30 things I wish I'd known before skiing my first couloir

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 02/03/2018
Things you wish you'd known? IFMGA Mountain Guide Tom Grant shows how it's done. Photo: Johannes Strobel
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What 30 things should you swot up on before dropping in? Steep skiers including Chamonix residents Ross Hewitt, Tom Grant and Dee O'Neill, plus their Scotland-based cousins Pete Mackenzie, Blair Aitken and Hamish Frost, offer their top tips.

I Wish I'd known ... 

1 "... Don't talk to strangers above couloirs!"

"My first was Easy Gully behind the Nevis Range. I used to ski it between runs at the Scottish Alpine Championships. I was probably 14 years old and didn't know what a couloir was. I remember an older skier wanted to join me and asked if I could show him the way back round to the front side. Being 14 and not knowing anything I said 'Yes'. To my relief he made it in but then tomahawked the length of the gully. I remember thinking I'd killed him. 15 years later I met him again on Ben Nevis where he luckily turned out to be a very able skier!"

Blair Aitken, founder of British Backcountry

 

2 "... There's no loo at the top!"

 

3 "... And how to transition easily from skins to crampons and from crampons back to skis without thinking you might die"

Steph Lightfoot

 

WATCH: How to transition from skinning to bootpack and back on BMC TV:

 

4 "... Spring conditions are much more forgiving for first-timers in Scottish couloirs than winter ones"

"If it doesn't look good, don't be afraid to leave it for another day. It's better to look and leave it four times and eventually ski the gully once, than to ski the piste for five days!"

 

5 "... Also, ice is a more common problem in Scottish gully skiing than avalanches so take an ice axe and know how to use it"

Pete Mackenzie, Highland freeskier

 

6 "... That it was there!"

"I skied into one off a cornice once. Thankfully I was okay but it was a harsh lesson!"

Jon Miles

 

7 "... Skiing tight gullies with your boots still in walk mode is hard!"

"Check and double check that you’ve flicked them over to ski mode!"

Adventure photographer, Hamish Frost

 

8 "... Before dropping in, you should always ask yourself: 'What would Wild Bill do?' (see below)"

George Taylor

 

WATCH: S&S Couloir, a birthday tradition:

 

9 "... That it's very, very fun and you should have done it earlier?"

 

10 "... Also, if you have to rap into a steep line, even if rocky, it is usually (but not always) better to rap with your skis on"

Stuart Johnston

 

WATCH: Rigging a Rappel in the Backcountry on BMC TV:

 

11 "... Something about avalanches and snow safety!"

"I skied my first couloirs without having a clue and with no avy gear!"

IFMGA Mountain Guide, Tom 'Cautious' Grant

 


Avy gear may not save you here ... Tom 'Cautious' Grant. Photo: Johannes Strobel

 

12 "... It's a good idea to consider going up it first"

"You will have a better idea as to snow quality."

 

13 "... It's better to take momentum down the fall-line than across the slope"

 

14 "... To consider side-stepping rather than side-slipping - it doesn't scrape snow off for others"

 

15 "... How to use baton remasse"

IFMGA Mountain Guide, James Thacker

 

WATCH: Baton Ramasse on BMC TV:

 

16 "... There's no shame in sideslipping if you are gripped or unsure of a super technical/tight section"

 

17 "... And - wait for the perfect snow conditions"

"Both time of year/storm cycle and time of day (get to the top early and hit it when the corn is perfect in the spring)"

Doug Schnitzbahn, writer and editor living in Boulder, Colorado

 

18 "... Never take your skis/board off!"

Ben Hedley

 

"Good one. I once saw a guy at Big Sky try to walk across the top of a chute I was skiing. All of a sudden I saw a pair of skis, a dude, and a pair of poles go flying by me, in that order. They took a good 500-foot ride."

Doug Schnitzbahn

 

WATCH: How to put skis on when it's steep on BMC TV:

 

19 "... Snow pack awareness"

"I never got caught in any big avalanches but that was probably more through luck than anything when I was starting out. If I was doing it again now I would do a bunch of avalanche training before anything else."

Ben Briggs - steep skier based in Chamonix 

 

WATCH: Ben skiing the Col Armand Charlet NE face:

 

20 " ...That it was wide enough for my skis!"

Ross Hewittprofessional athlete & big mountain skier

 


Ross Hewitt skiing the Bonatti Couloir on Petit Mt Blanc. Photo: Cedric Bernardini

 

21 "... That it is not the place to learn to jump turn?"

Emma Lloyd-Davies

 

22 "... It's a good idea to check your bindings are tight enough"

"... As I found out at the age of 15 on my first turn down Alladin’s Couloir in the Cairngorms!"

Al Reid

 

23 "... What windslab is"

"And why it is good to wait 'til this settles! The hard snow that is under your skis isn't necessarily safe and there will always be another day."

Robert Kingsland, founder of British Freeride

 


The Pertuis Couloir, Mont de Grange, last week. Photo: Robert Kingsland

 

24 "... How far back the cornice might snap off while you're trying to get a look in, Sam Loveday..."

Viv Scott

 

"At least six feet!"

Sam Loveday

 


Moments before the cornice snapped. Photo: Viv Scott
 

 

25 "... How scary it it feels like to stand at the entrance of a 50 degree couloir for the first time. Don't go last!"

 

26 "... Also - that you can get hammered by sluff in the colouir, especially in the head if you're small!"

 

27 "How to self arrest, just in case"

 

28 "And the degree of severity according to guidebooks (see below)"

Dee O'Neill, off-piste skiing instructor

 

29 Buy the Steep Skiing Bible of Chamonix

Below is the Anselme Baud rating from his guidebook of the routes in the Mont Blanc and Aiguille Rouge - pretty much the steep skiing bible of Chamonix!

1. Overall Alpine Rating
F (Facile/easy) to ED (Extreme)
+ and - can be used here also

2. Then Technical Difficulty
Level 1-5

3. Danger
1-3
1 Few objective dangers dangers
3 Falling is not an option!

For example, the Glacier Rond off the Aiguille du Midi is  D, 4.3, 2, 45-50°/800m

 

30 Whet your appetite with this trailer for the legendary film, STEEP:

It stars Anselme Baud as well as Bill Briggs, Doug Coombs, Lou Dawson, Glen Plake, Shane McConkey, Seth Morrison, Andrew McClean, Eric Pehota, Ingrid Backstrom, Stefano De Benedetti, Chris Davenport and Emily Coombs, amongst others.

 

WATCH: More BMC ski touring skills videos.


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Want to know more? READ: 5 reasons why you need BMC Travel Insurance

*Policy details: £141.80 for annual European Alpine and Ski cover up to age 69. For policies purchased between 14 May and 31 July 2018.


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