February 10, 2006

Lessons learned on my second randonée

Back in April 2005 we did our first bit of ski touring. A 3 hour trip from the base of the Cote 2000 lifts to Col de Very. This season we did a little more, a technically much simpler trip from the base of the Mont d'Arbois lifts to the Igloo restaurant at the top via the nice easy green Mandarin run... Although it was a simpler route and it only took us around 1 hr 40 mins I managed to make a couple of fairly serious mistakes and learnt an important lesson.

I'm not sure how it is for everyone else but... For me at least the most important thing about skinning up a hill seems to be the pace. On our first trip Lucy led the whole way and she set a slow but sustainable pace for us newbies. At the start, once I'd got in the swing of things, it felt a little slow but because we were following Lucy's tracks I stayed in behind her, matched her pace and appreciated the views. Looking back at the log from my Sunnto S6 it seems that we hardly stopped at all in the 3 hour ascent. We did stop but the stops were short, a few minutes each at most. To start with the effort required to walk uphill on skis made us feel we'd never make it, but after around 10-15 minutes of continuous exertion it all became easier and by focusing on the person in front you could just continue to plod on up and the pain and difficulty never seemed to get any worse.

This time was different. We were a bigger group; Maria, Milky, Chris and Hilary were with us and this was their first randonée. Chris took to it like a duck to water but Maria and Milky needed a little more coaching and so, after the first section of the Mandarin, Lucy dropped back from the lead position and helped the slower members. At this point I was feeling that the pace was a little too slow for me, my stride wanted to be longer and when I lengthened it I sped up. Lucy let Chris and I lead and we took off up the slope at our own pace. Soon we were a fair way ahead of Miche and Hilary who, in turn, were a fair way ahead of the rest. The problem was that the faster pace, though more comfortable at the time, wasn't sustainable, at least for me. After a while Chris' superior conditioning and (to be honest) determination had him opening a gap between me that was bigger than the gap between me and the girls behind. Once alone with nobody to lead and nobody to follow it's tempting to stop for a rest every now and then. The problem is, each time you stop it's harder to restart. The stops become more frequent and it becomes a bit of a death spiral, 5 mins walk, stop, 4 mins walk, stop, 2 mins walk stop, 2 paces, stop... Unbeknownst to me Chris was having the same issues ahead on the last steeper section up towards the Mandarin restaurant. Oh, and don't be fooled by the fact that we're walking up a green run, there were some pretty steep sections that I'd never noticed on the way down; not conversion turn steep, but steep enough for us novices to have to zig zag mightily to climb them.

Eventually Maria and Milky gave up and hitched a lift with the skidoo that was ferrying the non skiers to the restaurant and, somewhat sickeningly, Lucy took around 2 seconds to catch up and pass me and take a lead position. We regrouped, had some vodka and chocolate and set out at a sensible pace with the aim of doing the last steep section in one go with a further single spurt from the Mandarin restaurant to the nearest Mont d'Arbois bubble pylon and from there up the last flat section to the top and beer. With Lucy's sensible pace and someone in front to drag us all along we all managed the last sections as planned.

So, when skinning up hill, pace and not stopping are important, very important... Lucy told me as much as Chris and I headed off ahead at the start, but, I didn't listen and, as usual, she was proved to be correct and I was wrong. What I probably should have done when my stride felt uncomfortable early on was allow it to lengthen to a comfortable length but slow it down so that the pace remained the same...

The other mistake I made was somewhat minor and (looking back) purely a macho bullshit thing (which is unlike me, or at least unlike what I like to think of as me ;) ). I never bothered to use the raised heel supports on my telemark bindings to reduce the amount of stepping required on the steeper sections. My reasoning for this at the time seemed sound; there was only one setting (our touring bindings last time had multiple settings for different steepnesses) and the single setting looked too high for the pitch of the slope. Oh and Miche didn't have heel supports on her bindings... In retrospect I should have used mine, it would probably have made life easier.

Still, we made it and the meal was great and the torch-lit descent was fun. I don't mind making mistakes in a safe envionment and I guess the test is how I do next time...


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Posted by Len at February 10, 2006 07:41 PM | Categories: General
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