New toys



Bansko is having a pretty shitty start to the season this year, poor snow conditions and mild temps mean that there are only a few pistes open and those only because of man made snow. So this is the ideal moment to talk about toys!

This year I will finally be going into the back country with the correct kit. I’ve been free riding, ski mountaineering or back country skiing for most of the last 18 years and to be honest I’ve been a bit of a prat about it. For many years I have been relying more on chat than knowledge, luck than judgement and a 6th sense for danger rather than snow pack analysis. In the last 10 years I have been learning more and more about how the snow pack evolves and how it responds to various climactic changes and what is now at the fore front of my mind is how little I really know.   Fortunately I have survived all the little lessons the mountain has given me and I’m also rich enough to be able to buy the right equipment. So what is the right gear! Below is a list of what I use and also some dream items if budget is no issue.

ABS-AIRBAG , this system is praised and dammed in equal measure, ABS claim a 97% survival rate for people taken in avalanches using their system, the worst analysis I have seen on the internet suggests a 47% survival rate. Either way this little backpack looks like it will increase your chances of survival in an avalanche by more than 50%. A total no brainer. The base unit is lightweight and has enough space for shovel, probe, medical kit, spare gloves, spare hat and lunch. You will need to buy a supplementary pack that zips on the outside if you are planning anything more than lift assisted skiing into the side country. I know of one friend who has deployed his and he believes it saved his life.

Avalanche Transceiver , a proven life saver for many many years, no need for details here. Anyone who goes off piste should have one of these. The device emits a signal while attached to the skier. The device also has the ability to locate signals emitted by other devices at the flick of a switch. You must practice using these as it is not easy but with practice the “PEEPS” as they are sometimes called are the second best life savers, available. I’ll come to the best life saver later on. The  BCA tracker 2 that I have is a tried and tested device offering some of the best value for money on the market. If money is no issue and santa is feeling generous the Pulse Barryvox  is the best money can buy.

Shovel and Probe I bought a pretty basic set up from K2 which can with a free back pack, I use the back pack for cycling in the summer as it is super slim and light. There is a huge spectrum of qualities and prices available on the market  but as long as you are not buying something totally mickey mouse most of them are acceptable. you are looking for something STRONG and LIGHT. In use you are going to be shifting up to a ton of snow so spend the extra quid and get something decent.

Boots  The amount of crap talked about boots is really pissing me off at the moment. Sadly most of it is totally correct, yes if you are a pro skier every millimetre matters. I recently spent 1/2 a day in Snow and Rock in Exeter getting some new boots for the old man. (they have an amazing deal on at the moment!) Now the old man started skiing in leather boots when Mammoths were still roaming the westcountry and has never owned his own boots. I on the other hand just ring up Salamon and order boots from the catalogue . So you must pity the poor bastard in snow and rock who was sticking to the training manual. Yes I am sure he is right but at the end of the day I am not Alberto Tomba, I want more space than normal, the old man likes his boots loose, some people want their boots to hurt. Just remember, don’t listen too much to the guy in the shop and buy what feels right!

I ride in Salamon Quest 110’s simply put they are awesome, lightweight, stiff for the downhill, flexible and grippy for climbing and they look cool!

Jacket and trousers There is only one brand for me when it comes to the last layer between me and the elements, and that is Arc’teryx, indestructible ( I have been trying and failing  for years to trash my trousers), comfortable, waterproof when they need to be breathable when they need to be, warm, fashionable…. what more do you need. Perfect mountain clothing. Thank you Arc’teryx for 10 happy years.

Silky underwear I grew up in the countryside and I love sheep but not until I discovered Icebreaker did I realise quite how much I love sheep! Every bit of hype you read on their website is true. I’ve just just come back from the Himalaya where for 3 weeks 24/7 I wore my Icebreaker thermals sweating up hills, sleeping in scanky huts you name it they didn’t come off and at the end they didn’t smell, I wasn’t covered in sores, they didn’t rub, chaff or get crusty!

Skis, bindings and Skins This is a slightly silly topic as it is so personal, and really depends on what you like and what you can afford. I have two basic sets of skis one are the mighty K2 Ob’sethed a truly mental pair of powder munching, sick ass bad boys that turn any normal skier into GOD! What they do to me is beyond the realm of modern science! This winter I have swapped my old Rossignol bindings onto these as they are way too heavy for touring and I moved the pair of Marker Baron touring Bindings that used to be on them onto my old Rossignol B3’s . These legendary all mountain skis have done me proud for many years and have now been “relegated” into my touring catagory. Not a bad place to spend their retirement, they work for everything from rock hard crud to powder a true all mountain ski!

Gloves One word. Hestra. Every other pair of gloves on the market is dog poo by comparison. I have been using a variation of the Classic Czone for the last 18 years, I have replaced them once. This is the only pair of gloves you will ever need. If you are a girl these ones if you are a snowboarder these ones. End of.

The best kit money can buy? Experience, training and caution have saved more lives than any piece of hardware. Be prepared to retreat if conditions do not look favourable and never forget you are in the mountains to have fun so take as few risks as poss!



Eastern Front

Bansko seaons opening 2014



Season 2013/14 has opened with a bit of a bang. As ever Ulen AD have kept us all hanging on tender hooks with their usual saga of publishing the rates for this winter. So far we have the prices until the 20th of December what the real prices will be we wont know until after that! Their thinking is totally beyond comprehension, are they trying to be clever, are they trying to force people to book through Balkan holidays London? Maybe there is some cunning plan involving Amazon-esque tax avoidence either way it makes Ulen look pretty amateur as holiday makers drown social media with enquiries about what is going on.

As a local we have become used to these strange games however this year Bansko has achieved a new high in the pre season fail stakes. Ulen have for years been trying to get rid of the competition, normally to little avail but this year the stakes have been upped. Some how they have managed to persuade the Mayor of Bansko to bulldoze  all the local ski shops. A double fail as this is pretty much a guarantee that the mayor will never get re-elected, the shops are gone and in their place is now the most ugly bomb site, and all the shop owners have now moved into new premises still close to the lift but in stronger buildings that will take more than a JCB to knock down!

The usual pressure on local businesses to get out of town has been cranked up to unprecedented highs this winter but most of us are doing o.k. with our regulars but it is sad to see a few fall by the wayside. It is a bit like a cross between Darwinism and David and Goliath but where Goliath has got himself a stone proof helmet and Darwin has a 50 cal. machine gun!

If you are planning to visit Bansko this winter I would ask you to support the local guys as those small businesses that really care about their guests are slowly getting stamped out.

The little world of Don Camillo

The little world of Don Camillo doesn’t seem to have got across the channel . On the continent it has been a huge part of peoples lives for nearly 70 years. I was introduced to the books by The Old Man and a very strange choice it was to suggest to a teenager. The stories have stuck with me for life, I have read and reread them over and over and love the characters like members of an extended dysfunctional family.

The little world is somewhere in the flat misty plains of the Po river in northern Italy, that agricultural land that gave us Parmesan, risotto, Balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta. Lush fertile land breeds a type of hardened man that knows, through graft he will succeed the Po valley is such a land. miles and miles of flat green fields, soil as black as tar, bordered by the Alps far to the north and the Apennines to the south, the food and wine, the people and the climate have interested me since I first stepped into the little world through the books of Giovannino Guaresch.

December the 26th 2013 is Avalon’s 10th Birthday and as we can’t really take a holiday right at the beginning of the season I decided to take Vania and Dylan on a trip overland through the little world of Don Camillo, the drive from Bansko to Igoumenitsa in Greece was a bit of a pain but once we were on the ferry things slowed down to a more manageable pace. 3 hours a day of driving followed by lunch and a lazy walk around whichever town we ended up in.

I wont bore you too much with details of meals eaten and wine drunk castles visited and views seen but there are some details that really stand out. The first place we stopped was just outside Modena a small nothingish little village with one bar and a couple of hotels, the main square was an exact replica of how I imagined the village of Don Camillo, arcades, a huge church tower and the whole village packed into the one barrestaurant, young and old alike eating and drinking. The food was incredible! Just a pizza and a risotto to share between the three of us but wow what a rissotto, plump white rice in the creamiest starchy sauce, flavoured with nothing more than a hint of Rosemary and Balsamic. As the evening wore on the background music changed to techno for half an hour to get rid of the olds and then back to chilled house for the rest of the night to make the place more of a bar than restaurant.

The next 14 days carried on in much the same vein, France and Italy really blow the mind when it comes to living well, we stopped a few times at motorway services to have lunch and even there you will find a better steak than anything in Bulgaria and a selection of hot cooked food that would baffle the average British motorist. The pace of life on the continent really is lovely, lots of muddling around talking rubbish, drinking coffee and making lunch a proper sit down meal rather than a rushed sandwich at the desk. Compared with the hectic 10 days we had in the U.K. our two weeks on the road were snail like!

Back in Bansko we have been plugging away at getting the hotel ready while the town hall plugs away at smashing everything up before the season starts. Sadly I do understand why our Dumb Mayor Georgi Ikonomov  has decided to attack the town with a buldozer but none of the reasons are publishable here due to worries about prosecution! 3 out of 6 of the main roads into Bansko are now shut due to building works, 1/4 of town has been without water for the student holiday which supposedly brought 11000 tourists to Bansko for the weekend. The whole area around the gondola station has been smashed to pieces in a frenzy of destruction. All this just in time for the start of the season. Obviously none of this could have been done in May, June, July, August, September or even October. I now fully understand why the leader of Ikonomov’s party refers to him as “Our Dumb Mayor from Bansko” and recently at a party meeting trying to find something nice to say about him suggested he wasn’t too bad at watering the lawns!