10/12/10 – SCGB leaders’ course: speed, slabs and steam

Alternative apres-ski

I opened the curtains to glorious clear skies this morning ready for a demanding day at the mercy of mountain guide, ski instructor and former mountain rescue man Roland Stieger. My room-mates had returned from their session with him earlier this week grinning like lunatics, full of stories of straight-lining, and adding that it was one of the greatest ski days they could remember.

So it proved for Patagonia group today. The Frenchman tested us thoroughly, not only in terms of pace but also in assessing terrain, snow conditions and route choice, and above all in our awareness of avalanche danger. Scores of windslab slides – some truly massive – from the past few days provided glaring examples and our off-piste excursions were undertaken mighty carefully.

A few chilly toes and noses aside – it was minus-16 on Toviere this morning – we had a invigorating and informative day which followed on usefully from the start of our avalanche training yesterday with mountain guide Graham McMahon. Shovels, probes and various other equipment – pencils, credit cards, penknives, a pruning saw and a thermometer – swung into action on a 30-degree slope near the Aiguille Percee as Graham taught us what to look for in a snow pit. It was mesmerising – and slightly unnerving, given the dodgy layers we identified – to see what lies beneath.

Back at base, the hotel’s sauna, steam room and whirlpool are getting busier by the day as the temperature drops; meanwhile the gossip machine is working overtime as new friendships are struck…

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