Alison Culshaw is a professional ski instructor who was born and raised in Scotland. First introduced to the sport at the ripe old age of two, she has been hooked ever since. As a teenager, Alison took to ski racing, joining both the British Children’s Team and Scottish Team for international competitions. Later, she turned her passion into a profession by developing off-piste ski tours in Europe and Patagonia, leading active travelers on alpine adventures. For the past 12 years she has been teaching skiing in the French Alps, while continuing to take part in epic skiing competition such as the Patrouilles des Glaciers Ski Mountaineering Race, something she is preparing for again in 2016.
Recently we caught up with Alison to find out what she’s been up to, and what gear keeps her safe and happy on the slopes.
Gear Institute: Hi Alison! Thanks for giving us some time today. Have you been up to anything adventurous lately?
Alison Culshaw: At the moment I’m enjoying a bit of down time before winter madness begins. Winter is pretty much full bore for me, with my winter already full from the end of November until the beginning of May. My priority at the moment is to get fit for the ski season to make sure that I am in top form for my clients. Along with a little bit of sport climbing and alpine climbing for relaxation!
The next big thing on the list is participating in the Patrouille des Glaciers Ski Mountaineering Race in April 2016. It’ll be the 3rd time I’ve done the race, but the first time it was cancelled half through due to the snow and avalanche conditions. The 2nd time I did it as part of an all female team, and our objective was simply to finish the event. This time I’ll be doing it with my partner James Thacker, and good friend Richard Butler. It’ll be a different experience being the only female. We’ve set the goal of trying to do it in less than 12 hours.
Following this it will be a very quick turn around before James and I head to Arctic Norway for 2 weeks guiding clients in the Lyngen Alps. We’ve allowed a little time to ski for ourselves out there and hope to ski some lines that we have spotted on previous trips. Some are only accessible by boat, which drop straight into the sea!
GI: All of that sounds amazing! Can we come along? So what gear to do you most rely on when you’re out on these various adventures?
AC: When we head out into the backcountry we’re often in places where there is no phone signal, and we’re usually out there all alone. So, in order to stay safe, we always carry the ACR ResQLink Personal Locator Beacon as a “just in case” option. I also never leave home without my Opticron Waterproof Monocular, which I’ve carried with me for more than 15 years. It’s tough, rugged, and great for checking out ski and climbing conditions. Finally, I absolutely love my Garmont Dragontail approach shoes. They grip well on any surface, have the stiffness of a boot, but the comfort of a trainer, and I can happily make kick steps across snow in them.
GI: And what gear from your sponsors have you come to rely on the most?
AC: Jöttnar is my primary sponsor, and I’ve come to really rely on their jackets in poor weather conditions. For instance, the Alfar is a fantastic mid-layer that I now take with me everywhere. I really love its warm neck and hood. On the colder days, I carry the Jöttnar Fjorm and my custom made Bergelmir is in my pack on the wet days as well.
Having just opened the box with my new Fenrir jacket in it, I’m pretty sure this will now become my favorite pieces of gear. It provides me with a very light – but warm – layer to go over the top of my other layers. It will be great when training for the PDG when I need to put something on quickly at the top of a hard skin, and be ready for the ski down.
GI: Sounds like the Jöttnar gear is top notch! Do you have any special packing tips you can share with our readers?
AC: Keep sharp things away from technical clothing! It’s so easy to tear a down jacket if it’s stuffed at the bottom of your bag, and you pull it out, in a hurry, forcing it past your crampons or ice screws!
Do up the buckles on your gear too! Whether its when putting away a helmet, or when getting in a busy lift and your rucksack goes on the floor. A buckle that is done up is far less likely to get broken or trodden on.
GI: Good advice for sure. Can you tell us what has you most excited in the area of outdoor adventure right now?
AC: Seeing how quickly people are travelling in the mountains, with lighter and lighter kit. The real key is maintaining a reasonable safety margin for the “what if something goes wrong” moments. It’s always a balance. If you carry too much, you might be too slow to complete your objective and run into difficulty. If you carry too little you might not have the right things to complete your mission successfully.
Thanks Alison! And good luck in the winter season ahead.