Backcountry in Baqueira Beret, Spain

Words by Stuart Nixon, Snoworks off-piste all-mountain skier

Looking out from the bar on Friday evening it was clear that Baqueira 2018 was finishing the same way it started, with oodles of light powder falling from the sky. Thirty clients, three guides with Lee and Anthony celebrating the end of an amazing week. 

The first day featured two amazing descents (separated by a short skin to a not so grassy knoll) each through deep, light, untracked powder that went on and on and, you guessed it, on some more. Everyone got fresh tracks through Japow before finishing with some light combat skiing through trees to the skidoo. Yes skidoo. All this to get to a refuge lunch in Montgarri (the middle of nowhere). Another drag out from the refuge, a lift, a short hike and then a huge offpiste descent to a waiting taxi. The modus operandi for backcountry courses seems to build the excitement through the week, but this one has cranked the dial all the way to 11 at the start and held it there. 

Tuesday was a game of two halves, oh yes we had powder, but you don’t get this much powder without having some “weather”. And boy did we have weather, impenetrable fog and snow, to be skied 2 metres from Jorge the guide. Worth it though, as the weather cleared in the afternoon and what followed was the longest descent to date to Audeth, the gradient allowing us all to ski it safely together, turn after turn of blower powder, visibility only hampered as we thrashed through each others spindrift wakes. 

Tuesday night was a chance to go into town for Pintxo Pote. A bus to Viella where all the bars offer tapas and wine for €3. A bar crawl ensued, with good company, good food and good wine, this could get messy. A great way to spend a couple of hours, or in fact a whole evening but there was a bus to catch back to the hotel and dinner. 

Ant upped the ante, the steeps “where goats tumble” or Escoranacrabes. You can’t beat a midweek couloir, especially when it’s empty, save for Snoworks, full of powder and followed by smaller pitches to a snow bridge and track to exit. Siesta time was spent lapping Perula chair, each run finding deeper, less tracked powder. The last run was once again amazing – seems he may have done this before! This has been a special week to date and there doesn’t appear to be anybody else here. 

Lee and Ant continued to trade blows; not who scored the deepest powder but who could skin to the mountain restaurant the fastest in the morning. Honours eventually went to Lee by the end of the week, but both trailed Kilian Jornet on their personal Strava segment, but there’s no shame in lagging behind the Spanish ultra marathon machine. 

Thursday was just bonkers, off the scale in so many ways and it involved more weather. Jorge led us everywhere, down the most amazing black run covered in thigh deep powder and no tracks, heading to Perula chair. However, the powder here was deemed unsatisfactory, only knee deep and a little heavy. Had we become so precious? It seemed so. So back to lap the black in the afternoon, before an eventful last run back to civilisation. Errant poles and skis retrieved it was a ski back to the hotel. 

Baqueira duly delivered the Bake Off showstopper to complete the week. The weather cleared and the exploration could begin in earnest. A couple of off piste runs to make our way across to Perula. Local knowledge and a good taxi driver (already lined up for 2019) allowed us to lap the chair a couple of times, heading far off to skiers right, through untracked powder eventually dropping onto the road way lower than the lift station before the taxi took us up the road and back to civilisation. Tapas followed, a great way to replenish on the hill before the last run of the holiday: once more up the Perula chair, but this time over the rope and straight out the back. A short gully opening to the most amazing, perfectly pitched, powder fields, before slaloming through gladed trees, which eventually tightened as we dropped out onto the valley floor. The exit? A short skin, a few river crossings and a couple of kick turns taking us up to the road and a taxi to the celebratory pint in the bar. Simply wow. 

When I first signed up for a backcountry course I thought it was just about skiing powder. Thanks to Team Snoworks that goal was quickly realised, before it slowly dawned that it’s more than that: it’s about amazing experiences. It could be lunch in a remote mountain refuge, straight lining blue runs to get to the last connecting lift of the day because you’d squeezed in the extra off piste run, narrow couloirs to focus the mind, skidoo exits from far flung refuges or bumps sized like VW Beetles: all shared with great skiers and instructors. But, let’s face it, fresh untracked thigh deep powder always helps: adios Baqueira!

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