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Ski Touring By Andy Coatsworth - October 1st

By Norma Green

Andy Coatsworth commenced by showing a few pieces of ski-mountaineering equipment and explaining their use, so that those members of the audience without ski touring experience would better understand his subsequent illustrated talk. He explained that the Eagle Ski Club Secretary had instructed him to be positive and not to discourage potential members from taking up this branch of the sport!

He took members through a graduated series of five different locations, commencing with a tour in the Eastern Alps, where snow-bound conditions in the Nufenen Pass Hut created food shortages (scavenging of discarded spaghetti and used tea bags from a previous party were mentioned!) and led the party into skiing in unsatisfactory conditions. Inevitably the group triggered an avalanche, fortunately resulting in damage only to equipment.

Andy moved on to the Bernese Oberland, and showed the splendour of the long Aletsch Glacier, and climbing many of the splendid 4000 metre peaks around it. The talk continued with the Selkirk Range of Western Canada, where trees on the lower slopes and a heavy snow precipitation give radically different skiing conditions to those of the European Alps. The Rusch block test for snow stability was illustrated and explained. Andy showed slides of both Telemark and Alpine ski-tourers from his group of the Alpine Club of Canada enjoying superb powder conditions there in the Selkirk Range.

The talk continued with an account of an Eagle Ski Club expedition to Spitzbergen, also known as Svalbard, an archipelago 700 kilometres north of Norway. A 14 day tour on cross country skis and with sledges culminated with an ascent of Newtontoppen (1717 metres, and 79 degrees north). Andy was candid about his cowardice when an inquisitive Polar bear invaded the party's camp site, but exuberant about the wilderness scenery.

Finally, the lecture recounted an expedition by the Fell & Rock Club to the Sub-Polar Urals. A helicopter dropped the party in a remote Siberian valley from which many first winter ascents and probable first ascents were made. Although the skiing was straightforward, it was apparent that the skiers experienced rather cold conditions for camping, and that even a minor accident could have created difficulties in the remote are. Andy conveyed the exuberance with which four members of the party reached the watershed between Asia and Europe, and both the delight and uncertainty of skiing down unknown valleys.

Andy suggested that some ski-tourers commenced as mountaineers, who learned to ski, and others as skiers who, bored of the piste, moved onto less controlled conditions. Andy confessed that his godson disowned him at Val Thorens, on account of his unfashionable Telemark skis, though he normally tours on Alpine touring skis. He invited those present to take up this enjoyable type of skiing, for example by joining the Eagle Ski Club.