Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

A is for Angle

~ Sunday 17th December 2017

A is for Angle, which most people agree is the single most important factor in identifying Avalanche terrain. But what Angle are we talking about? "Steep"! But not Jérémy Heitz "steep", not "Steep" the classic ski film, not the notorious "steep bit" off the 4-man chairlift - this is a particular "steep", defined in EAWS terminology as terrain over 30 degrees. De La Sole were wrong, 30 is the magic number (or maybe they were talking about something else?)

Simply put, most avalanches occur on terrain over about 30 degrees, so it makes sense to learn how to identify this Angle so we can do something about it. As well as some compasses, there are several gadgets on the market which accurately measure slope angle, and there's also an App for that - download a free inclinometer for your smartphone. However, I don't like gadgets and prefer to use stuff I always have with me when skiing - like ski sticks.

The technically-minded favour the right-angle triangle system, and use bits of tape on their ski sticks to measure slopes. With 1 vertical stick and one horizontal you can measure angles as long as you remembered your "O" level SOHCAHTOA and stuck the tape in the right place. It works with telescopic sticks too, as long as they're both the same length - you only put tape on the handle section or they won't telescope...

Now I started studying BSc Engineering but ended up with a French BA, so I prefer the simpler Equilateral Triangle system. You need 2 sticks the same length, and no tape - so it also works with borrowed or hired sticks.

Make a print directly in the fall line...this is one side of the triangle.

Plant one stick vertically in the bottom end of the print - hold the stick loosely by the handle and let it hang vertically, then plant it in the snow

Keep that stick vertical, put the other stick in the top end of the print and see if it joins the other. If it does, it's a 30 degree slope!

If it doesn't reach, it's less than 30. If it overlaps, it's more than 30.

Now, don't try this in committing terrain! Practise on small, safe slopes to get the hang of it and then train yourself to spot 30 degree slopes before you commit to them. Stop. Think. You are entering Avalanche Terrain. Is it safe? There's more to it than just Angle, but this is a crucial first step...

B is for...?

2018 Summer Dates Guaranteed

~ Sunday 19th November 2017

We Guarantee to run all Summer Alpine Trips on the advertised dates - there is no minimum number of participants on Frost Guiding's Alpine Summer Trips and Courses.

We have promised this to our existing clients for some years but have now updated our terms and conditions to reflect this promise to all. One you have paid your deposit you can make your travel plans, safe in the knowledge that your guided trip will happen, regardless of how many others book for your dates.

Another reason to choose Frost Guiding for your 2018 Summer Holiday!

And of course, we still give 1% of all our sales to Environmental Charities as a member of One Percent For The Planet.

Looking forward to Winter

~ Thursday 16th November 2017

There's snow in the Alps! Yes, it's that time of year again with a new ski season just around the corner, excitement and anticipation building...and nervous skiers wondering if this year will be the "big one". Too early to say, but at least the hills are white - it's good when the first snow comes before the first Christmas advert on the telly! It's been cold too, and lots of resorts are already well prepared and making artificial snow ready to open this weekend - parts of Verbier opened last weekend.

Looking ahead, it's probably time to service some skis, get your transceiver checked and updated (or at least put some new batteries in it!) but it's also good idea to keep track of the developing snow-pack. People are already skiing, but the snow we can see now becomes the base for the winter - the question is, will it be a good base?

There was some snow way back in October - here's a picture of the Col du Tsan in Grimentz.

This is a great, easy-access descent from the lifts in Grimentz but it ticks all the avalanche boxes - steep, shady, prone to wind-loading and (relatively) rarely skied, especially early season. Is that this year's weak base we can see? After the October snow came several weeks of clear skies and cold nights...shady aspects have been cold for weeks now.

Same day, different aspect, T-shirt and trainers in the sun - it's easy to forget that "avalanche conditions" might be developing higher up the same hill.

Last weekend saw some big snowfalls in the Alps - and the usual frenzy of early-season first turns. The big risk at this time of year is hitting rocks, but there's some nice skiing on mid-altitude meadows with rock-free grass base (!) The snow came with a lot of wind though, Westerly at first then several days of Northerly (bise in French)

Here's the Pigne this morning (16 November) with the North face completely blown dry. A lot of snow disappeared from this face this week. Looking closely the foreground ridge-lines (accessible from the Arolla lifts) are also blown bare.

Here are a couple of poor phone pics from this morning:

Above La Forclaz, clear signs of wind.

Palanche de la Crettaz, with the North aspects blown dry.

The excellent SLF avalanche bulletin has started up for the winter, with a new website translated in to English, and is well worth following. Here's the snowpack page:

https://www.slf.ch/en/avalanche-bulletin-and-snow-situation.html#snowpack

And the Bulletin

https://www.slf.ch/en/avalanche-bulletin-and-snow-situation.html

Fingers crossed this is the start of a bumper ski season - and a safe one!

Dufourspitze traverse

~ Saturday 9th September 2017

The Margherita hut is the highest building in Europe at 4550m - yet still manages to provide free Wifi, phone charging, real coffee, a friendly welcome and the best hut meal of the summer (and free after-dinner Genépi!) From the hut the summit of Dufourspitze seems tantalisingly close, but the 4563m Zumsteinspitze bars the way, and the spectacular AD ridge joining the 2 peaks is narrow and delicate (even compared to the previous day on Liskamm!)

From the summit we back-tracked over the Dunantspitze and made a tricky descent to the Silbersattel. There used to be fixed ropes here but they were destroyed by rockfall and the descent now involves some careful down-climbing. We'd hoped to climb Nordend, but the wind had blasted the joining ridge leaving a terrifying traverse on steep bare ice, so we had second thoughts and trekked out down the Monte Rosa glacier pondering the ethics of the 2 other teams...who'd booked a heli pick-up from the Satteltole at 4100m!

Liskamm Traverse

~ Saturday 9th September 2017

Liskamm is the 8th highest peak in the Alps but it's enormous bulk makes it feel even bigger - it seems to dwarf even its' neighbour Dufourspitze when seen from the Monte Rosa hut. Traversing the ridge over the 2 summits from Felikjoch to Lisjoch gives about 4.5km of fully concentrated balancing on very narrow ridges! We started from the Ayas hut and traversed Castor in the early morning, adding another 1km of tightrope-walking to a very fine day...

Matterhorn Traverse

~ Wednesday 30th August 2017

The Matterhorn, the world's most famous mountain! Sitting right on the Swiss/Italian border it has 3 names and different characters to match. On Monday we travelled through the lift system from Zermatt to see what the Italian side was like...

Escaping Zermatt needs some wallet-bashing (CHF2.- to use the loo at Klein Matterhorn!) A quick walk gets you down to Italy and a complete change of style - the lift is cheap and happy, free for guides but there's no guide ticket - you have to jump the barrier. The pleasant walk across to the Abruzzi L'Oriondé hut has fine views of Il Cervino - and it looks like a different mountain from this side!

The hut deserves a mention - half the price of the Hornli hut with excellent food, great rooms with en suite bathrooms, real coffee and all served with smiles. It was a shame to have to leave at 3.30am!

But leave we did, for the long climb to Carrel. Easy as far as the Col du Lion, the section below Carrel has some good climbing and an eye-opening fixed rope. Steeper than anything on the Hornli and a shock at 5.30am!

A quick break at the now-deserted Carrel hut re-fueled legs (and arms) for the rest of the climb.

A long section of fixed rope leads to a traverse out right, a fixed cable, then a fixed chain to re-gain the ridge. Then, there's some rock climbing. The Carrel teams left just before dawn so we were behind them and had the route to ourselves for a while, catching a few confused-looking teams at the chain. A bit of un-British overtaking left us on our own again - a welcome change to the Hornli crowds.

From Pic Tyndall there's a horizontal section with a couple of short descents before the final summit tower, which is climbed mostly on fixed ropes and the infamous ladder!

From the summit the day is far from over - it's a mere 1200m of careful down-climbing to a well-earned "Matterhorn" Rosti at Hornlihutte...

Brilliant day, something I've wanted to do for a long time! It's very special when conditions, weather and a fit, motivated client all turn up at the same time! Thanks Jack.

Matterhorn

~ Tuesday 22nd August 2017

Matterhorn yesterday. The Hornli ridge was still quite snowy, and (again!) the forecast was way off meaning we had strong winds and freezing temperatures to contend with, but we made it to the top for a shivery Frostguiding summit selfie!

It's a great feeling to climb peaks like this and a privilege to be part of realising people's lifetime ambitions.

Summer Alpine Action

~ Tuesday 22nd August 2017

It's been a busy week at Frostguiding with a lot of climbing, so here's a suitably long blog...

After the big snowfalls 2 weeks ago the week started with a forecast of more bad weather to come - not a good sign. Happily the forecast was completely wrong! Conditions quickly turned good on a lot of routes and teams climbed Weissmies North Ridge, Lagginhorn South Ridge, Dent du Géant, Alphubel Rotgrat, Dent Blanche, Grand Combin, Tsalion West ridge, and a lot more.

We started on Allalinhorn with the traverse over the Feechopf for extra interest.

As the new forecast offered some hope we made the long climb to the Dent Blanche hut, and found perfect conditions. Phew!

By now the weather had settled, so after a "rest" day rock climbing, we made another long hut approach to Valsorey, ready for the Grand Combin.

Matterhorn Success!

~ Thursday 3rd August 2017

Success for Dave and Steve, and Dave and Steve today on the Matterhorn! That's three Frost Guiding teams to climb the Matterhorn since last weekend - and it's only Thursday! Hopefully the storms hold off tomorrow and everyone else gets their big Alpine summit for the end of the week.

matterhorn mountain guide

Weather Woes!

~ Saturday 29th July 2017

After getting used to the spring heatwave it was a shock last week to be shivering in clouds and fresh snow - the last week of July was the coldest week of the summer (so far) Snow, wind and spectacular rime ice brought tough conditions to the high mountains, challenging mountaineers and confusing the weather forecasters too!

Monte Rosa Dufourspitze

~ Wednesday 19th July 2017

Dufourspitze is the second highest peak in the Alps, the highest point in the Monte Rosa massif and most importantly for the 48 Peaks Later team, the highest land in Switzerland!

The fine summit sits a loooonng way above the Monte Rosa hut - an 1845m ascent finishing with some excellent and very exposed climbing on the final ridge.

Mont Blanc Week #3

~ Saturday 15th July 2017

The third Frostguiding Mont Blanc week started on a negative note - with poor conditions persisting in the Gouter couloir, it was clearly going to be third time unlucky on Mont Blanc. Of course there is always the "3 Monts" route, but this week marks the 5th anniversary of the death of Roger Payne and 8 other mountaineers on Mont Maudit - a sobering reminder of the dangers of that route.

Instead we chose to go to the Nadelhorn after "warming up" on a snowy Mont Blanc de Cheilon (at least we climbed 1 Mont Blanc!) This turned out to be a fine plan B, and with a via ferrata day yesterday made for a great week.

Mont Blanc Week

~ Saturday 1st July 2017

Mixed weather and continuing poor conditions on Mont Blanc meant another "failed" Mont Blanc week....but that doesn't tell the whole story...

Every week starts with 3 aims...

1: Be Safe!

2: Have fun.

3: Climb the mountain.

...in that order!

By Friday we were still friends and had climbed 3 mountains (although not the big one) and were making plans for the next trip, so despite "failure" we'd had a great week, learned lots, had fun and above all stayed safe. The Big One will still be there next year.

Alpine Summer Season

~ Wednesday 14th June 2017

Skis are packed away and the summer season is underway in Arolla. After a dry winter conditions are already pretty good in the mountains - rock ridges mostly clear of snow, and hut approach paths dry. The huts aren't open yet so we used the winter rooms, meeting only 5 people in 3 days, and seeing no-one on the routes. Hopefully David is well prepared for his upcoming Himalayan trip with Moran Mountaineering!

2017 Ski Season Highlights

~ Sunday 7th May 2017

Well it perhaps wasn't the easiest of seasons, but there was still plenty of good skiing. Lots of new places, fun people and plenty of good memories - thanks to everyone who helped make 2017 such a fun winter!

Haute Route Chamonix-Zermatt

~ Thursday 27th April 2017

The Chamonix to Zermatt "Haute Route" is arguably the most famous ski-tour in the world. Nope - it is the most famous, no argument! 2 weeks ago we had perfect weather and a memorable tour, tough at times but great fun as well. Classic touring!

Val d'Hérens Day Tours

~ Saturday 25th March 2017

A challenging week in the Val d'Hérens as the "unusual" winter continues. Sun, wind, cloud, fresh snow, we've had a bit of everything this week, but still some good skiing!

Grimentz and Zinal Ski Touring

~ Saturday 18th March 2017

Back in Grimentz again last week with the Eagle Ski Club for a mix of touring and instruction - the ever-popular Grimentz Off-Piste week. Baking temperatures had quickly melted the metre of fresh snow from the previous week but the superb lift system and a little bit of touring still gave us some excellent skiing on spring snow and shady cold powder, fresh tracks every day and big improvements in everyone's skiing.

Haute Route Success!

~ Friday 24th February 2017

The title says it all really - a tired, smelly, footsore but happy team skied into Zermatt yesterday after a tough but successful Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route with the Eagle Ski Club.

I first did the Haute Route in February 1993 with Mike Clark. Staying in the winter rooms we saw no-one for 5 days, ran out of food, got lost and snow-bound for a day but finally reached Zermatt - a great adventure! An article by Rob Collister in the Eagle's yearbook about finding more "sustainable" adventure nearer to home gave me the idea of running an annual attempt. There's no shortage of ski adventure to be found in far-flung places but could the world's best-known (and busiest!) ski-tour out of season provide similar challenge without travelling half-way around the world? The answer seems to be yes - previous efforts varying from non-starters in bad weather to very near success, but each trip provided plenty of challenge and seclusion in the high mountains.

Day 1: We left the Grands Montets lift for the long climb to the Col du Passon, then turned right for the Col du Tour, leaving the Chamonix crowds behind.

Day 2: A complicated day, skiing, climbing , skiing, taxi, lifts, then finally leaving the Verbier pistes for the peace and quiet of the Rosablanche. Good powder made for a good ski down to Prafleuri and a "luxury " night with electric lights!

Day 3: Mixed weather for the climb to the Dix hut. This is usually the "easy" day, but trail-breaking and surprisingly delicate avalanche conditions (Cat 2 but "whoomphing"!) made it quite challenging.

Day 4: Perfect weather for the Pigne traverse, if a little windy! The dry winter has left the Serpentine bare, and we climbed in crampons before skinning to the wind-scoured summit.

After a bumpy ride from the summit on wind-blown waves we at last found where the snow had gone - the lower slopes were great skiing!

Keen to make the most of good weather we skipped the Vignettes and climbed over the Col de l'Éveque in the afternoon - a long way but gaining 2 valuable hours for the final day.

Day 5: Grand finale, and perfect weather! Up the Col du Mont Brulé, down, then the long slog to the Col de Valpelline. It's all downhill from there...2000m down, with fantastic views and some really good skiing. The Stockji glacier is very open (no surprise) but the snow lasts all the way to Zermatt where the inevitable culture shock awaits after 5 days in the mountains!

Matterhorn col du valpelline

Matterhorn ski haute route

Val d'Herens Ski Tours

~ Friday 17th February 2017

Despite the very tricky conditions in the Alps at the moment we've just had a brilliant week - mostly fresh tracks, mostly deserted, all of it good fun - exactly what ski touring should be. Full credit to the Norwegian team who, with 110mm underfoot, could deal with anything downhill - but also managed back-to-back 1000m+ days and a solid 1600m up the Pigne in a day yesterday. I will sleep well tonight!

With more warm weather and an altitude record to beat, we made the long climb up the Pigne d'Arolla. Spectacular views, no-one in sight, and surprisingly ski-able despite the wind-scouring!

Frost Guiding Guarantee. A little bit of certainty in an uncertain world!

~ Sunday 5th February 2017

Frost Guiding Guarantee:

  • Price Guarantee: There will be no last minute surcharges (whatever the exchange rate)!
  • Booking Guarantee: If we accept your booking, we will run your course (even when courses are not full)
  • Environmental Guarantee: 1% of Everything You Spend with Frost Guiding will be donated to Environmental Causes as a Member of 1% For The Planet

The first 2 points are possible because Frostguiding is "run by accountants". Or "an accountant" and a mountain guide to be precise. The accountant also grows the salad you eat at the chalet, answers e-mails, does the chalet shopping and changes the beds, but still finds time to do very careful forecasts, planning and pricing for the season ahead (plus some time to run, ski and climb) This means the advertised prices are guaranteed - there won't be last-minute surcharges - and your course will run even if we can't fill it.

Point 3 is more to do with the guiding side of things. Most guides (and our customers!) love quiet, un-spoilt mountains - yet we also try to make a living from those mountains. This means we drive and fly miles to ski and climb, we encourage our clients to take regular short-haul flights, we expect fresh food in huts and efficient rescue - which means regular helicopter flying, we use ski lifts and ski artificial snow...the list of environmental compromises and "catch 22s" is huge. Obviously this is a vast and complex issue but hopefully by giving back something, and by looking at the way we operate our business, we become part of the solution rather than just part of the problem.

Arolla Ski Touring Conditions

~ Wednesday 1st February 2017

After a very slow start to the ski season things are finally starting to look better in central Switzerland. Being honest, snow cover is still thin and we really need more...a lot more! But with recent snow we at last had a good day skiing fresh tracks, and hit no rocks. Happy skiers and happy skis! More snow forecast for the weekend too.

Arolla Ski Touring Conditions

~ Tuesday 17th January 2017

A perfect morning in Arolla today, if a little chilly at -18! Still plenty of thinly covered rocks around, but careful route choice (and careful skiing) can find some very nice snow.

Off Piste Skiing in Grimentz and Zinal

~ Friday 13th January 2017

Despite the lack of snow there was still plenty of good skiing last week in Grimentz with the Eagle Ski Club. It started off very thin but the longed-for snowfall arrived and the week ended over knee-deep today in the trees!

Frost Guiding Joins 1% For The Planet

~ Wednesday 11th January 2017

We are delighted to announce that Frost Guiding has become a member of One Percent For The Planet. This means that we commit to giving 1% of our annual sales revenue to environmental causes for the good of the planet.

We will focus our donations and efforts on climate change and pollution while also promoting responsible mountaineering practices on our Alpine Mountaineering and Ski Touring trips. This includes more thorough recycling of waste from our residential courses and a focused effort to clean up litter from the mountains where we and our guests ski and climb.

With the global political environment changing rapidly, we can all do a little bit more to make a difference to the things that really matter. This is our small way of contributing to making the planet a better place for everyone to live.

Thanks to all our clients for making this possible and helping us to support this good cause!

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