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!

Kiddie Patrol on the Kleiner Gilfert

Saturday’s are for resting, so today, despite the super weather, we stayed in bed till late and munched on a big breakfast until nearly midday. My best touring buddy was sick, so I was looking for alternatives. I tried to get my oldest to go for a tour and a Schnitzel up to the Loashütte, but interest was low.

Enter the Kleiner Gilfert. I was able to convince Henry to try a quick yo-yo tour to this peak mostly because we could take the lifts up to the Pfaffenbühl and then just drop off the backside.

I neglected, in a masterstroke of omission, to mention that the climb back up and out is actually much longer than the little 400 meter tour to the Loashütte. Oh well – the weather was FABULOUS!
So my boy is 10 years old. Doesn’t do too badly with a little pow, and will certainly get much better than us very soon. He still bit it – haha! No harm done.

I put him out front. That way, he could set the pace. It was slow, but he kept moving and he wasn’t fooling about with gear, so we made the peak pretty quickly.

Got some nice shots too.

These we’ll keep till he’s big. They’ll be nice.

The peak has a multi-denominational cross on the top. Created by an artist and quite the thing. In reality, the Kleiner Gilfert is not a peak, it’s just a high point on a ridgeline. You won’t find it mother maps. Also – the Gilfert is a peak on the opposite side of the Pfaffenbühl, so even the name is kinda weird. It’s certainly been named by tourists. The tackle up there is selfie-worthy though, so I guess it’s fitting that it’s got a fake name.

We dropped the other side of the ridge in the shade and got at least a few blower turns. Dad tried keeping everyone to the right out of the sun, but neglected to remember that the route cliffs out over there. There is a way down, but it definitely NC-17 and Mom wouldn’t want me barreling our firstborn down that line.

We reversed course and made boot tracks back to the sun-baked slopes frequented by the freeriders crossing out from the resort. Yuck.

The road out was a fast slide, and Henry was happy except for the poling at the end. We made the lot at Hochfügen, and raised a few eyebrows with a kid in tow.

We called mom for a pickup. Everybody was happy and HUNGRY!

But this is my favorite photo of the day:

It’s nice being able to share days like this with my kids. Inreally hope that someday, they’ll like all this as much as I do and I hope they still have places to do it, long after we’re all gone.

Sunny powder day at the Proxenstand

Almost anyway ….. I started out with the plan to head to the Proxenstand because my guidebook told me the whole tour was under the magic 35 degrees and under 1900 meters. The avalanche service has been warning about depth hoar above 1900 on shady north-facing slopes, so my plan was to stay low. I had to search a bit. Close to the hut, but I didn’t want to go to one of my regular places for this kind of situation. I kinda wore them all out last year.

The Proxenstand is a locals tour above Schwatz. Never been there, although it’s just on the other side of the Kellerjoch. The pic above shows the road that runs waaay up to a restaurant up there in the woods on the north-facing side of the Inntal.

You start up through the woods, nothing too thick here, until you break through to the high pasture grounds like this:

Really remarkable, because the whole route is really gentle and just when you think it’s gotta go steep, a route opens up that gets you higher. The way I found was never exposed to any serious slide danger, so when the time came to bend off towards the left for the Proxenstand, a sub peak, I kept going towards this:

Back there, to the left, there is a low angle playground of shaded north powder! The cirque around it is high and steep, but the center of it is raised and forms a natural barrier to the slides that come down off the steep flanks. The way in is flat! You could come here for days in a 4 and as long as you kept the alpha in mind, you could avoid any heavy danger! This place is now on my list of go-to spots! I know some of you will understand my excitement.

It just wouldn’t stop though! I found a stable route out of THAT cirque and into the next drainage on the right (to the west). I gained the ridge, only to find that the ridge wasn’t a ridge, but rather a hanging valley.

I know my map could have told me that, but I hadn’t paid attention and hey – I was only going to the Proxenstand- right?

I followed through that basin, and recognized the Kellerjochhütte – which I’ve been to before, but only from the other side. It became my new goal.

There was a ridge leading up, so I figured I could stay on that and get all the way up. Good thing too:

If you look at the ridge, you can see the self-releases that went all down that north-facing side. These certainly went on the layer of depth hoar that the LWD is warning about. Any safe route would have to stay on that ridge, away from the drop on the other side too – cause by now, I was over 2000 meters. Cue that Kenny Loggins tune….

I gained that ridge, and the Austrians who were already there did a remarkable job of ignoring my existence. Even my physical presence was summarily ignored and two ladies tried to walk through me. I did my best to accommodate them, but the laws of space time made my vaporization quite impossible.

The view is great – you can look over the whole of the Inn valley on one side and the Finsinggrund on the other.

The ride down was perfect ankle deep pow. I had fallen light and has dried out quite a bit. Of course, I doesn’t dry out – what I was skiing on was surface hoar, which can be a drag once snow falls on it, but as a top layer, it’s rad.

I dropped down along my uptrack, staying clear of the north facing side of that ridge enjoying the views and the blue blue sky. The route was flat, so it was all easy cruising, and although I was by no means the first, I still found the goods. Always enough to share.

I dropped back into that first high valley and passed the Proxen alm – which is open in the summer, and looks nice. Those turns in there were the best, and had I had the time, I would have skinned back up to get some more.

The way out through the forest and bearing right took me back to a road and from there a sledding track. I was able to find a few patches of good turns, but there is surely a better way out. I’ll have to come back and find it.

By this late in the afternoon, the alm pastures were getting a little baked, but I muddled through and hit pavement just before the sun dropped behind the ridge.


So – a nice place! Good for when you’re looking to stay safe – but there is plenty of temptation, so if you go, make sure to stick to your plan. Well – mostly.