Tag Archives: photography

Big mountain riding in full glory

 

Xavier de la Rue, freeride snowboarder

Le Châble local, Xavier de le Rue, leaving the shadows of The Bec behind him.

This weekend the world’s best freeride skiers and snowboarders hiked up, and then descended, the jaw-dropping 3223m Bec de Rosses in Verbier to decide who would be crowned champion of the Freeride World Tour.

The event drew about 8000 people to the slopes around Col de Gentianes to witness the best in the game throw down big, bold lines. In conditions that provided variable snow conditions, the commitment to some serious exposure was astounding. Although the World Tour title was open for grabs in each of the events (men’s skiing, men’s snowboarding, women’s skiing and women’s snowboarding), in every instance the person who won the Verbier Xtreme also walked away with the Tour title.

The women’s start zone was on the lookers right of the Bec de Rosses shoulder, with the athletes charging some beautifuly aesthetic lines on an aspect that showed a good balance of sun and shade. The women’s skiing was won by Swede Christine Hargin while the snowboarding title was taken by American Maria DeBari.

The men had a selection of start zones, but the bulk of their descent ultimately took place in the terribly rock-scarred, shadowed north face. It is hard enough to identify a route down the face, so watching riders tackle it at mach-1 was hugely entertaining, and, at moments, a little terrifying! The men’s skiing was won by another Swede, Reine Barkered, who executed a smooth and fast descent that took in multiple big cliff drops.  The men’s boarding title was claimed by Frenchman Jonathan Charlet.

The Verbier Xtreme is a fantastic spectator event and a highlight on Verbier’s annual calendar. Few other places can allow you a front-row seat to what big-mountain freeriding is all about.

Here are a selection of images from the day.

Photographs by Barry Cox.

Mountain culture in London

While in London last week I got a chance to peek around the annual London Ski and Snowboard show at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre. I got there as the doors opened on Wednesday, the first day of the show, and so missed out on the carnival-like festivities that typically characterise the event, but it did give me a chance to peruse the exhibits without having to elbow my way through the crowds.

As a recent iPhone convert, I was intrigued by the efforts made by a couple of British exhibitors to capitalise on the difficulty of operating touch-screen technology with gloves on. eGlove has a small range of gloves designed with conductive material in the index finger and thumb to facilitate touch-screen use. Without actual reviews supporting the technical capabilities of these gloves in extreme environments, and with the likes of Burton and North Face also producing similar-purpose gloves, leading the market may prove difficult. iPrint has a different, simpler take: their conductive adhesive strips attach to any glove and, at a couple of quid for a pair of stickers, provide a much more affordable solution. The unknown factor here is how long these adhesive strips can be used for before they fall off and need replacing.

But perhaps the best solution to this dilemma would be to leave our touch-screen crutch at home when we head into the mountains?

The highlight of my day was in fact a visit to the Royal Geographic Society in South Kensington. The Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Himalaya exhibition is a thought-provoking and poignant piece of work produced by photographer and founder of GlacierWorks David Breashears. The exhibit is on until November 11th and is well worth making an effort for.

Since 2007 David Breashsears has made eight photographic expeditions to the Greater Himalaya region. Together with his team at GlacierWorks they have set out to recreate some of the classic photographs of the region taken in the early 1920s by Sir Edward Oliver Wheeler, George Mallory and Vittorio Sella.

The result is astounding, a collection of then and now images that illustrate the vast reduction in the world’s greatest vault of pure untapped water. Breashears attention to detail in retracing the footsteps of these early pioneers in the most inhospitable environment on the planet is captivating and stirring. If you’re in London, don’t miss this.

Trout fishing in Lac de Louvie

Verbier is well known for its winter offering of world-class skiing, fantastic resort atmosphere and availability of luxury mountain chalets but over the course of the off-season months we will be revealing in regular blog postings why this is such fantastic place to live, and visit, regardless of the season.

Cabane de Louvie is one of hundreds of Swiss alpine cabanes built to provide sanctuary for mountain travellers. It sits perched on a ledge above Lac de Louvie at 2,213 meters and is accessed from Fionnay in the Val de Bagnes. Yesterday we hiked up to the lake for a spot of trout fishing. What a fantastic day!

Departing Le Châble just after 4am we parked and started our hike up to the lake at about 4.30am, head torches guiding the way. Though the temperature was fresh (I’d guess close to zero) it wasn’t long before the work of the climb had warmed our bodies. The hike gets straight to business and, once we had found the trail, wastes no time gaining altitude, switching back and forth underneath the imposing presence of some large cliff bands.

Hiking in the mountains by torchlight is invigorating. Above our heads a cornucopia of stars and a sliver of a crescent moon lit the sky and, while you can’t see into the darkness below, you constantly sense the steep pitch of land falling away from you. The hike is strenuous but at no point technical and, after an hour-and-a-half of keeping to a steady pace, we had reached the cabane. From here we could see the glaciers of Grand and Petit Combin, glowing in the pre-dawn light, across the valley.

We were rigged up just after first light. After a couple of attempts we found a spot with some action, which conveniently provided the most astounding fishing backdrop I have ever been privy to, looking across the glacial water at the cabane and the Combin glaciers beyond that.

Lac de Louvie is stocked for fishing purposes, by helicopter! Despite catching and releasing significantly more nippers than those we kept, the fishing was still successful, with a final catch of mostly rainbow trout, but also two namaycush. Namaycush are indigenous to North America and, even in their local habitat, are rare. They are commonly known as lake trout, or in French as cristovomer.

By 2pm we had dabbled at various points around the lake and were back at the cabane for a cold beer before descending to the car, drinking in the stunning vistas that weren’t possible in the darkness of the ascent. Thanks to Pit and Duncan for a fantastic day.

We get to live the day over this evening when we get together with our families to feast on the catch. Overnight Pit has soaked half of the trout in his secret brine recipe and will be finishing it off by smoking it. The other half we’re going to barbeque. I’m salivating already…

Bramble Ski operates a selection of the finest luxury mountain chalets in Verbier and St Anton and offers catered and self-catered ski holidays. Contact us to arrange your bespoke spring, summer or autumn holiday to the mountains through Bramble Été, a subsidiary of Bramble Ski.

Photographs by Barry Cox.

La Désalpe, return of the mountain cows

The month of September marks the official transition from summer to autumn in the northern hemisphere. Around the world ski movies premier and ski-bums begin to dream of copious face-shots for the season ahead. In the Alps, increasingly ‘wintry’ weather conditions prevail and snow begins to fall and settle in the alpine. Swiss mountain lore dictates  that the time has come for shepherds to drive their cows, who have spent the summer grazing lush highland meadows, toward the sanctuary of the plains and valley bottoms.

The tradition of this procession of shepherds and cows is celebrated with a festival called Désalpe across Switzerland. La Fouly,  a tiny settlement at the dead-end of Val Ferret (a valley on Switzerland’s southern border with France and Italy) is a 45-minute drive south-east from Verbier, and is the local centre for these festivities. It’s a  typically picturesque village surrounded by gothic-looking mountains and imposing glaciers. And, as if on cue for Désalpe, the weather turned overnight from weeks of glorious sunshine and high temperatures to a wet, misty and decidedly cooler day.

After four amazing years in Canada’s western interior it was fantastic to return to Switzerland and, within a week, experience a mountain festival that exudes the culture and history of Europe. Below are a selection of images from the day. Next weekend: the Raclette festival in Le Châble. Just part of the joyous induction back into Swiss life … cheese, and more cheese … wine, and more wine … cows, and more cows!

Photographs by Barry Cox.