Katy’s Blog: Langlauf and Powder in Chamonix Valley
The snow has been coming down thick and fast in Chamonix over the last few days. My friend from my local climbing club back home drove over on Saturday and after his first run at Grands Montets declared it was the “best powder he’d ever skied in” – and this coming from a serious powder hunter/nerd. Today he declared it was almost too much powder!
I began my weekend with something slightly different. Earlier this year I was in Chamonix doing a trail running course with Tracks and Trails. I stayed in touch with Julia Tregaskis-Allen from the company and she invited me on a classic Nordic Skiing lesson that she was running, as part of her role as an ambassador for the women’s sports clothing shop Lolë Chamonix. Lolë offer various meet ups for women in Chamonix, such as stretch classes, climbing workshops etc with various experienced ambassadors (more info on their Facebook page). I was keen to try, as it seems my quest to keep running over the winter is futile. Every French person I mention it to, especially when trying to buy winter running spikes to put over my trainers, has laughed at my stupidity – here you do winter sports!
It seemed to me a good way to keep fit, as you can go to the track at the Ski de Fond centre, buy a pass and pick a trail of various difficulties. I am also going to watch a round of the cross country World Cup in January at La Clusaz – so I was keen to try it out.
I headed down to Intersport opposite the Ski du Fond on Saturday morning, where they kindly gave us classic Nordic skis to use for free, and met the other girls. First thing we learnt was to stretch to help us get our minds in the right place, and loosen up those groins. We then took a look at the skis themselves, which have a “fish scale” texture underneath to stop the ski sliding backwards – a bit like mole skins. The skis also don’t have metal edges so you can’t turn in the same way as normal skis. We then spread out into a circle and did a variety of exercises on one ski, then two to practice balancing on the skinny planks, finally progressing to the “lang lauf” – or “long run” in German. Basically, trying to run with the skis on, gradually lengthening out the slide before swapping over. The poles are essential too and are why cross country skiing is as good for your triceps as your legs. With each arm held at about 90 degrees you push the poles out behind you to help propel you forward. I honestly felt the burn more in my arms than my legs eventually! Finally – how do you stop? Well, it’s just by a simple snow plough, or snow ploughing with just one leg.
Whilst all this was going on a machine was circling the track pressing lines into the soft snow for us to ski in, so once we felt steady we set off through the trees practicing the technique. Once we’d all got the hang of it we were shown the pole-ing technique; skis together, propelling ourselves with the poles whilst thrusting our groins forward. Apparently some of the keen male cross-country skiers film themselves doing this – just to make sure they are practicing the technique correctly! After a full loop we headed back to the centre, all of us keen to come and try it again. Even when you have just a spare hour it’s something you can do on the tracks here, it doesn’t require a long day out like alpine skiing. Julia will be holding a skate style session soon so I’ll be heading along to that too.
On Sunday I joined a climbing friend, Brian, at the Grands Montets. Gearing up for the day I thought I’d try out a new handy little device I was given to carry my skis called a Portaski. Very useful as I do have the tendency of letting the skis slip apart when I carry them on my shoulder and whacking people in the face with them. The pocket size device on wheels has Velcro straps you wrap around the skis and a handle so you can pull them along the road. That saved me a bit of energy and matched my new red soft-shell Marmot Zion jacket, which I thought I’d try out as an alternative to the bulky ski jacket on the slopes. And obviously it’s very important to look good (and stand out) when you are about to hurtle not very elegantly down a snowy gully!
The weather was indeed looking pretty bleak; it was very cold and low visibility. There are only a few lifts open at the moment, but with the amount of powder that had fallen and the opportunities to go off the piste, it turned out to be an amazing day. Using the Marmottons, Tube and Plan Roujon lifts there were so many opportunities to slide down nearby gullies and weave between trees safely, it really was a full day out. I got stuck in the snow a lot, especially as I was using piste skis. It was also a day full of minor incidents – apparently my bindings had the DIN’s set to only 3 – which according to Brian are the settings for a 30 pound child, which I certainly am not. Hence my ski fell off as soon as I jumped on the chair lift and with the snow being so deep it completely disappeared, leaving Brian having to ski back down and only finding it by falling over it. Then on the next run, a slippery chair meant Brian himself fell off the lift, buried in the same patch of snow.
A few hot chocolate stops and a Vin Chaud to finish and it was certainly one of the best days skiing I’ve had in a long time, pushing myself not too much, but just a little bit. Don’t want to go too mad too early obviously. Next week I am attending an Avalanche Awareness course with Avalanche Academy, and I have also joined the Club Alpine France – Chamonix Branch who organise ski touring weekends, cross country and coaching – so I’ll be saving myself for all that and the amazing looking season ahead!