What do you need for an epic week of freeriding?

Posted on Thursday 8th December, 2011 Times Viewed: 1619
We can all dream about taking a trip to AK, sipping champagne in a luxury lodge and relaxing in a hot-tub watching the Northern Lights in between taking heli-rides to hit yet another massive face, but for most of us it's never going to be an option. So what do you really need? It's a pretty short list in some ways. You could start and finish with snow. A wee bit more than that would be nice though. Some sweet terrain. Comfy room, good food, good company and cold beer. Then super-size the order for snow and put a hold on the hordes of French skiers in onesies or mad Scandies in bling gear.
Scottish riders Stevo & Iona moved to the French resort of Sainte Foy Tarentaise in 2007 to set up The White Room, a small-scale independent chalet business. Sainte Foy is often passed-over by riders planning a trip. They take a look at the piste map, with its very short list of only 4 chairlifts and figure they’ll go somewhere bigger. And those in the know are quite happy to keep it that way. Sainte Foy is unusual for a French resort. The four lifts access two large bowls, then more or less leave you to find your own way down – much more like a Canadian resort in the Fernie or Revelstoke mould than a typical French hillside, crawling with a spider’s web of lifts and runs. Be prepared to venture a little further though, and the amount of terrain available enters the realm of the truly epic. Short hikes access anything from mellow, untracked slopes to steeps and tight couloirs. For bad weather days, most of the runs are tree-lined and there are some cool tree runs if you know where to look.

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The neatly centred location in the French Alps, plus the position right at the bend in the Tarentaise valley brings plenty of snow, and the lack of crowds means you’ll never queue for a lift and you don’t have to battle for the powder. With the biggest freeride lines facing absolutely dead-north and being sheltered from the wind, together with the lack of skier traffic, Sainte Foy often has the best conditions from the valley – as evidenced by the regular trickle of off-piste guides bringing their clients down from Val d’Isere for the day as the snow in the big factory resorts gets tracked-out.

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Having spent endless days hiking and riding the local lines, the guys at The White Room wanted to provide an answer to the question of what you really need for an epic week. A chilled-out chalet with great food and free-flowing beer and wine was a given. The weather gods will do what they will, but if you’re a betting man then the end of January is a good time for powder. The Sainte Foy terrain is enough on its own, but to make the possibilities almost endless, lay-on a shuttle service to allow access beyond Sainte Foy to a few small resorts you may have heard of – Val d’Isere, Tignes, Les Arcs, La Plagne and the border-crossing resorts of La Rosiere and La Thuile are all just a short drive away. The icing on the cake is that, with the Italian border being a stone’s throw away, there is also the option to take a heli ride and get some fresh lines on some remote Italian peaks before riding back for a cold one in Sainte Foy.

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The one key ingredient you need to add to the mix though is local knowledge. To get the most out of the freeriding in any resort, you need to ride with people who have been there for years. So you need to find some top-class guides. Neil McNair is a BASI snowboard trainer, a member of the BASI freestyle demo team and a Tarentaise Valley local for many years. Alex Rippe is a top-level French instructor, a Sainte Foy local for over 20 years and has probably been snowboarding longer than Jake Burton. The two together have a massive knowledge of the terrain throughout the valley, as well as the coaching skills to make sure other riders can make the most of it.

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Stevo (head honcho at The White Room) is an International Mountain Leader and currently training for his top-level BASI Snowboard Instructor exams. He’ll add-in some avalanche safety training and tag along for some cheeky tail-guiding.

Groups with a big mix of ability levels are a real downer when you want to make the most of the powder. With two-and-a-half guides and two vehicles, there is loads of scope to vary the riding to suit different levels or different route-choices.

The White Room guys ran their first Backcountry week in January 2011. Despite the tricky conditions in the French Alps last year, Sainte Foy was clinging on to some of the best snow around and a crew of eight riders rode some quality lines on the North and South Faces of the Fogliettaz, local Sainte Foy lines on the Petit Col and the Pierre d’Arbine, made a big snowshoe-assisted tour to cross the Col de Montseti and find what might have been the last fresh tracks in France, hit some classics at Val d’Isere and finished with classic Sainte Foy descent of the Col Granier. For this winter, they’re back again with an expanded week featuring more guides, more riders and even more choice of terrain.

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All-in, it’s a pretty sweet package and a bargain for what you get. Got to be one of the best ways to get out and ride a big variety of sick terrain with some of the best guides around. The trip runs from the 21nd to 28th January and costs just £829 for your chalet accommodation, chalet board, beer, wine, guiding, safety kit and avalanche safety training.

For more info about the Whiteroom Chalet Backcountry week click here here or vist the website http://www.whiteroomchalet.com/
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