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Saturday April 21, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

PlanetSKI's Chief Reporter ends her season by ski touring on her first Ski Club GB Freshtracks holiday. So, how did she get on?

I was first taught the basics of ski touring - or skinning - three years ago and chronicled the experience here.
My aim was to get proficient enough to join friends who had taken to touring with such enthusiasm you would think their lives depended on it.

Somehow I've only managed to go on one very short tour since.

So, when the opportunity came up to join an end of season week-long touring trip to the French Alps with the Ski Club of Great Britain, I decided to grab it.

Not without some trepidation, I might add.

I consider myself a touring novice.

I also have a rubbish lung capacity and, despite having never put a cigarette anywhere near my lips, I struggle like a 40-a-day smoker any time I put in any physical effort while going uphill.

Add to that the altitude and I can pretty much guarantee I'll be as slow as a snail.

"Don't worry, it's an introduction to ski touring and the terrain isn't that difficult there," said my Ski Club of GB contact.

Flaine, FranceFlaine, France

The "there" he refers to is Flaine in the Haute-Savoie, little more than an hour's drive from Geneva.

It's part of the Grand Massif ski area, which includes Les Carroz, Morillon, Samoëns and Sixt.


The resort centre at 1,600 metres is not the prettiest in the Alps but I've heard the off-piste is fantastic.
The skiing is in a snowy bowl that averages almost six metres of snowfall a year.

This year it's had a whopping 16 metres and its runs are largely north or north-west facing which sounds promising.


The Ski Club has two chalets 200 metres up the hill in the more attractive Hameau de Flaine and runs Freshtracks holidays from here every week of the season.

View from Ski Club chalet, FlaineView from the chalet, Hameau de Flaine

I'm on the last one which is taking place in the last week of Flaine's season.

I'm joining a group of 14 Ski Club members and Club leader Dave Beecham on what's called in the brochure Flaine Exploration.

It's for skiers who meet the Club's silver (intermediate) and purple (advanced) standards for off-piste but no previous touring experience is required.

Ski Club at FlaineSome of the group gather for day one

Some of the members have a little touring experience, others have none.

Many have been on several Freshtracks trips and a few are returners to Flaine.

For 21 years the Club has hired Yann Westercamp as their lead instructor and guide and, judging by first impressions, I suspect that his enthusiasm for running the courses is as great now as it was at the start.

Yann WestercampYann Westercamp

Day one of the ski tour turns out to be overcast and very mild. 

We start off gently as Yann and fellow instructor Diane Moreau take us through some exercises at the top to warm up.

Diane and YannDiane and Yann

Then they assess our skiing technique as on day two we'll split into two groups.

We're led into a steep, snow-filled gully.

Testing techniqueTesting technique off-piste in a gully

Our first taste of skinning is, thankfully, relatively easy and short.

We learn how to apply the skins to the base of our skis, how to change the ski bindings to and from walk mode and we are told how to glide the skis along the surface.

How to apply skinsYann shows how to apply the skins

Ski touringFirst-timer with his skins


As one of our number says, it's about 20 minutes of skinning and an hour of pfaffing.

A mild night with persistent rain and full cloud cover has made the snow wet and heavy.

Our first day skinning and skiing off-piste has been hard-going right from the start.

"Today was tough," Yann says as the day draws to a close, adding - in case we were in any doubt - "the snow was s**t", though with his accent it sounds more like sheet.

Flaine"Sheet" snow

The forecast is for a clear, cooler night followed by blue skies and warm sunshine for day two, which sounds wonderful.

"Tomorrow we'll teach you how to do kick turns on much steeper slopes," Yann says, which doesn't sound quite so wonderful.

Instalment two of Freshtracks In Flaine is coming soon.....

See our separate story about the risks of ski touring this spring, which includes a video interview with Yann Westercamp:

The Ski Club Of Great Britain runs hundreds of Freshtracks holidays for members each season, split into six types - off piste, touring, weekend, development, heli & cat and action. There are also trips specifically aimed at solo skiers, families and the over 55s.

Flaine Exploration (2017-18 season prices) from £859, including 7 nights chalet board and accommodation based on a twin share, coach transfers and 5 days with an instructor and a Ski Club leader.  Course only price £450.

Any equipment required, including touring boots, skis and skins can be hired from Flaine Super Ski, which works with the Ski Club in resort.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

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