It’s easy to get the impression that for some the BASI Mountain Safety modules are a tick box exercise as people go through the system. Do the Level 3 training with the minimum amount of preparation and do the minimum number of tours to complete the Level 4 assessment. Once you’ve passed you can get back to focusing on the ‘real stuff’. Touring is an incredible experience though and can be so much more than this. Last April along with a group of friends I did the Haute Route.
The Haute Route crosses various alpine cols between Chamonix and Zermatt and takes 6 days. It’s well travelled in the Spring but represents some challenging route finding and avalanche safety assessment. It also needs some prior organisation in terms of booking huts unless you have a guide to sort it out for you. The majority of people do it with qualified guides but it’s within the compass of an experienced mountain tourer.
Our group of 6 encompassed a 40 year age range and a variety of experience. All but one of us had either passed or are in the process of doing the EMS. We chose to go with a guide (Helmuth, second from the left) who is a long term friend from Nendaz. To prepare for it we had all done various amounts of training during the season to prepare ourselves for average 6 hour days with between 800-1,000 meters of ascent. The Haute Route is about the journey rather than the skiing. It’s around 70% skinning to 30% skiing.
You take your chance with the weather and adjust to it as you go along. If you’re lucky you may get hundreds of meters of untracked powder – but that might also entail days of storms. We had 6 days of almost unbroken sunshine which brought it’s own problems for afternoon avalanche risks. Our strategy was to leave as early as possible each day, generally around or as near to six o’clock as possible and be finished by lunchtime. The high day time temperature resulted in overnight freeze so nearly all of our skiing was on rock solid crud. Not nice. But it’s about the journey!
The mountain huts provide basic accommodation and in most of them there’s no running water but they are all well fitted out to cater for the needs of their guests.
Given the remoteness of their location they do an amazing job of feeding the 50 or so people who turn up for rest and recuperation each day and provide ample food at lunchtime and in the evening.
The sleeping accommodation is on dormitory bunkbeds so it’s good to be with friends.
And in truth that’s what touring is all about. It’s a fundamentally different experience to a week of in resort skiing. For those people doing the EMS it’s a great opportunity to get some experience of planning each day’s tour but that’s not the reason we did it. The experience of being out in the mountains for a week is a reminder that in resort boundaries represent only a very small part of the available terrain and a reminder of how much we miss out by staying in resort. The scenery is truly magnificent and you’ll only ever experience it if you make the effort to get out and see it.
We had great days out in the mountains doing stuff we would never have done back home
And as I said it’s more about the going up than the coming down. But although standing on you outside ski is down the list of necessary skills a good kick turn is an essential.
Or have a good friend like Alessandro!
So whoever you are – aspiring BASI level 3 or 4, or someone who can just manage to squeeze in a couple of weeks skiing during the course of the season, go and give touring more of a chance. It’s really seeing the mountains in the raw and you might even be called on to give some help to some folks in trouble.
Written by Chris Vaughan.