giovedì 12 maggio 2011

Back to blogging

After a year in which I stopped blogging - this has been due to various issues that I may discuss in later blogs - I am now back in action. I've got a few race reports and travel items which will soon be going live so keep watching this spot.

venerdì 5 marzo 2010

Elia is in training

I’m not the only one in the family training for this summer. My son Elia is also getting ready for a summer’s worth of mountain action. A couple of years ago we started him on a mountain bike with just some easy rolling trips. Last year when he was just seven years old we introduced him to MTB downhill while we were on holiday in the Austrian Alps. He loved it, taking most of the corners with the rear wheel locked and skidding into them like a miniature profesional, also scaring the heck out of his mother and myself.
We’re hoping to do a lot more of this when the summer rolls round so last Saturday morning we went over to the local skatepark to try out some climbing and descending abilities with his MTB. A hour of up and down, around and around. His control has really improved though he still has to flex his kness and get his ass back behind the saddle during the descents, but we’re getting there.
This summer is going to be so much fun!!!!

venerdì 26 febbraio 2010

Tartufo Trail

This fall my local trail running group organised a trail race for the second time ever in the area around Calestano, Parma in the appennine mountains. This area is famous for the prized black truffles which grow in the woods and the race is usually held at the same time as a local truffle fair. Trail running, friends, eating truffles and maybe a few glasses of wine – what more could you ask for.
The mountains around Calestano are not high, reaching only just above 800m (about 2500 feet) but the woody trails leading up and down the hills are beautiful, especially in the fall as the trees turn from green to red and yellow.
There are two race possibilities with the same inscription. When you arrive at the 20km check point you can choose to continue on to complete 50km, or decide to shorten the day and head downwards for a comfortable 26k.
The week heading up to the race was wet, very wet, but Sunday dawned with blue skies and a temperature which was hovering only a few degrees above zero.
Here we are shortly before the start discussing various race strategy – bottles of water or camelback, poles or no poles. Andrea (green sweater and bandana) was one of the main organisers and is an ex-winner of the Neanderthal Trail (short version of the famous Cro-Magnon Trail). I would have cause to thank him later in the day as he offered me a glass of red wine on top of the highest point with the race more than half finished.
By the time of the start the temperature had risen significantly and we were able to run in shorts and T-shirts.
Here I am descending at about the 5km mark in the company of Katia (she was voted as one of the top ten female Italian trailers a couple of years ago). We did the whole race together last year but this year she left me high and dry, going on to win in the female category.
The day, as you can see from this photo, was cloudless but the rain of the week before had left many parts of the course looking more like streams than trails.
I heard a number of people complain about the conditions but most people just got on with it and enjoyed the dry parts.
I did a large part of the race by myself but I managed to hook up with another friend, Arnaldo, for about 15 km though he also left me as we arrived in the last five km at the start of a nasty little climb before the final descent.
I got lost in the last descent, even though I knew the course from the previous year, as I missed one of the signs. Luckily I realised my mistake fairly quickly and was able to retrace my steps losing only about ten minutes. In the end I arrived in 7h 40’ for the 50k course which was 20’ more than last year but as one of the last races of the season I was more than happy.

A great day in a beautiful place, great company and finished off with food and wine.

martedì 23 febbraio 2010

Ski Mountaineering in the Appennines

I have the good fortune to live close to the Appennine mountains. In little over an hour I can get from my house to a ski resort or mountain village and then depending on the season I just have to put on my touring skis, lace up my running shoes or mount my sturdy mountain bike and I can be off on another adventure. On Saturday morning I didn’t have much time since I knew my loving wife wouldn’t be very loving if I spent the whole day away. So I left the house early with my skiing gear and by 08.30 I was in the car-park of the local ski resort where we had held a night time race just one week ago. A quick change into a ski race suit, on with the boots and the climbing skins on the bottom of my skis. My i-pod blasting Pearl Jam into my ears and away I went up the piste. The weather was beautiful, sunny but cold. It had snowed for two days previously so the trees were coated with pristine white icing. Humming away, happy to be in my element I made my way up one of the side pistes without meeting a single skier. Only when I got near the top and in sight of the chair lift did I see anyone else, but this early in the morning there were really very few people. It’s a beautiful day as you can see.

As I reached the top I decided to make a change in my original plans of travesing along the ridge and instead to descend straight down under the chair lift. I asked a couple of guys coming off the lift what the decent looked like down there. They looked at me strange and said.” That’s off-piste.
“Duh, yeah that’s the idea dude”.
“Oh, well it looks like just one snowboard has been down there this morning”.
Great I’m thinking, all that fresh snow and just one snowboard before me. Thirty seconds later I’m carving my way through this white paradise. The snow is a bit heavier than I was expecting but with bit more effort I’m able to curve down the steep descent, avoiding the pilons and bombing a few small jumps. A number of people on the chairs going up look at me as if I’m mad. What do they know. I’m having fun. It finshes all too soon and I’m down at the chair entry. Back on with the skins and I’m soon going up again. Breathing hard, pushing my body upwards. I find myself smiling to myself – it just feels so good to be working hard on these white slopes. I’m soon back up on the ridgeline and I can’t resist taking this photo. You can see the ridgeline extend up to the antenna where I am now headed.

Ten minutes later I reach the antenna. Off with the skins, close the boots and down the forest path . I curve right on to the forest piste and just let my skis rip. A few minutes later I’ve reached the bottom. Back on with the skins, loosen the boots, change the music from Pearl Jam to Blink 182 and I’m ready for the steepness of this new climb. There’s another guy climbing up the piste on the other side but I pass him and quickly leave him behind. The climb is steep enough to warrant using the heel raisers but not so steep as to cause me any problems. Twenty minutes later I’m back at the top and even manage a little run for the last thirty meters.
Off with the skins and back down the same piste that I just climbed.
I’m running out of time so this time I start traversing back towards the parking area before climbing up again. This last climb is the steepest of all of them and I’m beginning to tire. Nevertheless I push myself hard and I’m soon back at the top. One last photo of this beautiful frosted tree and I race back down to the car.

A beautiful morning. One thousand meters of climbing, probably about 10km covered, but above all a great training session in an amazing place.

lunedì 15 febbraio 2010

Schialp 2010

This year my sporting club decided to inaugurate a new sports section under the title of Sky-Alp. This sport is essentially the conversion of ski-mountaineering into a race with a number of climbs and descents in rapid succession. What better way could there be to inaugurate this new section than by organising a race. The venue was to be Schia (a local ski resort) the date was decided for Friday 5th February and since the idea was to have a night-race it was timed for 7.30 in the evening.
Naturally I decided to participate. In the days leading up to Friday it was already obvious that the weather was not going to be on our side. As I waited for some of my companions outside a shopping center on Friday evening, watching the frozen rain land on the asphalt, I was seriously questioning my desire to participate. It rained and snowed for the whole trip and the last steep kilometers up to the resort with snow lying on the road werea little hairy. As we arrived in the car park I was surprised to see a lot of people, much more than I was expecting considering the conditions. We had just half an hour to change into our ski boots, apply the climbing skins to our skis and walk over to the starting area. It was continuing to snow but instead of flakes we were being set upon by small balls of ice.
The Starting grid.
We all lined up in the starting grid and after a quick explanation of the course we were launched on our way by the starter.
Alex the organiser and starter.

I quickly settled into a good rythm – not too fast and not too slow. I let a number of people pass me and just stayed with my rythm. The visibility was ok for the first ten minutes but as we got higher it worsened and also my transparent glasses started misting up. Sooner than I realised we were passing the arrival of the ski lift and then up onto the ridge – less than twenty minutes which I was pleased about. The first part of the ridge was flat with some small descents but after about five minutes it started climbing again. I was in the company of a few other skiers and kept their pace. Finally we could see the fire torches marking the highest point and a minute later we had arrived. I released my skis, stripped the skins of the soles, folded them and put them in my back pockets. I closed my boots, inserted the rear support lock, clipped back into the skis and moved off down the path towards the piste. The first part of this descent was along a snow covered forestry path surrounded by trees. After thirty seconds of descent however we had to turn sharply right and begin the real descent. My headlamp which is great for night time running is not good for skiing at night – note to self, buy a new bigger headlamp for skiing. Luckily I had two other skiers in front of me and I was able to follow their curves down the mountain. Within a few minutes we could see the fire torches marking the end of the descent and a few seconds later we stopped in front of a mountain hut. Release the skis, prop them upright, quickly dry the soles, apply the skins, open up my boots, put the skis back on and I am ready to go. I had some other skiers some way up in front of me and I moved off in that direction. The path quickly became steep, quite a bit steeper than our first ascent. However I again settled into a steady rythm and began gaining some ground on those in front. The last part of the ascent was decidely steep and I can imagine that those with less than perfect technique may have suffered quite a bit. I caught the person just in front of me and we arrived together at the changing area lit up again by fire torches. I repeated the process of before, noticing however that the person who I had just caught was much quicker in those operations. He moved off down the piste into the darkness and I followed 30 seconds later – enough to not be able to see him. The descent was fairly straightforward and so I didn’t worry too much about any curves and just let the skis race down the slope.
The Finish Line.
As I entered into the last part of the descent around a large corner the slope in front of me was lit up so I was crouched down into a race position and let it rip. Just ten seconds later I crossed the finish line as everybody waved me into the correct area and encouraged me to slow down. A huge braking movement and I had arrived. 63’ 20”, 25th out of 42.
Happy to have finished.
I fely pretty good about that until they told me that the first guy had arrived in 36’ and the first girl in 42’. My friend Katia, 3rd woman and also happy to have finished.

The evening finished with a huge pasta party in the local mountain hut. A fitting end to a great evening.

giovedì 28 gennaio 2010

Arolla to Zermatt Part 3 - Breithorn

We were up early the next morning after having slept in real beds for the first time since we left Italy five days previously. After a great swiss breakfast consisting of gigantic portions of cheese, ham and bread all washed down with litres of coffee we grabbed our skis and rucsacs and made our way out to the station to catch the first train down to Zermatt. In front of us, on the other side of the valley, the three peaks of the Breithorn covered in white snow sparkled in the morning sunshine. Once we arrived in Zermatt we quickly walked through the vehicle free streets towards the cable car station. What a difference to be able to walk in the street of a ski mecca without having to avoid cars and be able to breathe pure mountain air. The swiss, as always attentive to questions of ecology and pollution, have allowed the village of Zermatt to ban any traffic within over. The only transport whether for people or merchandise is by electric cars. Transport to and from Zermatt is by train and for those wishing to use their cars there is a large parking area in the last station before Zermatt.
Despite the lateness of the season there are still numerous skiers queing for the cable car – enjoying the last skiing days of the season. We bundle into the cabin with the others and are quickly projected up the mountain to the lowest of the ski slopes. A second cabin takes us up to the Kleine Matterhorn station at about 3400m. For most people this is their highest point and the majority of the occupants of the cabin are quickly skiing downwards. We are bound upwards. After having put on our skis and shouldered our packs we move off away from the ski-pistes towards the flanks of the Breithorn mountain. Our objective is Breithorn West which is the closest of the three peaks and the easiest, particularly with skis. There are a few other groups of people following our same route but the last five days of continuous climbing and descending over 3000 meters have acclimatised our bodies to the rarified atmosphere and we quickly distance them. We climb rapidly, chatting, admiring the splendid scenery which opens before our eyes. Before long we arrive on steeper slopes and the hard snow gives way to hard, wind packed ice where our climbing skins start to slip. We stop briefly to pull out our climbing blades and fix them on to our skis. With these sharp teeth we can continue to climb even these steep icy slopes. When we arrive just below the ridge there is a small cornice which creates some difficulties for us but we are soon on top.
There are now only a few hundred meters to the top of the mountain but we will have to leave our skis here. The ridge is narrow and although we could probably climb up to the top with the skis on it would be too risky to ski back down. We pull out our ice-axes and follow each other along the narrow ridge. Here on top of the mountain at over 4000 meters the previously blue skies are replaced by high clouds and fog blown by the wind.
Finally we arrive on top and we can enjoy the solitude of this high place until the other parties arrive. Marco, as usual, shoots off numerous rolls of film while Robi and I alternate at being models and just enjoying the moment. When the first members of another party arives on top we ask them the favour of taking a photo of the three of us. From five days and thousands of photos this is the only one where the three of us can be seen together.

We quickly make our way back down the ridge to where we left the skis. The climbing blades and skins are quickly removed, our ski boots are tightened, the ski bindings are fixed into the descending postion and we are ready to enjoy our last descent. The first few meters down from the ridge and over the cornice are a little heartstopping but we are soon carving rapid curves down the slopes. The skis jump and rattle on the ice but we have no problem to control them and enjoy the sensation of our rapid descent. As the ice gives way to hard snow the skiing becomes even more pleasurable and our cuves can become tighter and more rapid. Before we know it we are back at the Kleine Matterhorn station and swallowed back into the crowds of skiers on the pistes.
Our trip is finished. Very soon we’ll return to Italy and our normal lives. We smile at each other and observe the slopes of the Breithorn before turning round and following the piste back downwards towards Zermatt.

martedì 12 gennaio 2010

Arolla to Zermatt Part 2 - Dent d'Heren and Cervino

The next day would be the most beautiful part of our tour. Starting early in the morning we traversed again the glacier leading back upwards towards the Tete Blanche, however now instead of gaining it’s broad summit we deviated to the east and began heading towards the Dent d’Heren. Having reached a magnificent crest we have spent the best hours of the morning skiing slopes in front of a magnificent backdrop of the Dent d’Heren while Marco shot off rolls of film. Here is a photo of Robi during one of the descents.
After having whetted our skiing appetites we have moved on, skiing further down the glaciated valley before traversing up again to find ourselves in front of the magnificent north face of the Matterhorn (or Cervino in Italian). The next series of photos do not make any sense since they were taken purely for photographic purposes and do not document our movements. However they show the beauty of our surroundings so well that they have to be included.
Our sojourn in front of the Matterhorn was finished off with a series of skiing photos, one of which I have included here showing Robi attacking a steep slope in fresh snow.
We were having so much fun that we didn’t want to leave but we had to reach Zermatt before the evening so we continued skiing down the large morenic valley, the Matterhorn on our right hand side but slowly being left behind.
Finally we reached the locality of Biel and from there we skiied easily down to Zmutt on snow covered lanes. At that point it was only one kilometer to Zermatt but we had to load our skis on to our rucsacs and walk it in.
In Zermatt the Swiss tourist bard had agreed to put us up in the Gornergrat hotel. This magnificent eighteenth century hotel is nestled up in the mountains way above Zermatt at 3090 metres and also hosts one of the most famous European astronomical laboratories where many Italian, German and Swiss astronomers study and live for much of the winter season. To get there we have to take the cog wheel train which winds its way up the flanks of the mountain before depositing us in the small station in front of the hotel with a n incredible view of the Breithorn range. This would be our objective for the next day and our last ascent before returning home.


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