What happens when you put several skiers and snowboarders together, shuffle in three cool guides, one skilled photographer, a breath-taking setting, marvellous views of Mont Blanc and a cosy hut? Well, ask the latest participants to Isabelle Santoire’s recent venture, two days of Snow Awareness at the Bonatti Hut in outstanding Val Ferret in Italy.
The recipe is a tried-and-tested one: fun-loving folks plus good snow and sunny weather equal big smiles and a cheerful atmosphere. Still, we were not merely there to have fun. People joined the event because Isa is a lively lady, for sure, but we also wanted to learn about snow. Snow, what art thou? Well we all know it’s candid, fun to play with, but can also be treacherous and unforgiving. The core of the event was understanding snow: How do you set a track? What is the best way to reach your goal? Should you simply aim to go from A to B opting for the steepest option? Or follow your feet and your sense of direction? In the Aosta Valley, more than elsewhere, tracks tend to be steep and encourage speed, but you’ll need a strong stamina or love races to fully enjoy it.
Rick Marchant, snow expert and Chamonix-based mountain guide, revealed some tips and skills to make your outing smoother and more interesting. You need to be able to READ snow to make the most of it. What does this mean? Do you have to stop and make in-depth analysis, stratigraphy and all that jazz? Well, that is necessary sometimes, especially when the terrain looks and feels unsafe and there is an avalanche risk. Other times, however, a glance is all it takes to know that that particular patch of snow skies well. Aren’t we after a good time?
Quite clearly, however, the emphasis is set on safety on any such outing, so practice at searching beacons and using probes and shovels was also undertaken under the watchful eyes of Isa and Sam Beaugey, the other guide taking part in the event.
The most interesting evening talk was the AAA discussion, led by Rick: the three big As of snow awareness are Aspect – Angle – Altitude. Bear these three elements in mind and Bob’s your uncle. Consider, for instance, how high the sun is and what angle it will hit the slope you’re about to reach, think about the altitude and the snow level at a particular time of the year; consider the intensity of the wind and what direction it blows, if wind slabs have been recorded and what degree of humidity snow will possess; assess how many skiers are in your party and what weight you will bring on a particular slope. Well, these are only a few of the points you’ll have to consider when setting out on a ski touring walk, trying to make the most of your day and enjoying the run!
See you at the next event!
More info on Chamonix Momentum here
All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography, except where stated otherwise.
The event was sponsored by Arc’teryx