From sunlit slopes to icy hollows, warm hearths to freezing winds. When heading to the mountains, having the right kit packed is crucial. Exploring the backcountry in the northern French Alps, British snowboarding instructor Dave Crozier puts the versatility of our gear to the test on a splitboarding adventure taking him from summit to shelter.
Summit To Shelter
Adventuring to a mountain refuge during the coldest months of winter can either be the best experience ever or the absolute worst. It all comes down to your preparation.
Aware of the wide open skies and radically fluctuating temperatures, it was going to be a cold night in the refuge, no matter how good a log burner we had. With the intention of catching the last beams of the golden hour, we ascended to the rose-tinted peak of La Grand Terche to soak up the remainder of heat from the sun, before it ducked down behind Roc d’Enfer for the night.
Snowboarding down to the bowl was bitterly cold but you always forget about that after the first turn. Your brain switches into another mode, and the thrills and excitement kick in. As I glided towards one particular bank, I was in two minds as to what manoeuvre I wanted to do.
The thought of kicking up spray, like a powerful top turn on a hollow wave, is usually my first response but the snow was slightly firm on top; a little crunchy, like toast you could say. The lack of recent snowfall, therefore, called for a more drawn-out carve, maintaining as much speed as possible through the apex of the turn. It’s a feeling that gives me joy, the sensation from one turn that feeds the soul for another day.
Once in the shade of Roc d’Enfer our layering came into its own. Adopting a well-thought-out layering system that I can rely on during harsh weather is essential for me, it allows me to pack light and keep agile while splitboarding up and around the French Alps. Within that kit, one of the most important items that I use daily is my trusty merino wool baselayers. I don’t go a day without them. Wearing them is like having an extra layer of skin, that allows my own skin to breathe but still sustain warmth.
If you haven’t invested in good layers, there is another method of saying warm. Whiskey. Although, its effects are decidedly temporary. My advice, get good layers. Then gather good people around you, to share stories under the moon. I opted for all the above and revelled in the evenings drinks, games and banter.
The next day the sun peeked over the ridge for an early start and we knew the exact spot that we wanted to splitboard. A farmer's field in the summer, and an open arena of snowboard turns for the winter enthusiast. Avalanche transceivers were swiftly turned on and placed above my second layer. We set off along an existing Randonnée track, leaving the refuge that kept us sheltered and entertained. Sparkles of surface hoar were visible across the valley with the low sun still taking its time to wake up. We ascended fast with our split boards, racing each other to put a turn in to start the day right.
I looked down at the field we were to play upon and the thoughts of where “do I turn, what type of turn?” crept into my mind, as they always do at these moments. Despite having a backpack on with a sleeping bag I felt agile in what I was wearing. A merino base layer followed by a lightweight long sleeve and a Stormbird jacket. Versatile gear that meant the options of turning would be endless for me. And so they were…