It’s been a wild year, with crazy avalanches here in Colorado, an all-time winter in the Alps, and a rash of knee injuries, too. Seems like several of my friends have had various tweaks, the latest being Liz Oakes-Smart, guide and co-owner of Steep Skiing Camps with her husband, Miles.
Liz (31) grew up in Aspen, Colorado, before completing university in Boulder. She and Miles (33, from Seattle) both decided early on they wanted to be mountain guides–Miles became the youngest American, in his early 20s, to achieve full international certification through the American Mountain Guides Association and the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations. Liz followed suit a few years later, becoming one of the first ten American women to earn the same honor.
After the unfortunate death of Doug Coombs in 2006, Miles and Liz took over Steep Skiing Camps Worldwide, a Chamonix-based business they run to this day, offering instruction in ski-mountaineering and steep skiing.
“We travel a little bit,” says Liz, “in Italy and Switzerland, because we can guide heli skiing there, but with so many lifts around Cham, you don’t miss the heli access as much here.”
After a stellar year in the Alps, Liz tweaked her knee in April, while climbing. “I was stemming and when I weighted my leg (my patella) shifted and popped out, then popped back in.” A subsequent MRI showed just some strain and stretching, rather than a tear–phew. “It’s all good,” she says. “Just a little stretched out, but nothing torn. I’ve been back out on my bike a bit, and now we just need it to stop raining over here so we can go on a little bike/road trip.”
Miles and Liz have fully embraced French culture since gaining residency, and the two have ridden the biggest passes in the Alps and competed in some amateur cycling events. Cycling offers them a break from the intensity of mountain guiding.
“The mountains are full-on, lots of objective hazards, exposure. It’s nice to get away from it for a days,” says Miles.
For work, though it’s still alpinism year-round. The pair pride themselves on getting off the beaten path, doing “off the wall” ski tours, rather than standard fare like the classic Cham-Zermatt Haute Route.
“We like to get clients to do different stuff,” Miles explains. “The Gran Paradiso in Italy, different huts. We find ourselves going out in Haute Route terrain in the winter, rather than spring, when it’s busy.”
For Americans looking to ski and climb in dramatic, interesting mountains, the Alps are where it’s at…and hiring a guide is the quickest and most efficient way to get yourself into big, committing terrain. There’s no better, safer, and faster way to learn than jumping into burly terrain with a great guide. I’m hoping to go follow Miles, Liz, and a few other guides in Europe next summer, before I go for my final alpine exam…best prep there is. Look up Steep Skiing Camps or Smart Mountain Guides if you’re ready to climb and ski in the birthplace of alpinism–the Alps!