Showing posts with label Ski Mountaineering. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ski Mountaineering. Show all posts

Friday, May 26, 2017

Guides for Glaciers

Climate change is making mountains more dangerous and threatening the prosperity of the guiding profession. This spring a historic mass of ice broke off from Colfax Peak, sweeping across the standard ascent route for Washington State's Mount Baker climb.
Photo: Kel Rossiter

Recently, Guides for Glaciers (G4G) was established, with a mission to address the issues of the changing mountain environment and its impacts on the guiding profession. G4G intends to mount an educational campaign to bring together common stakeholders in order to influence public policy and preserve the longevity and economic sustenance of the mountain guiding profession globally. The longevity of the entire guiding profession hinges on guides’ ability to advocate for climate change policy and preserve our mountain environments well into the future.

Friday, June 24, 2016

All time in the Tantalus Range

Photo: Vince Shuley
When things line up and become all time…

It was Tuesday night on March 22 at 8pm when the other partners cancelled. Anna Segal hesitated on our heli booking. I was at the Whistler Museum giving a presentation on 'Group Dynamics.' My text to Anna read, "I'm still in." Within ten minutes two women, Julie Cossette and Catherine Henry, were recruited from the audience and our group into the Tantalus Range was back on track.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Chamonix Flashback

Rising above the thick clouds of Chamonix Valley. Photo by Holly Walker
Holly Walker brings her BC bootpack style to Glacier Mort in Chamonix. 

Last January I had the opportunity to jump on a plane and cruise into Chamonix to meet up with fellow Mammut athlete Erin Smart. Weather was mixed and snow conditions were variable, so each day we looked at various options before leaving the breakfast table full of croissants with a side of café. One morning in particular, Erin had the opportunity to work with Smart Mountain Guides off of the Aiguille du Midi and ski the Vallée Blanche. So I contacted Whistler friends Kate Covello and Tyler Collins to see what ski adventure they had lined up for the day. The couple had moved to Chamonix for a season to ski everyday and avoid the rain that plagued Whistler.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Keeping the Learning Edges Sharp

Scenes from the San Juan Mountains, site of the AMGA Ski Guide Course.
Heading to Ouray without ice tools in my bag stung like sharp shards coming off a misplaced swing on a bulletproof day. The wealth of ice climbing opportunities that this area of Colorado's North San Juan Mountain Range offers is well-known. Less well known—and as I would soon discover—is that the ski mountaineering options offered in the North San Juans is on par with the ice. I was headed out to explore those options, by way of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Ski Guide Course (SGC). Having completed both the Alpine and Rock Guide certification programs a few years ago, I was interested in exploring the Ski Guide program with a eye toward International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) certification (you must complete all three tracks for IFMGA certification), but approached it with a keener focus on keeping my learning edges sharp.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pamir Expedition: Flow of the Fedchenko

Flow of the Fedchenko from Vince Shuley on Vimeo.

Team Flow (L to R: Zebulon Blais, Emelie Stenberg, Holly Walker,  Selena Cordeau 
and Vince Shuley) at 5,000 meters on the Fedchenko Glacier.
Day 8 of 29: May 7, 2014 (4,200 metres)

I sat leaning on the outside wall of the Gorbunov Meteorology Station sipping on a splash of génépi, celebrating with the team our coming arrival onto the Fedchenko Glacier, which now lay just 300 metres away. The warm sun beat on my face and I wiggled my toes on the dry rocks in front of me. Taking another sip of génépi - one of our two bottles of booze we had carried up here - I questioned the bottle's weight. At that point I also questioned how we had even gotten here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Smart Pack: Skiing off the Aiguille du Midi

The Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, France is one of the most famous lifts in the world. It holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, as it brings you up to 3842m (12,605ft). After passing through the famous ice tunnel, and making it down the arête, you can ski a variety of big mountain descents through heavily crevassed and unmarked terrain. Unless you are 100 percent confident in your glacier and ski mountaineering skills, it is wise to hire a local guide. When you ski down to Chamonix, it is a 2807m (9,200ft) descent. The access gives you the ability to explore high mountain terrain with incredible ease that is hard to replicate anywhere else in the world. However, the access needs to be respected because in Chamonix you can go from drinking an espresso to almost killing yourself in less than 5 minutes. Be sure you are prepared. Here is a look at what I carry with me down a ski run off the Aiguille du Midi.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mixed Bag: Alpine Climbing in the Tantalus Range

Ross Berg and client climb in the Tantalus Range. Photo by Ross Berg.
It was 10:37pm on a Thursday, August 21st and I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when I received a text from Bram. "Hey, rather last minute but a friend is flying a client to Tantalus on Saturday. One more spot in heli - $215." I responded, "YES" and scrambled to find someone to cover my weekend shifts at work. I couldn't say 'no' to the Tantalus Range…

Monday, December 1, 2014

Backyard Roots preview

A 3 part video series about ski mountaineering in the Greater Yellowstone.
Join Kt Miller and Beau Fredlund as they explore classic and new routes,
highlighting human powered-access and emphasizing avalanche awareness.

Big shout out to Mammut, Dynafit and Omnibar for the support.

Produced by Beau Fredlund & Kt Miller
Edited by Hennie van Jaarsveld.
With additional cinematography by Brody Leven.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A ski mountaineering adventure, Alaskan style!

Last month, three friends and I spent 10 days ski mountaineering in the Wrangell-St. Elias Range of Alaska. The main objective that inspired our trip was the south face of University Peak. Leading up to the trip, we heard that Alaska was having a very low snow year—perhaps one of the lowest in 20 years. Friends of ours were able to take a photo of the face we wanted to ski a few weeks before our departure, and some bluish grey ice was already showing. We were hopeful that maybe some wet storms would roll through before we got there, and plaster the peak. Unfortunately, as we flew past her incredible south face, University was clearly out this season—unless we wanted to switch from a skiing trip to an ice climbing trip!

Base camp on the Barnard Glacier. Photo: Krystle Wright

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beginning Again—Rediscovering My Ski Roots in the Alps

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
--T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Back on the boards--skiing down the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix.
Skiing set my first roots in the outdoor world. Middle-through-high school Saturdays I'd wake at an ungodly hour for the ski bus trek across Puget Sound to the Cascades. Later, as my ski buddies and I progressed, we'd sometimes tackle a bit of our “backyard backcountry” on the Olympic Peninsula's Hurricane Ridge. Notching things up for an overnight tour, we had a forced shiver-bivvy on the Mt. Tahoma Ski Trail when the hut we'd planned to stay at was either a lot longer away than we thought or we were lost. In the morning we followed our tracks back to the car, with our tails between our ski boots.

Friday, May 16, 2014

SheJumps Alpine Finishing School

Something that I have always regretted is not becoming a proficient climber. As a skier, I shrugged off learning rope skills and picked up mountain biking as the summer counterpart to my winter endeavors. When I was about 23 years old, I spent a winter in Courmayeur, Italy skiing on the Mont Blanc Massif and dabbled in crevasse rescue and basic glacier travel skills, but I was inexperienced and my nervousness made it hard for me to absorb the information that I was taught. When I lived in Colorado, I spent many days in the backcountry, but I never really found the need to apply any of those skills that I had learned that winter in Europe.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Elk Mountain Grand Re-verse 2014

Racers lined up for the midnight start at Mt. Crested Butte
Photo ©Doug Shepherd
Sometimes, circumstances in the mountains are beyond your control.  Injuries, weather, and sickness are just a few things that can derail months of preparation.  When it's obvious a climb, a race, or a trip isn't going to go your way, what do you do?  Burn out and give up?  Enjoy the experience for what it is?  All of these issues become even more complicated when you are working with a partner, who is fighting his or her own battles.  My strongest relationships are with those partners whom I've gone with into the mountains and tried our best, independent of success or failure.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Teton Skiing 2012

I have finally succumbed to summer. My skis are bedded away after an incredible May in the Tetons.

Despite a relatively meager snowpack in the West this last winter, Spring skiing conditions in the Tetons were perfect in May. Corn skiing in the Tetons is not as easy to find as, say, in the Sierra where cold, clear nights and warm days are commonplace in the Spring. Spring skiing in the Tetons is often obstructed by unstable weather and late season dumps. And the rocky, cliff-riddled nature of the skiing requires a deep snowpack up high.

Luckily, despite a relatively low snow year in the Tetons this winter, warm Spring storms deposited plenty of late season snow above 10,000' and May was blessed with cold clear nights and sunny days. As a result we had plenty of snow in the alpine and pool table smooth conditions up until a 2' dump on Memorial Day weekend which subsequently gutted the range with runnels and debris.

This May I guided several parties down the Grand Teton via the East Face-Ford Coulior route. The clients had trained on a lot of steep, exposed terrain in the Alps and at Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, providing them with the needed level of comfort in the No-Fall Zone.

Skiing the Grand requires that skiers negotiate 50+ degree terrain while skiing above a precipitous ice-choked coulior. While rappelling is necesary to descend the iciest of sections, the goal of such an outing is still to ski all that is skiable. While guiding, ski-belays are necessary but hopefully minimized if the client is extensively trained in steep and exposed terrain. The most successful clients have trained in both the Alps and in Valdez, Alaska where the No-Fall Zone is easilly accessed, respectively,  via a 20 minute tram or a 2 minute flight.

Ascending Shea's Chute on the Middle Teton, an excellent warm-up run which requires skiing sustained 50+ terrain.

Shane Toohey ascending the Stettner Coulior on the Grand Teton. The East Face of the Middle Teton is seen in the background.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Euro Spring Tour 2011

As my annual spring ritual of ski touring in the Alps rolled around, I was a bit worried for a few reasons. First, most of Europe had an extremely low snow year. Coming off a huge winter in Crested Butte, I was not really looking forward to bad snow conditions and cracked up glaciers. Secondly, coming off of a huge winter in Crested Butte, I was ready to be done skiing and wanted to start my climbing season instead. Luckily, conditions up high in the Alps remained good and a combination of good snow, perfect weather and great clients keep my skiing spirits high!
First up was a Silvretta Ski Traverse ( This region of the Swiss/Austrian Alps sees much less traffic and has amazing terrain with very comfortable huts. This trip included several Crested Butte folks as well as my brother (another guide to share the load!) and my father, Murray. The Silvretta is a great into to ski touring Euro style. The altitude is relatively low, the huts are spacious and comfortable and there is less pressure about getting to the next hut and more focus on skiing up all the terrain and enjoying the surroundings.
A quick stop over in Chamonix to get settled in at my "summer chalet", then it was off to meet my clients for the famed Haute Route traverse from Chamonix to Zermatt. Our first day started off a bit auspiciously with a descent of the Vallee Blanche in a total whiteout. We did get a quick clearing enough to look around at the Mont Blanc Massif and the Dent du Geant, before feeling our way down the glacier to the Requin hut for lunch.

Luckily the next day dawned clear for our departure from the Grand Montets ski area into the wild Argentier Glacier. The next day proved to be rather challenging, first finding our way through the broken up glacier, then navigating two large glaciers in a complete whiteout to reach the Trient hut. While this day was difficult, the bad weather did lay down a foot of fresh snow which we were able to farm throughout the rest of the trip. In hindsight I would take one whiteout day for six days of sunny powder skiing anytime!
We were exceptionally lucky to have such good conditions for the Haute Route agin this year. Other guide friends were swearing to only do the HR on my schedule in the future as I have been blessed two years in a row now.
Arriving in Zermatt, I received word from my brother in Chamonix that a quick hit to Finale, Itlay for some spring limestone pulling on the Mediterranean Coast was in order and I better get it together. I caught a train at 6:15 the next morning back to Chamonix where I was granted one cup of coffee and an hour to switch from skiing to climbing mode and get my kit in the car. By 4:30pm that same day I was enjoying a sunny overhanging crag and my first test of Mammut's new Smart belay device. This thing proved an easy addition to the rack with easy feeds for the leader as well as easy holding power for the belayer.
Four days later, with fingertips burning, we headed back to Chamonix feeling good about our early season sends and looking forward to more warm sunny rock.
-Steve Banks

Monday, January 17, 2011

Crested Butte Winter

Winter has come in hard and fast in Crested Butte. With over 200 inches of snow in December, we are off to an incredible start. Of course, when the snow flies, I get busy with avalanche forecasting for the Crested Butte Avalanche Center, ski patrolling, guiding backcountry skiing as well as guiding for CS Irwin Snowcat Skiing. While it makes for a busy schedule, I love all of my jobs so much that I just can't seem to stop!
I haven't had much time to get on the ice this season, but did manage o make it down to the Ouray Ice Festival to lead a clinic for Mammut on advanced ice climbing technique. January's cold snap finally allowed the Park to get some good ice flowing just in time for the Fest. With a bit of free time this month, I am hoping to get into the Black Canyon to sample some big wilderness ice. Rumor has it that conditions are pretty good down there.
Sub zero temperatures last week made it hard to motivate to get on out my limited time off, but UIAGM guide Mike Bromberg braved it one afternoon to get into some steep skiing on Mt. Crested Butte's Country Club Couloir. This rarely fills in enough to be worthy as it faces due south, but sticky wet snow this year has it plastered. Still very narrow in some places, it made for an exciting descent!Check out Mike's video:

Skiing Crested Butte's Country Club Couloir from mikebromberg on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

National Geographic' Ultimate Adventure Bucket List

Hey all, Happy New Year! For those of you who like to look back at the year, reflect and dream about the upcoming year, Nat Geo has come up with the Ultimate Adventure Bucket List for you to start making plans for 2011. It is a great compilation of vacation/trip ideas. Some of them are really far out there, while others are pretty attainable.

Check out the list here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chamonix 2010

After having missed the guiding season in Chamonix last summer due to an ACL repair, this year I was anxious to get back into the swing of things. I spent the spring ski touring season in the European Alps as well, guiding classics such as the week long Haute Route traverse from Chamonix to Zermatt, the steeps of the Cosmiques Couloir, the Glacier Ronde and the Tour Ronde and of course the Valle Blanche-the most classic one day all downhill ski tour in the Alps.

Descending the snow arrete from the Aiguille du Midi Tram

The summer season started off with great weather and conditions. I hit the ground running with guiding ascents of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc as well as some classic Chamonix rock routes like the Index, Petite Floria, and the Papillion Arrete. Classic mixed climbs were in great condition as well, and the must do Cosmiques Arrete saw many ascents. My Outline Hoody was my constant companion and go to layer for all conditions.

Upper pitches of the Matterhorn

The "Razor" Pitch on the SW face of the Crochue with Mont Blanc in the background

In between guiding trips, I still managed to get in some great sport climbing in the Chamonix valley as well as in Italy and Switzerland. The proximity to the borders and the weather patterns which get blocked and pushed around by the Mont Blanc Massif allows for easy travel to find good climbing weather and conditions somewhere in the Alps on any given day. I got to put my new Togir Light harness (the most comfortable harness I have ever worn!) and Pro shoes to the test on lots of rock.

"Poem a Lou", 6 pitch 6c+ on the Brevant above Chamonix

As September rolled in and the temperatures dropped snow began accumulating up high and turned to ice creating the amazing 1000 meter mixed lines that the hard core alpinists come to Chamonix for. With the guiding season winding down and some free time on our hands, my brother and I are looking toward these routes for our fall adventures. Of course, that means leaving the valley sport climbing and cafe's behind for cold bivies and airy exposures!

Dry tool training in the valley
We are looking toward Mont Blanc du Tacul for some easy mixed-climbing-day-trip-warm-ups to prepare for some classics like the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses and the Charlet-Platonov (put up by Armond Charlet in 1935!) on the Aiguille Vert. Hopefully my next post will have photos on these amazing mountain routes!
Steve Banks-Chamonix, France

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Frequent Flyer Miles

High in the Alps With the Dent Blanche in the Background

The past two months have kept me on my toes with guiding trips in Colorado, British Columbia and the French and Swiss Alps. I think my home in Crested Butte is just a laundromat with a mortgage these days!
Wolverine Basin on the Mt. Emmons Massif

After a Ski Mountaineering course in Crested Butte with the FBI (can't say anymore about that...) I headed off to Vail to teach a Guide Training Course including an AIARE Level 2 safety course for Paragon Guides.
Skinning Out of Ten Mile Basin Near Vail, CO

Back in Crested Butte for two days to finish my taxes and pack for a week of guiding at Ruby Mt. Lodge in the Valhalla Mountains of British Columbia.
Nadia in the Deep Valhalla Powder

We had a great week with 10-20 cm of new snow every night and fairly stable avalanche conditions which allowed us to crank out some great late March powder turns. The hospitality at Valhalla Mountain Touring is second to none with gourmet meals every day and a wood fired sauna to melt away the daily 5000 vertical feet of skiing in the legs.
Lisa Floating the Snowboard

Hopping a plane back to Crested Butte for another quick turn around I hit the road again bound for Chamonix, arriving just in time to ski 25 cm of fresh snow on the Valle Blanch. This was just the warm up day for the next week of skiing the iconic Haute Route tour from Chamonix to Zermatt. For this week we had amazing weather with blue skies every morning and building clouds in the evening which would drop 10-15 cm of fresh snow every night. All the guides I encountered on the trip agreed that this was the best week of weather any of us had seen in many many years on the traverse of the Alps. Ian Checking Out His Turns
Pow Turns off the Grand Montets
Schladeling on the Pingne de Arolla
The Vignettes Hut Above Zermatt

Upon returning to Chamonix via train (don't even ask about that fiasco!) I quickly dumped off my ski gear, grabbed the sport climbing kit and jumped in the car with my brother for the journey south to Finale, Italy on the Mediterranean coast. A cute little Italian B&B in Castelbianco was our base camp for the abundant limestone crags in the area. Pulling on the textured tufas felt great after wearing ski boots for so long. Cool days and slightly cloudy skies made for perfect sending temperatures. We were all pretty happy to be climbing in the upper 6 grades after skiing all winter, and spent the one rainy afternoon sending dry overhanging 25 meter routes on world class limestone.
Ridin' The Tufa
Jeff "The Crusher" Banks

Driving home after four great days of warm sport climbing, I had to wrap my head around skiing again, this time a week long Ski Mont Blanc program. With two experienced Irish ski instructors, we were again headed into the mountains and onto the glaciers for some steep skiing and acclimatizing for the objective ahead. The Gervasutti Couloir on the Tour Ronde, followed by awesome corn skiing in the Argentier basin led us into the end of the week and another winter storm rolling into the Haute Savoie. The new snow and clouds kept us from being able to climb and ski Mont Blanc, but we had an excellent week of ski touring and many great turns.

On The Amethystes Glacier
Skiing the Gervasutti Couloir
The Classic Valle Blanche

The continued valley rain and mountain snow has kept me on the couch today, glued to the computer and wondering where I will be of to next skiing high on the glaciers or climbing down in the valleys.

Steve Banks
IFMGA/UIAGM Mountain Guide