Freeski Mountaineering Camp 2014 (28.3.-30.3.2014)

“She’s the boss!” At least that’s the way Joe Vallone puts it. He’s referring to La Meije, the 3974 metre high mountain that governs the lives of everyone in the nearby village of La Grave and any skiing they may do. The small ski resort of La Grave cowers 2500 metres below the spectacularly rugged rock and ice of the north face of La Meije. Joe is originally from America. As an avid freeskier he came to La Grave many years ago and has stayed on ever since. He was one of the participants in the Freeski Mountaineering Camp, an event that was organised as part of the GORE TEX Experience Tour. The participants were accompanied by legendary freeriders Seb Michaud and Bruno Compagnet and professional alpine mountaineer Christophe Dumarest. Joe and five other ambitious freeskiing enthusiasts from all over Europe were chosen to take part in the event which involved GORE-TEX athletes Seb Michaud, Bruno Compagnet and Christophe Dumarest guiding them down the spectacular descents and steep couloirs of La Meije.

The participants were selected in an application procedure that was conducted via the Web site of the Experience Tour at http://www.experience-tour.com and via Facebook. Another six participants had applied through Gore’s media partners in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, France and the USA. A group of highly motivated but somewhat nervous freeriders from a total of eight different countries congregated in La Grave before setting off in search powder snow – all kitted out with GORE-TEX Pro jackets from Norrøna and ski gloves from Level.

Freeriding with the best

_MDSC2139The weather played along. The powder could have been better: it hadn’t snowed for days in La Grave. The “normal” descent had turned into a steep mogul field with something resembling snow cream at the bottom of the piste. As experts in their field, that wasn’t a problem for Seb and Bruno. After an ascent that took about three quarters of an hour, they guided the participants a few metres away from the lift to the start of what turned out to be an unforgettable experience for everyone: surrounded by breathtaking scenery, they skied through varied terrain including challenging snow conditions and perfect powder.

Ice in the sun

Everyone who attended the Freeski Mountaineering Camp was a highly accomplished skier. However, not everyone wanted to spend the entire time freeriding. Christophe _MDSC2848Dumarest, one of France’s best all-round alpinists, was responsible for the topic of mountaineering. He had the participants practising different rope anchor techniques on a serac (a block of glacial ice formed by intersecting crevasses on a glacier) and abseiling with their skis down an ice wall that was overhanging in places. Then their skies were exchanged for crampons and their sticks for ice tools. You need to learn how to use an ice axe: some of the participants ended up with extremely swollen forearms. But neither that nor feeling exhausted dampened any of the participants’ spirits. After all, being on a glacier at an altitude of 3500 metres on a bright sunny day is not a bad place to be – especially not when your French guides unpack their rucksacks to produce cheese, crusty baguettes and a few bottles of excellent red wine!

Camp based in international village

What you really need at the end of a full day spent working your thighs and forearms is a decent meal. Fortunately the evening meal was every bit as good as the picnic on the glacier. The hotel that the group was put up in
has a German name: Edelweiss. It is run by a lady from Holland and a man from Scotland. The waiters come from Finland and Spain and everything that comes out of the kitchen couldn’t be better.

With all its athletic challenges, adventures and pure fun, the Freeski Mountaineering Camp 2014 in La Grave was a spectacular success – very much thanks to top-class athletes Bruno, Seb and Christophe. La Meije was a tolerant boss and no-one went home injured. The only thing that stands in the way of the camp being repeated in 2015 is the very possible likelihood that Gore might come up with some even better ideas for its Experience Tour…