21 August 2014
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Mountain Girl blog: Crossing over…

January 12, 2012
More hostile conditions

With all the Christmas shenanigans and festive goings on, the last month or so has been a little bit frustrating for this mountain girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bit of stuffing (ahem), am more than partial to the odd Quality Street, will go some on the Brussel Sprouts and even more so on the sloe gin and Xmas vino… but all of this caper has been a distraction from the mountains at a time when a massive amount of snow has been falling in the Alps. Thankfully now, the decorations are packed away, the family have dispersed, the milk thistle has been purchased, and we can get down to business – snow business.

Snow - loads of it

It has been well documented that the last month or so have seen record snowfall in the Alps and this is one of the few cases where it is absolutely right to believe the mainstream media hype. If you’re looking at your post Christmas belly and feeling a little lardy, don’t. This snowfall is obese, not you.

The falling flakes have been relentless and as a result there have been very few of those gorgeous bluebird days which all skiers dream of. Snow is great but when it’s falling it generally means low cloud, poor visibility, and pretty cold temperatures. If the storm is significant it can also mean strong winds up high. All of this makes for great powder (and significant avalanche risk) but not necessarily the best conditions for the intermediate skier.

When you are on two planks hurtling down a 30 degree slope at speed, not being able to see is annoying at best and damn right crippling at worst. You might have the best goggles in the business, the fattest skis around, and the lightest shell layer on the market but no amount of trendy, expensive kit is going to buy you passage through this one. Poor visibility and variable snow are the two key indicators that separate that the proficient from the advanced. Nothing more, nothing less.

Over recent years I have found myself enormously frustrated when the cloud came down and the snow was not even and constant. Suddenly I would find my brain go to mush, my skiing go completely to pot and the whole experience suddenly become a merde-fight. In the past, conditions like these have either seen me head to the trees (where visibility is improved as you have a point of reference) or more often than not, directly to the nearest bar. I’ve felt this way for a while but no longer. Something has changed now and it did so in the Portes du Soleil last weekend.

Bluebird Days make heroes of us all!

Last Sunday I headed over to Morzine to meet up with my brother in law who was in town for a couple of days for work. When my alarm went off early curly and I looked out the window to see… well nothing except for my reflection in the thick fog, I thought twice about heading out on the hill.

On a normal day in my Alpine life I doubt I would have budged from the warm cocoon of my bed but I see my bro-in-law rarely and ski with him even less so I dug out the truck, threw my kit in and headed over the hill. Getting off the chairlift in Avoriaz was like stepping into an avalanche – we couldn’t see in front of us, couldn’t tell what was up or down and had no reference points other than the poles that mark the edge of the piste. And so thick was the cloud that we could only see one of these at a time.

As we stared into the white abyss I pointed out what I thought was a person that we could follow, only to find out that it was a shape in the ice wall on the side of the piste. Thankfully neither of us were going hell for leather towards it or we might have become snow angels!

More hostile conditions

Having said all of that, I had the best day on the mountain that I have had in several years. This was in large part due to the company but also because suddenly I realised that these difficult conditions didn’t bother me anymore.

I didn’t realise it at the time until my brother in law pointed it out later, but my downhill performance was unaffected by the adverse light and it didn’t phase me in the slightest. I was skiing by feel, reacting to what was under my feet, trusting my instinct and in his words this signified that I have ‘crossed over’ to another level.

God only knows what lies on this new side, this brave new world of still being able to ski reasonably proficiently in rubbish weather, but I’m hoping it indicates a smoother, more consistent, going with the snow flow ski experience. Now if I can only achieve the same in my day to day existence, then world domination is surely just around the corner :)

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About Sophie’s blog

The story of a girl who swapped the office and the 'real world' for a life of adventures in the world's high wild places. Mountain Girl is passionate about the vertical wilderness, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, hiking, road biking, rock climbing, and ice climbing. This is a story of challenges and fears faced with a smile, of dizzying highs and confidence crushing lows, a humbling exploration into a hostile environment, and one girl's quest to transform herself from 'follower' to 'leader' in the mountains.

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