This summer I stayed in Europe, working and playing in the French Alps around Chamonix. In this post I will give you the first selection of summer photos - Chamonix rock. These photos are taken in the Aguille Rouge region, opposite Mont Blanc. The Gneiss here is quite different from the granite of the bigger mountains on the other side of the valley.

The first photo here shows the approach to the Aguille de Perseverance. Unfortunately the cloud closed in and we climbed the route in the mist - so no photos of the apparently spectacular views from the NE ridge and the summit. The following three photographs show the Clocher and Clochetons (Belfry and Bell Towers) de Planpraz - the first route in Rebuffat's classic 100 Finest Routes and a very pleasant day out. The route consists of five separate pinacles with abseils (or a Tyrolean traverse) between them.

The abseil from the Petit Clocher

Setting up the Tyrolean traverse between the 2nd and 3rd Clochetons

Peter on the Tyrolean

Finally, here is a shot of the Cheserys slabs, where mountaineering meets cragging - airy routes of 4 - 6 pitches with great views across to the Aguille Vert and the Drus, but safe, bolted and less than an hour from the road.


These routes can be found in Michel Piola's guidebook to the Aguilles Rouges, available in English and French.

Monday, 17 May 2010

How Often to Wax Skis

I have often been asked how often skis need waxing, but there really is no hard and fast rule. It depends on what the skis are used for, how much use they get, what the snow conditions are like, and how much the skier values the feeling of using fast grippy skis, versus the effort or expense of having them serviced.

Waxing frequently makes the skis run faster, and can protect and prolong the life of the bases. Waxing too often is not a bad thing, unless using high-fluoro waxes which can dry out the bases.

Frequent edging, on the other hand, whilst keeping the skis sharp and grippy, wears out the edges as metal is removed each time. When tuning the edges often, it is important to shave off the minimum amount of material, using a diamond file for example. This way it is possible for the edges to wear more slowly than if they were filed extensively from a blunt state after being left for some time.

A well tuned ski feels very different from one that is not, and so the simplest answer as to when to service skis is when they feel like they need it.

The table below shows how often I would tune different types of skis in my collection. It might act as a rough guide, but should also illustrate how much variation there is between skis I use for different purposes, and between skis where precise performance is more or less important.

SkiService frequency
Race Skis, used for racing or race training.After each day of use
Piste performance skis, detuned race skis or carversEvery week or two
Freestyle skisOnce or twice a season
Off piste or touring skisWhen they feel like they need it, i.e. when the edges are blunt or burred, or lacking grip on firm snow, or when they run slowly on flat sections

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Most Expensive Beer

I thought I had to give a mention to the Tremplan restaurant in Alp D'Huez for charging the most I have ever paid for a pint of beer in a ski resort, or anywhere else for that matter. 7.40 Euros for a half litre of Kronenbourg with my lunch - I'm glad I didn't go for a decent beer. I am aware that in some parts of the world, and even in this part of the world in certain clubs, beer can cost significantly more again, but for someone used to 3 Euros in Andorra and maybe 6 Euros in the French Alps, over 7 Euros seems pretty excessive for a pretty normal restaurant in the village.

Please feel free to comment on relative price of beer at your local ski areas around the world. It would be great to find out the cheapest and most expensive resorts worldwide.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

End of the Season

Well, the ski season is drawing to a close here in Andorra, with some resorts closing tomorrow and others a week later. As always there is plenty of snow, particularly on the higher slopes. Unusually though, the resorts have remained busy right up until the end of the season. Most years April is quiet in Arinsal and the rest of Andorra, and we get to have a few weeks enjoying snow and the sun before closing day. This year though I have been teaching classes until today, and have worked far more hours than ever before in April. The rest of the season was a little quieter than previous year, which was not unexpected due to the economic situation. It seems a lot of people who had held off booking a ski holiday decided at the last minute to go anyway.

We also had a lot of visitors recently who were on their second trip of the season to Arinsal. Some people actually commented that two weeks here cost the same as one in the Alps, It seems that in some ways the recession has helped us to extend our working season as people look for a cheaper end of season option.

Just to sign off, here is a photo of the view from our balcony - sunshine and snowy mountains...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Support Vancouver

As I am sure everybody knows, the Winter Olympic Games began in Vancouver last weekend. This is a once in four year event and is a showcase for winter sports around the globe. Yet I went into my local bar this evening, in a ski resort, and the Winter Olympics coverage took second place to Everton in the Uefa cup. European club football is considered more important than the Olympics, in a ski resort in Andorra - even though the Andorrans are competing in the Olympics but not in the Uefa cup.

There are football games every week of every year from August until June. The Olympics are two weeks every four years. So please, all you skiing, skating, bobsleigh or luge fans out there, demand that your local pub puts on Eurosport or whichever channel is showing the Olympics where you are in the world, and ask them to put football in second place for just two weeks in every two hundred and eight. For many of these athletes, Vancouver is the pinacle of their career - the least we can do is support them and admire their skill.