16373271959_7138be462f_o

The Diamir jacket and pants. Photo http://www.hikinginfinland.com

Mountain Equipment are a long established British  brand who have been making top quality climbing and mountaineering products for over 50 years. Recently they have taken all of this knowledge and experience to produce a range of ski clothing which I have been putting to the test this winter.

The products I have been using are pre production versions the Diamir Gore Tex  jacket and pants, and the Spectre soft shell wind stopper pant. They will be available to buy this Autumn for next winter.

The fabric of the Diamir jacket and pants is 80D pro shell which I have found to be very hard wearing. With super light fabrics I can easily destroy clothing in less than a season but after a hard season of skiing there is very little wear. I often find zips can be a weak point as I’m not very gentle with them up in the mountains but have had no issues with the reasonably burley zips of the Diamir. For the average user this should equate to a very long life span. For something so hard wearing  the weight as been kept reasonably low. By keeping the design simple and well fitted without excess fabric the weight has been kept to 1335g for the jacket and trousers combined.

The Diamir jacket has a clean aesthetic look with everything you need but nothing extra. It breathes well but when you are working hard the large pit zips allow easy extra venting and allows the jacket to remain closed, great for boot packing or skinning if its snowing. There is an integrated removable snow skirt to keep the power out on those deep days and a small pocket on the arm for your electronic ski pass which I have found really useful. The hood has a great fit over any helmet I have tried and also cinches down well when its required if you are not wearing one. The fit works well for me, its not baggy so minimal bulk means it works well with a harness but also it has an active fit and articulated arms to allow for a great freedom of movement. The two large pockets are a perfect size for slipping your skins into and are still accessible when wearing a harness.

The trousers have some very nice details, the articulated knee means they sit perfectly when in a skiing position and the large reinforced kick strips have protected the trousers from damage from my ski edges and even a few glances from my crampons. The trousers also have a venting zips on each for easy temperature control. The gaiter fits perfectly over a ski boot but is also removable if you don’t want to use them.  A zip allows the trousers to expand around the ankle witch would be a great advantage if you were using Dynafit boots in touring mode with the buckle sticking out of the side. The lower pockets have really handy little clips in them you can attach things to so that you don’t drop them in the snow when you open the pocket, which I have done many times before and are also still accessible when wearing a harness.

The Spectre pants are perfect for ski touring, they breathe incredibly well but still cut 100% of wind out and provide enough warmth if the weather turns a little nasty. I found myself using the Diamir pant for free riding in deep snow and winter touring in harsh weather but now the spring is here the Spectre is my pant of choice. The fabric is stretchy and great to skin and climb in with a really comfortable inner against the skin. There is a pocket built into one of the venting zips designed for a modern small transceiver if you don’t want to wear it on a harness when skinning without lots of upper body layers on,  but I have found multiple handy uses for this like an easy access energy gel. They also share the ski specific features of the Diamir pant such as the kick strips, articulated knees and removable gaiters.

All in all Mountain Equipment have struck a great balance between weight and durability with well designed, aesthetic products. For a company new to the ski market it’s an impressive achievement and I haven’t used anything better suited to the task the products are designed for. 

Articulated knee of the Spectre pant.

Articulated knee of the Spectre pant.

Ski pass arm pocket and integrated removable powder skirt on the Diamar Jacket.

Ski pass arm pocket and integrated removable powder skirt on the Diamar Jacket.

DSC_3766-1

Diamir jacket and pants in use in the Cosmiques couloir. Photo http://www.danielwildeyphotography.com

P1140011

This slope is commonly called the Col du Courtes and is a nice little route right at the back of the Argentiere basin. When Mikko had told me it looked good and invited me to ski with him I was skeptical, but I hadn’t done any steep skiing in Chamonix since Brendan’s death on the Tour Ronde and it was time to get back on the horse.

The weather turned moody as we approached the bottom of the route, but the climb and descent went smoothly despite me still having a lingering cold. Mikko was kind enough to put most of the track in as I wasn’t on top form, and we found nice compact grippy snow with a little loose soft layer on top. Its not as fun as skiing deep powder but conditions like this are probably the safest to descend steep slopes in and I was grateful for the good skiing.

Its still an emotional experience going into the mountains here for me. Skinning up the Argentiere glaciere I felt sad looking at mountains and remembering times I had spent on them with lost friends. Soon the rhythm of the boot pack and the focus of the steep turns made me remember why love being up there, and all of my negative thoughts faded away. On the way out I took joy from my memories instead of sadness, made all the more vivid being back in the place where they were formed.

Skinning up the Argentiere glacier.

Skinning up the Argentiere glacier.

Mikko crossing the burgshrund.

Mikko crossing the burgshrund.

Mikko approaching the top.

Mikko approaching the top.

Ben skiing at the top.

Ben skiing at the top.

Ben joining the large hanging curtain.

Ben joining the large hanging curtain.

Mikko near the top.

Mikko near the top.

Ben in the middle of the face, some nice turns here.

Ben in the middle of the face, some nice turns here.

Mikko heading into the lower section.

Mikko heading into the lower section.

Ben making his way through the rocky section.

Ben making his way through the rocky section.

I recently got back to Chamonix after my first trip to Scotland. With all that has happened this year and with bad conditions I decided it would be a good time to get away and check out a new place. My good friend, and long term skiing and climbing partner Tom Grant had been in Scotland for the winter on the guides scheme so I decided this would be a good place to go.

Our plan was to try and do a bit of skiing, but there had just been a thaw as I arrived and conditions weren’t looking great so we decided to head from Toms in Avimore, over to Ben Nevis for a day of climbing. We had a great relaxed social day on an easy ice route route called Indicator wall with Toms fellow aspirant guide Paul Swail and his very competent client Gary Bloomer.  I got to go to the highest point in the UK for the first time, altitude didn’t seem to cause a problem, with it not being much higher than the apartment I live in. Although its not that big the North face of Ben Nevis is pretty impressive and has an almost alpine feel to it with some fantastic looking routes. The weather was great and I really got a taste of Scotland’s wonderful landscape.

Walking up my first view of Ben Nevis.

Walking up for my first view of Ben Nevis.

Read the rest of this entry »

© Ben Briggs

Brendan approaching the summit of Lyskamm before his first snowboard descent of the Beneditti line. © Ben Briggs

On the 23th of January 2015 Brendan was killed in a snowboarding accident on the Tour Ronde. Nothing I can write about Brendan will ever do him justice, he was a special person, liked by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him and loved by so many.

I struggle to think of a single time that I spent with Brendan when he didn’t have a smile on his face, being with him made me a better person. His positive attitude and kindness were infectious. He didn’t sweat the small things or let anything get him down, he had made his perfect life for himself with his girlfriend Maureen and this shone through in is permanent happiness.

Snowboarding was just one aspect of Brendan’s life, he was an adventurer at heart, never working more than he had to, to do the things he loved, enjoying nature, running, hiking, climbing, traveling and exploring new places. He was social and everyone enjoyed his company there was always a great story to be told and laughs to be had.

That morning, like every one after a fresh fall of snow we headed up to the mountains to enjoy their good times. There was no real objective and seeing the North face of the Tour Ronde looked good, Brendan, Mikko Heimonnen, Jesper Petersson, Luca Zattoni and I decided that was where we wanted to go.

It was one of the first real steep slopes me and Brendan skied together back in 2009. Since that time Brendan had gone on to make some incredible descents all over the world. I have never skied with a more competent or accomplished partner. He was skilled, cautious and humble, I always felt safe in the mountains with him. Despite this he was relatively unknown within the ski world, probably due to the fact he didn’t care for publicity or if any one knew about a beautiful first descent he had made. He never courted attention or sponsorship, just going to the mountains for himself, because he loved it.

We climbed the normal route of the mountain, it was peaceful, it was beautiful and we were happy. We started to descend, it was knee-deep powder but you could still feel the hard ice lurking below the cold light snow. By chance Brendan was the last to set off and we all stood watching as he came down towards us.

He descended to the skiers right of our tracks but the snow cover there was thinner. It wasn’t bonded to the ice beneath. As the snow sloughed away he found himself left on nothing but ice and started to slide. He did not fall, just slid on his toe edge trying to gain some purchase until he disappeared over the cliff, and then reappeared 300m below.

I phoned the PGHM and Brendan was taken off in the helicopter before we could get down to him. I deluded myself he was OK and we had to get off the mountain to see him in the hospital.

He was dead by the time he came to rest at the bottom.

The PGHM do an extremely difficult job, they were fantastic in such a hard time and their help was invaluable. I would also like to thank all of the people to came together to help Maureen, Brendan’s family and I after, I don’t know what we would have done without you.

Skiing or snowboarding big mountains is inherently dangerous, as safe as we try to be we can not totally negate the risks. We all know that but you never really think these things will happen to you. The mountain can be cruel sometimes and it seems unfair, why Brendan? Why do the best, nicest, least deserving people die? It’s not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It seems right to question what we do at a time like this, but I don’t really have any answers. Participating in ‘extreme’ sports is a selfish endeavour, we accept the risks  and take the enjoyment but its others who suffer if something goes wrong.  However everything has a level of risk involved, where do you draw the line of what is an acceptable risk to take? To go through life with no risk at all would be a turgid existence. Everyone makes their own personal choices, I don’t think I could live a life where I didn’t go into the mountains, but now with a perspective that has been changed forever.

Too many friends, skilled, knowledgable people, have been lost to the mountains recently, I don’t know how we can change things to stop that happening but I want to, it shouldn’t just be accepted as part of the game.

It is tragic that Brendan died at such a young age, he should have had many more good years. However he made the most of every single day and in his short time lived more than most do in their full lifetime, that is not tragic and made him the amazing, kind, happy person he was. I will always remember him and the amazing times we spent together, as I’m sure many others will. Brendan will never be forgotten and he will live on in our hearts and minds.

“What I do know is that a life without seeing magic is not a life well lived. Mountains are just one tool in this quest, but it’s the one I know and the one I breath. It’s not about going out in to the mountains because they are worth dying for. I don’t think there are many things that are worth dying for, but I still need to go out in to the mountains because they give me something to LIVE for.” Andreas Fransson.

I have put together a short video from our ascent of the Tour Ronde that day, these were our last moments together, as peaceful and joyful as every time we shared on the mountain together.

So I think pretty much everyone knows the Alps have had a pretty terrible season for snow so far….. But we have still managed to get out for some fun days and good skiing, it’s just been harder to find. Back at the very beginning of December I headed up the tour Ronde  first to ski the Gervasutti with Tom Grant and Ben Tibbits, then to ski the North face with Brendan O’Sullivan. Even though we had no snow in the valley, a rainy summer and autumn meant there was a lot of snow up high and we found some good conditions.

Unfortunately this wasn’t to last long as high winds stripped all but the most protected snow. This made things difficult for Ben Tibbits and I who had a photo shoot for Mountain Equipment’s fantastic new ski products  to shoot. We set out for two days in the Argentiere Basin and struggled on the first day but luckily managed to find a hidden stash of snow in the Aiguille du Chardonnets South East couloir on the second.

More recently  i have had a couple of good runs from the Aiguille du Midi with Jesper Petersson and Brendan O’Sullivan, however the glaciers have been more complicated than usual du to the lack of snow. There has been a lack of good lift served free riding with just a handful of good days at Grands Montets and the Helbronner but hopefully things will pick up now before the steep season begins.

On the way up the Tour Ronde Normal route. © Ben Tibbits

On the way up the Tour Ronde Normal route. © Ben Tibbits

Skiing the Gervasutti.

Skiing the Gervasutti. © Ben Tibbits

Read the rest of this entry »

© Ben Briggs

© Ben Briggs 

On arriving back to Chamonix after an amazing climbing trip in north Wales I was surprised to see wintery conditions and was keen to try and get up skiing. Brendan and I wanted to do something in Chamonix, but when meeting Luca for a drink he said he had been told of good conditions on Lyskamm and soon persuaded me a road trip was in order.
Read the rest of this entry »

Mont Maudit North face. © Ben Briggs

Our tracks on the Mont Maudit North face. © Ben Briggs

Our tracks on the Mont Blanc du Tacul North face. © Ben Briggs

Our tracks on the Mont Blanc du Tacul North face. © Ben Briggs

At the start of the summer I received some prototype skis from Whitedot and was keen to head up and test them, so after some storms Brendan and I headed up high in search of some good snow.

Read the rest of this entry »