Ski Touring near Munich at the Teufelstättkopf

Ski touring near Munich is not hard to find. In recent years its been a little less-than-spectacular due to the low snowfall we’ve had. This year is different! The snow has fallen deep. We’re looking better in December than the last  five years!

With all that snowfall though – come other problems. Snow doesn’t grow from the ground up, it falls from the sky. Today was an example, with light snowfall, but hurricane-force winds up high to go with it. Wind is the builder of avalanches. It transports the snow to low-lying spots. Loading it up in deep drifts just waiting for a skier to disturb their deadly balance.

Markus and I were looking for a route that didn’t take us into the high alpine, and had some shelter. The Bavarian weather service had issued a storm warning. Trees were the theme of the day. Good thing too! The Bavarian mountains are filled with good tree runs,  offering some of the best ski touring near Munich. You just gotta know to zig when everybody else zags.

We met at the trailhead at eight AM. Not so early, but not late either. We were some of the first on trail, parking at the lot of the little ski lift in Unterammergau, right above the Schleifmühle, a great place for a bite to eat, by the way. High clouds were moving by at a moderate pace – but we didn’t feel the wind on our faces – yet…

My hands were cold. I kept my hoods up, and didn’t use my poles to generate more heat.  I started spinning my arms at the shoulders to take advantage of centrifugal force to force the blood in.  Marcus asked me if I wanted to stop and do a little yoga. (he was kidding – BTW. These days, you can’t be sure…)

There is a fork in the road before long. Following to the right will put you on a ridge. Not exposed, but if its windy, it can get uncomfortable. We bore to the left, and stayed in the drainage until later. This is the way to the Pürschlingshäuser, a few huts a ridge over to our goal, but we would traverse and stay comfy.  Both of these spots are great places for ski touring near Munich. Both offer lots of variations in how to climb, and to descend. A nice plus. Marcus comes here a lot.

Making the ridge above the huts was a treat. Unfortunately – they are closed this winter for some maintenance, but in other years, you can get a bite to eat or a beer here. Very nice. The view was rad!

If you follow the ridge up above the houses, you’ll make the Teufelstättkopf. It was here that we began to feel the wind and man was it blowing! Hoods went up, and I even got out my facemask for this one! The wind was howling and moving a lot of snow over the ridge. At the rate it was going – it was clear that dangerous drifts could pile up in minutes – not hours.

We skipped the scramble to the top of the Teufelstättkopf, and decided to ski down the skiers left of the rock peak, into the Teufelstättkar. This was sheltered down low, and as the “alternate” route, it usually has less tracks. We zigged where everyone else zagged – and got rewarded well. Ski touring near Munich can be jammed with people. Knowing an alternative or two can make a huge difference in the quality of the skiing. This is one of those.

We ripped the skins and got out of the wind, forgoing the customary tee and biscuits routine. We carefully threaded the wind-loaded and steep entry. Following proper protocol, we single skied it gingerly until we got into the gut, where the angle goes softer and the wind hadn’t loaded it up so much. There were only a few tracks, so everybody got their own line – and what a line it was! Well up over boot-top with a creamy and easy to ski consistency! We smashed those crystals and met at the bottom of the slope all smiles!

Another climb was in order and we made the three-hundred meter re-tour in quick time. We both thought about lapping – but it was clear that the weather was getting worse. We continued back to the base of the peak and stuffed the skins into our jackets for the last time. Soon, we were tracking the slopes to right side of its ledges.

Here, there was even more snow, and with each turn, it was billowing up to hip level. The terrain here is  rolling, so we both got some hang time. I thought briefly about another run up,  but we could feel the wind. It was time to go!

The way out meanders through well-spaced trees and is not steep. The snow is so good right now, skiing on both sides of the track is possible too. We saw lots of people coming up. Strange, as this is usually the way down. I felt sorry for them that they were walking into a maelstrom. We hit the forest road and made zero turns all the way to the car!

If you are looking for an day trip to go ski touring near Munich, and if you are looking to stay in the trees because of poor visibility or wind – a tour to the Teufelstättkopf might be just the thing.

A trip report is also available from Marcus here at Marcus gets around, so you’ll want to follow him for good tips in and around Garmisch.


Parking Lot at the Ski Lift in Unterammergau: Liftweg 1, 82497 Unterammergau, Germany


Between one and a half hours for the experienced, and up to three for inexpirienced


The route is not danger-free – particularly some of the highest slopes near the ridges have both the angle and the loading to cause an avalanche. Be aware!

Live near Munich and want early season pow all to yourself? Have a job and think its impossible? Keep reading

Quikie Tour up the Schönberg, near Lenggries, Germany
My buddy Martin, a part-time ski instructor, husband, father and stand-up guy has got time to run up mountains and see if its any fun to slide down them – it won’t stay that way, but for now, he’ll take it. He called me up to see if I’d like to join, and, seeing as how I am fairly certain sliding down snow-covered mountains is pretty close to a game of Go-Fish with Jesus in the fun department, but not one-hundred percent certain, I thought I might have to go and make sure.
Both Martin and I have to get the kids out of the house, and unlike Martin, I am (still) gainfully employed in a decidedly non-slavish arrangement. We started at eight-thirty in the city and rode out towards Lenggries – about an hour away and near Bad Tolz. The objective for the day was the Schönberg – an eight-hundred to nine-hundred meter climb on a small mountain heavily wooded at the bottom, but open near the top and well-frequented in general. Things looked pretty good – not a lot of snow down low – but much more than I would have expected at this time of the year. We started out.
The snow covered the road, mostly, and we followed for what seemed like quite a while, just happy to be out in the sun. It didn’t look like most of the surrounding forest was skiable…there was enough snow to run, but it hadn’t covered up the undergrowth and fallen logs. I was thinking that the only way back down this low would be the icy rutted road we were on, and, I was right.
After taking a left turn up a steeper and smaller road, with some encouraging uphill tracks on it, I thought we’d soon make the ridge. The road got smaller, the track got less “determined” and before long both of us were asking if the guys who set it knew where they were.
Of course – getting too upset wasn’t possible. Neither of us brought a map, and the last time I was touring here was more than five years ago. We blindly followed tracks. How stupid is that?
We stuck the meandering and unsteady course….and….it dumped us back out onto the main road that we had been following a felt hour later. All’s well that ends well, and we slogged onwards and upwards, finally breaking into to some high meadows that looked a dream to ski.
All in the shade and milky. By now – we’d come higher, and the snow was positively deep. What our unknown trailbreakers lacked in route-finding skills, they made up for with quality skin-tracking – so the way up was fairly easy, asthetic and appreciated.
While it was not a long way up – this tour was a long way around! I kept thinking that soon, very soon, we’d bust out onto a ridge or the peak in the sun and it would be all girls and cold-liquor drinks. Nope. Nope. and Nope. Still the ghost trees were cool and I was dreaming of the lines I would cut in the not-so-pristine but still baggable powder.
Eventually we made it. Meeting the three retirees who set that trail on the way off the peak. Nice guys.
Now – it occurs to me that people who do what they like to do, and do it into old age, don’t generally get curmudgeonly. These guys were smiling – and if I can keep doing this,  perhaps I’ll not only be a smiling retiree, but a smiling husband, father and employee.
The peak was windy, but it was great to look over the clouds and imagine Munich in the soup. Martin and I ripped the fur off and made sweet euro-wiggle turns down the gut of the open glades, never hitting bottom and having quite a bit of fun. It wasn’t as light as we had hoped, but it was still great!
Things got dicey with a couple a creek crossings, which will be covered when the next snow hits, but we managed to pick our way through the lower, less-shacked woods without too much trouble, and hit the forest road which provided a long, easy and underbrush free route back to the car. Even got to make powder elevens over a big flat meadow near the bottom.
All in all – a great tour, and we were back in town for an appointment just after lunch! For anyone looking for a candidate for dawn runs – if you hit the trail at seven AM you could be back by 11 AM no sweat. Less if you are a spandex weirdo.
As always – I’d love to see you all on the trail sometime and hope you’ll subscribe to my blog for silly ramblings about this sport, tips on how to stop sucking at it, and reports about places you can go to do it!

Searching for an exceptional life? Try mediocre skiing.


The five guys in my WhatsApp group “Hochtirol”, created for another tour in another place at another time, start pinging each other about where we can go riding this Saturday. Three of them I don’t know so well, and there are no descriptive pictures about who’s saying what, so its not long before I’m completely confused and begin typing in old-man Caps: “WHERE ARE WE GOING? LOSERS.” Or something like that.

Tobi cuts the crap and decides on the Pfuitjöchl, a popular tour right behind Lermoos, just across the Austrian border from Garmisch Partenkirchen. I’ve never been up to this particular spot, but the tour goes up to a big ridge-line which stretches for miles on either side, and I’ve been up to the left and right of it several times.


Its a great touring spot in my opinion. There are miles of treeless gentle slopes once you get above treeline, and even if the Germans are lined up like tourists at a cuckoo-clock shop, you can pretty much always find a fresh line by bearing a little to the left or right. Its downside is that the belt of trees at the bottom is pretty tight and gets skied out, making for survival skiing in all but the best years. Its also technically the “wrong” aspect. Fully south-facing, you’ve got to hit it quickly after a snowfall, and there’s got to be a lot of snow too because it is either going to be melted out, or have a crust like week-old bread all over it. Its quite literally on the bright side, however – all the sunshine on that face makes for dicey snow, but average snow in the sun beats good snow in the shade for me most days. When its good there – it’s great.

I picked up Tobi at seven AM at his place, after the drive from Munich. I tanked up and got some croissant fat-nuggets along the way, in wonderment at the people hanging out at the gas station at six in the morning, sucking on smokes and drinking beer while rocking out to techno. At a gas station. Oh well. We met the other guys at the trailhead and started up into the trees and first light.


The snow down low was thin. Skiing it proved to be a challenge later in the day, but thankfully, its mostly grass. That’ll go. As the sun peaked out illuminating the surrounding peaks and making for inspirational-motivational quote photos, we made the treeline and started warming up in the sunshine. Badly needed too. It was going at something like minus 10 degrees Centigrade, so my perennially cold fingers were not doing so hot despite the fast pace and all my hatches battened.


No stops, and we made the round about one thousand meter climb in about an hour and twenty minutes. The snow was not as bottomless as we had hoped, but at least it was fluffy. On the ridge, the wind was howling, and everyone was happy when we dropped into the shelter of a bowl on the backside, which was the best snow of the day. Its only about one hundred and fifty meters of altitude, but it was creamy and good. We treaded back up, and climbed back to the ridge-line we had just dropped off of a little further to the left.

so – who’s the guy on the short and skinnies?

Another rip of the skins was followed by careful skiing down the main face, which proved to be studded with rocks and other undesirables. It wasn’t bad, but when you don’t know what’s down there, you have to ski more carefully – and its not the same. Despite the thinnish snow – I wished for some fatter boards. I took the really light ones out, and my tips weren’t staying up. Faster riding would have helped, but, here again, the danger of shark fins kind of precluded that. I made one cranial snow sample on the way down as a result. So – the next round in the bar is on me – which, with this group, could be a substantial problem.

Tobi – checking if his feet are still there. (Thankfully – he seems to have his boot problems licked)

The sun was in full effect, and we had a quick break at treeline for a bite to eat. I recited my usual “reasons why it is great to be me” to the group. Chiefly, I am good-looking, intelligent, and modest. All were in full agreement, so I truncated the usual four-hour listing after about one-hundred points.


We skinned back up, passing the only group we saw that day, a group of four, I think, with three ladies and a dude, who had left the skirts at a picnic and made for the ridge to the left of where we had descended. They had been conspicuous in their disdain for their equipment on the way down, skiing more rock than snow on the aspect they had chosen, which led to speculation that they must be the heirs to the Conrad Sports ski-shop fortune. Only people that get new gear every day ski like that.


In any case, P-Tex-Rex had broken a nice trail up to the ridge, so we followed it, despite some reservations about coverage. Another five hundred meters or so, and we were up. Mr. Rex had muddled about on the ridge and either disappeared into thin air or dropped off the back side, so the even thinner snow on the face we had just ascended was all ours.


It made for entirely mediocre skiing. Which is kind of the point of all this writing. At no point was it awesome, but the combination of sun, good friends, beautiful scenery and a few laughs at my crashes made for a great day. The ride back down through the trees to the car was, as always at this spot, crap – and will probably pay for the Conrad Kids next skis due to the repair work we will need, but all in all, round about one thousand five-hundred meters of skiing was had that I won’t soon forget.


Most people can’t say that about their Saturday – but I’ve been fortunate enough to find this lifestyle where I have it all winter long, nearly every weekend. A day at the resort might be objectively better, but subjectively – this is better than ten days at any resort, for sure. Its tough to say why, but I think anyone who’s done it can agree.

At the car, bases were examined, I was cajoled into not driving in my ski boots, and we all agreed we’d do it again in a week or so. It’s going to be a great winter.

Looking for Adventure? Danger? Instagram Adulation? Got Five Euros?

Would you like to do this? Cheap?

Are you looking for an unusual ski trip, or perhaps even just a departure from the normal for your next vacation? Have you been looking at wild escapes to central Asia or guided ski trips to Afghanistan in an effort to break the droning inside your head from endless traffic jams, office politics and vapid sports discussions around the water cooler? I bet you have been. “Adventure travel” is all the rage – and the more far out, the better. If its dangerous enough that your loved ones will beg you not to go – even better.

Taken from…..Good for them, but maybe not for a vacation – huh?

I see two problems with these kinds of trips. Speaking from personal experience, they are firstly, often kind of a pain in the ass as far as execution goes. Having to pay bribe money to a cop standing on the side of a (dirt) highway every thirty km or so in order to pass on the way to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, and being withheld by the same at the airport for two days until I ponied up $500 are two particularly memorable examples. Additionally, the infrastructure sucks, sometimes it really isn’t that safe, and travel is often long, and uncomfortable. Secondly – despite the fact that on these adventure trips, (you are often roughing it in every sense of the word,) they tend to be really expensive. Your mileage my vary, but heli-trip expensive is not uncommon and even more. (I’m looking at you ice-axe expeditions.)

As much bling as you’re likely to see with me

What if I told you, then, that there was a way to get truly away from it all, have a unique vacation experience with a deep connection to the land and the locals, and that it was inexpensive, cheap even, and that it was safe, clean, cozy, and – everything – from the travel to the wifi network – works and runs on-time? Plus – the skiing and the selfie-backdrops are second to none and there is zero chance of armed conflict – unless you consider billy goats to be weapons of mass destruction. (which I most certainly do)

You can have this in the Alpine Club Hut System in Central Europe. The Alps are famous the world over for their beauty and their skiing and ski-touring. In addition to the unbelievable (for North Americans) access, these mountains are figuratively lousy with alpine huts, both big and small, most public and many with personnel and service akin to a hotel or bed and breakfast in the United States.

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This is a lot better than a tent

These are a great resource – and its the reason multi-day ski tours in Europe can easily be done with a ten-liter pack. These huts have everything you need, beds, blankets and food, (lots of food) so you don’t have to carry a thing. This is no secret – but did you know that there are other options as well? Dozens of huts are also available to private parties, and you can book them for between four and twenty-five Euros a day! You read that right. Some of these huts, weather deep in the alpine, or just meters off the trail head – located in the middle of some of the best touring in the world – can be had for you and your friends for less than a night at Taco Tuesday.

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These are just a few – with a quick Google Maps search….there are many more

The huts available run the gamut from spartan to cozy, and most all have blankets, cooking facilities and utensils, and heating, along with fuel for that heater. Some are small, with space for four people or fewer, and some with space for yourself and all your Fakebook friends. You must book them in advance, however, and you must pick up keys before going. Upon finding your way to your accommodation, you’ll need to open it, make beds and fire up the heater, and possibly dig a path to an outhouse – that’s it. Home sweet wilderness home. Wake up late – tour right out the door through the most beautiful mountains the world has to offer, and return to cook, and eat, all that great stuff you bought at the shops in the village in the valley on the way up.

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It goes without saying that while you are welcome to make like a German and play animated rounds of Schafkopf while drinking pear or raspberry schnapps – you should leave the hut cleaner than you found it, in good repair, and buttoned up against the elements. Should anything have gone broken, be sure to report it to the club when you return the keys.

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What follows are some recommendations of mine, plus a link to the German Alpine Club’s listing of huts for rent. Note: many of these huts are actually in Austria or Italy and there are other sites where you can easily rent huts in a similar fashion from the Swiss Mountain Club, The Austrian Alpine Club, or the Italian Alpine Club as well. I’ve also included a link which explains the process of booking….but it’s straightforward. Keep in mind also that to rent most of these huts – you’ll need to be an alpine club member – but this is about 100 Euros for a year (sometimes less) and the German and Austrian Alpine Clubs recognize each other’s memberships – so a member at one is (mostly) a member at the other and can book huts, get discounts on lodging and food at serviced huts, and can even take part in hundreds of guided tours and training courses that run the gamut from “Alpine Horticulture” to “Zen Meditation on Skis” – (as well as courses of a more serious nature, ala Avalanche Safety etc – many of which are offered in English too!) Your membership not only opens all that up to you – it pays for the maintenance of the huts, trails, and course offerings as well as supporting the DAV in its efforts to preserve and protect this beautiful range and the culture it has spawned.

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If you have any questions about any of this, or would like some tips – just comment! I’ll help!

The huts available in the DAV (German Alpine Club) System, with the possibility to book. (In German, but Google can translate for you)

A good overview of what membership in the DAV (German Alpine Club) gets you in English:




Winter 2017-2018 is here!

IMG_2204I guess its a bit late to be getting this out. I’ve been out for a couple of tours already and the snow is, in contrast to the last few years, really good. We’ve got a solid base and have had tour-able snow for at least a month, in some places longer.
As usual, all the normal outlets have started spinning the stoke….part of it is honest and natural, but  a big part of it is sales, of course. I can hardly save myself from “Gear Lists” and “Best Bindings for this Winter” posts. (When was the last time alpine bindings needed comparative reviews?)
I haven’t been remiss in my duties either. I bought some new gear for the kids, and I’m lusting for some new stuff myself, but I don’t really need any of it. 25 plus years of skiing and ski-touring has turned my place into a poorly organized ski shop, and there’s very few things I don’t already have at least two of. New skis and boots and all that are always cool, but here too – 25 plus years of hype and the cyclical nature of most new “innovations” has jaded me considerably to the lures of new gear. These days, I get stuff when it wears out – or- alternatively, when I just can’t stand to look at my old stuff anymore.
Out with Anonymous John and Friends. AJ doesn’t like the Internet, but he does like touring
And stuff does wear out. Clothes first, with holes in Gore-Tex, Primaloft going flat, even leather gloves getting worn-through on the side of the thumb. Backpacks blowing zippers and getting worn on the shoulders. I often wear a hole in the back flap too from carrying skis diagonally. This is sorta super-annoying because it seems to me that the manufacturers should recognize that ski edges are sharp…but oh well….
Last on the list are boots, and then skis. Boots I should probably replace earlier than I do. I don’t because finding a pair that works, getting them dialed in and matching them to bindings (at least with really lightweight touring bindings) is such a PITA that I’ll often wear a boot long past its prime. Still, that scuffed and worn-looking pair of TLTs or an old Cochise is kind of a mark of pride too. Not many actually have to have theirs resoled.
Skis wear mostly due to them losing their pop. This happens only after many days of skiing, far far more than most of the eBay specials have ever seen, and it’s gradual too, so I notice it usually only once I hop on a similar pair at a test center and go for a spin. I come back winded and a little surprised how fast I was able to push them and a sale will sometimes result. I still have a couple of skis that I don’t really love that are probably pushing 10 years old though. The kinda boring but useful “everyday groomer” that is my standard when resort skiing with the kids, or the super-mega-fat touring planks that are useful only in Japan or on the one day every 4 years when the Alps go bottomless and I don’t head out deep into the BC with light gear. These unloved skis tend to hang around, paradoxically, longer than the go-to boards in my quiver….like a relationship with a stripper tends to burn out in two weeks, while that mousy girl from finance is with you for 5 years…..
Plenty of snow, and just a bit of sun
Here’s hoping that as the season starts, you’ll make a few less purchases than you want to, you’ll be happy with the ones you do make, and you’ll live your dreams on that gear for as long as you can. Remember – our sport is already kind of hard on the environment that makes it possible, so tread lightly.
My first tours this year have been, like past years, at the resort. Nothing famous or awesome here. Hochfügen was well covered in early November, and the pistes were great. The continuing trend towards resort upilling is still strongly in force, but I don’t see it as a problem, at least not as long as the resorts are still closed. Hochfügen has a very open policy, and pretty much allows you to tour whenever you want, but they had to close everything a few times this year after a nasty accident in the Ötztal where a ski-tourer from the Netherlands got rolled over by a snowcat doing slope prep work and was killed.
Thats a weekday – pretty early start too. Many more were behind us….
The debate rages….should this be allowed? Should ski-tourers pay a fee? Should they be confined to dedicated slopes and places….? As much as I love what we do, I can’t ignore the masses of uphillers at my local hill when I am out with my kids for a resort day. They are the most prevalent hazard. (When I am one of them – I am the most prevalent hazard…) Its a (minor) annoyance, and, just as I choose to tour there becasue there is better snow on flat, prepared skiroutes, so does everyone else. It seems only fair that the people who provide those services should be able to expect that people taking advantage of them pay for their use. Additionally, the death of a tourer makes it clear (unfortunately) that the fears of the ski-resort operators are not unjustified, and we ought to take steps to prevent something like this happening again.
I know some out there will say: “Skiing is an inhierently dangerous sport” and “When you go into the mountains, you have to be responsible for yourself” – and those statements are both true. I would temper them both by saying, first – getting run over by a snocat is not skiing, its kind of per se an institutional hazard. If you bust at 80 kph and sustain a life-ending injury, thats skiing, and we may not be able to get rid of all those dangers, nor might we like ski-resorts anymore if we did, but machinery and people don’t mix, and we should take prudent steps to remove the danger. Our goal should be zero fatalities or injuries. A willingness to accept some number is just an excuse for complaceny. Second – if you go into the mountians, I do expect a higher level of personal responsibility. This is true inside or outside of a resort. At the same time though, in a resort, it is not primarily nature which dictates the rules of the game we play, but the people running the resort. This is true whether or not the resort is open. As a result – I do believe that the resorts have an obligation to keep things safe, and this, in turn, affords them some authority to enforce steps to ensure that standard is reached. In other words, this poor ski-tourer that was killed should have been personally responsible (I can’t say if they were or not,) but the resort must be responsible as well. Hochfügen closing the resort to ski tourers during intensive prep work is reasonable and correct. It may be that further restrictions may also be needed. I would support them.
Still – there’s plenty to go around, and its nice to see everyone out….
The same cannot be said of a segment of the ski-touring population. Fakebook has been broiling with the hate-posts of the self-professed “ski-runners” who see it as their god-given right to engage in “training” at all ski resorts at all times for no cash and with no restrictions….well….what can I say? They are, after all, personality type A. I love those guys. I do hope that we’ll find a way to get it settled.
I also really believe that there is a small, but viable market being created for ski-touring resorts with no lifts, or just a few small ones. I’d love to see this happen, and I know of a few places where this is already being done. Everyone’s been looking for a way to keep the small resorts running, and this might be the way. We’ll see.
hope we’ll get lots of nice views like this….
Anyway – here’s to seeing you on the skintrack this year. Love to get out with some of you soon.

Looking for a secret stash? How about this one?

The weekend was quiet. Not a lot of tourers out on Saturday- not because it sucked, but because the avi danger was high and the near constant announcements on the radio properly frieghtened most people away. I personally thought it  wasn’t so bad – but I did see spontaneous releases on wind-loaded shady slopes above about 1900, so the forecast was in general correct. If you stayed off of the big, fluffy bits and played in the sun though, it seemed ok.

So I decided on a nice tour on Sunday with my buddy Stephan. He’s from Hamburg – and originally from Sylt, an island in the North Sea, but he loves Splitboarding and he makes it a point to tour whenever he can. He was here just a few weeks ago, but got sick as a dog just before, and really couldn’t tour at all, so I was glad to hear he could come for a second try.

Stephan is always trying to improve his skills in the safety and route-finding area, so I figured I’d let him pick the tour. We wanted something short, not too steep and safe. Stephan poured through the guidebooks and found a tour up the Polverer Jochl – which is a high ridgeline near the Hirzer in the Tuxer Range back behind Weer in the Inn Valley.

Not a real peak = not a ton of tourers. Not being the main show in the drainage, which is the Hirzer = even less interest and lastly, no hut and a walk up a forest road to get to the slopes = zero public interest!

What sounds like a dog is actually very, very good. The topos showed broad, gentle slopes with no trees and miles of space to cut your own line. The routefinding looked to be line of sight, and there was only one spot where we would be exposed to a little danger from above. A nice bag. We hoped to have it allot ourselves!

The snow of the last few days really helped us out. For the first time this year, we’ve got the 1 meterish of snow you need to really tour freely. If the 15 degree temps keep up, it won’t last, but we were happy for it. Unfortunately- the snowline  has clearly decided it’s spring, so there was no skiable snow below around 1400. it was a long walk up the forest road!

There was a sign: “last parking space” and also, slightly more menacing “private road” at the turn off where the gravel road went up. Stephan and i dutifully parked there and started up with our gear on our backs. After 15 minutes, we got passed by a clown car with 6 tourers in spandex who parked in a area that was clearly “the real last parking space”….oh well….

We continued, until we finally hit the turn off where the trail started and the snow was rideable. There was a car parked there. In the “really really last parking space.” Stephan and I were not too bummed about losing roughly 40 minutes of walking one-way – this is what happens when you hit a spot for the first time after all- but next time, we’ll gird our loins and brave the towing crews to partake of the “VIP – Very Immense Penis” parking that obviously was available.

It wasn’t long before we popped into sun below a nice-looking hut that is open for beers in the summer. We crossed the creek that is the bottom of the drainage. It’s fairly flat there, which makes me guess that when the snow starts melting, the whole bottom of the valley probably floods out to one extent or another. Probably all gravel under the snow and the few summer huts and constructions are on top of a side-moraine on the west side of the valley. 

We gained that, and followed the back of it to the south, looking at all the great lines around us. Most of it needs safe conditions to ride, but there is a lot back there, and outside of the spandex-crew, and the obviously criminal parking bandits, there was no one back there. We had lost the race team five minutes in, and we never saw the other guys. It was a whole valley just for us.

As we were coming up the back of the moraine, we saw the “peaklet” that we were shooting for, but I kept checking the maps, because it just didn’t really match what was seeing. The geography at the top was ok, but the topography below was showing as undulating and generally flatish north to south. What I saw was another broad ridgeline separating the way up to the Polverer Jochl into two distinct drainages. By distances, the more northerly one was the intended route, but there was no indication of this split on the maps!

This is where I get to rant about the crappiness of Austrian and German maps. 1:50000. Awesome. At this scale- most of the features on this landscape were basically going lost. What looked like a single wide gulley or valley-let was actually two, seperated by a thin, marginally higher ridge, which was nonetheless significant because of the wind-loaded slopes on its northern side.

Stephan was flagging a bit – he’s still not back to full strength after his bronchitis- so I choose to march right up “disappearing ridge” to keep out of any slide paths, and also to work on my tan, as it was above 10 degrees and I was sporting short sleeves and and a thong. I hoped that we could make the top of the ridge, and then decide on further action.

It took a while, but I got there. The top was actually a promontory. Behind, it dipped down just enough to actually show up on the map – but with the warm weather and Stephan’s wheezing, we both decided it would be better enjoy the view and zip the plain we just walked up than to attempt more vert.

From up here we could see team Parkplatz making their way up the Hirtzer in good time. I wouldn’t have done it, but then again, I didn’t get the rad powder turns they made either. They were down and out before I ate Stephan’s powerbar.

Pro-tip. You can go super light and suffer none of the downsides if your friends carry your shit.

I ripped skins, Clicked in, took a selfie, read a chapter of War and Peace, engaged in international diplomacy with Angela Merkel….and then Stephan had pulled the bindings off his splitboard. So, I cured cancer, forgot the cure and contemplated the true meaning of “Friday” until he was done.

We rode through nice pow at the top, followed by a minor suncrust in the flats. It was, as always, a mixed bag, but nice! We rode out the way we came, and soon enough we hit the forest road and lamented again not ignoring the signs like everybody else.

As a skier – I can engage in some pretty manky survival skiing to avoid walking. Combine that fact and a heroic disregard for my equipment, and I will ski Asphalt flecked with crisco to the car. I rode on one leg over snowplow debris that was softer than it looked and used the other to slow down by kicking the springtime baby rabbits frolicking in the moss.

Stephan had to walk.

It was a great day- and I’ll be back to this secret valley again. Maybe I’ll see you there.

But that parking spot up top – that’s mine!

Powder Day at the Ski Hill!

Usually I write about the days out touring, but I do spend a lot of time skiing the resort as well. I’ve got two little kids, boys 10 and 6 years old, so not every day is going to be a 3000 v.m slogfest.

I’ll admit I was conflicted this morning. I wanted to get out under my own power and I even loaded up my touring gear and put on my TLTs but as I was going up to the car it dawned on me that while the powder was OK, it probably wasn’t more than 10cm of it, and my wife and kids were laughing and squealing and I hadn’t had a powder day with them all year. 

It’s not going to be so long before my oldest isn’t really hip to skiing with mom and dad, and once these days are gone, they’ll be gone forever. I shouldn’t pass them up as often as I do.

I’ve always been a solo ski tourer. I actually rarely go with others because it’s almost impossible to find partners who want to go and have time. It used to be easier, but now, everyone has kids and jobs, and frankly, seems like everyone has given the sport up. Most of the people I’m thinking of probably wouldn’t see it that way – but if your three years since your last tour and you don’t have any gear – it’s kind of hard to claim you’re a skier.

It’s not a criticism of them – that’s the way things are for many. I get it. Still – ski touring for me is primarily a solitary activity and for someone like me, with a curmudgeonly personality and a tendency to isolation, skiing with my family is a nice variation and probably beneficial.

The snow was still coming down when we got up the hill to Hochfügen. It’s only about 10 minutes up the hill, so it’s where we ski. We’re not all that big on skiing all over the place and pistes are pistes. Long travel and cost associated with lift tickets at dozens of resorts doesn’t make sense for us. Besides – we know the place, and they know us. If my kids got separated from us, they wouldn’t worry a bit. They’d just ski to their favorite restaurant and get something to drink. Money is not really required because the people who work there know us, and they know we’re good for it. It’s a nice feeling.

The place is emptying out after the Faschings holiday. Normally. – that marks the end of the season for the casual skier – after Fasching, the only people left are the season pass holders, but for now, there are still a few Dutch vacationers in large groups. We got off the piste right away and rode the heavy boot-top powder (?) that had really only just covered the manky leftovers that we’ve been skiing for two weeks.

My oldest, at 10, can really ski. I was impressed watching him plow through the challenging snow and remain light on his feet.His younger brother stuck with Sabine but still was riding the pow – which for him was more like knee deep. It’s a trick for him – but he’s only six- so the fact that he skis powder at all is pretty cool.

In any case – both of them were getting attention for their skills from the people on the T-bar that we kept skiing near. It made me a proud Dad, and I recognized again that in another five years or so, it’s likely my oldest will ski better than I do. That’s a good thing.

The best part was that because the snow was difficult and the weather was less than super, most everyone left. 

And then the sun came out!

We made a few more runs enjoying the refreshed winter scenery and the warm weather. I followed the kiddos into the woods and had to break off – they were going into gaps so small, i just couldn’t fit! They just laughed at me.

It wasn’t long before the both of them were tired and needing a warm spot to sit, so we ended the day, like most, at the cafe in the gondola building, where we get what we want without having to order. 

It was a great day – and I’m looking forward to the empty slopes and the warm sunny days in the high mountains that remain. The best part of the ski season is just starting…..

PS – if you are thinking about getting after it tomorrow- be very careful. The wind was massive yesterday and now, with the new snow, you can’t see the wind loaded stuff. It’s not well bound at all. I was able to stomp on and slide anything with more than about 30 degree angle, and that was in the resort!

Blowing up a military base in search of powder

As my hordes of loyal readers will have noticed, muggle life kept me out of the hills for two whole weeks. Wasn’t so bad. The snow is beat and I had an injury (sprained spleen) and the time off gave me the opportunity to concentrate all my energies on the psychosis that my double-bathroom renovation is causing me. (Hint: my builders told me “we don’t generally use technical drawings for our projects!”

Enter the spring holidays: Fasching – commonly known in other parts of the world as “carnival” or to the US: Rio de Janero. My kids are off school, so Grandma came down to herd them while me and the missus went looking for some snow.

Things didn’t really get off to a great start. We went down to Tyrol and dropped into a little side valley off of the Inntal – going to the Guest house Innerst, where you can park and skin up to the Weidener Hut. From here, there’s a bunch of tours and, as you are far away from the main valley, you’re up there with your own kind. Coulda been nice. 

Wasn’t. The road in to the Weidener Hut was melted out and we were late in the day to make the 2 hour walk up there. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of the routes from the hut, so it would have left us with another slog out. 

We did what all married couples do in situations like this: we fought bitterly. We turned around – and half-lapped one of our standards again. Mostly without speaking. The snow had gone positively springlike – soggy. The skiing left much to be desired.

The next day we woke to low visibility but at least a little snowfall. We decided not to tour and kicked around Kaltenbach for a while. No big deal. But we were under pressure to make the next day, with its new snow and forecasted great weather, into something special. 

I chose the area around the Lizumer Hut. As you drive down the Inn valley from Ebbs towards Innsbruck, you see a lot of good-looking spots to ski. The area around Wattens, however, is the exception. It would appear that in the hills behind twin, there’s really nothing worth writing home about. 

You’d be wrong.

Behind Wattens, there is a deep and long valley that extends into the heart of the Tuxer range. You can’t see it from the highway because it is waaay back there, and the general public doesn’t head there because there are no ski resorts back there. 

That’s because – at the very back of that valley (the Wattener Lizum) there is an Austrian military base keeping tabs on the groundhogs back there. The whole area is officially restricted – but for reasons that are unclear to me – this does not preclude one from ducking under the checkpoint at the end of the road with ski gear and poaching all that heavily guarded pow.

I was thinking: 2 hours in, a bite at the hut, then a quick jaunt up one of the many routes at the head of the valley and then back out on the road. What we got into was a lot bigger than that though.

The road in is loooong and there is nothing back there save for an isolated guest house which might as well be an outpost on the moon. Then, all of a sudden, a parking lot, with an military checkpoint behind it and lots notices about live ordinance and how awesome it is to shoot stuff.

We ducked under the crossbar while being ogled by a less than steely-eyed draftee and opted for a route off the road in order to avoid, well, the road.

The path worked it’s way along a brook and through a Hansel and Gretel looking forest before opening up for a glimpse of that high mountain valley. Still disconcertingly far off. Undiscouraged, we continued meeting up again with the tank-free road and followed it, and a path through the woods, up past a monument to people dying in lots of gruesome ways, past a barracks that was obviously empty but nonethess huge and almost hotel-like, to the Lizumer Hut.

Wow. What a spot. Sitting in the bottom of that valley and surrounded on thee sides by the highest peaks of the Tuxer range and all above treeline- one can imagine a solitary existence filled with light, silence and endless possibilities for chasing powder dreams. The hut is large, and comfortable with suitably eurohuttish decor. 

Strangely- the entire staff is from Singapore, and does not speak German. It’s not really that surprising to me. Huts have a hard time finding people willing to run them. The people who do basically lease the property and have lots of restrictions on what they can do. They often lose money, and an isolated hut like this one, far from the road, with no cell phone service and a strenuous hike in, is a logistical nightmare. More and more Huts are filling positions or even renting out to foreign management. They are either happy for the work, or sometimes, may not know what they are getting into. The ladies here were very nice, and served us some good, traditionally Austrian food.

Then it was back into the sun and the trek began. Routes were, despite the terrain, limited. The bad snow year was in full force here as well, so all the routes on the west side of the valley were dusted dusted. The east side was a little better but the routes were less attractive. Lots of terrain traps and exposure to avalanche hazard over there.

Naturally- anyone who does this enough looks to north facing slopes – and so did we. At the end of the valley there was a ramp up that looked to hold snow, as well as a wide-open bowl next to it that was screaming “unsurvivable slab avalanche” – and since surviving is a temporary, but nonetheless central, life goal of ours, we chose the ramp.

Plus – somebody had already put the skinner in.

Off we went. And went. And went some more. You ever seen that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he digs his way to the beach, but took a wrong turn and ends up in the Sahara? Runs for miles trying to find the surf…. it was like that.

Sometimes – seeing the whole route stretch out in front of you can be daunting. In the mountains, with no trees or buildings, scales can be off, and what looks close just drags on for donkey’s years. We finally made the ramp and we’re happy to have kick turns to give cadence to our climb.

The sun dipped behind the ridge, but the glimmer above and beyond pulled us up, despite the more than 4 hours of steady climbing since the morning.

Then we crested.

It wasn’t the ridge. It was a plateau. We still had a little more than 100 vertical meters to climb to our right. I felt really bummed. Sabine wanted to sit down and cry.

I waited for her while thinking positive ways to cheer her up and contemplating the possibility of digging a hole and expiring in it in a way that would cause me the least possible embarrassment at my funeral.

Sabine came up- and I tried to build her up, and it worked. I figured, we could still make it up and out before sundown – and hey – the snow was stable, and was the best we’d seen all season. So we grit our teeth, had some candy, and slogged up to the top. 

Well, almost. I went to the top. But 15 meters below the peak there was another one of these plateaus, and Sabine called it quits. I went alone- claimed the land for Queen Isabella of Spain, ripped skins and met my sweetie engaged in her usual splitboard puzzle-problem.

The ride out was sublime. We were concerned about lurking shark fins, so we rode conservatively- but we had no contact and things were solid. We yo-yo’d into the valley floor, skinned up and went back to the hut.

Long story short, we made time and survival skied that road with low snow cover, throwing sparks off our edges and making the parking lot in the dark.

We were beat. All in all, we made about 1600 vertical with about 30 miles travelled. That is super-big in anybody’s book. That guest house on the way in got two hungry visitors, and after the whole day in the sun, it might as well have been the Waldorf Astoria.

The food was great – and then all of a sudden, a troop of Fachings-Revelers came in with hand carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. They danced, and shared schnapps with us, and we felt really lucky to finish our day with such an unusual highlight in that isolated place.

If we go back – the better way would be to make a weekend of it, instead of a day. We will surely return- as there are few places like this left in the alps.

Don’t tell anyone!

Packing for Ski Touring


The cold days are here, and if the crowd down at the ski shop last weekend is any indication – there are going to be a lot of new ski-tourers out on the hill this winter. There must have been about seventy people there all told – and while the shop does have a large and well-stocked alpine section, more than 80% appeared to be searching for a ski touring set up.

My wife was a bit unhappy about the prospect of sharing the pow with a whole slew of newbies, but in my view, its better that folks learn to love the beauty of the winter mountains by climbing them than to have them long for more powder sitting on chairlifts. Chairlift riders, after all, often want MORE chairlifts for them to ride – and the situation with regards to ski touring in Austria is such that I don’t believe that any new lifts are needed, nor are they sustainable in the long term. A large and active community of ski-tourers is the best defence I can think of against the ecroachment of destination-resort-skiing in my home mountains.

Powder will always be available to those who are willing to go higher, and further, to get it – as long as they don’t bulldoze the whole range to make another real-estate ponzi-scheme….


Quite a lot of those buying were buying the whole kit. Boots, bindings, skis, poles – some even clothing. Airbag packs were everywhere, and they are rightly becoming standard equipement – even though I don’t yet use one myself. I find them still much too heavy and have been carrying an Avylung pack from Black Diamond for a couple years now instead. (but I may pull the trigger soon. The wieghts are coming down….) A ski touring day pack is one of the most important pieces of kit you will buy.

So – while on the subject of wieght – it was clear to me that quite a few of these new guys were buying all kinds of ski touring equipment – some of it quite expensive, and possibly very unneccesary. More than one had collected everything on their ski touring equipement list, and were trying to fit it all into a 35 liter pack to test if it fit.

This is all too much stuff – I thought, and I’ve seen the scenario play out many times over the years where new guys try and carry all kinds of (on their own) useful stuff on their backs and they are slow and uncomfortable as a result. Some do manage to carry all the wieght, but fiddling with all their gear makes them slow, which is a pain for the group, and, in classic alpine phliosophy, actually makes them less safe, because their pokeyness exposes them to risk for longer periods of time when they do go out. This is true even for strong, fit skiers who still carry too much and have to take care of it all – so it makes sense to take a good look at all your gear and live by the philosophy “less is more”. Giving ski touring equipement advice is a business frought with trouble, but….

Keep in mind that I ski tour in Europe, where the distances to civilization are generally small, and evac is nearly always available. I don’t sleep in tents, and if I did, I would look stupid, because I would be doing it within sight of a hut.

the difference between an 18 liter and a 35 liter pack is huge!

I’m known for being a bit of a minimalist – so here’s what I carry on a typical day tour:

On my person:

  • Long underwear, top and bottom. I like merino wool because it warms well, it does not stink even after multiple days wearing it, and if it gets warmer – the stuff really does allow (somehow) you to stay cool. The polyester stuff out there is generally not nearly as good.
  • Softshell pants and jacket with no insulation in relatively good weather, Gore-Tex shells in worse weather
  • A lightwieght puffy in worse weather, or a vest in better weather
  • a mesh baseball cap in good weather, a knit beanie in worse
  • A pair of light neoprene gloves for the way up
  • Sunglasses
  • Ski gear: boots, poles, skis, skins
this is is the stuff I am wearing – skins go in your jacket to keep them warm and sticky. Always. Hood is used instead of a beanie. Hat is for the sun, Wrap sunglasses are enough.

In my pack or somewhere attached to me:

  • The Holy Trinity: Beacon, Probe, Shovel – obviously. The shovel should be as full-sized as you can handle. Some are so small that they really are a shovel only in name. Your probe – it can be light, but if you get a carbon one, check it – they can crack!
  • a very lightwieght bivy sack for emergencies. A good one is smaller than your fist (half the size) and can be a lifesaver if things go bad
  • A set of leather insulated gloves for the way down or for nasty weather
  • Super-small first aid kit supplemented with 4-5 compeed bandages for blisters, and 6 Ibuprofen tablets for when something bad happens
  • A re-used regular plastic water bottle in the half-liter size, wrapped in duct-tape. Mine is about 4 years old, cost nothing, is indestructible, and lighter than those expensive Nalgine bottles everyone buys. Everyone says that’s too little water – but I often come home with half of it left. In Europe – we often have huts with beer so – your mileage my vary on this one.
  • One energy bar or preferably a burrito with real food in it. This is about as big as a balled up fist. Not as big a balled up Cocker Spaniel (I’m talking to you, America.) Burritos are great because the packaging is tin foil. When you’re done with it, it takes up no space in your pack. You can easily reuse too. Burritos can be mashed and not suffer too much. Maybe use two tortillas to keep things together…. if there is a hut and I plan on eating there, I leave this out.
  • A multi-tool – make sure it actually fits your gear
  • a pair of goggles with a clear lens – only for really shit weather on the way down
  • 5-6 layers of good quality duct tape wrapped on my poles up near the grip. You can fix all kinds of stuff that breaks with it – but you only need a little. Don’t pack a roll in.
  • I like to use an inclinometer to measure slope angle – this is as teched-out as I get. I like the little one from Pieps.  Its on my pole – ready to go.
  • a little glob of skin wax – this stuff is always good to have and MUCH underappreciated. It is a wax you rub on your skins to keep them from soaking with water and having the snow stick to them. It is a must-have item for spring, but can often be useful even in dead winter.
  • Two long Voile straps. Fixes skins that don’t stick, busted buckles, useful for impromptu S&M action
  • In March and beyond: Knives – or as Americans call them: Ski crampons. I don’t use these often, and I find I only really need them in the spring and summer when the snow can be really hard
  • a charged up cell phone – turned off. I don’t think the electromagnetic signals really make a difference when doing a beacon search, but turning the phone off ensures that in the event of an emergency – I will have power to actually call somewhere.
  • Materials for a safety meeting. The simpler, the better.

All this easily fits into an 18 Liter pack, with room to spare!

missing my phone – and I don’t really take extra gloves. That jacket is a vest with synthetic fill. Warm enough for Europe and a run back to the valley if I gets really nasty.

I usually start out with my jacket on, and (this is a thing kind of unique to me) with my vest on the OUTSIDE of my shell. I also choose vests and puffys with hoods, and I will often have these up over my hat. I don’t start out cold – despite many people’s opinion that you should, because I tend to get really cold hands that way – and if they get cold, it can be tough getting them to warm up. (little tip: lower your poles….like really low – this can help!)

Wearing my gear like this lets me later quickly stop, spin my pack off, unzip my vest and just throw it in my pack. No undressing and re-dressing to get to that “mid-layer”. I often don’t even take the vest off if it is cold, and find I can regulate my temperature with the hood quite well. The only time I take off my shell is if it gets really warm – and I even only open it to put my skins inside near my belly when I transition. (I really like ski-touring jackets with pockets made just for this.)

Advantages for me:

I am pretty fast. Many are faster on the up due to not being old, or sometimes vitriolic fitness, but a lot of my speed comes from an efficient stride AND the fact that I never have to futz with my gear. This makes a huge difference, and I often beat nineteen-year-old kids in perfect shape up the hill because of it. Not only do I get up first, I get down first, and I am fresher when I do because I didn’t waste a bunch of energy fiddling around. Some of this is learned, and you can’t inject expirience, but excessive amounts of gear seems to be the norm these days – and by getting rid of it, you’ll rock like a pro from the trailhead out.

Notable things I leave out:

These are some of the things I see almost everybody carrying that I think are unneeded generally

  • Fleece. This stuff is nice for home, but it does not pack down well. It is heavy! A high-quality synthetic or down insulation layer is better – and down can last for decades if properly cared for.
  • Enough water for a bath. Really – I know its healthy – but your body can run on less. If things go poorly – you can share in a group. (Eating snow is a bad idea though. Can cause…uh…difficulties….)
  • Helmets. Beat me up – go ahead. Helmets are for high-impact sports and some studies show that they don’t particularly help against head injury due to impact. They can protect you from minor rockfall, and from object trauma (pointy rocks). I ski conservatively – always keeping mind that even a minor injury deep in the hills could end up being a big problem. While I recognize this is somewhat circular logic – I’m of the opinion that I don’t have much advantage when wearing a helmet. I don’t ski super-fast, I don’t huck big cliffs in the backcountry and I moderate my risk wherever possible. Messing about with a carrying a helmet does annoy me, does slow me down, and does make me more uncomfortable – so I don’t wear one. If my head hits the ground at speed, a helmet wouldn’t help me – the force of impact rattles your brain inside your skull, and this is the cause of a concussion….helmet or none – a headfall is the end of your day and probably a trip in the helo.
  • Extra insulation layers. I see people with two puffys or maybe a sweater and an insulating layer. You shouldn’t need them, even midwinter for normal tours. If you really feel cold – a second baselayer is the best insulation in terms of its effectiveness with regards to its wieght. Biggest problem I see: a dislike of hats. Hats should be mandatory. On most days to keep you warm, on warm days a cap to keep the sun off. A good wool beanie can totally change your temperature. Use one.
  • GPS units, compasses, altimeter, maps like crazy – this is a day-tour at a regular-joe kind of outing. These things are useful in their place – but I call them special equipement.
  • GoPros. Expensive things….your phone can do most of what you want, and if the pictures aren’t good enough, there are lenses made for them that are cheap and easy. Fiddling with either all the time is a pain though – and not just for you.
  • Climbing rope. You’ll need more than just rope to actually do anything you’ll need it for. If you do HAVE to have a rope – 30 – 50 meters of cordalette is usually enough – but this stuff is not dynamic, so don’t try and climb with it
  • Ice axes, crampons – only for glaciated travel. Without a harness and tying into a rope though, these items are like wearing knee pads in a plane crash
  • Any number of small electronic gadgets designed to document your travels, call for help in an emergency (thats what your phone is for), determine the quality of the snow, etc. These are worse than useless – they occupy your time and your brain, both of which should be doing other things
  • A full wallet with all the crap people put in it. Some cash – maybe a credit card – thats all you might need if you find a nice hut
  • skin savers, skin bags…..chuck those things. Pros stick em together
  • Any kind of tuning equipment. This is not the world cup.
  • Headphones – you need to hear the snow
  • Radios – huge time-water and rarely improves communication

Thats probably most of it. Always be looking at your pack and thinking about how to lighten your load. Think critically about all items, even so-called safety equipement and try to make a reasoned judgement about its real usefulness to you. Remember that carrying anything, anything at all, has a cost – and that you – and your friends, pay it together. Lastly – if you’ve never used it, and its not a safety item that you don’t want to use – get rid of it…..if you do end up missing it, you can always put it back in next time.

Happy ups! If you liked this post – click on the “follow” button and share it! I’d love to hear what you bring along in your ski touring rucksack!

ISPO: blowing it. My milk run: blower.

Yeah – so it’s that time again. ISPO in Munich, And my Fakebook feed is blowing up with golden oxes to consumerism. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love gear. But it’s a love-hate relationship. It’s fun to geek out on all that stuff, and some of it is worthwhile, but ski-touring didn’t used to be about the kind of pants you wear, and the mainstreaming of the sport has brought both good and bad. 

People getting into the sport feel obliged to drop about 4 grand before they even get lost at the trailhead, and nothing is as universally derided as the underequipped tourer. It wasn’t always like this. Ski tourers used to be hippy non-conformists who were notorious for never buying anything – which is why the ski companies ignored them for so long.

The ISPO highlights all this outdoor gear in a glittering convention hall, complete with fizzy drinks and phat beats, both served up by babes in the kind of clothes you can’t wear to church. I do get it. It’s an industry show, and the people in the industry live from this gear. They need that show. What I don’t get is the tendency of hordes of laypersons (i.e.: people who do not work in the industry) that beg, borrow and steal to get access to the show. There is nothing to buy there, and if you are really into skiing, then the show falls in one of the prime skiing weeks, so me, I’d rather go skiing.

The show has a noticeable effect. Routes that are usually full have about 30% less traffic on them. Sometimes you get a group of Americans or French out that have obviously travelled here for the show, but most people seem to stick to the Convention center and environs.

Today was kinda beat by most counts. Weather was crappy, with weather moving in by 11am from the west and south, flat light, and a snowpack that has suffered greatly due to warm temps and rain up to nearly 2000 meters. Combined with the show – there was only one other car at the tourers lot in Hochfügen. I didn’t really have much hope, but I figured if it was really crappy I could always jam up the Kleiner Gamstein and roll by the Loashütte for a frosty oat soda.

The other car was a clown car from the circus with about 15 Czechs in it. All geared up with dangling helmets, skin savers (dead giveaway) and size stickers on their boots. They were getting all stretched out, so I started out. I’d see them later….

I followed the road up until it branched off to the Loas Sattel and then up the face in gentle switchbacks. Along the way, I could see that the slope had been tracked out and melted, but had refrozen, and due to the increasing wind, there was a little dust on crust. Looked supportable.

I made the top without seeing a soul, and busted a track down skiers left through the loose trees until I hit the track to the Loas Sattel. This is really the best way to go down the Kleiner Gamstein. Usually everyone goes right down the wide open face they climbed up. It gets really tracked out! Additionally- the face is sunny and gets nailed by the wind. It rarely is all that good. 

The trees to the left are widely spaced. Anybody can ski them, and their shade and wind protection does wonders for the snow. If you know the place, you can ski down through open patches all the way down to the road to Hochfügen, easily doubling the ski length. There is even a spot to park there. Don’t tell anybody.

The track out is a good option if you don’t know where you are. I took it, cause I was feeling good and ready for another up. I rode over to the down and outdo the Sonntagsköpfl, and skinned up. 

After about 15 minutes, I found a skin track set by Hannibal’s Army – so wide, so busted, so…..flat. Honestly- I was perplexed. Usually I go all curmudgeonly ranting about those too-steep skintracks, but this baby was pushing all the wrong buttons.

I followed it. I figured flat is ok, and hey, you can’t complain when somebody’s trying to do the right thing.

Then I saw em. Those Czechs. In the time I had boosted the Kleiner Gamstein, they were over here busting up snowflakes at 60 vertical meters an hour. They had a leader, a little more experienced, that was marching them up the steepest and most consistent slope on the hill. To his credit, it was he who set that nice easy slope, but he was also forcing them to kick turn all the way up that mountian.

None of them had ever done this before. Too much gear, heavy and perched precariously on their backs, was making their movements almost robotic. Their alpine-oriented skis, in 195cm lengths, were almost impossible for them to swing around and like most, their attempts to step UP to the next track was wearing them out and ripping their skins off their tails. 
I made the tail end of the coda in no time, and was greeted with that mix of friendliness, shame and pride that you often get when passing a group of beginners. In case you think I’m looking down on them, you should go and read my post about the first time I went ski touring. I know how it is. I was one of them too, and I looked far worse than they did.

I always want to help – but helping without being asked is kind of a jerk move, especially in this sport where pros are the only acceptable measure of success and everybody else is a loser geek. So I slid by with a smile. If i could have, I’d have tried to show them the kick turn, and told them to chuck 90% of that gear the guy at the shop told them they needed for what is, essentially, a short walk in the snow. Seriously – somebody sold one of those guys a sat phone. It was perched on his shoulder strap.

The snow up here was better! Not as affected by the rain, and since the top gets kinda rolling, there were lots of little runnels that were fairly flat filled in with wind transport. 

I made the top and ripped skins to a SMS from my wife telling me the kiddos were ready to quit resort skiing and they were waiting for me at the trailhead.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Blower blower blower – all the way down! Flat light, but the little hills, and the few trees on the north-facing shady side made for good contrast. Boot-top gold.

I love that slope. The hill is popular, but for reasons unclear to me, people don’t tend to ski that north side. Obviously – that’s where you go first for good snow, but I think people get lured by the slope to the skiers right, because it is in the sun, and has more trees. Not enough to stop a slide, but false security, I guess. All I know is, that slope facing north and dotted with a few trees is sitting just above the magic 30% and is always filled with the goods. Again – don’t tell nobody.

I skated out the road and met the Czechs again at the trailhead. Tired. They looked. Anyway – my smiling kids were all packed up in their car seats and my wife was singing show tunes in a heated car just for me.

ISPO ain’t got nothin on this!

The world is a big place – get out and ski it!