The Indian summer in the Alps came to an abrupt end overnight with the arrival of a monumental storm of the Med that battered the Ligurian coast, washed out roads, left many stranded without vehicles and sadly killed 10 or so people. I was away visiting my sister in Basel but was keeping a close eye on how much snow it would bring to the Alps south of the divide with Wepowder forecasting over 2 m. My friend Chipie who came on my last Baffin expedition was in Tignes and he keeping tabs on the snowfall as the storm progressed. Late Thursday night he sent me a note in the form of a photo of himself shredding powder – it took me about 3 seconds to text him back that I would be there in the morning. I spent the rest of the night feverishly searching for all my ski kit and packing the car, went to bed as excited as a kid the night before Christmas, got a few hours sleep and hit the road at 6am to make the 3 hour drive.
Arriving in Tignes there was certainly a couple of feet roadside but the visibility was poor and we spent the morning doing a very humid skin about 400 m vertical out of town. Once back in Tignes there was signs of the sun coming out and we decided to be positive about it and go up the Grands Motte. The clouds parted, the sun came out and so it began, with a little taste of the magic, hooning down the glacier whooping with delight, blowing up cold smoke behind us.
We were back the next day for more and found some good turns but strong wind was starting to do its dirty work on the powder and strip the glacier back to bare ice. The pistes up there have great corduroy and were perfect for carving turns, race training and getting the glutes back in shape. Hopefully this week will see more snow arrive from the south and build on whats there.
It’s great to get some preseason skiing in to see where the body is at and have a chance to work on the ski fitness before the season proper begins. It also reminds me what kit works and what I need going forward. This year I am proud to have the additional sponsorship from the specialist online ski and snowboard shop snowcountry.eu who will plug my gear gaps and the Sapaudia Brewing Company for rehydration matters!
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.
For New Year in the Chamonix valley we will all be snorting vaporised WKD alcopops – wtf is in that smog?
Michelle making it to the virgin summit on full oxygen.Testing the latest ultra breathable shell Baffin jacket from Berghaus.