Snowboarding Helvellyn: A Spontaneous UK Mountain Photo Essay

by James Vincent 2

Why Cumbria

I moved to Cumbria back in 2009 and was treated to a series of mind blowing winters, to the point that I just assumed it was always so. Mountain biking in the summer, snowboarding in the winter. A Yad Moss season ticket was a no brainer, and cheeky mid-week escapes to the slopes were common. But Cumbrian winters are fickle beasts, coming and going without a care to your winter sports obsessions, and as is always the way, things changed.

Children appeared on the scene, jobs became more demanding, and most importantly the winters weren’t as white. If there was snow you were at work, and if you weren’t working the snow was melting or it was too windy to be left exposed on a mountain side. This year, as Christmas came and went with nary a flurry, and the New Year was so bitterly cold but painfully dry, we feared that once again winter had passed us by. And then it started snowing, the English Ski Season was once again back in business… and I was working. Bugger. A bunch of review deadlines meant no snowy fun for me, and I focussed my mind on our upcoming trip to Samoëns.

It’s Snowing on Helvellyn

And then it snowed again, my diary was clear, and it was all too good an opportunity to miss. Children were dropped off at school, work emails were ignored, and we set off for Helvellyn, the site of many a riding adventure, only this time the van was loaded with boards not bikes.

From the Helvellyn Youth Hostel in Glenridding, rather than heading directly up Sticks Pass to the ski lift on Raise, we opted to stay on the familiar path towards Keppel Cove. For starters, the ski lift was closed, and secondly, this route would give us the opportunity to check out the snow conditions for the return journey.

Climbing towards the ridge, we started eyeing up potential lines – Brown Cove looked especially tempting – its untouched, virgin snow meant we could lay down some fresh tracks, but on the flip side we’d have been faced with a bit of a hike out once we reached the dam at the bottom and the gradient levelled off. As it was, the decision was made for us – on reaching the ridge, the bluebird conditions gave way to a howling wind that whipped spindrift up and around, battering our faces. If we wanted to carve down Brown Cove, we’d have been walking directly into this brutal onslaught for the best part of 30 minutes, so regretfully we turned north and climbed to Raise.

Hunkering down out of the wind, we stepped into our bindings and set off into the deep white unknown.

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Dan Jesse looking super steezy as he lays down his first turns in Cumbrian snow this season.

Oh.
My.
Word.

In spite of the occasional tuft of long grass poking through, the conditions were prime and the snow felt great. Like really great. As good as anything the Alps has to offer. With our boards strapped to our feet, the wind quickly became a distant memory and we were back to the bluebird conditions that had kept us company on the hike up.

Let me ask you – is there anything better than slicing your way through fresh snow, less than an hour away from your home, when everyone else is working? If there is, then I really need to hear about it.

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Catstye Cam looks majestic in its winter coat, with Lower Man peeking through in the distance.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Dan and I made a new friend in Will Acland in the car park so we decided to make the trek up together.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
In spite of the snow, the hike got the body temperature up and we were down to base layers and t-shirts in no time.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Wading through knee deep drifts made for slow going, but with conditions as good as this, we weren’t complaining

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Will looking rather pleased with his decision to skip work for the day and come and play in the snow

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Will takes a moment to bask in the January sunshine, not realising that further up the slopes things were going to get ugly.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Nearer the ridge, the wind ramped up and the spindrift started flying around. Snow facial? Don’t mind if I do.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
The views were mighty impressive from the ridge, and it was all surprisingly peaceful behind our sunglasses and Gore-Tex defences

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
A lone skier appears out of the haze while we were strapping ourselves into our bindings.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Nick Kalson battles his way through the barren wasteland. He would join our party on the way down – the more the merrier!

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Dan thunders away from the hostile conditions on the ridge, finding glorious Cumbrian powder in return for his earlier efforts.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Nick goes wide and finds fresh snow to carve out some text book esses.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Although a little thin in places, the snow was as good as any of us had experienced anywhere. No crust on top, just lovely, soft, surfable pow.

 

helvelyn snowboard adventure singletrack snow
Dan and Will take a moment to relax. Or maybe they just don’t want to take their boards off for the final walk back to the Youth Hostel.

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Comments (2)

    See, I maintain that the night split-boarding on Grizedale Pike the previous week was much more type 2.

      Oh yes, that was most definitely type 2. This was hands down type 1 all the way.

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