France, Europe

Chamonix Steep Skiing Clinic

This course is a fantastic opportunity for a small group of expert level skiers (maximum 3 with 1 guide) to spend a thrilling and challenging week in Europe's steep skiing capital, Chamonix.

The clinics are run by Miles Smart. Miles is an American IFMGA Mountain Guide who has led steep skiing clinics for several years. The clinics consist of five days: two days working on individual skiing technical skills, climbing skills and developing the correct psychological outlook, then three days applying what you've learnt with descents of the best terrain in and around the Chamonix valley: the Cosmiques or Glacier Rond, Col des Christaux, Couloir du Vent, Marbree Couloir, Couloirs on Petit Combin.

This course will suit extremely strong and fit skiers who can ski on all terrain. You want to learn and understand the techniques and psychology required to ski very steep terrain. You enjoy the adrenaline that comes from challenging yourself but this is not your main motivation.

Below is a sample itinerary only, The course is 5 days with 2 days of technical skills/preparation followed by 3 days of steep skiing - the itineraries and routes will be set by our guide depending on the snow and weather conditions.

Miles Smart - IFMGA Mountain Guide

Miles Smart is an American IFMGA-qualified mountain guide. He spent his first winter in Chamonix in 1999 and has been based in the Alps each year ever since. He is the 2004 recipient of the AMGA Guide of the Year award and is an instructor and examiner for the American guide scheme. Miles worked along side Doug Coombs running the Steep Skiing Camps in La Grave, France, and has since taken over these steep skiing camps.

Miles works equally within the disciplines of skiing, climbing and mountaineering. His guiding highlights include a guided ski descent of the Grand Teton in Wyoming and a guided ascent of the Bonatti Route on the Grand Capucin above Chamonix. Miles has climbed El Capitan in Yosemite more than twenty times and has made many speed climbing records on this wall, and has also skied many steep lines such as the Gervasutti Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul. Miles lives in Chamonix with his wife Liz.

Day Itinerary

  • Head up to Brevent to ski the Brevent couloirs

    There are 4 couloirs that get progressively steeper – starting at 30 degrees and going to above 40 degrees. They are all accessed from the liftsystem but may require some side-stepping and traversing. These are excellent training runs for the techniques of steep skiing and the introduction to some exposure and long consistent runs. Depending on snow conditions a short abseil may be necessary to enter the top of one of the couloirs

  • Travel through to Courmayeur to ski couloirs off the Yula and Arp lifts

    These runs are steeper (40 degrees +) and longer than day 1. As on day 1 they are mostly accessed from the lift but some traversing and poling will be required to get back to the lower lift stations

  • Another day on the Italian side of Mont Blanc

    Our destination - the Glacier du Toule and the Marbre Couloir. The Toule Glacier is not especially steep but there are some interesting and exciting steep entry points on the main slopes. The Marbre couloir is a steep face (40-45 degrees) under the Dent du Geant. It offers some fairly hefty exposure and you need to ski safely and slowly with strong jump turns to descend it. In total it is an approximately 1,000m vertical descent (with a walk/skin of around 30minutes to access it)

  • Cross back to the Aiguilles Rouges to ski the Col de Belvedere or Glacier du Mort

    These are day long ski tours with around a 2½ hr skin to the entry points. A long boot pack up a steep face is also required for the Glacier du Mort. The slopes after the Col du Belvédère are accessed by an 80m rappel followed by a steep face to ski into the Berard valley. The Glacier du Mort has a number of alternative routes down – many very steep and narrow. You can also continue beyond the Col de Belvédère along the east ridge of the Aiguille du Belvédère for about 30 minutes to access some steep and exposed slopes on the north face (45-50 degrees)

  • Shoulder of the Aiguille du Tacul (40-45 degrees)

    Ascend the Aiguille du Midi cable car and ski the Vallée Blanche to the flat Salle à Manger section. From here it’s a 3 hour skin with a boot pack/climb at the end to access the shoulder of the Tacul. From here you ski open but steep slopes back towards the Vallée Blanche. The run ends with a short abseil over a cliff to rejoin the glacier

The price includes 6 nights B&B twin share accommodation, 5 full days guiding, and in resort transfers.
The price does not include: lift pass, lunches, personal insurance, equipment hire, travel to/from Chamonix.

NOTE:

  • Course only option is £1495
  • Course + accommodation is £1895

Please make sure you are booking a correct trip type in order to avoid any confusion.

We are proud to offer all of our returning customers a £50 discount.

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This is an extensive list of the recommended clothing and equipment you will need if you are coming on one of our Off-Piste Adventure trips.  On all our weeks you’ll be staying in comfortable catered chalets or hotels. When skiing you need to carry just a day pack, which contains your safety equipment and any personal items or extra clothing layers you may need.

    • A good quality pair of ski trousers. They must be made from a waterproof and breathable fabric like Gore-Tex or similar. It’s useful to have some venting zips on the legs either inside or outside thigh or full length side-zips. Integral snow gaiters and some pockets for handy items are good features.
    • An outer shell jacket made of waterproof and breathable material like Gore-Tex or similar with a built-in hood. We advocate the ‘layering principle’ and so a shell is recommended rather than an insulated jacket.
    • Comfortable underwear with good wicking properties. Very popular at the moment are the wool based layers from companies such as Icebreaker and Smartwool. They are comfy, breathable, warm when needed and can be worn for days without your friends catching a whiff!
    • Several thin (rather than fewer thick) layers between your skin and the outer shell - an approach that gives better heat retention and good flexibility. These tops are known as ‘mid layers’.
    • Insulation layer like a down or Primaloft jacket is a good item to have ready to wear in the event of cold weather, it can live in your rucksack as a spare layer and can come in very handy for sudden changes in the weather.
    • Roll neck rather than a scarf. We use and recommend the ‘Buff¹ ¬ a light, stretchable tube. Excellent despite the name! They do both a fleece/cotton version for warmth or just a cotton one (to keep the sun off).
    • Headwear to include warm hat and sun-cap or wide-brim hat for extra protection from the sun. Mountain Tracks fully supports the wearing of helmets for skiing, although not mandatory for any of our trips we do recommend them.
    • Good quality, ski gloves or mitts if you suffer from cold hands and 1 thinner pair of gloves made from a soft shell or fleece material if the weather is warm. These are particularly useful if you do any ski touring or hiking on the trip as thick gloves quickly become too hot.
    • Silk inner gloves can be useful if the weather is cold and you suffer with cold hands.
    • Technical Socks - Investing in good quality ski socks will improve fit, warmth and feel when skiing for long periods. Bring along a few pairs.
  • We continue to see big changes in ski, boot and binding design and technology, which make off-piste skiing and ski touring much more accessible. For our Adventure courses we prefer you to ski with” freeride” skis, ski touring boots and ski touring bindings. If you have your own skis but they do not have ski touring bindings but are suitable for off piste then you are welcome to bring them with you. Downhill boots are also acceptable but please bear in mind that you will do some touring on ALL our Off-Piste Adventure courses so you made need to hire suitable skis and boots in resort.

    Skis
    There are many ‘all-mountain/freeride’ skis to choose from and we highly recommend skis from Dynastar, Movement, Black Crows, Trab Skis, Scott and Volkl. Look for a ski that is the right size for you height, typically the tip of the ski should be somewhere around your nose height. As for the width of the ski or “side cut” a mid-fat ski – 90-110mm under the foot is a good place to start; this offers plenty of flotation off piste, while remaining suitable for day tours and they should also handle reasonably well on piste and mixed terrain.
    Dynastar Skis: www.dynastar.com
    Movement Skis: www.movementskis.com
    Black Crows Skis: www.blackcrows-skis.com/
    Trab Skis: www.skitrab.com/en-us/
    Scott Skis: http://www.scott-sports.com
    Volkl Skis: http://www.voelkl.com

    Boots
    For our Off-Piste Adventure courses its best to have a pair of ski touring boots – they have great skiing performance and with the vibram soles they are much safer for scrambling around on rocky or icy ground. However standard downhill ski boots are also acceptable. We do not recommend you come on a trip with brand new boots.

    If you are going to be getting into off-piste and ski touring, then rather than having a pair of downhill boots and a pair of ski touring boots, we strongly suggest that you opt for a good pair of ski touring boots. With advances made in plastics, moldings and materials in recent years you can now get a ‘hybrid’ touring boot that offers as much downhill performance and stiffness but they come with a walk mode and good flexibility for the uphill too. Many boots fall into the category "hike & ride" so a 3 or 4 buckle boot, walk mode, vibram/grippy sole and possible Pin binding compatible.
    It just makes more sense - not only are they much more comfortable to walk in compared to ordinary ski boots, they are great to ski in too.

    Scarpa have lead the way in touring boots for many years but they have been joined by other manufactures like Dynafit, Salomon, Scott, Black Diamond, Dalbello and K2; all producing their own versions of a ski touring boot.
    • Scarpa’s Freedom boots are their Hybrid offerings, great ski performance, a walk mode and vibram sole. Their Maestrale (men’s) and Gea (women’s) boots are also highly recommended.
    • The Scott Celeste and Cosmos boots have stood the test of time and are good all round choices.
    • Salomon’s Quest Max series offer boots with a walk mode in various flex’s with good downhill performance.
    • Dynafit offer the Mercury or Vulcan boots plus a range of lightweight options like the TLT6.
    The best of the rest are:
    Fischer - Transalp
    Black Diamond – Quadrant and Factor
    K2 – Pinnacle boot
    Dalbello – Lupo or Sherpa
    Langue – XT series offer a ski boot with a walk mode in various flex options

    Boot Liners
    These days many manufacturers offer ‘thermo-fit’ liners as standard equipment. You may also want to consider a custom liner. Heated and moulded to your foot and boot for a perfect fit, they can make all the difference especially if you have trouble finding really comfortable
    ‘off-the-shelf¹ boots. Zipfit liners are a great option for anyone seeking total customisation in fit and comfort. They will replace the original liner.

    Custom Footbeds
    Essential kit – to provide additional comfort and ski control. If you want to get footbeds made or a pair of new boots fitted then we suggest you visit somewhere like Profeet for a professional fitting. Don’t forget if you have footbeds in your downhill boots but need to rent touring boots then you can bring the footbeds with you and put them in the hire boots.

    Bindings
    We prefer you to have ski touring bindings on your skis for our adventure courses but if you have downhill bindings mounted on your skis then this is perfectly acceptable. The new touring bindings are every bit as safe for downhill as alpine bindings, yet you have the additional advantage of being able to walk uphill with them to access the real off-piste. Fritschi Diamir and Marker both have great bindings which can be used with ski touring boots and downhill boots. Many more people are seeing the advantage of the “pin” binding system now offered by a number of manufactures; they are light and offer ever improving security despite their minimalist looks!
  • Although our Off-Piste Adventure courses rely heavily on the lift systems in resorts, access to and egress from runs sometimes involve climbing and walking a short way and you may undertake 1 or 2 day ski tours, for this reason its best to have skis with ski touring bindings, skins and ski touring boots.

    • Ski Skins – these are skins which, now made of artificial fabric, stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to walk up hill. They must be cut to fit your skis exactly, so if you are bringing your own skis you must provide your own skins.
    • Ski Crampons (aka Couteaux) - most ski touring bindings have ski crampons specifically designed for the binding. We always carry these just in case. Again if you are bringing your own skis and touring bindings you must provide your own ski crampons.
    • When skiing on glaciated terrain you will need a harness and occasionally boot crampons and possibly an ice axe. Your can guide can supply you with these items if you do not have your own.
  • Good pair of goggles – essential. Useful to have 2 pairs on powder days in case of head plants! A pair with a lens for low light is essential in the event of snow and poor visibility
    Good quality sunglasses – UV factor category 4 recommended
    20-30 liter rucksack is usually suitable for most off piste skiing. Key features are a method of attaching your skis in either a A-frame (one either side) or both together on a diagonal ski carriage; easy access into the main compartment without having to empty the sack to get something at the bottom; separate pocket for avalanche shovel, handle and probe; small top pocket for items like wallet, sunglasses/goggles etc; an ice axe loop and possibly a built in rain cover and a secure method of attaching/stowing a ski helmet (if you use one). It’s essential that the pack has a good hip/waist belt and adjustable shoulder straps.
    Avalanche airbag rucksacks can be used but please remember that they are heavy, adding somewhere between 5-8kg just for an empty pack with cylinder in; so unless you are sure you can carry it and fit all you need in, we do not recommend you use one.
    1-1.5 Liter water bottle – we don’t recommend hydration-systems (e.g. Camelbaks) as these often freeze in winter
    Suncream and lip salve (factor 30 or higher recommended.)
  • The “Safety Trilogy” - applicable for all our off-piste courses and ski tours.

    Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon 
    Snow shovel
    Avalanche probe

    Avalanche airbags/rucksacks – if you wish to ski with one of these on our courses you are welcome to do so, they are not mandatory but we always support the use of available safety items.
    You can hire avalanche rucksacks in a lot of resorts, makes are usually Snowpulse/Mammut, ABS or BCA Float sacks. Prices vary from shop to shop and resort to resort but a guide line price would be from €20-30 per day or around €100-120 for 6/7 days.

    Remember it is not enough just to carry this equipment; you have to know how to use it.
    How about joining one of our specialist avalanche courses – check out https://mountaintracks.co.uk/discipline/winter-mountaincraft

  • It is a condition of booking that you are insured for your chosen activity and the cover must include medical expenses, personal accident, personal liability, third party risks and rescue (including helicopter rescue). You are strongly advised also to take out cover against cancellation and curtailment.

    For UK residents Ski Club Travel Insurance may be a suitable option.

    For more details and to purchase a policy online visit http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk/
    If you need assistance arranging your personal insurance please let us know.
     

  • The most convenient airport is Geneva which is served by many UK and International airports.

    The transfer time from the airport is about 75 minutes to Chamonix and to get to the resort we recommend that you book a seat with one of the many transfer companies who offer shared minibus transfers to and from the airport. Mountain Tracks recommends Mountain Dropoffs or Cham Van who both offer comparatively priced transfers and run a regular and efficient service.

  • Our Steep Skiing Clinics are led by Miles Smart. Miles is a very experienced American IFMGA Mountain Guide who has lived and worked in the Alps for many years. 

    The clinics are guided on a 1:3 ratio. We can run the course with up to 6 participants and Miles would be joined by another IFMGA Mountain Guide specialising in steep skiing. 

  • We start and finish the course in Chamonix but, depending on conditions, our guide may decide to move out of the Chamonix valley and stay elsewhere during the week. This decision will usually be made a week or so before the course starts once we know what conditions will be like. We are happy to arrange accommodation for you and it is helpful - to avoid unnecessary faff – if everyone on the course stays in the same hotel/chalet.
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