Scott Mission WOW
Women of Winter Ski Touring Weekend in Italy
I had a fun weekend as the photographer for the Scott Sports sponsored Mission WOW Women of Winter introduction to ski touring and the back country event in the Val Ferret Italy on March 23rd and 24th. I worked the still camera, and Rachel of Seven Twenty Productions did the videos … the result of which you can find here on You Tube.
25 women joined in for the event, which aims to introduce women to ski touring and develop back country safety skills in a fun safe environment, accompanied by 3 IFMGA/UIAGM female mountain guides (Ulrika Asp, Caroline George and Isabelle Santoire ) and one ISIA ski instructor (Pia Palm).
The ski touring weekend attracted a range of ages, with most women falling somewhere in their 20s. Jo Guest from Mission WOW organised the event, and Scott Sports was happy to offer extensive sponsorship. The purpose of Mission WOW is to introduce women to activities they may not otherwise do on their own, promote more women to participate in sports, and create a great women-friendly environment for networking, friend making and skill building. They also run summer Women on Wheels and Women in Water WOW events.
The weekend started at Ravanel Sports in Les Praz with ski and boot-fitting for women who wanted to try out the latest Scott Sports ski touring set up. Some women who were boarders were given split boards to try out for touring. Other women brought their own personal ski touring gear.
The guides and instructors came along to give advice and meet everyone. Scott provided skis from their Mountain and Freeride ranges (Crus’Air, Powd’Air and Pure models for example) fitted with Dynafit touring bindings, and climbing skins from Colltex. Ravanel provided ski touring boots to match the Dynafit bindings for those who needed them. The Ravanel ski techs made sure to set up the ski bindings’ release setting properly for the technical ability of each skier. The women who signed up included English, Swedish and French speaking women and the guides were all either bi or tri-lingual to give instruction in English, Swedish or French.
The next morning, we met up at the Montenvers car park in Chamonix. A Scott Sports car brought along the skis and boots from Ravanel, and the guides and instructor made sure everyone had the correct equipment before setting out, including avalanche safety gear (transciever, shovel and probe), lending transceivers where required.
We car-pooled to go under Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in western Europe via the Tunnel du Mont Blanc and into Italy. From the car park at Entreves, we hopped a bus which shuttled us boldly up some steep switch back turns to Planpincieux and into the beautiful Val Ferret which is part of the town of Courmayeur Italy.
This small village at 1400m altitude is the start of cross-country track in a long wide hanging valley, and was also the start of our ski tour. A good general description of the many routes, hikes, climbs, snow shoe trails and ski tours you can find in that area, as well as a topo map is on Camp to Camp website.
The ski tour follows near the cross country trail and goes gradually 200m uphill over around 10km of distance until it reaches the small town of Lavachey. From Lavachey the trail goes steeply through the woods for another 200m to reach the Walter Bonatti hut at 2025m altitude. We did take a break along the way for some thick hot chocolate and great Italian coffee
Everyone reached the hut at their own pace, some guides taking the faster tourers, and others staying back with the slower groups. No one felt rushed. After a short break at the hut for lunch, it was time for the kick turn clinic back on the hill behind the hut.
Kick turns are the way that ski tourers get up steep hillsides, turning the skis quickly and efficiently around sharp corners when the hill is too steep to allow a « 5 point » style gradual turn around a corner as one can do in flatter terrain. The first step of a kick turn involves nearly a ballet move, as your upper foot is brought quickly around in the opposite direction to your lower foot to rest above your current track. Then you move your poles uphill and shift the weight onto the upper foot, potentially kick the back foot out to release the toe (the heel of your foot is not attached to the ski when in touring mode) and turn the lower ski around your upper leg’s boot cuff to bring it into a parallel track. And off you go. These turns are known as « conversions » in French. Once the technique is firmly mastered, you do not need to even break stride to complete a conversion turn.
The day was completed with a lovely four course hot meal at the Bonatti hut (the salad included fresh pomegranate and apple !), as well as hot showers ! Climbing skins were hung up to dry and boot liners were pulled out to allow for drying overnight. The Bonatti hut is a rather cush example of a mountain hut compared to many – the beds and pillows are nice, with a decent amount of personal space (despite sleeping dormitory style) and most of us got a good sleep.
The weather forecast was not ideal to do a long ski tour on Sunday so the guides proposed doing many technical workshops or a smaller tour as a choice. So everyone was spared a super early alpine start as would have been required for a longer tour, meeting at 9am after a leisurely breakfast and many cups of tea and coffee. After a pep talk from Jo on positive thinking and learning something from every day you have, even challenging days, everyone split into groups.
Some chose to stay with one guide and learn more mountain skills such as crevasse rescue and other mountain safety techniques and others went on a short ski tour with the other three guides, up to the Tête Entre Deux Sauts above the Bonatti hut. The ski back down to the hut was challenging for most everyone, as the day was an entire white out with little way to tell how the hill was falling away from you. The snow was fresh, deep and heavy rather than light and powdery. But everyone had fun and the guides were sure everyone stayed in a sight line due to the fog. Once back at the hut, everyone did a transceiver search workshop. The women learned to use their transceivers to find buried avalanche victims, and the proper technique to probe for someone buried under the snow and then dig them out.
At the hut we ate sack lunches (the hut packed lunches for those who did not carry their own) and put skis and packs back on to head through the woods and down the hill. The snow became heavier still in the woods, and after a break for some play and group shots at Lavachey we headed in « skate ski » mode down the trail back the 10km towards Planpincieux. Some women had developed blisters during the ski tour, but more importantly everyone developed their back country mountain skills and their friendships.
Once back in Chamonix, we all headed to the MBC to enjoy a round of beers, nachos and the raffle that gave away some grab bag goodies from Swatch, Colltex and Scott. As a grand prize, Scott gave away a pair of freeride skis. Rather than simply picking a number out of the pot, the winner was decided via several rounds of very animated « rock, paper, scissors » ! A fun weekend for all.