While we are wondering how far into spring the skiing will get going in the Alps this season, steep skier Ben Briggs had a different idea. He is currently enjoying 'fantastic snow' and 'cold powder' in New Zealand's Southern Alps, and finding some really wild steep skiing, so wild that some of it has never been skied before...
Ben Briggs is a British steep skier based in Chamonix. We've previously interviewed him a few times: for more about his steep skiing check out the links at the bottom of this interview.
SS: So why New Zealand and who was in on it?
BB: Tom Grant and Ross Hewitt went to New Zealand a few years ago and got me psyched with tales of huge unskied mountains. Unfortunately Ross is injured so couldn't make this trip; I went with Enrico Mosetti and Tom Grant.
There had been a lot of snow around Mount Cook over the New Zealand winter so conditions seemed to be shaping up well and we decided to go.
Where did you base yourselves for these first ascents and any thoughts on the locals?
We have been based out of the Canterbury mountaineering club hut in Cook Village. The warden, Cam, is a legend and has been really helping us out, even before we got here.
How do the Southern Alps compare to your home turf of Chamonix?
Although the mountains aren’t as high as the European Alps they have really big relief (and some terribly long approaches!). We used a heli (great guys at Heliworks) a bit to help out with this! It definitely feels more wild here than in the Alps. No phone signal or ski lifts all over the place!
The line they took to make the first descent of the 2,000m Caroline face
So tell us about what you skied?
The two big things we have skied on the trip are the Caroline Face of Mount Cook and the South face of Malte Brun.
The Caroline was the main goal of the trip and is absolutely huge. Way bigger than any faces in the Alps. It’s well known and has been attempted several times by some top skiers before. The skiing's never that hard but the route finding is complex and finding the right conditions also hard. We climbed the beautiful East ridge and were happy to find what we thought was a relatively safe way down, I certainly wouldn't want to climb it though due to all the séracs.
The Second route – Zig Zag on Malte Brun, although nowhere near as long is much more technically difficult to ski. Comparable to the hardest things we have done in the Alps. As far as we are aware the mountain had never had a ski descent before.
How is the snow and the weather?
The snow has been fantastic. We had cold powder snow for most of our descents and one in nice corn snow on the north face of the Aiguilles Rouges. The weather has been so good for us but it's getting late in the season now – things seem to be melting out a bit now!
My trip is almost over now. Bad weather is coming in and I’m heading back on the 8th. The other guys are staying an extra week so maybe they will have time for a last mission.
Has becoming a father recently changed your perspective at all on steep skiing?
Being a father has definitely made me consider all my decisions more carefully with regards to what and when to ski, but not put me off when I feel things are right. The hardest part of the trip is being away from my family for three weeks. It’s the first time I have been away for more than a few days. My son will turn one just after I get back and I can’t wait to see them again.
Ben is sponsored by Mountain Equipment, White Dot Skis, Petzl, Julbo and La Sportiva
READ: More about Ben on his blog: ben-briggs.com
WATCH: Ben skiing the Col Armand Charlet NE face in the Alps
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