The focus of this summer has been my first season as an aspirant and gaining as much alpine guiding experience as possible. With a low tide last winter and an exceptionally long hot summer, the glacier conditions have been suboptimal providing some additional hazards for travel, but in general there has been a good, varied and continuous supply of work. This has kept me busy travelling far and wide across the Alps to the Matterhorn, Breithorn, Castor, Pollux, Lyskamm nose, Mt Blanc, Peigne, Dent de Geant, Rochefort, Entreves, Marbree, Cosmiques, Vallee Blanche, Stockhorn, Barre des Ecrins, Rifflehorn, Jegihorn and a few others. During this time I’ve got to work with some fantastic guides and also meet a bunch on incredible, motivated clients who were after some big adventures in the mountains. A big thanks to everyone I met along the way and also to those who sent me some of the photos which I’ve shared below, in no particular order. There were a lot of great days out but if I had to pick a favourite it would be the 5 Towers Ridge on the Stockhorn, while the low point was getting soaked to the pants coming back over the glacier from Cervinia to Zermatt during a Foehn storm – a bit too reminiscent of North Wales for my liking ;).
Roll on next year!
In the lead up to Christmas I was lucky enough to get invited to an Avatech training and awareness day offered to the British Mountain Guides. Avatech rep Craig Widdicombe who happens to be my neighbour, hence the invite, ran the course. For those of you who have not yet seen the Avatech system, its a smart probe that gives you a snow profile in under 30 seconds. Compared to a manual pit which could take 30 minutes! The probe has a pressure sensor built into the tip that records the different resistances offered by the layers in the snow.
We started off in the classroom with a run through the application, its layout, how snowprofile data and associated observations / photographs are input and how to find historical data for your chosen route or ski area. Data from the probe is transmitted by Bluetooth to the app on your smart phone where it is uploaded to Avatech’s site. The interface is really user friendly and intuitive so its pretty easy to find your way around. It also incorporates a map system which can be used for your route planning.
The system has already become popular amongst the professionals in north America where it is hailed as a game changer. Meteo France and the Italian avalanche forecasters have also invested in a number of probes. A probe costs around 1800 Euros so its a significant investment but you can subscribe to have access to the website on an annual basis. The real benefit is if these become the industry standard and a number of snow profiles are performed on a particular slope of pitch giving subscribers a good overall picture of the stability on that particular slope.
Screenshot from the Avatech site showing the mapping system with data and observations
Like herding cats, a ‘clowder’ of British Mountain Guides searching for a snow profile location
Andy Perkins and Craig Widdicombe confirming suitable snow depths
Craig deploying the Avatech probe
A snow crystal comparator plate
Taking snow temperature profile
Manual recording of the snow profile in the field
Shovel shear test result.
The Avatech probe showing the snow profile. The resolution here was set to low to compare with the manual profile however it was obvious the Avatech probe has the sensitivity to pick up very thin layers which could possibly be missed on the manual pit.