New Zealand

In the words of Sam Smoothy ‘sometimes New Zealand can be a cold hearted mistress.’ She was certainly giving us the ultimate in cold shoulder treatment as day after day the South Island got battered by storm force winds as much as 75 mm of precip. The Wyn Irwin hut near Mount Cook village provided us with friendly and cosy refuge. Amongst the temporary residents were the guardian Cam Mulvey, Laura from the DOC Kia Preservation Project, Aussie Tim who was on the Plateau hut build team, Eifel from Singapore and Beau Fredlund from Yellowstone and endless banter passed the time and kept spirits high. It was a chance to adjust to the 12 hour time change, clear the mind and focus on what lay ahead, and do some trail running surrounded by the lakes and glaciers of the rugged Hooker valley.
Back in June Smoothy and myself had started talking about collaborating on some ski projects in the Southern Alps but a dry August had me holding back from buying a airline ticket. Finally in September the snow came and when I saw some activity in the mountains I pressed the button on a ticket. After beating around the bush for a while swapping messages we got to the point and started discussing a new line on the 1400 m Caroline Face. This had seen its first descent in 2017 by Grant, Mosetti and Briggs, a trip I had to pull out of at the last moment due to herniating the lowest disc in my spine onto the sciatic nerve root. A big glaciated face like this changes from season to season and when the door on one line closes others may open. To put it in context the West Face of Mont Blanc is similar in size and holds 4 independent ski routes which are rarely all in condition simultaneously. Since skiing 1000 m + faces is in powder is my thing, I still had an interest in the Caroline Face and the opportunities it holds for skiers. That said it pays to be careful who you speak to outside of the steep skiing fraternity as it makes the uninitiated uncomfortable as their pulse quickens, the blood drains from their face and they stare at your through glazed over eyes as if you are crazy. Its just a question of what you are used to and my last runs in my backyard where Couturier, Mallory and the ultra tech steep and exposed Aiguille du Plan North Face. In Chamonix anything is possible but in NZ you need one day when you won’t be ripped off the mountain by then wind catching the skis on your pack. Doesn’t sound like too much to ask right?
I was all set to fly solo, relishing the chance to do my own thing after a busy guiding summer. So it was a surprise bonus when Dave Searle asked what I was up to and bought a ticket too.
The breaks in the weather were small this spring, mainly too short to make a valley approach and ski the next day and It seemed unlikely there would be sufficiently weather window to make it worthwhile for local Smoothy to hook up. So when we saw a tiny couple hour window we jumped at the opportunity to fly into Plateau hut joined by Yellowstone resident and ski guide Beau Fredlund to get amongst the skiing. We landed there in -20C and bottomless powder that was going to make getting up anything a challenge. Here’s what we got up to.

October Ski Mont Blanc du Tacul

October 3rd and we just had a big storm with 40 cm up the  Midi.

It was a lush sunny day with good friends skiing off the Aiguille du Midi and Tacul.

Always an adventure putting your skis 🎿 on in the ice cave and sliding out through the portal in the magical world of sunny 😎 alpine mountains. One minute you are all cost asked in bed 🛌, and less than an hour later boom 💥

Good to see fellow Chamlads @joelevans @digitalsteak @olly_alkema


5 Tips How I Build My Ski Legs

1. Preseason Cardio and General Leg Conditioning.

For me the preseason is about riding my bike. Mountain biking is great because it not only develops cardio and endurance muscle but maintains athletic ability and coordination on those technical trails. Things come at you fast on a bike so everything feels more hectic and its perfect training for reading terrain and adapting your line to whats coming up. I’m coming into the season in good shape and after a summer of being a skinny climber have already put on about 6 kg on muscle with long rides on my mountain bike.

2.Isometric Muscle Conditioning.

The cardio fitness and muscle is there but skiing requires the muscle to work in a 3rd way – isometric contraction. On a bike the muscle goes through its usual contraction during activation, then extension as it relaxes. During relaxation its easier for the blood to flow through the tissues to feed the muscle and remove waste products. In skiing you are often in a position half way in between with the muscle partially contracted and staying a constant length and holding tension for long periods. This is especially true for offpiste skiing where wide modern skis need less of an up’n’ down, weight unweight piste style and more just weight shift left or right. One way to achieve this is doing wall squats and simply hold the squat position for as long as possible, rest for a set time and repeat, adding weight as necessary.                                                                                           wall squats

For me I love to train outdoors and use the terrain we have. The gym is good for the odd hit but its not much fun unless you like the smell of sweaty balls. Training on skis builds coordination, overall body conditioning for skiing and acclimatisation while being fun! I can develop my isometric muscle conditioning and power endurance at the same time while skiing. To do this you need to select suitable terrain that will provide enough load for my muscles current strength. Muscle load increases proportionally with gradient due to the acceleration due to gravity going up proportionally with gradient so its important to find the slope thats right for you, it may be 20 degrees, 30 degrees, 40 degrees but you want to be able to ski continuously and fluidly without technique holding you back and without it being too easy. So for me the perfect terrain to start training is the cable face of Skyway which averages about 40 degrees and with 1200 m of vertical is long enough to create fatigue when skiing non stop top to bottoms.

3.Low Time, High Intensity Workouts.

For many of us time and location means finding other ways to prepare for the season. We’ve all come on a ski trip unprepared and by day 3 can barely walk through delayed onset muscle soreness. If you are in this category check out this handy training app from Clinic du Sport Chamonix which I recommend. Ski Fit App. There is a free phaselite version, a condensed 8 minute version and if you like it you can sign up for a year’s subscription to a 4 phase program for 10 bucks! So far I’ve only progressed to phase 3 and I’m sure you could win the Olympics if you complete phase 4.

4.Building Pelvic Stability.

I wish I’d know about this 20 years ago. For a long time I was getting twinges in my lower back with it locking out for a few days every year and I never got to the bottom of it. Then last year I blew a section of my lowest spinal disc onto the root of my sciatic nerve. It feels like you are being electrocuted and weeks of insomnia followed. Believe me you want to avoid this at all cost. The MRI was not pretty and revealed my lowest 3 discs were like that of an 80 year old. Finally we got to the bottom of why my spine was so damaged – very strong exterior muscles but significant core weakness and hyper flexibility in my lower back. You are only as strong as your weakest link and all the force coming up your legs is transmitted through your pelvis into your upper body so that area needs to be as strong or stronger.                                                                                                                      pelvic bridge

Pelvic Bridges build core strength which protects your spine and will allow you to ski harder for longer. Try keep the pelvic floor muscles engaged while maintaining good breathing. Try straightening one leg by raising the foot so all the load is on the opposite leg. The hips must be kept horizontal, don’t allow the hip to drop on the side of the raised foot. Further progression can be made by adding weight over your stomach.

5.Build Strength and Power.

Pistol squats are a great exercise to build leg, hip and core strength while working all the balance muscles. Progress by doing them on a wobble board and adding weight.


Dead lifts will work hamgstrings, glutes and back which is perfect for landing jumps!

dead lifts

Box jumps will develop explosive or plyometric strength in glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles, and maintain athletic ability, balance and coordination. Perfect for those jumps turns in tight couloirs.

box jump

Don’t forget to eat healthily with plenty of fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and protein to meet your body’s requirements!