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Summer in the snow
Tuesday, 02 August 2005
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Glacier skiing is poles apart, says Tarquin Cooper

Sheltering from the showers of a typical English summer's day, it comes as a surprise to learn that a foot of snow has just been dumped in the Alps and the skiing is apparently awesome - powder heaven.

"The other day we had knee-deep powder. You don't expect that in summer," says Warren Smith, a ski instructor currently based in Switzerland.

What's going on? Is this a bizarre flip side of global warming?

Skiing in the summer is nothing new but its popularity is increasing. Although the slopes shed their winter carpets in spring, glaciers have snow all year round. So it is entirely possible to enjoy a ski holiday in the middle of August.

"Glacier skiing has gained ground over the last ten years," says Al Morgan, of the Ski Club of Great Britain. "Resorts such as Tignes, in France, and Hintertux, in Austria, host summer camps for those wanting to develop their freestyle skills."

It is slightly different to winter skiing. "The snow is hard first thing and gets softer and wetter as the day progresses," explains Morgan.

Smith bases his summer camps in the Swiss resort of Saas-Fee and claims that conditions are more reliable than they are in winter.

"In the winter you are always hitting rocks or ice patches. On the glacier, you never ski over rocks. The snow conditions are excellent."

The Fee glacier faces north, which means it never receives the sun. "I ran summer camps in Tignes for seven years but the snow was melting by 11.30am," says Smith "Here it doesn't start melting until 12.30."

Warren Smith is a pioneer of "new-school" freeskiing. Today's skier does not want to be limited by pisted slopes. They want the skills to ride any terrain - down steep couloirs, in and out of trees or carving fresh tracks in a powder bowl. Ten years ago you joined ski school and learnt how to do parallel turns. Now you turn to someone like Smith. He uses video analysis and the latest theories on biomechanics to take any skier, beginner or expert, to the next level.

Powder heaven?
Part of the appeal of skiing in summer, he says, is that it represents a chance to improve your skills before the winter season while no one is looking.
"A typical client is a skier who lacks confidence. They want to play catch-up in the summer so they can keep up with their mates in the winter. There are also those who just love skiing and need their fix."

Sin Robertson, a 28-year-old solicitor, has just returned from one of Smith's summer camps. She admits skiing in summer was an odd experience, but says that the tuition has improved her skiing immeasurably.

"It made a huge difference. I feel very solid on my skis now. I've been skiing for several years but I felt I was not getting any better. I wanted to feel more confident on steep slopes and powder." Smith's techniques, she says, are simply not taught in regular ski school.

Smith adds that it can be inspirational to ski on the glaciers at this time of year. "You can watch the national teams training and be inspired by professional athletes."

The other winning aspect of summer skiing is that there is so much more to do for friends or family who don't ski - mountain biking, tennis, spas, canyoning and swimming. You only ski in the morning which leaves the afternoons free to explore other activities.

Boarders who are suffering withdrawal symptoms and struggling to make it through the summer can turn to Neil McNab's camps in Les Deux Alpes.

Melanie McIntosh, who helps to run the courses, says the resort is one of the best to visit in summer because it is so well maintained.

"There's an amazing park and pipe which are kept in pristine condition," she says, adding that the courses are good for different kinds of boarders.

"Either we get people who are fairly good riders who want to concentrate on their freestyle skills, or we see complete beginners who want to combine it with a summer holiday.

"It's not as good as winter but we do get good conditions and fresh snow on occasions."

For those powder hounds who revel in full winter conditions, you need to head to the southern hemisphere. The resort of Portillo, in the Chilean Andes, has already received a snowfall of nearly eight metres this summer. Who says skiing is a winter sport?

The next Warren Smith Freeski camp in Saas-Fee is August 13-20. The course costs 579, which includes half board, tuition and lift pass, but not flights (0041 79 359 6566; www.britishfreeskicamps.com). McNab Mountain Sports snowboarding courses cost 545 (01546 830243; www.mcnab.co.uk).


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