ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS: WINTER MILES ON SKIS
by Scott Cornish
by Scott Cornish
Our team of writers are multisport athletes, and so we thought that we’d tell you what we’ve been doing over winter. Scott lives in beautiful Chamonix, where the snow means that he skis more that cycling during winter.
Living in a mountain town, winters are cold with much of the precipitation falling as snow. Not always however, even mid winter, falling as rain thanks to climate change! Obviously, for winter sports athletes, snow to them is what singletrack is to mtbers. Some off-season cross training is always recommended and one of those activities here in Chamonix is of course ski touring (or split boarding), world renowned for its backcountry skiing and steep terrain. Having not skied for over 20 years, it’s taken some practice on the mellow slopes compared to what’s on offer, trying to master the technique once more.
During these unprecedented times, the lifts across all of France’s ski stations have remained closed for the entirety of this winter season, meaning that pistes haven’t been groomed making the whole mountain range effectively backcountry. I am a ski tourer anyway, so having no lift system simply meant more height gain under leg power as opposed to lift assisted access to higher backcountry terrain. We didn’t always have to go far this season however to access backcountry skiing, the normally local pistes from the valley floor remained ungroomed and wild. Fresh tracks were to be had following snowfall if you were prepared to get up and out early enough. Which was always worth the effort.
As you learn very quickly living in this environment, snow isn’t simply snow, its consistency weather dependent. Much like bikes, you need to choose the ski relative to the type of snow and terrain you prefer to ski, the n+1 rule applying just as much to skis as it does to cyclists! For skinning up the mountain, you want a light weight ski (just as with a bike for climbing), but super light means reduced handling characteristics for descending, requiring strong skills to negotiate the terrain back down, especially if the snow conditions are challenging. A wider, heavier ski takes more effort to gain altitude, but those well earnt turns back down flow better.
Having the opportunity to get a feel for different width and size skis is ideal when in the market for a pair. Test days are an ideal way to do that and Black Crows Skis, a brand synonymous with the Chamonix valley, offer just that throughout the winter season from the base of Le Tour at the far end of the valley. With 2 sessions available, a morning and an afternoon, I joined for a morning session, to try out their Camox Freebird model. 96mm wide seem to be the sweet spot for owning a single pair of skis.
The morning brought clear blue skies and sub zero temperatures in the shadow of the mountains, the snow solid from melting during the day and freezing overnight. We were a small group, our guide, Aurélian Collet, a local skier and 2 Americans, Brendan and Jackson, visiting from Switzerland. With the bullet proof snow, we stayed on the traditional skin track, a challenging climb on the steeper sections trying to maintain traction between skins and the icy snow. Which wasn’t always successful!
Once past the mid station of Charmillon, we came out of the shadows into the welcome warmth of the sunshine, accompanying us to our high point of the Col de Possettes. Time to test the skis’ descending prowess. With limited options off piste, our guide knew a way down through a couple of the small, shallow gullies, mostly unaffected by the thaw freeze cycle, the snow soft and nicely skiable. The return was safest via the piste from the mid station, the off piste still too frozen as the sun had yet had barely a chance to soften it. Choices that have to be constantly made when in the mountains.
The early start was a good decision given the amount of people now making their ascent or about to begin as we got back down. If/when the snow returns, it’ll be interesting to test out a and one of their 3 lighter skis, to see just how much more input is needed on the descent. Their range of skis are certainly distinctive out on the slopes, each model being issued its own distinctive colourway. The design and ski construction vary over the seasons, but the model colourway is a feature that remains a constant, keeping its association with that model.
Black Crows have local history as a company that was born out of the desire to create skis better designed for the freeski demands at the time and was founded in 2006 by 2 long time friends and professional skiers, Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet. A chance meeting with Christophe Villemin, an industrialist and avid ski mountaineer, sealed this desire to bring their concept to market. As with many great ideas, a plan was hatched over a few drinks and the design for their first big mountain freeski, the pink and black Corvus was born. A big ski to suit the big Chamonix terrain, but which handled easily. In keeping with their high mountain heritage, the Black Crows name alludes to the Mountain Chough, black birds that you often see accompanying you high in the mountains (seeking out the opportunity for a quick snack!) with their ability to fly up to 4000m.
Due to the covid situation, the resort lift system has remained closed for the entire season, odd times with the lack of crowds and every skier having to earn their turns by skinning up. With pistes having remained unpisted, it’s been an ideal opportunity to test ski touring gear from the valley floor. For more information on testing Black Crows skis, check for posts on their website or Facebook page.