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Snoworks – Off Piste Backcountry St Anton 22-29 Jan 2005 (Long)

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I was a bit apprehensive on arrival at the hotel Tirolehaus on Saturday, run by Simply Ski, but block booked by Phil Smith of Snoworks, for the Off Piste back country course I was attending. I quickly gathered that like me most of the attendees, 28, were single travellers like me, but about 90 % had been on one of Phil courses and therefore there was a lot of re-acquaintances going on.
I didn’t really feel left out and was glad to find a few “virgins” to initially bond with.
I was introduced to my roomy, and then it was straight into eat.
Phil Smith was there to meet us and explained that Sunday was a free ski day, to find our ski legs , followed by an evening session to sort out our groups, receive our equipment of backpacks, transceivers, shovels and probes, and to be given a presentation about snoworks philophosies and the technical aspects of the training we would be receiving.
This was my first venture into a organised off piste training and I was thoroughly looking forward to it.

The weather when we arrived was poor, heavy snow and an avalanche had killed 3 people that afternoon. Sundays skiing was restricted to the lower slopes and the Rendel ski area, which was fine for finding our legs.

Monday – Sorted into my group (level 5) and given training in how to use my transceiver. This involved burying another transceiver and then having to find it. Great fun, but serious lessons learnt.! Lets hope I never have to use it for real.

Snowork treated safety very seriously, and we were checked every morning that we had all our kit and that transceivers were on. This also happened after lunch, and did catch those that hadn’t switched them on!

Weather was still bad so we were restricted to lower slopes. But that didn’t matter, we headed straight off piste for our first lesson. We found deep powder all day and although visibility was poor we had great definition amongst the trees.
There were 7 in my group and I felt lucky to have Phil teaching me. At the end of the day we all got together for a de brief and a further technical lecture form Phil and Brain.

Tuesday – I was told that I had been moved up a group, which was to remain the same for the rest of the week, although we had to repel an advance by Phil later in the week to move someone up a group.
We spent another instruction day with Brain, again on the lower slopes, but never mind it had continued snowing so we had fresh powder all day. Only problem was that Brain wanted to teach us all in all off piste conditions, so we spent most of the day avoiding the fesh powder and sking in chopped up, crud, wind blown, crust etc. Oh well I was there to learn!

Wednesday – Our group were assigned Bruno as our guide and as the upper slopes / lifts had opened we headed out back country. What a day, Bruno kept us in untracked, deep powder all day. We had a couple of small climbs and traverses to reach the out of the way areas, but boy was it worth it. This is what I came on the course for. I have never felt so free, and apart from the rest of my group we were in the middle of no-where with virgin all around.

Thursday – Another instruction day with Brain. Excellent weather, the high lifts were opened and we sped to try and beat the crowds to the powder. Within 30 mins most of the visible slopes were tracked out. Quite amazing! Anyway we continued the day learning how to handle steeps and narrow gullys. The terrain that we picked our way through earlier in the week was revisited and we all sped throught it. My how we had improved.

Friday – Another guiding day with Bruno – we did two very long traverses, the first not really giving much return for the long trek, we found plently of powder but it had already been tracked. The second traverse proved worth waiting for. We follwed two other groups and they peeled off to ski an area we had covered on Wednesday. We kept going and found lovely untouched powder, which eventually took us down through the trees. What fun. We needed a taxi to ferry us back to a lift, but Bruno had this all sorted so we never waited longer that 5 mins for taxis.

Saturday – Bloody Cold -25. Free skied for the morning as pick up was at 14:30. Stuck to the pistes with the rest of my group and tried to ski every run in St Anton / St Christoph that morning. We nearly managed it too, but gave up as it was so cold.

In summary, I had a great week, had great company and I didn’t stop laughing all week. It was a very well organised setup and I don’t think I could have got more out of the week. It was a great mix having the instruction and the guiding.
I wouldn’t hesitate in going on another one, and can’t wait for next year to repeat the experience.
Every evening after the instruction day we watch ourselves on videos and were de briefed which I found to be invaluable throughout the week.

If you want a week to ski off piste and just potter around then forget going on this one, as we were pushed and pushed. No rest bites and no long lunches. Most of the group were too knackered to go out in the evening and heavy drinking was avoided except by a few, who definitely paid the price the next day.

All in all a great week.

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