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After the warmest November on record, finally the snow fell in bucket-loads, and the season was on.

With 19 signed up for the trip, including a few new members and quite a few ski-touring for their first time ever, it seemed like we were on for the biggest club trip in recent years.  After a few hiccups with different interpretations of the term "car-park below Glenmore Lodge" (my bad), there we were with the most unlikely of situations - total freedom, fresh powder, blue skies, and a club full of people as excited as I was about getting up and at it...

 

Having spied the wind / snow coming in from the South West, and with there being a warmer, wetter front forecast to move in from the same direction through the day on Saturday, we had picked the Meall a' Bhuachaille ("the Shepherd's Hill") as the most likely candidate for being:

1) accessible with that much snow at road level,
2) having the best chance of clear skies and decent visibility,
3) having a long, sloping mid-mountain / grass-based NE-facing slope where the snow should have settled, sheltered from the storm which brought it, and
4) offering slopes of a gradient sufficiently low to make the trip inviting/accessible for beginners and relatively avalanche safe.
... turning up in the car-parking along the side of the ski-road, Andrew and I could see that the higher slope of the Fiacaill Ridge between Lochain and Sneachda (a similar aspect to our objective) was plastered, and we knew we were in for a special day.  Al's Todd and Bird went looking for Nicky, Jamie and Kenny headed off looking for replacement split-board parts, and the rest of us headed up the south side of the hill to see what was what.  
 
 
As we toured up through the trees at different speeds, under boughs creaking heavily under the weight of the snow, I think it was Mark who pointed out that the moistness of the snow that had fallen had blasted the trees with white in the manner of the "snow-monsters", for which Japanese tree-skiing is famous.  It is not usual to liken Scottish touring to Japanese powder-sessions, but by the end of the day it almost felt like it.  Agathe and Gaspard got an overview of the Cairngorm corries, and Lizzie & Brigid got their first taste of Scottish ski-touring.  "It's always like this", we told them ;o).
 
 
Nearing the bealach, I ventured out of the well-laid skin-track to get a feel for the snow on the windward side, and it was a complete mixture of wind-affected pow and crust, depth between shin and thigh, quite evidently difficult skiing for anyone without the modern rocker-tips which have taken all the skill out of skiing crust...  And as we approached the crest of the ridge, winds went from "strong" to "don't stop moving", and the group split into strata based on keenness, fitness and equipment - I was glad to have Al Todd's dependable presence somewhere scooping up those at the back of the pack - before regrouping at the top in three tranches for the descent.  Leading the first of these off the NE side, down to Ryvoan Bothy (our chosen lunch-spot and half-way meeting point), there was a comical 100m where I think everyone except Hebe took a tumble on the wind-packed surface-crust, but as one of the club members pointed out, "if you're not falling, you're not skiing hard enough!" And after a few more turns, the snow became a bit more straight-forward, giving rise to cheers and laughter and amazement in equal proportion at what great skiing we were enjoying on this first trip of the year.
 
 
Gliding through the mid-mountain, easily the best skiing on offer, we were soon at the steeper slopes above the bothy, where "Team Ft William", lead by Jordan on his new DPS's, sampled some early season jump-turns and leaping over tufts of sufficiently-covered heather and grass.  Snow just above the bothy was a challenge to most of us, but as demonstrated by Marty on his snowboard and the snow-hare which darted out of a hole not 3ft from my skis as I past, if you know the terrain, the snow and your equipment, it was easy to have a lot of fun and move quickly, and despite a generous helping of tumbles, I think everyone enjoyed it enough to be thirsty for more...
 
 
After regrouping for lunch and mountain-stories in the bothy, everyone was keen for a second lap, so we headed up over the shoulder aiming to make the most of the short December days.  Opting for different steepnesses, lines and starting heights, there was something for everyone on the front side that day, be it low angled trees leading to the parth, moderate trees down to Glenmore Lodge directly, or epic steep lines on what Mark called "the best skiing I've had anywhere, ever", and what massively-experienced Scottish freeride-telemarker Al Bird referred to as "about as good powder skiing as I've ever had in the UK".  Al Todd was working his magic with the camera, and then demonstrated why he'd been on the road-bike all summer by still managing catch up with the ascent team and get a further descent in, being a dutiful father to Angus, on his first club trip; and whilst Lisa swished her smooth and even tele-turns through the high-trees which pepper the limit of the alpine, the lingering sunset colours glinted flickers of evening light on smiling faces - finally not just smiling in anticipation of the season to come (those smiles have been in place for months) but now also smiling at a grand day out where we as a club were blessed with the gift of amazing snowfall and made just the right decisions and were in just the right place at the right time, in great company and in spectacular surroundings...
 
 
What more could you hope for from a club day trip?
 
Happy Christmas to one and all, and I can't wait to ski with you in 2015 - see you up there.
 
P
 
P.S.  And to "face" the rumours, yes, the face-plant photo was me...
 
 
(as an aside, sincerest apologies to the two members who had noted the date down as the Sunday, which had been originally suggested some weeks ago - the correct date was in the emails, had been in the programme on the website for a few weeks, was in the event page on ibsc.org.uk and on the club's Facebook page, but had originally been the Sunday so the confusion was probably inevitable...  In the event, Saturday was definitely the better of the two days for ski-touring, so we would likely have changed it to then anyway, but the main message here is: always keep an eye on the up to date info on the website events' pages, on the emails, and/or on the FBk page)