Backcountry Skiing: Our Guide To The Guides
They've skied mountains all over the globe, they carry bent espresso spoons, plastic bags and drum sticks, they're more scared of macho clients who don't listen than of bottomless crevasses, they might call a tent on a remote ledge home, they are some of the most chilled guys on the planet...Meet the Mountain GuidesWe get up close and quite personal with international mountain guides who have shown us some of the best ski (and snowboard) days of our lives whether skiing across the Alps (French and Lyngen), shredding the pow in Siberia or Japan, or hanging off ropes in Chamonix and La Grave, featuring in our ski tour blogs and as contributors to Style Altitude. (Main image: Backcountry with Mountain Guide, Cveto Podlogar)
WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME: La Grave
NUMBER OF YEARS AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 25
ALL TIME FAVOURITE PLACE TO SKI: Touring in the Col de Lautaret area. The easy road access to such varied all aspect and all level terrain is more than rare. The fact that the touring season stretches from early November to mid-May most years is exceptional.
YOUR 2019 SKI TOURING SET-UP: Salomon MTN 95 and MTN 115. Bindings: Salomon MTN and SHIFT. Poles:MTN Carbon S3. Backpack: Gregory Targhee 35 and 45.
FAVOURITE / OLDEST ITEM OF SKI GEAR YOU WEAR My second pair of goggles on a perfect snowy powder day. Hard to beat! My blue Patagonia thermal weight hoody fleece sweater has probably about four hundred ski and climbing days and is still hard not to bring on a ski tour.
MOST UNUSUAL / MEMORABLE PLACE YOU'VE SKIED: The ocean like the mountains has a lot of energy and power. I love skiing with a sea view. I have been fortunate to travel to ski some good sea view spots over the years, like Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, Antartica, Southern Argentina, Japan, Corsica, the Abruzzos, Kamchatka and Mercantour in the southern Alps.
BEST TECH PIECE OF KIT YOU OWN: Ear plugs and compass. If you sleep well and know what direction to go, you are mostly fine.
WHAT SCARES YOU: The way we are running down the planet is really scary. The people in charge to make the big decisions for our kids' future scare me. The short term mindset our leaders base their politics on just to be re-elected is frightening. More on a work based level...rock falls and light-to-moderate wind-transported snow. Long periods of cold clear nights in early winter worry me. Trying to find 'all the good reasons' to keep pushing for a goal like a summit or a run 'because we are here' makes me uncomfortable.
YOUR 'EXTREME' HERO: Right now I am reading Tommy Caldwell.s book The Push and he is a hero, for sure. I recently lost my left index finger and as Tommy lost the same finger earlier in his climbing career it is inspiring to learn about his recovery. Tommy has definitely pushed the boundaries for climbing and endurance further and farther then people thought possible not long ago.
MOST UNUSUAL ITEM IN YOUR KIT / BACKPACK: The small espresso spoon lightly bent and held by the 'spoon side' that clears the ice underneath the toe piece on pin bindings is a true life saver. I wouldn't leave home without it.
WHAT KEEPS YOU STOKED IN THE SUMMER: Head lamp approaches. The sudden drop in temperature just before dawn. Tired legs and hurting feet after a long climb in the mountains.
BEST WAY TO SLOW YOUR HEART RATE: Take a deep breath and say to myself let's cross that bridge when we get there...
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO SAY TO CLIENTS: Let's wait and see.
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Image right: Ptor
WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME: La Grave
NUMBER OF YEARS AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 20
ALL TIME FAVOURITE PLACE TO SKI: La Grave. If you have ever skied there then you know why.
YOUR 2019 SKI TOURING SET-UP: Dynastar Mythic 97 carbon, Plum Guide, Kerma Cham, Patagonia Snowdrifter 30l, Julbo Cham Alti Arc 4 (best glacier lens ever) and Racer gloves Patrol Glove.
FAVOURITE / OLDEST ITEM OF SKI GEAR YOU WEAR: Ski Extreme La Grave edition Buff from Bruno Florit in La Grave.
MOST UNUSUAL / MEMORABLE PLACE YOU'VE SKIED: Passo de Stelvio in July and August. First time was in July to test skis with Glen and Kimberly Plake. Second time was with Ptor Spricenicks and we skied blower powder and did some nice objectives off the lifts and on the Ortler. Amazing to ski such incredible conditions in the summer with no one around. What makes the place so special is that it is only open in the summer and it can be quite good compared to what most people might think about summer skiing in the Alps.
BEST TECH PIECE OF KIT YOU OWN: My crevasse rescue kit. Super light, specially made equipment by a Canadian IFMGA mountain guide and rescue expert. The kit is not available to the public but is comprised of some military pieces made by rock exotica and a semi dynamic special rope made specifically to work with the devices that was designed by Sterling ropes.
WHAT SCARES YOU: Not being scared.
YOUR 'EXTREME' HERO: Too many to list, but at the top, Chad Vander Ham, Doug Coombs, and anyone who has taught or mentored me along my journey in the mountains. Also, those who skied today's steep skiing test pieces in the 70s in wool and straight skis.
MOST UNUSUAL ITEM IN YOUR KIT / BACKPACK: Rubiks Cube, and drum sticks
WHAT KEEPS YOU STOKED IN THE SUMMER: The ocean, surfing, and kite surfing. Road trips and van life.
BEST WAY TO SLOW YOUR HEART RATE: Breathe. Also a beer and a shot, it takes the edge off.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO SAY TO CLIENTS: Please ski slower.
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WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME: Snowdonia, North Wales
NUMBER OF YEARS AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 15. But this question always reminds me of a cool French guide I met when I was an aspirant. We were stood outside the Cabane Des Dix in the pre-dawn darkness and cold. Me shivering, him smoking his pipe. He looked ancient, so I asked him how long he had been guiding. He thought, he sucked on his pipe, and he finally said 'I have been guiding for twenty years'. Then he looked to the hills, sucked on his pipe again and added 'but I have been stood around waiting like this for another 15 years'.
ALL TIME FAVOURITE PLACE TO SKI: Aaarrgghhh - that is so tricky! I want to say something facetious like 'the next place on my bucket list' but is that too cheesy? If I had to choose a resort it would be Engelberg. It makes my palms sweat just thinking of a powder day there. If I can choose anywhere in the world, then I would be happy skiing above the fjords of arctic Norway for the rest of my life. Ideally away from the crowds of Lyngen, but skiing at the sea down a convex slope of powder is my idea of heaven!
YOUR 2019 SKI TOURING SET-UP: I'm skiing a pair of the new Scott SpeedGuide 95s (ironic since I am not so speedy). I have them mounted with the Salomon MTN pin binding - simply exquisite engineering! Scott SuperGuide Carbon boots. I use a pair of ancient Life-Link poles (see next question) for freeriding or a pair of Scott Cascade C 2-Part poles for lightweight uphill action. I carry a Blue Ice White Tiger 35 pack.
FAVOURITE / OLDEST ITEM OF SKI GEAR YOU WEAR: I have an amazing pair of Life-Link carbon poles that I have owned and used since 1996. I have tried to replace them. God knows I have bent, broken and lost a whole bunch of poles in tests (and attempts to replace them) over the years, but they are still going strong. I just wrap a new reel of squash racket grip round them every couple of seasons. It's got to the stage that if I ever break them, I may have to give up skiing.
MOST UNUSUAL / MEMORABLE PLACE YOU'VE SKIED: With Rob Collister, I guided the first ski ascent/descent of Kalanag: a 6000m peak in the Garwhal himalaya, India when I was an aspirant guide. It was a great trip with a great bunch of clients. I went there with low expectations for the quality of the skiing, but the reality was amazing. We had fresh tracks from the summit to the top camp; then it turned to spring snow as we packed up, for the remainder of the descent. Five days up, two and a half hours down, with fresh snow to cover all previous trace of our ascent. So whooping down a pristine Himalayan glacier with no one but us in the world, was truly amazing.
BEST TECH PIECE OF KIT YOU OWN: A begrudging answer, but it has to be my iPhone. I don't get excited by tech (except for beautifully designed or engineered mechanical tech) but these gizmos have changed our world. To have the navigational or route finding tech of FATMAP in the palm of your hand should never be taken for granted (and used wisely). I fear that technology inevitably erodes adventure, to some extent. So use carefully!
WHAT SCARES YOU: I was diagnosed with cancer at the start of 2018 and have spent the year fighting (with success I should add). So I have had plenty of time to think about this one in the past few months! A year ago I would have written 'complacency in avalanche terrain' or 'becoming so experienced I lost my objectivity to make good decisions' or 'skiing into a crevasse'. Now I know the answer for sure: the thing that scares me more than anything is not being fit enough to be in the mountains. To live (or lose) a life where I don't get to watch the sunrise over a high glacier; to feel the sun on my face; the wind in (what's left of) my hair; and the texture of the snow underfoot - losing that scares me more than anything.
YOUR 'EXTREME' HERO: Wow - another good question and hard to whittle it down. The most extreme has to be Alex Honnold by a long way, but not exactly relevant to this. Shane McConkey was my ski idol, so I was gutted when he was killed. he was one of the good guys and really supposed to make it through alive! For sheer vision (and charisma) I would love to ski with Bill Briggs as the daddy of steep skiing - and everyone should go skiing with Jon Falkiner (a Verbier Guide) at least once in their lives. I've been so lucky to ski with a host of people who I consider to be 'heroes' in their own right.
MOST UNUSUAL ITEM IN YOUR KIT / BACKPACK: Hmmm - anything too unusual has long since been ditched. I guess, in my world of test kit and freebies, it would surprise people to find a cheap crappy old pair of super light Decathlon mitts. I bought them years ago in XXXL to wear over everything else when the sh!t hits the fan. I've slept with them on my feet on the summit of the Walker Spur; I've thrown them over the gloves of chilly clients when their gloves weren't up to it. Super light, super simple, all you need!
WHAT KEEPS YOU STOKED IN THE SUMMER: I guide all year round and live in Snowdonia - the spiritual home of trad rock climbing. Watching the sun set into the Irish sea after a day climbing on the sea-cliffs of Gogarth is about as good as it gets.
BEST WAY TO SLOW YOUR HEART RATE: Hearing the words 'you are in remission'! More frequently, sitting somewhere calm and watching the sun-set.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO SAY TO CLIENTS: You're doing great - you've got this.
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WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME Mountain huts, tents, my car, Japan and Slovenia
NUMBER OF YEARS AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 19
ALL TIME FAVOURITE PLACE TO SKI:.Mt.Rishiri, the almost perfect round volcano mountain on the north of Hokkaido. Because it is so close or so far from everything, skiing down on 1500m non-stop slope straight to the ocean. And for this life time experience you don't need to travel to Antarctica, Alaska, etc.
YOUR 2019 SKI TOURING SET-UP: Zag, Plum, Kitzaki, Deuter.
FAVOURITE / OLDEST ITEM OF SKI GEAR YOU WEAR: Elan.
MOST UNUSUAL / MEMORABLE PLACE YOU'VE SKIED:Always Mt.Fuji - Japanese Northern Alps. If you're cold find a hot spring, take off your clothes, jump in, warm up, continue skiing or camping.
BEST TECH PIECE OF KIT YOU OWN: Avalanche string, 30m long, with every 3m small aluminium length markings (not on the market last 30 years?).
WHAT SCARES YOU: Macho clients.
YOUR 'EXTREME' HERO: Marko Prezelj
MOST UNUSUAL ITEM IN YOUR KIT / BACKPACK: Two strong PVC bags + tape (take off ski boot outer, wear PVC bag over inner boot, waterproof tape it at the knee, put outer boot on, cross the river)
WHAT KEEPS YOU STOKED IN THE SUMMER: Ever day sports climbing, (when not working on high mountains).
BEST WAY TO SLOW YOUR HEART RATE: Sleep.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO SAY TO CLIENTS: You/we can do it, this route was made and climbed by humans not somebody from outer space
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Image left: Mattias Fredriksson
WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME: Chamonix and Bidart, France.
NUMBER OF YEARS AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 30
ALL TIME FAVOURITE PLACE TO SKI: I have to say four places that I have to visit at least once a year: Japan, Kamchatka,Sweden and Chile
YOUR 2019 SKI TOURING SET-UP: G3 Sendr100/110 skis, bindings and skins. Dynafit Hoji or TLT7 skiboots, Kerma poles and Fjällräven bergtagen Backpack.
FAVOURITE / OLDEST ITEM OF SKI GEAR YOU WEAR: Fjällräven softshell in their G1000 fabric. Have used it every day guiding summer and winter for the last six years, must have worn for at least 1200 days now.
MOST UNUSUAL / MEMORABLE PLACE YOU'VE SKIED: NZ in 1993, we had a high pressure for four days and decided to fly into a mountain we had spotted on the horizon. The peak Mt Soho has skiing 360 degrees. we landed on the summit and pitched our tent. Spent four days exploring the skiing and returned every night to our camp on the top. Last day we hiked out to civilization.
BEST TECH PIECE OF KIT YOU OWN: Iphone.
WHAT SCARES YOU: That my knees won't last.
YOUR 'EXTREME' HERO: John Eaves ex-free styler and stunt skier for James Bond.
WHAT KEEPS YOU STOKED IN THE SUMMER: Surfing, biking and skateboarding
BEST WAY TO SLOW YOUR HEART RATE: Stay fit all the time. Enjoy your wine.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO SAY TO CLIENTS: Stay open-minded and the more you ski the more great situations you will have.
Image: Mattias Fredriksson
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WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME: Chamonix
NUMBER OF YEARS AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 19
ALL TIME FAVOURITE PLACE TO SKI: Antarctica. To me Antarctica is one of the last remaining wild places on the planet. It has incredible ski touring right to the sea, unique wildlife, history, and endless exploration.
YOUR 2019 SKI TOURING SET-UP: I have a variety of ski touring setups that I use depending on the conditions but the majority of the time I find myself touring with BD Helio 105 and G3 Ion bindings. My pack is a TNF Snowmad 34
FAVOURITE / OLDEST ITEM OF SKI GEAR YOU WEAR: My favourite item of clothing is a TNF L2 Proprius Grid Fleece.
MOST UNUSUAL / MEMORABLE PLACE YOU'VE SKIED: I could list hundreds of memorable places or things i have skied. Skiing off the summit of Cho Oyu with a sea of Himalayan peaks below. Or carving corn snow down a huge face in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco with the desert landscape beyond contrasting the snow capped peaks. But to me the most unusual and memorable place I've skied is Antarctica because of the ability to ski to the sea and then having the wildlife that can only be found in this one place. Penguins, seals and whales, the ice bergs floating around. Its a landscape that is like no other surrounded with a rich history and full of exploration.
BEST TECH PIECE OF KIT YOU OWN: Scarpa Alien RS boots! For ski touring these boots are incredible. They weigh nothing have incredible mobility and when locked down can ski a surprising amount of terrain.
WHAT SCARES YOU: I'm most scared by clients that don't listen especially when ski guiding. As a guide when are skiing we have to rely on our ability to communicate what we want people to do. Go here, stop there, don't go over that ridge, etc. It's different than guiding in the alpine when we have the rope and are mostly attached to the guests. There are three rules I try to remember when guiding. 1) The clients are always trying to kill the other clients. 2) The clients are always trying to kill themselves. 3) The clients are always trying to kill me. So as long as the clients listen and we don't break any of the three rules then things should work out fine :)
YOUR 'EXTREME' HERO: When i was in my 20's and searching the globe for the most beautiful mountains to ski it was the early pioneers like Sylvain Sudan, Hans Kammerlander, Bill Briggs and Andrew Mclean that were feeding my dreams. My first real hero was Alex Lowe. He was the guy that took me into the fold and truly showed me how a life in the mountains was possible, how to make a career out of following my passions in the alpine.
MOST UNUSUAL ITEM IN YOUR KIT / BACKPACK: A repair kit. Everyone breaks something but I'm always amazed at the number of people that don't have anything to fix what has broken.
WHAT KEEPS YOU STOKED IN THE SUMMER: Moving through the alpine terrain and seeing the change the mountains go through as each season transfers to another.
BEST WAY TO SLOW YOUR HEART RATE: Learn to breath correctly, maintain good form and find your rhythm.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO SAY TO CLIENTS: Nose over your toes or in the summer I find myself saying,'stand on your feet!'.