Archive For January 28, 2019
Breakfast was laid out with military precision with each room allocated a table. At 7am the team entered and chaos reigned. Room 51 sat at table 43, one of whose occupants ate at the table for room 56. 53 sat with 32 at table 45. The Breakfast Dominatrix was not amused and boy did we know it. Our status sank to unimaginable depths when she caught the Senior Member making an illegal sandwich from the breakfast buffet.
We were in Corvara but the snow wasn’t so we only managed one day in the Dolomites – but what a day. The views on our traverse of Piz Boé were as good as any of us could remember and we climbed in the sun, sheltered from the wind. It was a cold week with temperatures never rising above zero and with a low of -21°C. On the other days we skied excellent snow from our comfortable farmhouse base in Val Casies on the border with Austria.
Taking refuge from the cold in the stylish café at the top of the Crëp de Munt lift after our Piz Boé traverse the illegal sandwich appeared. The waitress approached and ‘Oh No…’, it was the Breakfast Dominatrix. Breaking the rules to make and now breaking the rules to eat; she was most unimpressed!
I’ve rented vehicles in many countries over the years. Invariably there are bad surprises and in fact I can’t think of a positive. Sometimes an upgrade might happen but usually I’m dealing with bald tires, dubious excess charges or outright dishonesty. The vans Francesco and I were offered in Rome looked as if they had been used for stock car racing. ‘We’re professionals’ we said, ‘offering a professional service. We can’t carry our customers in these’. After much toing and froing we obtained a very nice VW but I was stuck with the battered Fiat. What to do!?
Our week in the Appennini was a delight. Highlights included the Rave di Giumenta Blanca on Mt Amaro and the beautiful, near deserted village of Castel del Monte. The café bar there gave us a superb breakfast spread and après ski hospitality though it’s the only bar I have ever been in anywhere that didn’t have a single bottle of Scots Whisky.
At the end Francesco and I happily relinquished responsibility for the rental vans at Rome airport. Because mine was so battered the full length dent I’d put in it on a narrow mountain road whilst listening to Harley wasn’t even noticed.
I’ve a day in Sendai and I feel awful. I’ve picked up a flu bug from one of the team and the last couple of days have required ‘additional effort’. Trail breaking in deep snow with a fever really isn’t fun.
Down town Sendai has nothing to offer but shops and I have a strong dislike for shopping. There’s hardly a foreigner in sight contradicting the article that I have just read on tourist numbers. Apparently the Japanese Government would like to reach 40 million foreign visitors a year by the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
I’ve certainly noticed rapidly increasing numbers of foreign skiers over the years particularly in the Nirvana that is Hokkaido in the month of January. This increase became an explosion a year or so ago. One piece suits, GoPro adorned helmets, ABS bags and fat skis are now all over previously little known ski touring spots and are crowding out the popular resorts. Skinning and skiing with other groups when one previously enjoyed the mountain to oneself stir a complex mixture of emotions!
‘What to do,’ as my Russian friend Alexey often says. Well quite simply we try and stay away from the crowds which in Japan is not too difficult as 80% of the country is mountainous. Thankfully there are still plenty of places where one can enjoy putting down fresh tracks and a fully authentic Japanese cultural experience.
Nobody had booked a beach holiday so we couldn’t go to Crete. Fortunately Plan B was a good one as snow was bountiful on the Greek mainland. An hour or so on my very smart phone from Japan was pretty much all it took to make the changes – we were off on a Greek road trip.
The mountains were empty and even sites of huge historical interest such as the Parthenon and Delphi were thankfully free of their high season crowds. The locals were out in force at the Parnassos ski area though as it was a holiday weekend marking the beginning of Lent for the Greek Orthodox. Everyone was having a great time on the slopes – we didn’t see much fasting or prayer.
Christos and Giorgos made the very best of our first day as the forecast for the week was poor. We completed a superb round trip over 2415m Tsarkos and the highest summit in the Parnassos Mountains, Liakoura 2450m. We then sampled the delights of the Southern Pindos and the high peaks of the Zagori speeding back to Athens at the end on the newly completed motorway.
There are many ski touring options in Greece and the Greeks are universally a most welcoming and hospitable people. When one adds to the mix excellent food and so much of historical interest it is obvious that Greece just has to be on every ski tourers ‘must do’ list.
We had tried to ski in Corsica before but ended up in the Georgian Caucasus, not because I’m poor at geography or got lost but because there was no snow on the Île de Beauté. In 2018 there was the most snow for thirty years and just prior to our arrival 15cm fell overnight on the beach at Ajaccio. The three ski areas, Val d’Ese, Ghisoni Capanelle and Haut Asco were packed with locals at weekends.
So we had plenty of snow but that gave us a higher avalanche risk to deal with, made difficult by the often bad weather. The Alta Strada as the ski traverse is known, loosely follows the route of the GR20 long distance path. The terrain is therefore serious and careful route choice is an absolute must. We were a strong team expertly guided by Manu but as is always the case we couldn’t beat the weather which saw us arriving soaked at destination on several occasions. We did enjoy one glorious day and two with at least a few hours of clear skies, sunshine and the incredible views from Corsica’s mountains in winter.
Déjà vu. Thunder, lightning and pouring rain. We were back for our second attempt at Etna having had the same terrible weather for the entire time we were here last year. At least it was obvious that skiing was not an option so we visited a near-deserted Taormina in the driving rain. At least there were no other tourists. The stalls packed with tat did not have a single customer.
Day 2. Snow chains on the vans the skins on skis. Fresh snow, fresh tracks and a beckoning summit. Clouds however, meant there were no guarantees. We summited the NE crater as the clouds parted; this time it was obviously meant to be!
The day was an eventful one with a broken Dynafit binding which we repaired and a broken fibula for which we could do little. Thankfully David’s slow motion tumble happened close to the road and happily the break did not need surgery.
Day 3. Was it to be Plan A, B or C? We bought lift tickets and lived in hope. After a short skin and just as Plan C looked like the only option the clouds lifted and the spectacular main crater stood clear. We skinned right to the top in excellent snow before enjoying a fabulous run down to the west.
Other than summiting the highlight of our visit were the breakfasts laid on by Antonella and Salvo. Homemade jams, pistachio croissants, cakes, blancmange, freshly squeezed blood orange juice and limitless cups of wonderful coffee all served ‘subito’ with grace and a big smile.
The Moors were looking for water when they came to the valleys of the Sierra Nevada. They found it in abundance and settled in Granada and in the mountain villages of this southerly massif. 1307 years after the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula a small group of ski tourers arrived in Güejar Sierra, one of those villages. They too were looking for water though not for drinking or irrigating crops for they drank beer and wine and ate in fine restaurants. They came looking for snow.
The winter of 2018 was a white one so the intrepid skiers found with ease that what they sought. Guided by local mountain man and expert organiser, Luis, the skiers enjoyed six days of beautiful sunny weather, gracing the slopes with turns in the famous ‘Sierra Cream’. The latter wasn’t as creamy as usual though as a strong wind was our constant companion, blowing hard enough to turn us around on Harley’s 70th birthday.
A ski touring group that meets on the beach in Malaga for a lunch of grilled sardines, calamares and salad before heading for the hills is off to a good start. If the start is good then the fun often continues. So it proved to be.
Bolivia is a land of vivid colour, the variety and intensity of which is instantly remarkable upon arrival at El Alto. Whether it is deep blue sky, the snow-capped peaks or the rainbow costumes of the 26 de Mayo Fiesta del Gran Poder, all is clear and bright.
Not an obvious ski destination, Bolivia did have the highest ski lift in the world at 5379m Chacaltaya. It was also the closest to the Equator. Sadly climate change has removed the glacier there and the lifts have not worked in 10 years or more. The ‘resort’ is worth a visit and the peaks around give an easy day’s acclimatisation – on foot.
John Biggar probably knows more about the mountains of South America than anyone who has ever lived. Using his local knowledge we initially set up camp at 4700m in the Khara Kota valley. We spent a week there and summited five 5000m peaks. The snow and skiing were good though the approach walks are lengthening year on year due to the relentless recession of the glaciers.
We then took a chance on skiing the beautiful 6348m Volcan Parinacota. We carried our skis in the dark to the snow line only to find that the sun had created penitentes since our recce two weeks previously. The summit was therefore done on foot.
Ski mountaineering without transceiver, shovel or probe on avalanche free snow with perfect sunshine and cloudless skies. Bolivia. What’s not to like?
What a place for a road trip. It seems like every bend, every dip on the South Island roads reveals a view to die for. Stops are frequent and nature’s beauty observed in silent reflection. It’s not surprising that Chinese tourists from the likes of Chongqing or Zhengzhou are now here in their multitudes. Quite a change from when I was last here in 2015.
Popular places such as Wanaka are now transforming at breakneck speed. Development is everywhere and property prices have grown 18% year on year. The beauty is still there but Wanaka is no longer the restful, chilled place it was for so many years. Good for some, not so good for those who loved it as it was.
As usual we had mixed weather with some incredibly atmospheric days in the mountains. We skinned and skied, drank good coffee, ate delicious food (with a special mention for the steak at Mt Olympus) and generally had a very, very nice time.