Mid Winter Catch Up

My blog has been a little quiet recently, mostly due to being very busy teaching and riding. This winter has seen some wild weather and crazy conditions, with huge amounts of snowfall, but also high winds, and even lots of rain! Thankfully now things seem to have calmed down, the pistes are in great condition after a recent snowfall, and the temperatures are remaining below zero, stopping the snow from melting and re-freezing.


Here I am trying to find the best snow amongst some challenging conditions off piste a few weeks back.


Things improved the next week, but the icy layer was still present under the powder.


This one from a few days ago shows how conditions off piste have stabilised, allowing us to ride steeper terrain. Here I am looking back up towards the 'Fingers' as Alex is skiing down. This south facing line had been in the sun all day and began to soften up in the afternoon. On the north faces the powder remained cold, light, and fluffy.

Surface Hoar

The days in Alpe d'Huez have been very warm recently, yet the nights have still been very cold. Cold calm nights create the perfect conditions for surface hoar to grow. Similar to how the windscreen of your car can be covered in frost by the morning, surface hoar is effectively the same thing, but forms as ice crystals growing on the snow. During a clear nights sky a tremendous amount of heat radiates away from the surface of he snow, making the snow surface much cooler than the surrounding air. The moisture in the air above then condenses on the snow creating these tall thin ice crystals. They have a very pretty appearance, glistening in the sun, and as you ski through them you can even hear a light jingling sound as you knock them over.



Despite their pretty appearance, if buried within the snowpack, surface hoar can present a real danger. Stacked up a bit like dominoes, the crystals can take a lot of weight from above, for instance they can hold up metres of subsequent snowfall. But, also like dominoes, when a force acts upon them from the side they will all fall down. In our case this could be a snowboarder making a turn in the snow above, and thus triggering an avalanche.



Furthermore, once buried, surface hoar is very difficult to detect. Also, it tends to form in a hard to predict pattern across the mountain. Sometimes, it may only occur further up the mountain, where higher peaks rise above the clouds. Other times it may only occur in sheltered valleys, where the wind can't blow it over. This can lead to buried 'pockets' across the mountain, where surface hoar is present.

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Thankfully, the high temperatures due today will likely melt most of the surface hoar, meaning that when the snow comes again in a few days, the ice crystals will be gone. However, it is worth remembering that on some north facing slopes, the suns impact won't be felt, and the surface hoar could remain a significant danger.

Do I need a wide snowboard?

When buying a snowboard the customer is often led to beleive that board length is the most important factor. You may have shop assistants putting a board up to your nose and saying 'that looks about right!' However waist width is much more important, especially if like me you have big feet, because toe and heel drag suck big time!


 Toe and heel drag occur when your toes or heels hang over the edge of the board. This in itself is not necessarily a big problem, but as soon as you start tilting a board onto it's edge more, then your toes or heels can drag in the snow lifting the edge of the board away from the snow and meaning you lose grip and wipe out. The situations in which your board would be at such an edge angle is when you are riding steep terrain or you are doing very low carves. These are both quite advanced skills, which is why beginners are often ok on a board that is too narrow for them at first, but then as they progress they begin to have the toe/heel drag problem.

Ok, so why don't we all just ride super wide snowboards to avoid this problem?  Well, as you may well realise, a wide snowboard makes it more difficult to initiate an edge change, therefore making it more difficult to turn. So here we must now find the perfect waist width for our board in relation to our feet. With only a couple of centimetres separating what would be considered a narrow and a wide board, the minor differences in numbers here can make a big difference to your riding.

Narrow Snowboard 

Waist width: 240mm - 245mm

UK Boot size: >  6 

Regular Snowboard

Waist width: 245mm - 255mm

UK Boot size: 7 - 9 

Mid-Wide Snowboard 

Waist width: 255mm - 265mm

UK Boot size: 10 - 11

Wide Snowboard 

Waist width: 265mm - 270mm+

UK Boot size: 12+ 

Above is a rough guide to help you out. However as with anything it's not always that black and white. Firstly your riding style can play a factor. Do you like to lay out euro carves on your belly? Then toe or heel overhang is not an option and you need a board plenty wide enough. However, if you spend most of your time jibbing in the park, and staying away from steep slopes, then a bit of toe overhang may not affect your riding.

Next up is the angles of your bindings. The more your feet are angled out, the less space they will take up going across the board. For instance if you have angles of +15 and -15 degrees you will have less overhang than if you set your back flat at 0 degrees as some people like. 

The next factor for me is a big one; boots. Some brands offer 'reduced footprint' boots.  They have been clever at reducing the amount of materials required at the back and the front of the boot, ending up with a boot as short as it can possibly be for your foot size. I always ride Burton Boots now, as their reduced footprint technology is very good. I once purchased some Salomon boots in a size 11 UK and they were a whole cm longer than my Burtons of the same size! If you have larger feet I would definitely look at a brand offering this technology.

So now if you know you need a wider board start paying attention to the waist width listed on the spec sheet. Also beware that some brands say a board is wide but it actually may not be wide enough, and could be what some brands call mid-wide. 

I have size 11 UK feet and I am currently on a stepchild board with a 264mm waist. I prefer to go slightly wider than the chart above advises because just about my favourite thing to do on a snowboard is lay out a belly scratching euro carve where my board is angled right up on its edge. Toe drag here, which still sometimes happens, can quickly see you go from hero to zero.

Finding wider boards with a 260mm plus waist can be difficult. In my experience I have found that Rome, Never Summer, Bataleon and Stepchild make good wide boards that are actually wide enough. Other brands offer good boards around the 260mm mark, whilst some brands don't offer anything wide at all! 

Finally I would like to mention slightly more unconventional boards. Recently there has been a big trend to shorter fatter boards, spearheaded alot by K2. Originally the idea was to combine the surface area of a longer board into a much shorter one, allowing the same float in powder whilst being more manouverable in tight situations. However, as not every day is a powder day, brands started to realise that these boards could also be incredibly fun on piste. Their wide waists, often over 27cm, allowing for deep carves with no chance of toe or heel drag. Boards like this include the K2 party platter, cool bean, eightyseven, and simple pleasures. Also the Spring Break slush slasher, and Never Summer Instagator to name a few.

Now these boards may not be for everyone, perhaps too directional in shape, or not ideal in the park. However, they can provide an interesting alternative particularly if your board options are limited due to the fact having a waist width of over 260mm, for example, is a necessity. 

I hope this made sense! If you need any advice, ping me an email, I'm always happy to talk board shapes and sizes! 

Feiyu Tech G4 first test

GoPro Cameras take great quality video, however the problem can often be that the footage is shaky and unprofessional looking, particularly when filming moving subjects, ie: snowboarders!

Looking a bit like a selfie stick, but with some clever motors involved, the Feiyu Tech G4 aims to remove any unwanted shake. Below is my first test with the gadget. Despite running, and slipping on the snow, I think it does a pretty good job! 

I then simply connected my camera via wifi to my phone, uploaded the clips using the GoPro App, and then edited and uploaded to YouTube via the Quik App. So much simpler than when I used to film skateboard videos on MiniDV tapes, connect via a special cable to my old computer, edit on Final Cut Pro, then have to render and compress before it got anywhere near YouTube!

I look forward to taking the Feiyu Tech stabalizer onto the slopes soon and capturing some snowboard videos soon...

King Winter

Over the course of the season I spend alot of time looking at freezing levels. The town of Alpe d'Huez is at 1800m and the highest lift at Pic Blanc is 3300m. The lower the freezing level the better!

This week we have seen the freezing level stay consistently below 500m, bringing cold temperatures to the town, and allowing the resort to get ready for the season! 

The cold temperatures mean the existing snow doesn't melt, the snow cannons can keep firing, and whatever snow does fall is light and fluffy!

As you can see by the photo below there's already been a decent amount of snow come down this week, the clouds quickly rolled back in after I took this shot, and more snow is due over the next few days.

After a very slow start to winter last year I am very excited to get riding and see this season off to a fantastic start. The chairlifts open this weekend in Alpe d'Huez, however if the sun does make an appearance before then I'll be sure to go for a hike in order to make some pow turns!



Winter Countdown

Alpe d'Huez is opening in 2 weeks on the 2nd of Dec. The sun is out and it is time to get my legs working and ready for winter!

I do plenty of cycling in the summer,  and now the snow has been cleared from the roads, it was good to get the bike out again. 


As the sun was setting a few of us here in Alpe d'Huez built a small kicker to rail set-up. After 6 months off, it felt good to be back on a board again!

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