February saw the Antarctica team assemble at Badaguish near Aviemore. Joe, fresh from his Winter Mountain Leader training down the road at Glenmore Lodge, joined the rest of the team who had made the long journey up from the South.
The team planned to spend most of the week on a ski mountaineering course, building upon the success of the recent Alps ski trip in December. Making the most of the glorious conditions and fresh snowfall, the team got up bright and early on Monday morning and headed into Aviemore to collect kit and meet instructor Graham. On the hill, the group learnt how to apply ‘skins’ (strips of carpet-like material attached under the ski to provide grip when going up-hill) and headed into and Coire Laogh Mor.
On the way in, Graham coached the group on the different style of ascending steep slopes, and taught us about the different settings on our ‘risers’ allowing us to keep our feet at 900 to the slopes and ski more efficiently. Being able to lift our heels out of our bindings took a bit of getting used to, as this was totally different to downhill skiing experienced in Alpine ski resorts previously.
Expecting an easy day with lots of learning, we were soon shocked when we arrived at the tops of the Ski Tows and Graham showed us the rest of the route he had planned for us; a ‘quick’ ascent of around the side of Cairngorm, followed by Stob Corie an t’Sneachda and Cairn Lochan, before a decent down Lurcher’s Gulley. Being seasoned Scotland veterans we’d walked these routes numerous times. Never one to shirk away from a challenge, we relished the opportunity to push ourselves and skis.
Given the heavy snowfall over the weekend there was lots of powder to be found, which made for some interesting descents and our first attempt at skiing downhill saw most of the group wipe-out in deep snow. Inevitably, this was followed by much laughter from Graham who finally gave us some top tips with how to deal with deep powder… maybe we weren’t as expert as we thought! Enjoying the most of the good weather, we covered a total of 20km and enjoyed stunning blue sky views.
Our second day with Graham was a total contrast, with +100mph mile an hour winds predicted on the Cairngorm Plateau, we headed around to the Lecht Ski area an hour north of Aviemore where winds were a bit more manageable. After a bit of coaxing and digging the van out of ice, we headed out into the scrawl, Gor-Tex’d up to the eyebrows.
With lots of spindrift whipping around, the team spent the day focusing on perfecting our technique and managing our kit; an extremely useful taster for those infamous Antarctic storms! Overall, the team preformed much better and Graham was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the team picked up the skills needed to move quickly and efficiently in the mountains.
With the winds dropping and the cloud base rising, Wednesday and Thursdays saw the team heading back out into the Cairngorms in order to reinforce what we’d learnt over the previous couple of days. With the mercury heading back below freezing, the snow pack firmed up and the skiing changed, with much larger patches of ice and nevee forming; definitely a test of the team’s limits which required digging the ski’s edges into the hard-packed snow.
Overall it has been a great week in the Cairngorms learning another vital skill required for the long slog to the pole… and back.