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Photo credits: Mark Seaton collection, Charles Sherwood, John Norris, Jeff Brown & Faerthen Felix.
Site design: Faerthen Felix, 2005.

Heli-skiing | Haute Route | Safety equipment | Required skiing standard

Guided skiing with Mark means doing our best to ski away from everyone else. It does not mean standing in a queue for two hours before sliding down the Vallee Blanche with the rest of the world. Getting away from everyone is achieved by either:

First (& only) tracks!
...or a combination of all of the above. 4.55 Mb video clip--wait for it!
(4.55 Mb video clip)

Heli-sking.

European heli-skiing is not to be confused with the Canadian version where some people seem to talk about how much "vertical" they have done, and not much else.

For starters, heli-skiing is banned within the European community; it takes place in independent Switzerland where it is tightly regulated [read article]. There are 7 drop zones within 40 minutes of Chamonix, 48 in the whole of Switzerland [19 of those in the Valais], which give a huge choice of descents. Heli-skiing also is tolerated in the Aosta Valley -- behind Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa -- in Italy which is in the European Community. How they get around this no one really seems to know but the operation is tenuous. However, the landing zones and the descents are spectacular.

The helicopter should be thought of as a taxi. It picks you up at the side of the road and drops you at the top of the mountain, then it is gone and you are on your own. The descents are long and the snow will be good but it will also likely be bad. This is because the descents are so long that the snow is exposed to all types of weather. Neither is there a pick up by helicopter, which means we have to ski out to the road head. All in all, they provide fantastic journeys but they are first and foremost adventures.

A certified mountain guide is required to heli-ski in the Alps. Mark will contract with helicopter operators for your flight.

Ski-touring.

Sometimes called ski-mountaineering, but it is the same thing. Fundamentally it involves going uphill as well as downhill on a pair of skis. Ski-touring may be employed for half an hour to climb over a col in order to access an off-piste descent, or for a multi-day trip such as the Chamonix-to-Zermatt Haute Route (also known as the High Level Route or HLR).

 

Heading out from the hut for another great day of ski-touring.

Safety Equipment.

All group members will be provided with the latest state of the art avalanche transceivers made by Backcountry Access. All group members will be expected to ski with a rucksack that will contain a shovel and a probe. These will be provided if people do not have their own (the group should provide their own rucksacks). Each group member will be given training in the use of this equipment, not only in how to operate the equipment but what to do if a group member is caught in an avalanche. While skiing on glaciated terrain each group member will be required to wear a harness in case they slip into a crevasse. They can also expect to take their turn carrying a Dyneema safety rope. It is also highly recommended that group members provide themselves with an Avalung.

More info:

Required skiing standard.

Always a difficult one to quantify. It depends what you want to do. If for example you are someone who wants to progress from piste to off-piste skiing, then I will do three things: I will fit the terrain to your standard of skiing; teach you to ski in a functional manner so that you can get down the snow no matter how horrible it is; when the snow is good, teach you how to ski powder. If you are someone who comes with a specific objective (such as the HLR), then by implication a set route has to be followed and the standard of skiing is easier to quantify. These are good guidelines for someone who wants to come adventurous skiing:

  • Substantial experience of skiing off-piste in a variety of snow conditions.
  • The ability to execute a kick-turn on the steepest part of any black piste.
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