It is a big thing in Europe. Rubbing embrocation on your legs, wearing a skimpy lycra suit and climbing up your local mountain to ski back down on gear so flimsy that you wouldn’t let your kids learn on it. It is the antithesis of freeride and now even snowboarders are getting in on the scene.
The concept. You race over mountain terrain using ski touring gear – either lightweight skis or snowboards and snowshoes. Checkpoints are established at key locations and you might even get a mug of tea and a piece of cake. It is not just brute uphill speed that separates the winners from also rans. In general the uphill is not that technical but you will need to make conversion turns on the fly. Efficiency is the key, competitors can fix and remove climbing skins and ski crampons without removing their skis.
Equipment is super lightweight. Trick Dynafit bindings (weighing just 700 grammes) are heavily modified to save a few more grammes. Dynafit has launched a featherweight Titanium version of their binding this year to respond to this specialized market. Boots and skis weigh in at the 2kg mark whereas a typical touring ski is more like 2.8kg (pair) and boots 3.5kg. Over 1500 meters of climbing you might make 9000 steps, saving the equivalent of lifting 25 tonnes! The flipside is limited downhill performance. Although events are usually staged close to ski resorts for logistical reasons most of the course will be off piste and the flimsy equipment might have to cope with windpack, crust, crud and powder. A 1500 meter course will be covered in less than two hours with climbing speeds in excess of 1000 meters per hour. Something to aspire to on your next tour.
Apart from the obvious competitors will carry the usual avalanche safety gear of beacon, shovel and probe although organizers will do their utmost to ensure the course is safe. Helmets and sometimes crampons are required. Competitors may also need to present a medical certificate stating that they are fit for ski mountaineering (if your doctor doesn’t understand tell him it is like competition mountain biking at altitude) and carry insurance or belong to a ski mountaineering club.
If you fancy giving it a go here are some dates for France for 2006:
5th January: Nocturne de l’Aigle
The first edition of night event organized as a relay race in teams of two by Lans en Vercors and the Dauphiné Ski Alpinisme club. The team doing the maximum vertical in less than an hour wins. Spectators are welcome to come and discover another side to skiing.
Nocturne de l’Aigle
15th January: 3rd Signal d’Auris
Organized by the Auris-en-Oisans tourist office this event welcomes both skiers, telemarkers and snowboarders. The course is 10km with over 1450 meters of vertical and gives competitors the chance to discover the couloirs de l’Homme, the Chapelle bowl and the Grandes Buffes. Last year the winner took just 1h21 to complete the course.
Aurise en Oisans Tourist Office
5th February: 3rd Tour du Grand Veymont
The first stage of the G3M (Grenoble 3 Massifs) Cup The Tour du Grand Veymont starts in the ski resort of Gresse-en-Vercors, part of the largest nature reserve in France. Snowboards are welcome but competitors should take a close look at the equipment required. A day insurance cover is available for 6.25€. The event is over 9.6km with around 1100 meters of vertical.
Tour du Grand Veymont
19th February: 2nd Rallye des Crêtes
PisteHors.com editor David George took part in the first edition of the Rallye des Crêtes and came in 15th in a field of just over 30. Not a bad achievement for a veteran flatlander. The event is organised in conjunction with the Tourist Office of theski resort of Alpe du Grand Serre and the French Alpine Club of nearby la Mure. The course is some 14m over 1400 vertical meters. Last year’s winner took just 2 hours 16 minutes with David finishing over an hour later.
Alpe du Grande Serre Tourist Office
5th March: 4th Croix de Chamechaude
This hill is just 25 minutes from the PisteHors.com offices and a firm favourite with ski mountaineers in the Grenoble area who use it as a training run after work.
Open to both skiers and snowboarders. You can enter on the day. The course is 1200 meters of vertical on a secured route on the Chamechaude mountain, at 2082 meters the highest point of the Chartreuse range. The event forms the second leg of the Trophée G3M. Crampons are required. There is 1500€ prize for anyone completing the course in under 1 hour!
4ème Croix de Chamechaude
9th-12th March: The Pierra Menta
This is the biggie of French ski mountaineering competitions. Last year a competitor told us you should have at least 50,000 vertical meters in your legs before attempting the course. The event covers 10,000 meters vertical over four days in the Beaufortain mountains of the French Savoie. Competitors come from around the world to take part.
30th April - 1st May : La Gaspard’in
Follows a course from la Berade over the Meije mountain. There are three routes: a 20km team ski event with 2580 meters of climbing. A team or individual ski event with 1630m of climbing over 16km and a individual snowboard event with 1610m of climbing. For the snowboard event all climbing must be done on snowshoes.