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Push yourself - Scott Pleva, Les Trois Vallees
Tuesday January 25, 2011 - Email this article to a friend

Scott Pleva is a ski instructor and he is very good on piste but, by his own admission, not so hot on steep and exposed terrain. He signed up for a week with the Eagle Ski Club in Meribel to do something about it.

Most of the people on the course seemed to be climbers, mountaineers and experienced ski tourers.

We had a warm up day on our own and although it turns out I am probably the most technically proficient skier on piste, I am by far the biggest chicken with a serious fear of heights.

I really, really don't like exposed terrain and because of this only have a little "serious" off piste experience in steep terrain.

I was hoping the course will force me to have a go at some things that I won't do on my own.

The rest of the group are avid climbers and a few have made serious assaults of Mount Blanc, and other mountains.

One guy is a full time mountain leader and another rocks up with a climbing helmet! We have two Daves so I christen them 'Gung' and 'Ho' as they seem ready to jump into anything.Surprised

We meet our guide for the week, Tom Saxlund who runs New Generation ski school, is a BASI trainer, a keen mountaineer and long term resident of the Three Valleys.

Scott finds his ski legsScott finds his ski legsDay 1

A leisurely ski over to La Masse to try to find some decent snow, but the pistes are very hard  and with no fresh snow for several weeks our week challenging was going to be challenging.

A spell of warm weather just before our trip along with heavy rain up to 3,000 Metres crusted over the snow pack and we found lots and lots of breakable and not so breakable crusted off piste runs that may as well have been icy pistes.

Very tentative first day turns in the horrible snow.

The run down Lac du Lou from the top of the La Masse bubble was pretty lousy with almost a piste laid down from all the skiers taking a single line and rock hard crust everywhere else.

But there was a good lunch spot near the bottom.

After lunch we headed back to Meribel and did some drills on piste along the way to work on our fore aft balance so the crust wouldn't throw us about so much.

Now we were warmed up we went into the Meribel Couliour off the top of the saulire cable car.

I had never gone in there as it looks terrifying to me and a few raised eyebrows were seen on the climbers when we saw the rocks and avalanche debris on one side. Gulp!

We skied down a path and came in below the rocks at the top and tried to stay clear of the avalanche debris.

It was pretty much survival skiing with really heavy snow with some small bumps and plenty of rocks poking out.

Once in I skied it okay so was quite chuffed, but it was a test of nerve.

Are you serious? Gulp!Are you serious? Gulp!













Half way downHalf way down

















Always looks easier from the bottomAlways looks easier from the bottom













Day Two

We did some simulated narrow gullies on the ridges at the edges of some red runs with rough snow on the slightly off piste bit.

Then just to test our side slipping skills we went into a gully that we couldn't see the exit just below the panoramic restaurant at the top of the Saulire cable car.

Tom stopped half way in and motioned for one at a time and one of the experienced climbers went in first and took ages to get down.  My knees were shaking and heart thumping.

It wasn't too bad but it was a very, very narrow 2 m wide gully which Tom measured at 50 degrees.

iSeriously steep, seriously narrowSeriously steep, seriously narrow

















Gets steeper the longer we look at itGets steeper the longer we look at it

















My hand was on the uphill side and I thought I was leaning into the hill but it was that steep, but very short and a good learning experience.

After our little warm up we went back up to ski the Emile Alaise coulior, Tom naturally took us into the more difficult south entry.

There was better snow in there and only a bit of crust on the top section, a couple of jump turns and into rough crud snow but lots better than the first day.

Over to Les Avals valley after lunch and video review.

I had done this route before and was looking forward to it but again the snow was really bad, rock hard crust and really tough to turn in.

Thick heavy powder on Les AvalsThick heavy powder on Les Avals













About half way down I kinda lost my nerve as it was really tough to make turns in the snow conditions whilst on a ridge above the canyon and a fall would have been bad.

Tom poked his head over the ridge into the canyon and jumped in.

I was rubbish after getting a bit dizzy on the ridge and took ages to side slip over the very small cornice and make a turn.

Bummer, as I wasted the only good snow in the valley.

We will bring you the next installment of Scott's blog later in the week.  It gets steeper and scarier!

Scott works for the ski school, InsideOut, that is a partner of PlanetSKI. He teaches indoors at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead and outside in the Alps.

For details about the company see our feature on the ski school here and check out the InsideOut web site for further information.

For the spirit of the mountains

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