Winter in Europe has arrived big time,but its this time of year that a part of my mind always turn towards one of my closest friends and my reason for wanting to be in the mountains. These thoughts happen every time winter rolls around and I will mention it a lot, but its something that has not only affected my life greatly but is also something that everyone who has a passion for the mountains should take the time to think about. Its only in the last year that I have reached the point where I can talk about it. It still devastates me and it always will, but I feel strongly that it should be spoken about.
Tom Chesters, a person hard to put into words. I met him on my first winter season and we were close ever since, I still remember the random phone calls I would get from Tom which would undoubtedly contain high levels of banter. He was a person that had an appetite for adventure and for pushing his physical and mental limits further then anyone else. Whether it be running the La Plagne 6000D with no training or studying for his PHD, he never sat still......unless it was to watch Tottenham loose......sorry Tom
At a time when I felt a bit lost, Tom(and everyone I have met on my winters) had a profound effect on me. He(and they) showed me there is nothing wrong in doing what makes you happy......it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks as long as you are still pushing yourself and living to the fullest. The worst thing we can do as people is to become stagnant.
Tom was my hero and someone I looked up to.
On the 20th January 2013 I got a phone call saying Tom and 3 others had been killed in an avalanche in Glencoe, Scotland. My world suddenly got smaller.
I cant really remember what that day felt like, its a blur, but I do remember being angry at everything and anything. The realisation that I would never get that random phone call from him again was heartbreaking and was met with years of uncontrolable emotions.
Tom was an experienced mountaineer with many ascents around the alps and that is the backbone of this blog post. Im not going to get into the details of that day, there is a BBC documentary called 'Wild winter, Surviving Avalanches' which details that and other incidents that year in Scotland.
We are in an age now where technology is taking over. There are many innovations in mountain safety but knowledge is still key. ABS bags are fantastic, but there are too many people who use them to justify doing something stupid, they think that because they are wearing the bag that no harm can come to them.This is wrong!
The key to mountain safety is your judgement, to have the balls to not do something as it doest feel right. To take in your surroundings and process that into risk analysis.
As with Toms accident though, sometimes there is nothing you can do..........unfortunately an element of luck does come into play.
So as the winter is now in full force, remember to learn and soak up as much information as you can about your surroundings and take inspiration from the amazing people in this industry as they are some of the most interesting and motivational people you are likely to meet.
Are you more into Freeride then park or maybe nothing makes you happier then boot packing a couloir or taking the split board for a thrash, then no doubt you've struggled to find a boot that is stiff enough in the right paces without feeling like you wearing a ski boot.
My trouble was that no matter how stiff the manufacturers said the boot was it always collapsed after hard use, not to mention the pain of kicking in steps with a soft toe.
This winter i am lucky enough to have mountaineering brand Fitwell sponsoring me and they were kind enough to send me out a pair of their latest boot, The Freeride.
This boot is brand new this winter and comes off the back of their massively popular split board specific boot the Backcountry.
First impression of the boot is the build quality, its second to none. Most snowboard boots look a little bit patched together but this has a real craftsmen feel. The sole is tough and looks like it will cope with most terrain. Its definitely on the stiff side and although it will soften slightly i think not as much as most boots.
After testing the boot out a few times i can backup the stiffness, its not for jibbing thats for sure. The ATOP lacing system works great, its nice being able to easily slacken off the laces when in touring mode and then be able to tighten again quickly. The powerstrap is another highlight, its something that every snowboard boot should have, i don't understand why its not standard. You can never get that snug fit around the top of the boot with standard lacing, the power strap just pulls it in and gives your shins something to push against to power through a turn. Its also a great addition when in touring mode, you can adjust the tightness around your shins to match the terrain. The sole is fantastic, i tried it on ice and also scrambling up rock and the boot gripped fantastically.
They do seem to have a bit more forward lean then most boots but paired with a slightly softer flex makes for a supportive fit.
Overall this boot is exactly what i have been looking for. A stiff boot that holds you ankle and offers lateral support, this is particularly useful when traversing as it gives you control over your edges and takes away that awkward ankle pain.
They are bit on the heavy side, so if you are into saving a few grams then it may not be for you....personally i like knowing that something is going to hold up so weight doesn’t bother me. The main reason i like these boots is that i can use them for general Freeriding, as the name suggests, its not just a split board boot and will easily cope with a day of charging around.
One thing i will say is that if,like me, you are used to regular snowboard boots then the Fitwell will take a few days to feel right. It will punish you if your not on your game, but once you accept that then be prepared to never go back to regular boots again. The last test is to see how they cope with a season of heavy use, but i get the feeling they are going to outlast me!
So, after a fairly slow start to the season, we can now confirm that winter has arrived in full force. We are just coming to the end of a 10 day storm that has seen over 2 metres of snow fall in Les Arcs. A lot of the mountain has been shut which ive never seen before, and there have been few sunny days but to be honest.....who cares! Storm riding brings the best of times.
Being in Bourg St Maurice i have easy access to Arc 1600 which has world class tree riding just a short 10 min Funiculaire ride away. The past few days i have had some of the best tree runs of my life and thats no exaggeration, just see the footage below.
Now this amount of snow also has major consequences in the form of avalanches and unfortunately there are uneducated people out there who's knowledge is severely lacking and when combined with ignorance it becomes a deadly combination. This has been an incredible storm, and its going to take a while for the conditions to calm down and only then can we figure out where conditions are safest. Im excited to go and rip some big open faces but for the time being, the trees are a far better alternative and just as much fun!