If Canada is the Mecca for adventure seekers then Whistler is the shangri-la of snow sports. Arriving for our five day whirlwind visit, Whistler was a hive of energy. 8,171 acres of powder, over 200 trails, Whistler boasts the longest unsupported gondola (4.4k,) joining the Blackcomb and Whistler peaks. In an average year they have 11m of snow making this a powder capped heaven! With a great mixture of blue, red and black runs Whistler has something for everyone.
During our (Martyn & myself) trip we ventured into the back-country for the first time with a guide. An experience that Martyn and I will never forget.
We met our guide, J.F from Coast Mountain Guides at the bottom of Whistler gondola with nervous anticipation as we talked through the avalanche safety gear and created a plan for the day. J.F is a highly experienced mountain and ski guide with years of experience, he probably shares more in common with mountain deer than Martyn and I though, as we stood there un-aware of the adventure that was about to unfold.
Coast Mountain Guides was started by Guillaume Otis with his Dad back in 1998.
They operate year round and provide mountain guiding services for a wide range of client’s skills and abilities.
The first challenge of the day!
Once at the top of the lift system, to make our way into the back-country we had to take a toggle lift – sounds easy right! Wrong. I managed to expertly fall off the long pole not once, but twice… The first time I hung on thinking surely I can pull myself back up, this turned out not to be the case, after a few seconds I collapsed into a crumpled heap in defeat as others slid by without a care, not struggling to sit on the pole that seemed impossible to me!
Third time lucky! With some help from J.F to balance the beast I made my way shakily to the top arriving with a smile and a sigh of relief! I made it. Wow…and we have not even started the challenging bit, I thought to myself!
After a short run down we entered the back country gate, making sure our transponder’s where working as we passed through we left the lifts behind and walked into Mother Nature’s playground.
Whistler backcountry gate
The Ascent towards the unknown
Martyn and I had never been back country skiing before or, even walked up a glacier for that matter. So a brief lesson on how to split our board in two and then how to add the skins (sticky pads which ran along the length of each ski), so that we could climb the mountain. It was an odd feeling after being on a board to split it in half to use as skis it was easy to do once you got the hang of it.
We started the traverse to the summit. Using the ski tracks of the people that had been on before we slowly zig zagged up the side of the mountain not dissimilar to the way you would mountain bike up a steep hill.
Each binding had a heel riser so your heel stayed high to make walking up steep terrain possible, looking behind I was amazed at the distance we had covered considering we were moving slowly.
Walking up hill was hot work!
Reaching the summit, the Fitzsimmons Mountain Range stretched out before us in every direction, a majestic landscape, frozen and wild. The wind howled around us, whirling snow into tiny tornados. I felt in awe at the sheer power of the wind and the vast expanse of snow reaching out before us, I felt humbled by my surroundings and also a little chilly!
Looking into the back-country
We worked quickly to remove the sticky skins wrapping them back in our packs, releasing our bindings from each ski and slotting them back together to form a board.
J.F applying skins to skis
With the wind thrashing around us we swooped over the edge into pure white powder, it was like riding through whipped egg whites, the board carved through the deep snow descending quickly down the slope.
We traversed the side of the glacier bowl staying high so we didn’t end up in the flat valley below. It was unbelievable gliding through fluffy clouds of powder making fresh tracks where no one else had been.
The clouds stole our view.
Making our way to the next climb, we stopped beneath a ridge. The approaching storm shrouded the tops and the dark clouds looks ominous, our perfect visibility was about to be snatched away from us. It was time to split our boards, apply our skins and make our way into the cloud. It was hard, hot work climbing pushing your ski forward with your toe and the pushing down with your heel so the ski gripped the snow.
At the top we used our skis to compact the snow, to make a ledge to work from, then it was time to reassemble our boards. The trees gave us shelter from the wind, we worked quickly to avoid chilling off. Stopping anywhere in high mountains in changeable weather can be chilly work and the colder you get the slower you get.
Reaching the top
Ready to go, the visibility was making our route through the trees tricky so J.F went first then I boarded down to just below him and then it was Martyn’s turn. My first tree run was good however, on my second run I didn’t turn quick enough and ended up as a tree decoration! The powder was so deep my left leg sunk out of sight and all the pulling in the world was not budging it, when I looked up all I could see was snow which was a little frightening. I shouted to Martyn who heard the slight panic in my voice and came to my rescue. Its times like these that you appreciate having mates around.
Watch our for that tree!
After extraction – we made our way down to where J.F had stopped to wait for us. J.F had scouted a jump for Martyn who expertly carved through the fresh powder launching off the lump and got good height landing softly in thick, thick snow.
What a show off!
As we split our boards ready to head back up through the trees the snow quietly fell and the only sound was coming from us, crunching back through the snow covered trees. It was hot work walking up hill and I was nicely roasting by the time we stopped.
Skins sticking to the skis to make walking up-hill possible
Our last back-country run of the day was epic! The visibility had been reduced to about 15m because of the storm. It took all my concentration to work out the contours in the snow so that I could make good turns. Once we were lower the visibility opened up and we weaved through the trees and dipped out into a long run down to Whistler village. Buzzing from our day in the back-country – full of stories, memories and feeling exhausted Martyn and I stopped for a well-earned drink and to share some amazing memories of the day.
Tips for back-country:
- Hire a professional guide, the equipment for avalanche safety is expensive. With proper knowledge of the areas guides can help you get the most out of your experience
- Layers of clothing is king. Going from snowboarding down to skiing uphill – your temperature changes constantly so having layers to zip and unzip makes it more comfortable
- Food and hydration. My water froze so a lucozade type drink would be better, every time you put your skins on take a sip to make sure you stay well hydrated
- Being able to put your helmet and goggles inside your bag will mean they don’t fill up with snow! Mine did it was a brain freezing experience outing them back on!
Second video edit form Sestiere. We had great fun off-piste found an amazing lunch stop with a view!
Leaving our lunch stop on the Sauze d’oulx side we slid off down to Sestriere carving through the trees. Heading back up the Sestriere side we spotted a great expanse of white, the ultimate jump building territory!
It took a long time to build the jump and soon we were both sweating and taking layers off as we created our jump.
I had never done any jumps before and it was confidence boosting flying along and landing in soft, deep snow, like floating and anding in a cloud.
Take a look at my latest edit from fun off-piste and jumps in Sestriere.
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I hope you enjoyed my edit, if you did please subscribe to my you tube channel.
I have always loved photography and film and this year have decided to have a go at creating videos.
These video’s was shot sing a Go Pro Hero 4 Black and a Go Pro Hero 4 Silver.
Film lesson one was I accidentally changed the resolution on one camera so have had to make two edits! (second one to come) Had loads of footage so this was not a problem.
My tip for anyone else looking to make videos would be create a story board of what you want in your video. I found it really helpful to know the type of outcome I wanted before I went out and filmed everything, Martyn and I then proceeded to film everything anyway but at least we had an idea of what we wanted to create!
I would love feedback on what you think of my videos and you tube channel. If you like it please subscribe here.
Snowboarding adventures in Sestriere.
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Why travel? To me because, we do not remember days but moments in our lives when the ordinary is eclipsed by extraordinary adventure.
Flying into Innsbruck airport you get to appreciate the skill of pilots. Flanked by high unforgiving peaks we gently glide through the cloud cover towards to run way.
Arriving in Mayrhofen the coach meanders lightly through the skinny Austrian streets dropping weary travellers at their hotels. Finally we arrived at our stop, getting off the bus we follow our rep up a narrow street into what seemed like the back and beyond!
Hotel Alpine Garni Eder is nestled on the outskirts of Mayrhofen looking out onto the National Park on one side and down into the hustle and bustle of Mayrhofen on the other, offering the best of both worlds!
Our welcoming host, Christine can’t get the schnapps open quick enough to toast with her new guests!
Weary from a day of travelling we head to the Wald Cafe (near the ice rink in town) for a delicious three course meal, and yes more schnapps! Well fed and watered we call it a night.
Learning to walk, like a ‘boarder’
Trekking from our hotel carrying the kit for the day, we make our way to Ahorn lift, as the main Penken lift is overflowing with people by 9.30.
Learning how to walk like a snowboarder gets some getting used to! Its a bit like you have been on a horse for a long time and cant straighten your legs fully. It is also the only time when it is totally acceptable to wear clashing bright colours and of course the baggiest trousers you possibles can, I’m really regretting not packing a belt!
The 150 person capacity lift moves effortlessly up the side of the mountain taking us to the top, arriving into blistering sunshine surrounded by crisp white snow which glints in the suns rays. The runs from here all start in a massive bowl, perfect for beginners. Each run has a great expanse of space and it makes you feel like you can carve around the whole mountain on your own, an amazing feeling!
After a couple of runs we stop at the ice bar for a well earned drink. From here we travel down red 5, to the village its a great run with a little flat road, which catches me out landing hard on my bum, but my impact shorts are doing their job and I’m soon back on my feet.
The Penkenbahn lift which is a hive of activity first thing in the morning has now eased and we walked straight into a gondola to the top. This is one of the longest gondola rides I’ve ever been on. From Mayrhofen which has no snow, we rise over trees and a steep cliff where the snow starts to show its self and I can feel the anticipation growing in my chest.
Mayrhofen is a great place to start snowboarding from, it offers so many options from Ahorn, Penken and over to Hoberg and Rastkogel. There are many runs which can be linked together to make long swooping runs down the mountain.
Linking together reds and blues we eat up the piste.
Martyn and I explored the piste an linked as many runs as we could crossing them off along the way determined to do every run and then journey off-piste if conditions were okay.
My favourite run was Red 1 which led onto Red 11 a mixture of terrains were covered in this run and it was exciting exploring its many features. It started off flat but quickly you arrived at the first downhill which was narrow, but opened up into a large bowl were you could make the most of the space around you on long traverses, it then narrowed again before opening up for the final home run down to the lift where you could really build up speed, such an exhilarating feeling, cutting through the snow.
After the first two days we have completed nearly every red run on Penken and Ahorn and decide tomorrow to head further a field, and check out Eggalm, which I have been pronouncing ‘egglam’! This unfortunately turns out to be my last boarding day as events unfold that no one could of planned for!
Exploration at its finest, by bus and board.
We set off on the Greenline bus nice and early heading to Eggalm two stops from Mayrhofen. The bus stops in Rastkogel and then proceeds to its final destination, the Hintertux Glacier, somewhere we have been told to visit on friday, when the visibility is good. Today the visibility is no good, but as we came all this way it would be rude not too!
As expected the visibility is poor, even at 3250 m. So we plan our route down which links together to make it to the bottom as a group. Red 5, 8, 4 and then 3 to the gondola. As always Martyn leads the way, a good track on his iPod, and he forgets our plan sending him totally in the wrong direction! Ending up on red 11, not to get separated Hayley, Kris and I follow Martyn into the fog on another adventure.
Why I love the mountains.
Making it into the bowl of the glacier the weather clears just enough to show us that behind the mask of fog lay spectacular peaks topped with snow which tumble down to the valley floor. The feeling on the side of the mountain of total isolation but also being totally connected to nature is what keeps me coming back for more. Up here in the grips of the outdoors is where I feel most alive, its the balance between being on top of the world but so insignificant compared to the might of the mountain at the same time. Its a feeling only found from outdoor adventure and one I live for.
The journey continues, in search of good weather!
Back on the bus our new plan is to head to Rastkogel get the lift up and use red 1 to board down into Eggalm in order to complete this peak.
The start of this run was an easy blue linking onto a red route which snaked through the trees into the village. I have never been great on flat roads. I spent my first season in Soll walking a lot of them!
This year my confidence has grown, along with my skill, however, as I found out on one icy corner not as much as I thought. Coming down on my toe edged I went to switch to heel as the board went flat and gained speed I over compensated digging in my heel edge hit some ice and landed with all my weight on my left elbow.
There are times in life when you feel like crying, but crying gets you no where. On the side of the mountain you just have to keep moving.
I instantly new this was not just another knock, my arm popped and felt very painful. Luckily Martyn was sitting close by and came to move me out of the way of many skiers racing by. After a moment unable to board I got up and walked to the clearing where Hayley and Kris sat. My arm felt so bizarre, like it wasn’t attached to my body and I was sure it was dislocated. Having never dislocated or broken a bone before I was reassured by Martyn’s comments of “you probably just knocked it badly” after discussing with Martyn that no I could not ‘skate’ down on my board we started walking and Kris and Hayley went on to see if they could find help.
We walked for what seemed like an age before we got to a bar on the corner of the run I sat down feeling rather queezy. Martyn spoke to the bar manager in his best Austrian to call a taxi whilst Hayley helped me with the pain, a shot of schnapps and two paracetamol!
The taxi ride off the mountain was long and winding every pot hole made me feel like my arm was being ripped further away from my body.
We reached a small hospital in Lanersbach relieved to be out of the taxi. The next few hours were a blur. I went into a small room where a lovely nurse gave me Tramadol before several X-rays. I then was put to sleep, with a dislocated and cracked elbow. Good night world.
Waking up with a bump.
Waking up to bright lights and people speaking Austrian, was all together bizzare, like waking up inside a dream and not quite knowing whats real. I was soon reminded of what had just happened which brought me back to Earth with a thud.
The next day was arduous after spending a considerable amount of time in a doctors waiting room my 15 minute appointment cost 70 Euros! After saying good bye to Martyn at the lift the consequences of some silly fall felt very real.
It’s not whether you get knocked down, its whether you get up that counts.
Friday was a better day Martyn treated me to a steak Thursday evening (which he had to cut for me as I couldn’t use my hand) and today was a glorious sunny day, one which I was determined to enjoy as we travelled back to the Hintertux glacier where the day had began when I had my accident.
Today is one of those days where if you let them your emotions take over and the fact your holiday is ruined (as well as the start of you mountain bike racing season, but lets not mention that right now) may turn you into a stormy dark cloud.
Not today though, I released that inner child we all have kicking about who said, “Oi why not build a snow man and chill out!“ You know what, that was a great plan. I stood and admired the shear beauty of my surroundings watching people take there first turn on skis and board down the glacier watching the magic of the snow as it allowed safe passage down the mountain to the young and the old.
My snowman may have had no eyes but he was the coolest snowman at 3250m on that Friday. Heading back down to Martyn we had our last mountainside lunch of curried sausage and fries before I sat and took pictures of Martyn playing off piste.
Although I was gutted to not be able to follow and play around off-piste the time sitting in the snow was well spent on reflection of how you never know whats round the corner. You never know when you might catch the wrong edge and this is why I feel its so important to live the life you dream of, if the doors you want to walk through aren’t open, go find the key.