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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!

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!

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!

Winter is here! Grease up your GoPro!

Roundabout half a meter of fresh in two days! The Berge are looking the part: white all over the place! All we need now are a couple bus loads of Dutch tourists and some Russian culture-luddites and you’d think it was Christmas!

I’ve read my fakebook feed, and I’ve been out there sniffing the produce and despite the breathless instagramming and pictures of dudes getting shacked – I’m reminded of the timeless words of that master of prose: Flavor Flav -Don’t Believe the Hype!

While it’s a good start, the first half of that snow fell with considerable transport, so you got wind-loading combine with bare nuts all over. The temperatures were really low, minus 17 yesterday, which used to be kinda normal but now causes hyperventilating, so the snow is fluffy and weightless – all the way to China. And when I say China, I mean bare rock.

So you kinda got two choices: 1) run the rapids, watch the P-Tex fly and hope when you fall that your motor centers remain intact or 2) roll the amp all the way to eleven and hope that when it all comes down behind you you live long enough to tell anybody stupid enough to believe it that you were performing “stuff management.”

Another dump. Then you can blow up all your followers. Don’t forget to jack your retention to 16.

Today – I went out with my oldest (10) for a event run by MC2alpin in Kutai- “kids on tour.” A guided ski tour for kids from about 8 to 14 with the possibility to rent gear that they need to tour. For 29 euros! All day program. No parents allowed!

They ask that the kids bring their own alpine skis and boots, and then they get hooked up the a contour start-up touring adaptor, a kind of BCA trekker for kids made of plastic that is more about reality than radness. It works really well, and my son has been using his for two years now! They also have kids skins- relatively inexpensive skins with kid-rotator-cuff friendly glue. Both of these things are Werner Koch’s baby over at Contour – and he’s doing great! Products like these do more to build the sport than Dead Bull – but get less press. Too bad.

They took off for some some low angle, easy-peasy powder and parents who were so inclined were treated to a guided tour with newbie tips and a beacon refresher course. Nice!

I was cold. It was minus 7 out and I was dressed to make like somebody was chasing me, but the tenor of the day was Sunday stroll with the hounds. Nuts. I got a refresh on some info, so it was worthwhile. It’s amazing what you forget after a while, and maybe the searing pain in my fingertips will serve to imprint this info more permanently into my cerebellum- like that time I tested my BB gun on my leg.

Henry was warmly dressed (no dummy) and had a good time. I was able to get a series of linked turns through some trees down to the bottom and didn’t blow an edge doing it, Henry and his new buddies were making remarkable turns for a group of pre-teens through what was, for them, over the knee.

Everybody was happy. 

Tomorrow I gotta fly all the way to summer in California- but I’ll be back by next weekend, so look after the pow, and let me know where all that snow blew to so a can shralp it when I gets back – K?


Dreaming of a White Christmas 

Looks like a dream is all I’m gonna get.

Not just in Colorado…..

We’ve had almost no natural snow in the Zillertal, so the only touring is on the piste at the local ski resorts. While this is hugely popular, I’ve stopped doing it. The numbers have increased even compared to last year, and my opinion is that it’s getting a bit out of hand.

I know many won’t agree with me. That’s OK – but I am a resort skier with my kids too, and the current trend has become a distraction, and if I’m being honest, a bit of an annoyance. I don’t have a problem with practice per se, but the numbers are such that on a few days, there are more going uphill that down. BTW – before getting out your knives to cut me to pieces, keep in mind that I also am of the opinion that the profilation of high-speed quads (6,8…10s?) leads to a dangerously overcrowded piste as well. Nobody remembers standing in line for the lift anymore, and it sucked, but it also meant that at any given time, there were far fewer poeple actually on the slope. The trend towards uphilling exacerbates this. 

An obvious solution would be for dedicated uphill tracks, and a few places have them, but even there, it seems like an awful large percentage of people don’t stick to them, so the plan is kinda moot. In Bavaria, the law says that ski tourers can’t be restricted. There was a court case a few years back that settled this pretty definitively. While I’m generally in favor of free access, I think in this case, prudence and a willingness to co-exist should reign the day. In Tyrolia the law is different, and it’s fairly certain that if the resorts wanted to ban the practice outright, they probably could. If things continue as they have, they may well do so.

Back to ski-touring. I mean: not at a resort. I’ve seen some reports from over towards Stubai saying something might go there, but it is a no go in my neck of the woods. The forecast is calling for a rainy Christmas- so I’m loading up on booze for a remarkable New Year’s Eve party. Make lemonade, you know.

If you’re a tourist headed out for your Christmas ski vacation, the good news is that the pistes are in remarkably good shape. The snowmaking guys have done an excellent job and most every piste is open and well grippy – so you can have a bunch of fun zipping down the slopes and dodging the tourers – or being dodged, as the case may be.
If you’re about on New Years and you see some guys with a ginormous outdoor disco-dance floor complete with lights and disco ball, playing Schlager and wearing Björn Borg costumes – then say hello. That’ll be us.

Saturday – the best and the worst of it.

Last Saturday I was looking for something fun to do, but i was getting that feeling that despite the blue skies and good weather, this was not a day to get nutty. (See last week’s post) Anonymous John rolled up to the hut around 9 AM – he’s just gotten a new girlfriend, so o-dark-thirty starts are not in the picture for the moment, and I can’t say I was all that unhappy to sleep in myself.

We’d talked about where to go the night before but without too many good ideas and even less options because of the instability of the snowpack, we gave in to decision fatigue and decided to lap the Kleiner Gamsstein – which at a whopping 400 vertical meters barely qualifies as a tour. It does, however, have other advantages: 1) we know where it is! (ha!) 2) its really close 3) there’s parking 4) its in the sun, faces SE 6) its under 2000 meters 7) almost nothing on it goes over 25 degrees…..annnnnd 8) there’s a restaurant nearby that has a giant schnitzel for 10 Euros and beer!

See why I’m always going there?

Anyway – we set off from the parking spot with a couple other muppets and soon were skinning up the forest road with the part-timers behind us. We made the sun-line and soaked up what was looking to be a great great day.

On the way up – Anonymous John and I were talking about how this was going to be a big day for avalanche incidents. We’re not particularly smart or anything – its just that these days, the combination of weekend, sunshine, new snow and a dicey snowpack make fortune-telling the easiest job outside of government work. We both know that on days like these, lots of folks will be getting powder fever, and be doing things they wouldn’t if it was nasty weather. Sadly – we were right.

Anonymous John lost a screw in his splitboard binding. No loctite – no nuttin….! It seems to me that despite all the improvements to splitboard gear in the last few years – there is still a long way to go. A.J. didn’t have a replacement screw – so we “fixed” it with a voile strap. It worked on the way up – but he would have to board today without a toe-strap on his front foot, as the strap wouldn’t allow the binding to slide into downhill mode….glad Anonymous John is such a good snowboarder. He took it well. Relaxed, as always.

We made a secondary peak, which is actually nicer to ski from than the true peak – and I attempted to rip my skins without taking off my gear. While I was doing the funky chicken – Anonymous John was putting together the intricate metal puzzle that is a splitboard, while sleep-deprived from the throes of new passion the night before (I’m sure,) and trying to eat a sandwich. Mind you – I have the coordination of spastic pile of jello – but I was still finished eight minutes or so before A.J.

I think the sandwich and the drink are Pavlovian. I mean…..four hundred meters! People can live for up to four days without any water….but everybody is gulping gallons of the stuff every time they walk up a set of stairs.

The snow was nice! Creamy….a consistency we’ve taken to calling “hot pow”. Its not powder – but its not corn either. Its creamy, but not really heavy like mashed potatoes. As good as it is, it takes a little skill to ski it – and we’ve got a little. We saw some others take a few tumbles off the true peak – but my friend and I made it look good.

We got to the bottom and I pushed for a lap back to the restaurant. John agreed – but was not feeling fit. I knew a schnitzel would be just the thing. Since we only wanted the ridge anyway and we wanted it easy – we stuck to the forest road all the way up. . We’d barely cleared the last band of trees when we saw two helicopters cross over the saddle and run down towards Axum, followed shortly thereafter by two more going to the same place. I knew something big had happened.

Most anyone who is into the sport already knows that on that day, there were two groups of twenty tourers in total from the Czech Republic who got caught in a large avalanche on the Geier, not far from where we were, but on very different slopes. Despite being well equipped – all of them had avalanche packs and all the gear – five were killed. It could have been much much worse. You can read about it here (in German). Many other events also happened in other places. Here is the statistic from the Avalanche Service Tirol:


That’s Saturday over on the right.

So it appears our mojo was working when it sent us to haul whimpy-pow and eats. No complaints from me. Anonymous John and I sat inside and ordered this:

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Anonymous John gaped at it. I ate it.

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This is the guy

We went out and got another run in. Had some glopping, but some wax and scraping took care of that. We stuck to the skiers left and went down through the trees for the next go, after which point, Anonymous John hit the road to get back to Ms. Anonymous. I took a nap.

Here’s some pics:

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Out and About in a thin, shady snowpack

20151127_121123There’s no way to say it nicely – this winter kinda sucks. Its the worst I’ve seen since moving here about twenty years ago, and I’ve seen a few bad ones before – but nothing like this.

At the moment, the snowpack is extremely thin – many places have less than a meter of snow on the ground, and seeing bare spots at 2500 meters is not unusual. Worse than this though, is the combination of the thin snowpack and a weak depth-hoar layer. Although improving due to stable temperatures and additional snowfall, the snowpack has spent most of the last three weeks plus at a level three on the avalanche warning scale – and if I’m honest, I think it would have been a four if there had been enough snow to cause damage to buildings.

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A lot of people forget that that warning scale not only attempts to estimate the likelihood of avalanches – it also factorizes the potential damage those avalanches can cause. This commonly becomes difficult to evaluate for winter sports folks right around the break between level three and level four. The last few weeks, we’ve seen many days where the likelihood of a slide is close to a level three/four – but there was so little snow that the scale did not justify going to a higher danger level.


Of course – this only matters if you are a highway maintenance manager or a forestry agent. These people care about the size of avalanches – small ones are no big deal for them, but big ones can take out their crop of lumber, or potentially tear out a bridge or similar. If you are a skier – every avalanche is deadly – so the damage estimates don’t really matter so much.

Every year it seems we have at least a couple of days which straddle this difficult to judge line. Patrick Nairz over at the Avalanche Warning Service Tirol has taken to calling them “critical level threes” – which I think is a good idea. I also bet that if we see changes in the whole system in the next decades – you’re going to see changes right in this area.

So the end of the story is that I’ve been picking around the hills and sticking to safe slopes under twenty-five degrees and being really careful about the old twenty-four hour rule. As far as ski-touring blogs go, its pretty boring stuff.

Worse still – I think we’re in for more of this. We’re well into the season now – and even if we get a big dump or two of snow, we’re not likely to ever reach anything near a normal snowpack. That depth hoar layer is not going away, I think, until we begin to have consistent springtime temperatures and the snow goes isothermic – but of course when that happens, it’ll be melting, and there’s just not that much there to melt. I expect to have to tip-toe around the mountains all winter now – followed by a pretty short spring skiing season. Its not a year for big goals.

I’ve been getting some time in with the kiddos in the resort though…..this could be the coolest stoke EVA!

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And I bushwacked with Anonymous John.


hes very sensitive about this

Tobi was out to tag rocks on the Lampsenspitze…..04-02-2016 - 1

and I even went touring with my oldest for the first time up a forest road!

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There is some good fun to be had when the sun is out and you’ve got a spot with no worrisome inclines. I’ve had a good time despite everything hitting a few unspectacular lines I’ve watched from the road for years. I hope others will slowly take the hint too. Every time it snows there are people getting buried. The snowpack has a long memory – things that happened in November are still relevant….even if you can barely remember it.

Let’s see what we can make out of it!