Student Holidays: when mountain guides make them unique!

A week in the Alps, surrounded by 50 fellow students and with some of the best guides taking you to the coolest and unspoiled spots. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

That´s what Kap Azimut, a group of young students who study and live together in Brussels, proposes. We wrote about them before, here and here. This year they went to Les Hières, in the Ecrins Massif. And guided by a team led by IFMGA guide Quentin, they enjoyed Freeride skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing and ski touring.

We interviewed Julien, one of the students who went there, and he told us all about it!


  • Could you describe your week with Kap Azimut in a few lines?

It’s a week to discover the joys of backcountry terrain. The activities are varied: Freeride ski, ice climbing, snowshoes, ski touring and some classic alpine skiing. There were 50 young people divided in 5 groups, depending on level and wishes (3 different options). We were based at Les Hières, not far from La Grave, at the foot of the Ecrins Massif. We stayed in a sort of B&B with a big dining area and a room reserved for partying.

The village of Les Hières (La Grave) where the 50 students stayed for the week.

Kap Azimut organizes happy hour and parties as well. No risk of getting bored!

 

  • What options did you have for your winter sports week and why did you choose to go with Kap Azimut?

I could choose to go with a student organization. I could also choose to rent an apartment with a group of friends. Or even to do what I did last year: a week of ski touring.

For me, it is important to change every year and to discover new corners and new ways to spend your vacation in the mountain.

Mind-blowing view in Les Ecrins
Amazing conditions for a first ski touring experience. Picture taken by Alexandre Bompar ©

I chose the extreme package because it includes off-piste skiing and, especially, two days of ski touring with a night in a mountain hut. It is incredible to be able to climb sufficiently high and far away from everything and then to ski down in amazing powder snow.

 

  • Which were your three favorite moments of the Kap Azimut trip?

First, the ski touring ascent to a 2900-meter pass, under the most amazing sky. It had snowed 30 cm during the night, so we were making new tracks. It was just as awesome going up as going down. And what a view!

Making new tracks after a snowfall

Then the ice climbing experience, which was a first for me. It is surprising at first, a little hard, but one gets used to it fast. After 2 or 3 climbs, I was completely at ease and walked along the wall, feeling like if I was in paradise, in front of huge stalagmites.

Ice climbing in Les Ecrins
Ice climbing day under the supervision of Quentin and other local IFMGA mountain guides

And finally, to find yourself skiing down 3600 meters on a real glacier is a really unique experience. I had never seen such an imposing glacier from so close. You don’t want to get too far from the guide’s tracks: I trust them when they say crevasse are not far!

 

  • How was your experience with the guides? Which was their added value to the trip?

Without them, none of these activities would have been possible, it’s as simple as that. They manage the group’s security and, because they are aware of the risks, it is vital to have them with us.

Also, a guide who knows the region knows where to find good snow and on what slope we are going to find ourselves on dirt. There wasn’t a lot of snow during our week there, but they were able to find the right spots to be able to enjoy each activity.

Playing the beacon game in the refuge
2 students learning how to use the safety equipment (beacon, probe and shovel)

I was very surprised with the beacon game, which we played the day we stayed at Ricou et Buffère refuge. A group of 4 of us left with a beacon and a probe and we had to find two other beacons hid under 50 cm of snow. The area was big enough to simulate the search of an avalanche victim. The game was even organized as a contest, with different rounds and a final round.

 

  • Which was your previous mountain experience? What do you like about it?

I already had the chance to participate in two high mountain weeks. The first time it was ski touring with my family in the Aosta Valley. And last year, a guide took several friends and me to do a snowshoeing tour around the Pyrenees. Both were incredible experiences. There are several things I like: the athletic aspect of the ascent, the isolation in the middle of the mountain (as opposed to ski resorts) and the relationship with fellow adventurers (very strong bonds are created!).

This time, to take even more advantage of the trip, I took short walks around the mountain behind the village. At the end of each day’s activities, I would take 1-hour walks to find some silence and the feeling of completeness that the mountain provides. I like these moments of communion with nature. I look at the valley with the beautiful afternoon colors and feel so alive and happy. Because there wasn’t a lot of snow, I wasn’t taking any big risks so I could take these short trips by myself.

The mountain is still a very preserved environment and one can intensely feel nature’s energy. A meditation at sunrise looking at a mountain landscape is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had and one that I always search for.

 

  • Would you recommend this kind of week to others next year? Why choose a week like this one instead of other more traditional activities among students?

I believe that all students who like sports and enjoy the mountains should participate in this kind of activity at least once in their lives. This week is so much more enriching and complete than a traditional ski week. Partying is also present, but in the background. Every night, we looked forward to discovering a new activity the next day. In any case, I would have a hard time spending a week in a ski resort after what I went through both this year and last year.

I think nobody went home disappointed after this week. Kap Azimut’s group prices and financial aid allow students to go on these trips at great prices, which are accessible to (almost) all. With a program like the one they proposed, it’s not surprising that all the spots got booked almost instantly!

Exploring the wild places of Les Hautes Alpes
Amazing atmosphere

Apart from Julien’s great testimony, we also talked with other students who were in Les Hières. They were all extremely happy with the experience, and wouldn’t hesitate to repeat it.

Most of them pointed out the amazing atmosphere created when sharing with 50 other students life in the chalet, in a family-like atmosphere. And of course, the possibility of discovering new activities to do in the mountains.

Katarina, a local UIMLA mountain leader, and some students snowshoeing in the area of La Grave.

And all the things they learnt with the guides and mountain leaders Quentin, KatarinaAlex… were also a highlight: how to use technical equipment (avalanche transceiver, probe, ski tour…), learn the safety procedures, and all about the region, it’s flora and fauna and the history and characteristics of the mountains… But above all the guides allowed everyone to feel confident and safe.

At last, it’s also worth to mention that they received equipment from Canon, and get trained to use it in order to take great pics and nice movies. They had one camera per group and everyone could use it. Most of the pictures in this article were taken by the students with Canon equipment.


At Explore-Share we are very happy to help organizations like Kap Azimut, which have the mission of encouraging other students to engage in sports by proposing different kind of activities linked with adventures. Their case also shows that it’s not impossible for younger people to have access to qualified guides, and that mountains can be accessible for all. It’s just about being organized! So talk to us if you want to organize your trip with a guide.

 

Kap Azimut team in Les Ecrins