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How bad do you want it? – The story of my first day of ski touring…..

More than twenty years ago, I took my first turns out of the ski resort and into a new world. For those of you who know me, you know that touring, and skiing in general, is without doubt a central part of how I identify myself, a major factor in my lifestype and defines nearly every important relationship I have. (Thanks Sabine!) I suspect that for the kinds of people who read ski blogs – this is probably not that uncommon.

That first day was amazing – amazingly awful – but long before I got out there and tried to be a backcountry skier, something began to pull me deeper into the hills and I wanted to expirience the quiet of the snow so badly that no one day, however poor, could have ever stopped me from touring, and touring again.


Sometimes I get asked, on a “bad” day, when the weather is howling, or the gear is futzing up, or the snow sucks, or whatever, exactly why I am still so happy….kind of cool. I wouldn’t say that this is generally a quality of mine – but in addition to the fact that a day skiing is always better than, well, anything – I can always look back to my first day on skins and make a favorable comparison. Its certainly a case of self-schadenfreude – no matter what I am experiencing at the moment in question – I still have it better than me – twenty years prior.

The story is pretty funny – so here goes:

not really very likely
not really very likely

I grew up in South Carolina. While offering a great climate for alligators and golf-courses, it is not, generally, considered a skiing state. I was extremely lucky to have a mother who, being a German immigrant, had grown up skiing and was a proficient skier. As soon as she recognized that my brother and I quite liked skiing on the little hills in the mountains of North Carolina, she made a great effort, and would drive us, nearly every weekend, all the way to West Virginia to ski on the somewhat larger hills there. It was a four hour trip one-way – so I have a lot to thank her for.

We’d also ski once or twice a year out west – all of which was expensive and even more unusual because my Dad did not ski – and refused to – but he went along, and so my brother and I became skilled skiers with a lot of time on snow, and a great coach in Mom as well. It wasn’t long before I began dreaming of a life in the big mountains and the adventures I would have there when I was grown.

Skiing in West Virginia is rarely this good

School was the priority though, and although I had always wanted to go to school out west, the death of my mother when I was seventeen put me in a mood to stay closer to home. (I have always regretted this decision….) So high school and university both played out in the Carolinas, with the other kids going to spring break and me going skiing…often, alone.

I graduated in December (dismal student) and a week later I had packed my things into my car and set off for Colorado with plans to explore and live the dreams I’d been dreaming for so long. I’d wanted very much to take a friend – but he backed out at the last possible minute – so it was a lonely ride, and a lonely time in general as I drifted from ski-town to ski town.

The Gateway – Boulder

I had been reading magazines, and at least in some of the hard-core prints, I had seen pictures of guys tracking up untouched powder far from the lifts. It wasn’t at all about testosterone-fueled adventure – back then, the lines were mellow, the people quiet, and one of the main draws was the lack of regulation and the cost of a day’s skiing – namely: zero. It seemed like a good idea to me – but I had none of the equipment, knew nobody who had ever done it, and didn’t have any idea where to start. I figured that in Boulder, Colorado – a town full of alternative, hippyish college kids in the mountains – I might be able to get a lead on this thing and make it happen. So that’s where I went.

I knew that at that time, almost everybody used some weird kind of equipment called “telemark gear” to access the backcountry. I had seen pictures of that stuff – but at the time I thought that learning how to use it was going to be like starting over, (it’s not) and I wasn’t really keen on being a greenhorn beginner again. I had read some articles on “randonee gear” which I had seen on occasion in Europe skiing with Mom and was super-exotic and arousing the interest of a few of the magazines I was reading. It was French for “touring gear” and for a long time, Americans used that word to describe it, because it was not the norm. I thought that once I got to Boulder, I’d be able to go into any ski shop on any street, and pick up this stuff – and away I would go. Not so….

Skitouring gear back then
Skitouring gear back then

I got to town and all the ski shops I went to had only alpine gear – I asked for “the kind of shop where people go to buy backcountry gear” and was told to go to Neptune Mountaineering. I had never heard of this place, of course, but I found it, and indeed, they did have all kinds of gear for real mountaineering. It was all very intimidating – ropes and sharp, pointy things all over the place. Its since changed ownership, and I can’t testify to its current qualities, but I learned later that, at the time, Neptune was probably one of the best, and most well-known alpinist’s shops in North America. I was very lucky to have bumped into it.

you could put an eye out in that place
you could put an eye out in that place

Neptune’s did indeed have telemark gear – but when I asked about “randonee” stuff – there were smiles all around. Yes – they informed me – Neptunes did in fact have a randonee set-up, and a nice one at that. I was given to understand that it was unique in the state of Colorado and possibly one of only four or five in the entire United States!

This did not dampen my enthusiasm. I was, after all, a young man, convinced of my invincibility and of the ineptitude of the general population. I bought it – despite the fact that the boots were a bit small and I didn’t know how it worked. At the time, there were no generally available transceivers, but you were expected to carry a probe and a shovel – so I did, and I knew that getting buried was a real concern so I asked if there was a course I could take.

It just so happened that there was! Very convenient as well, I thought – it was a one-day course, and it was the very next day! I could come to the shop at something like o-dark-thirty and hop on a bus, which would wisk us all into the hills above town and we’d get avalanche training skills and a day in the snow to boot. I signed up.

totally ready
totally ready

I was really nervous that morning. It was obvious the day before that I was the kid from South Carolina that was trying to become a backcountry skier, and I wanted to make a good impression on my fellow backcounty explorers. (BTW – I STILL get that to this day when people find out I’m from South Carolina….people will ask me why I ski….like why bother?….it’s fucking rude, it’s exclusive and I hate it. I mean – when all you monkeys come to the beach every summer we never were like….”Beach towels? Really? I thought you didn’t have beaches in Wyoming? Did you learn to swim on an exchange program or something?”….anyway…I digress) So I trundle up to the shop with all the gear I’ve got – and I’m wearing the boots, cause, they got soles on and all – and I’m trying to look….competent.

One by one – others start turning up – and what’s concerning, after a cursory kindness in my direction, they begin asking all the others present “how was your summer?” or “Heeeeyyy – great to see you! How are the kids? Is Shelly adjusting to life at Western State?” The point is – I was the odd man out in this group. They ALL knew each other – and worse – this was the one and only avalanche course because, in a world where people did not generally do avalanche courses – these were the hardest of the hard-core – the one’s serious enough about their hobby that they had set up this course, as they did every year, as a kind of kick-off for their season of shredding. They were fucking pros. All of them. Minus me.

I sat – alone, and drove to unfamiliar mountains for my first turns in a year, and my first time ever on backcountry gear. My stuff had caused a bit of commotion, as no one in the group had ever seen randonee gear before, and most were certain it was never going to be any good. (got that one right) I didn’t want the attention, as I was sure now everyone would be checking me out all day to see how good or bad that stuff was.

Piling out of the bus – I fiddled with my skins and gear. I had no idea how to get them on and using my new dynafit bindings was a special kind of hell in my self-conscious state. I finally got it all together, and just in time, because the group – with very little fanfare and less warning, took off up the hill in snow up to our knees.

I don’t remember it being very steep – but I knew immediately that I was in for a tough day. I was well above 3000 meters and only a week prior I had been at sea level, and although I don’t really remember, I probably wasn’t in great shape. I flagged from the first moment, and began to panic a little that I was not going to be able to keep up.

I tried to keep up appearances, of course, but my sweating, red face, and my huffing and puffing were a giveaway – and some of the passers hit me with “how’s it treatin’ ya” and other words of un-encouragement didn’t make it much better. I got left waaaay behind, but with no way to get home, or even knowing where I was going, I followed tracks as fast as I could, and reached the stopping point, thankfully below the peak, well after all the others and dead last.

My momentary elation at my triumph was cut short as I realized that the group, having long since arrived, had lounged in the sun while resting, chatting and eating their lunch. I don’t really know how long they had been there, but their easy banter and beaming faces were a sharp contrast to my lobster-hue and ragged breath. As I arrived – they began again – fresh and new, while I sopped the sweat from my brow and frantically pulled my lunch, my probe and my shovel from my pack. I ate as fast as I could in an effort to keep up. I don’t think I chewed well, and I drank way too much, too quickly, to lubricate my heavy beef sandwich into my already churning stomach.

bury yourself in snow to avoid same. Repeat.
bury yourself in snow to avoid same. Repeat.

At the time – the primary instrument in avalanche safety was the snow-pit. You’d dig one or two or three-thousand of these on every trip and examine the snow layers, afterwards performing standardized tests for stability. The same kind of stuff you do today, really, but at the time that was the only method taught to evaluate snowpack stability.

All this meant was that our course, as it was then, was basically a bunch of digging. All day long. Digging is hard work, and I was already wiped out when I got to the pits! Looking back over time, you can see that quite a lot of the gear we use has drastically improved, and shovels are no exception. Mine was new – and state of the art, but compared to today’s shovels it was heavy, performed poorly when slicing into the snow and it had a handle that was so short that even children in a sandbox wouldn’t have used it. I dug and dug – wheezing and sweating, and getting alternately dizzy and queasy.

no extension possible in 1990s
no extension possible in 1990s

I was alone, of course. No friends for me on this day – so while others chatted and took a breather I was digging digging digging. I tried the whole time to keep it together, and unfortunately for me – the other participants behaved as if everything was normal.

We dig the first pit, and look it over. I start to feel really badly and pass out in the bottom of my pit. I can’t say what happened or how long I was out, but when I came to – everybody was digging a second pit – and it appeared that I had gone completely unnoticed!

As I was a young man and painfully unaware of the state of tort law in the United States at the time, I did not immediately contact my lawyer and sue the pants off the organizing institution. I was proud – so I promptly began digging a second pit. Having the first pit beside me was a bit of a blessing now because it became convenient to take a few shovels of snow, then vomit into the old pit, and cover said sick with a few shovels of new snow. This continued for some time.

Skitouring equipement?
Skitouring equipement?

Shovel. Barf. Shovel. Barf. Shovel, barf, smile at neighbor.

I don’t know what the hell they taught us that day, obviously. As a matter of fact – years of study later – I don’t think they knew what they were teaching us then either, but my physical condition precluded any real learning.

At some point, we all put on our gear and the crew made graceful telemark turns through what must have been a lovely snowfield down to the bus. I couldn’t link two turns together, and was in bliss when they were all out of sight and I didn’t have to die the small death of embarrassment with every flop.

actual photo
actual photo

I got on the bus, last – sat in the back and fell asleep. The bus driver woke me when everybody else had already disembarked and collected their gear. I took a cab home as driving was impossible.

I took the next three days off – but on the fourth day. I went back. Alone. I have never stopped since – ever.

I am so thankful for that day. I got to see the alpine wilderness that I had always dreamed of, and it was better than I had imagined. I did the things I had dreamed of doing, and I knew more afterwards than before. I saw people – who could do this sport without suffering and were one-hundred times cooler than anybody at the ski-hill and they were the proof that you could be here, and do these things, and laugh and joke and have a great day. I wanted more than ever to do those things, to be one of them and to live that life.

Nothing we ever do in life that is worth doing is easy. The road to greatness is littered with stones and the way is rough. My day of suffering proved to me that this was indeed my way – and I knew from that day on that I would always be a skier. Forever.

So – help the new guys out. Some of them want it really bad.

Alpengasthof Praxmar – Ski Touring in the Sellrain Valley, Austria

The end of January / beginning of February of 2014 brought together five friends for a four day weekend touring around the Alpengasthof Praxmar – a ski-touring hotspot in the Selrain Valley in Austria, not all that far from Innsbruck.

I really like this place a lot – and I’m not the only one. Several years ago – this area went against the tend and actually removed the few lifts they had – there is now only a little baby-poma – and decided to focus on cross-country and human-powered skiing instead of building up and bringing in the umbrella bars and discos so many of Austria’s alpine valleys are now filled with.

area map. Red dots show locations of hotel, restaurant and our approximate tour end-points.
area map. Red dots show locations of hotel, restaurant and our approximate tour end-points.

I don’t know all their reasons for doing so – but the choice was a good one. The little towns have remained sleepy – the traffic is non-existent, and from the looks of things – there is still plenty to be earned for the families living here from the sizable numbers of ski-tourers who come here to get away from the crowds you find near the resorts.

As you can see above – we hit three well-known classic tours  and kind of mucked around on another day with high avalanche danger – all right from the doorstep of the Alpengasthof – a nice spot – but more on that later….

its a loooong way up!
its a loooong way up!

On the first day out – we took a tour up the Lampsenspitze. Its a looooong tour – you’ll be out for a good three hours climbing at least unless you’re pushing it – and four is not unusual. (Well – 10 is also not unusual for Blue Horse-drinking FREEEEEEriders with super-heavy-gonzo-gear….but I digress.) The tour is probably a bit less avalanche prone than some of the others nearby, as it covers more heavily forested ground and also rolls more gently than the hills near it. Even though its a long tour – you can pace yourself here, and the rolling terrain helps one avoid “racing” with the incredibly fit skimo racers who train here quite often. It is a losing battle – trust me.

I flag sometimes on the long up – but near the top, and shown on maps, but not marked on the tour trail, which is a ski-touring “learning path” and very well marked with signage and information, there is a very small cabin, with room for 3 or 4 really close buddies. Its located on the shores of a little pond up there, and serves as a changing room, but we took advantage of it to get out of the cold and the fog while holding a little safety meeting.

The ride down is usually a joy. Lots of options and paths through the trees down lower….many little bumps and playful features. On that day, though, we were really plagued by the fog – as was a member of our group whose boots were already starting to give him real trouble.

you'll only see this at the very end!
you’ll only see this at the very end!

Pretty much everyone who tours in this place – and that’s a lot – associates it primarily with peak you see above – the Zichgeles. Its a classic tour, fairly long, with a scramble to the peak, great views, and a wide-open, perfectly angled face that takes you down into the trees and over rolling terrain near the bottom. Total elevation gain is around 1200 meters – and that one nice ski-face is non-stop up once you hit it – so its probably not for first timers – but if you take it slow and easy, its usually not a problem for anybody.

It can get icy – but this is usually only after March or so – but I have seen unfortunates climb well up the hill, only to slide waaaay back down on their butts. If you’re not a great “gripper” knives are recommended. (ski-crampons for you North Americans)

Another thing to mention is that the Zichgeles IS a known slide path, and several skiers have been killed touring there. The slope is nearly the perfect angle, and it can and does get wind-loaded, especially the top, where it is also steeper. Several fatalities have also occurred because skiers went off route due to poor visibilty, and ended up on, or under clear avalanche slopes which one would never cross in winter.

We hit it on our second day – but there had been a fair amount of snow overnight, and the wind was howling the whole time it was coming down. The avalanche forecast had issued a level 3 for north Tyrolia – but the proprietor of the hut – an experienced man – had upped the level to a level 4 for the local area. We were skittish from the get-go – and when we reached the main slope – what we saw was not encouraging. We decided against trying to become famous and turned around.

Its worth pointing out that in a place like this – it can be really hard to stick to that decision. There were – despite the bad weather – two other groups and another, lone skier. The two groups went up, and even the lone skier trucked up the gut of the slide path, well after everyone else had gone. I thought it was pure blindness. As it turns out – the slope did, in fact, slide later in the day, but no one, thankfully, was on it at the time. It can take a lot of willpower to do the right thing though, when everyone else confidently slides by and kind of makes you feel like a loser…. but I’ve got a great crew, so that helps. We stick together,

Instead of hitting that main slope, one of my buddies and I hit a side-slope, which wasn’t as loaded, offered a safer path up, and was under the magic 25% grade. Never in a guide-book, but it was so good, we lapped it, and they were the best turns of that trip and some of the nicest I had all year. Just goes to show….I guess…

Great place - but mashed potatoes all around.
Great place – but mashed potatoes all around.

The Schöntalspitze was up next on the block. Its a short drive down the road – but we were enjoying the steep valley sides here and the sunshine. Everybody was ready for some of that after the days prior.

At 9 AM though – we were still getting our shit together (add an hour to projected start times for every member in a group…) and already my foundation was running. We didn’t know the way up exactly – as we had never toured this particular spot before – and the route we took required a bit of bushwhacking to get into it.

We followed the little forest road, until we reached a little power station. Here we had to cross a little creek, which was kinda tough due to the steep sides and the lack of a clear path. After that, fairly steep switchbacks through heavy woods. Easy….but not for everybody. The fittest of our band zoomed ahead with contented smiles on their faces, while at the back there was a bit of grumbling.

All was forgiven as we cleared the trees and got into the high valley above. A bit more climbing and we topped out in the shade above a gently sloping glacial remnant as wide as three football fields and with plenty of pow to slake our thirst for fluff.

We whooped and hollered in a gang ski down the mild slope. Until the trees…and the heat. At the treeline, the snow rapidly deteriorated to horrible mashed potatoes – which despite different equipment and style – none of us was able to ski very well.

We were happy when we got out of there and could follow the cross-country track to the little gasthof at the bottom. Notable: the menu item for “poor mountain climbers”…a beer, a slice of bread, and one cigarette for 2 Euros!

Alpengasthof Praxmar – well worth a stay

The place we stayed, the Alpengasthof Praxmar, is well-known and a good place to stay. It offers private rooms, and full restaurant and a small wellness area with a dunk-tank, quiet room and a sauna as well. They offer both half and full board and the rooms are simple and clean. Tours start right from the door.

Right in front of the hotel is a big parking area (paid) which is where the day-trippers come to go up the Zischgeles and the Lampsenspitze. This is a hard-core touring area, so this in itself, is a draw for me. You will meet the scene here – and the crowd is decidedly lightweight, and older than tourers at other spots. While this can be intimidating – don’t be shy. Even just watching – one can learn a lot about what works, and what doesn’t here.

In the evenings – the restaurant is heaving with the stories and the events of the day. I really enjoy it – and I’m sure I’ll return several times this year as well. Its a great spot!

Backcountry Ski-Touring and Splitboarding in the Italian Dolomites – Faneshütte

Sunset at the Fanes Hütte, Italy

There are a lot of great places to ski in the world, and sometimes, skiing is only part of the appeal. The Italian Dolomites have long been known as a rock-climber’s paradise, and the steep, red-colored spires have drawn tourists from all over Europe and the world for many years. The Faneshütte – located in the middle of Italy’s largest national park, is a well-known and rightly lauded destination, both in summer and winter – and the mountains surrounding it are only part of the reason why.

More on that later – but what about those mountains? And what about that stuff we love so much lying on them in winter….pow?

Google Maps
Google Maps

The small shot above gives you an idea of the spot we’re talking about here. Googling “Faneshütte” will get you there as well and let you look around.

The hut itself is sitting in the Kleinfanes – a glacially formed closed-ended cirque with peaks around the edges at around 3000 meters, and a floor of more or less 2000 meters. The entire area is a national park – and the nearest lifts are about 18 km away as the crow flies. In Europe – that’s a rarity – and it means that your fellow travellers here will all be engaging in human-powered skiing and riding, with a fair number of snowshoers as well.

I kind of like that – it keeps things a little more low-key – and because everyone has got to earn their turns, it keeps powder fresh for days after a storm. I’ve got nothing against ski resorts or “freeriding” – but an all-touring location has a lot going for it.

We spent a week enjoying the fruits of one of the best winters the Dolomites had had in years. While most of Europe north of the main ridge of the Alps was dry as a bone during the winter 2013-2014, the Italians sitting just to the south of that ridge were getting dump after dump. This happens every once in a while – and with seven meters of snow on the ground at the Faneshütte, we were in great shape for our week at the end of February.

this is how seven meters of snow buries houses
this is how seven meters of snow buries houses

There are great day tours from the hut all around the rim of the cirque, as well as a couple behind the hut on both sides of the saddle separating it from the next high valley over. If you drop down into that high valley, there are even more tours, all of which are reachable and back for a day, with about 10-14 km of travel in all. (there and back)


Sabine and I didn’t waste any time on our first day out and bagged the Zehnerspitze right off the bat. There was a lot of sun, but the wind was high too – so after leaving the hut (refugio in Italian) and making the first rise to the northwest to the flat part of the floor of the cirque – it got kind of uncomfortable. Sabine hunkered down behind some rocks and I made like a European and sharpened my elbows past a bunch of other folks going up this, the tallest of the peaks around here.

The snow was good – but strangely sticky….a few days prior, there had been a huge sandstorm in the Sahara – and all that sand got blown over to Europe! A layer of fresh snow had covered it, but in places where the wind had scoured it off – the reddish color of the sand was impossible not to notice – and it was making trouble for my turns.

I got back to Sabine and we enjoyed a moment together in the land of la dolce vita.

I look like a teletubby
I look like a teletubby

The next couple of days were much the same, except that we learned to avoid the wind, and stay off the sun-soaked southern exposures, especially in the afternoon. We bagged a bunch of great peaks, and had fun jamming on some of the smaller sub-peaks as well. We never had to ski tracked – even though the hut had its fair share of guests. There’s plenty to go around.

On the way up the to the Neuner
On the way up the to the Neuner
Another day in the sun
Another day in the sun
Enjoying an evening run up  the Pareisspitze
Enjoying an evening run up the Pareisspitze

Overall – the hype we had heard regarding the amount of snow that had fallen in the Dolemites had not been overblown….there was tons…which was a nice change from the dry conditions we had north of the main ridge of the Alps back home.

I was also really happy with the character of the tours around the hut. While I am sure aspiring extreme skiers could find steep and committing routes if they wanted them – the majority of the tours I saw were moderate – if at times long. They were well suited to a week-long getaway with my wife – and I think that the area would well-suit any couples or groups with various skill levels or objectives. There are tours right from the door with 600 meters of elevation gain, and others that go beyond 1000….you can take your pick of sunny, bright slopes or shaded tree runs, you can see the sights, or bag some peaks….all in the same place.

The Faneshütte itself is worth the trip. Indeed – the Italians come up on the first Sunday of the month in designer shoes and toting cell phones, along with their mamma for a family meal and outing. The hut has a couple of ex-Swiss military tracked vehicles that will take you from the valley floor all the way to the hut, and people take advantage of that to make the place a lunch-stop. We used the tanks to carry up all our gear while we toured up the beautiful 8 km road in. This was great! On the way home – we sent everything down with the tanks – and snagged a couple of the huts own sleds that they offer guests – and had a whale of a time sledding all the way back to the valley!

the Faneshütte in Winter
the Faneshütte in Winter

The hut is really a hut in name only – even at almost exactly 2000 meters elevation – its character is more hotel-like than a hut. There are, of course, multi-person sleeping rooms if you want them, but most opt for 2 or 3 person private rooms – some with their own bathroom, some sharing one in the hall. The rooms themselves have a comfort level comparable to a three star hotel, with a big bed, all the accouterments, a TV and in many cases, a balcony.

The kitchen is well-known even in Germany – offering German, Italian and Ladinische (Ladin in English?) meals from morning until late in the night. Packages are offered with full and half board – and the food is so good – it would be a bit of a shame not to take the half board option. Every night – you return to your table and are greeted with a three course meal that you would not expect this high up in the hills. Delicious – and elegant!

a specialty of the house
a specialty of the house

Sabine and I also really enjoyed the large sun-deck – and due to the nice weather we made a point of prosecco and caffe in the afternoon. If we lived in the area – this would be a favorite restaurant – not just a great touring destination!

this is the place!
this is the place!

Sabine and I enjoyed our time very much…and are sure to return sometime soon. In fact – I have already booked a long weekend with some friends for the coming season and look forward to Italian sun, snow and food at the beginning of March! Maybe we’ll see  you there!


Trollfjorden – The Way Out

Continuing on from the previous post….

power station and dock
power station and dock

So – as we got down to that big rock where our splitboarders had been waiting for us, we shared some high fives and discussed the next pitch – which was going to be the highlight of the day, and possibly the whole trip. The ramp we had followed up was wide and gentle, with enough slope to keep from being boring. We had taken care not to track the whole thing up, and there was plenty of fresh to get everyone first tracks. According to Seth – probably only one other group had even skied there all that winter, and the blanket of powder on it was looking virgin indeed. The whole skier’s right was in perpetual shade, so you had the choice of light and dry or sunny turns as you wanted, and despite the warmer temps and some of the weather the previous few days, a layer of surface hoar had built up on the surface that was going to ski like frozen air. We were stoked!

The slope was gentle and the stability was good, so Seth made the call and let everybody go for a gang-ski. Tobi and I took off with the others in tow, and it was quickly apparent that this was going to be the best run of my season. Tobi was on my right – no whoops and hollers here – we’re both more of the quiet sort, and we traded turns down the slope – at least once getting so close to one another that our boots touched! (sorry Tobi!) The others similiarly enjoyed the run, and as we made it back down towards that little lake and the bottom of the ramp, we were sorry that we had a climb up ahead of us.

Another lap
Another lap

I really can’t say enough about that run. If you get up there, and get the chance, I would recommend it to everyone. You’ll be alone, most likely, and I believe that due to the aspect and sheltered nature of the slope, it would be a good choice for a ski in every situation excepting perhaps summer.


Make sure you get in early, and don’t waste your time futsing about. We didn’t – and it while the day was still one of the best of trip, what came next was trying and tiring.

We regrouped, and got skins on…went well enough for most of the group….except for two of our splitboarders. Their glue had given up the ghost on account of the cold they had experienced sitting on that rock in the shade. Those of you who have been doing this a while know this….but for those of you new to the game, it is ESSENTIAL that whenever you take off your skins, you do not put them in your pack – or anywhere where they can get cold. This will cause the glue to lose its stickiness, and it doesn’t even have to be all that cold for it to happen.

one thing to do with skins - not recommended
one thing to do with skins – not recommended

Some of you might say: “Super-Awesome-Brand Glue” doesn’t do that, and its true, some glues are better than others, but depending on the day, the temps and the age of your glue, it will happen to ALL brands of glue – so proper skin maintenance is a really important thing and not to be skimped on. Having skins that don’t stick can range from being a headache to becoming a potentially life-threatening issue, depending on where you are and the conditions around you….so: what to do?

First – Always take care to keep snow, dirt and water off your skins – especially the sticky side. This can be a challenge especially if the wind is howling about your ears at the top of some really uncomfortable ridge. Practice ripping your skins quickly and folding them over themselves, sticky side together. If you think I am joking about the practice – ask the most experienced in your crew if he or she thinks its a good idea or search YouTube for instructional videos on the subject. Its a big issue!

When you get that done – don’t put those skins in your pack. Even if you THINK you won’t be needing them. Skins should go inside your jacket – and depending on your own temperature and the temperature outside, maybe even under your insulating layer. You get extra points if you jam ’em in your underwear – but beware of the sticky bits if you do that. On the other hand – there is no way to get a Brazilian that is cheaper…..

This will keep that glue soft, warm and sticky. It’ll also keep the water that has certainly gotten into the fabric from freezing up and also keeping you from getting a grip. You’ll need to figure out a way to be sure that your skins don’t fall out the bottom of your jacket as you ski as well. Most of the time – the waist strap of your backpack should take care of that – but I’ve been on trips where a skin was lost without noticing it a couple times – so its worth mentioning. Many ski-touring specific jackets have pockets specifically designed for this – and I really like them. Its one of the main things I look for in a jacket – but your own opinions may vary.

One of these is a good scraper!
One of these is a good scraper!

Last point – when you get ready to put those skins on – make sure you get as much water and snow off the base of your skis as you can. A little won’t kill you – but it usually takes hours for your skins to really dry out, so if you’re lapping a shot all day, or sleeping in a tent, those little drops of water can add up – and really take a bite out of your fun towards the end of your trip. If you get to a place that is warm and dry – DO take the opportunity to hang up your skins and let them dry with the glue exposed – but DO NOT hang them over a stove or put them somewhere hot – this degrades the glue, and it can happen quickly!

So – two of our snowboarders – despite having heard this – had still put their skins in their packs, and now were getting pretty much zero grip on their skins. Don’t think I’m blaming them….this is something we ALL DO and almost everyone does exactly ONE TIME…its kind of a rite of passage – and now they’ve done it. If it ever happens again to them, it won’t be because they did something boneheaded.

The rest of the crew – me included – had already slowly started up the rolling hills we had painfully down-skinned on the way in. We didn’t know what was up – but as we neared the top after about ten minutes or so, our guys were still down there and it was clear that things were not going well. As we were short on daylight – I offered to ski back down and see if I could get things going while Seth continued up with the rest of the crew to get into the sun and perhaps down to the boat. I rounded up some Voile straps from the group and took off….

extremely useful
extremely useful

This deserves a side-note as well: Voile straps, as they are called, should be part of everybody’s kit. If you don’t know what they are, google it and you’ll see. They come in a couple different lengths, but 2 or 3 of the middle or longer length are a good idea for everyone. Since one almost always tours with at least one partner – you can usually get a bunch together in a crew that has got their crap together, and with 2  to 5 of these babies, you could probably repair a wankle rotary engine if you had to.

All they are is a stretchy, but very tough plastic strap, with a very simple kind of buckle on them that uses its own tension to keep it closed. You can use them for anything – and ski-tourers do – but the most common thing is to attach skins whose glue has quit. If you put your skin on, as best you can, and then wrap 2-shitloads of Voile straps around them and your ski, and pull them really tight you can get that skin to stay on well enough to get you out of there. I have seen other off-brand straps that are similar, but they get brittle in the cold, and I have seen them get cut on ski edges as well under tension. The Voile-brand straps seem to do better with this, and I have had them last for ages, so while they are not cheap – I would recommend.

Other common uses: busted boot buckles, explodified binding-bits, backpack straps, or even splints for an injured buddy.

So – I got down there, and I see my pals doing this: they’ve got duct tape rolled all over the skins and splitboard of one of the pair’s gear. Since the skins were not sticking – they had been trying to accomplish the same using duct tape. I was both amazed, flattered and forced to laugh all at the same time.

On a previous trip – one of the two had seen the duct tape I keep on my pole, and he had seen how I had used it to fix at least two minor mishaps on that trip. While I do always have a bit around my poles for emergencies – duct tape ain’t for everything – and in this case, the glue on the duct tape is just not up to the cold it will experience in direct contact with the snow. (even SKIN GLUE fights with this, remember?) So it was falling off all over the place. I was flattered that my friend thought so much of my skills that he emulated me, AMAZED that in contrast to my minimalism he had been carrying around a whole HUGE roll of duct tape in his pack all week and laughing at their silver-plastic encrusted conveyance they were creating!

Since only one of them had trouble, I sent the other on his way. Too many cooks in the kitchen is never a good thing, and after attaching the skin on one side with the glue – (lots of pressure and snow-cleaning) I used to the few Voile straps I had to attach the other.

We set off. The glue on the one side didn’t hold for long though – and my poor buddy lost his grip, plopped down on his backside, and partly due to the frustration he was expiriencing, slid all the way back down the slope. I turned around, picked him up – and because I knew time was getting really tight – I sent him back up the hill – this time, without skis!

The skin track had been well-plodded out by now. I don’t know if it was the right decision, but my friend was getting cold, and we needed to hustle. I knew I could catch up with him – and I also needed to be able to work on his gear without him….um….getting in the way. So – off he went – again, quite demoralized and tired.

I got to work. There is seldom a short-cut to success, so I took the time to get those skins off and get them cleaned up. I took off all that duct tape – hard work – and got the splitboard attached to my pack. I scraped all the water and ice out of the skins, pulled up my shirt, and wrapped them around my body. (COLD!) Then, I tucked everything in,  zipped everything up and put on my puffy and zipped that up too.  I did everything I could to be too hot – and then I straightlined it up that hill….again.

Plan worked! I was sweating and working hard up that slope – and I could feel my temperature rising fast. By the time I caught up with my pal – the skins I had wrapped around me were sticking pretty well to my sides!

I didn’t waste time – and remounted them on the splitboard. I thought my troubles were over….but then….

I look ahead and see my other splitboarder buddy has crossed the flatter section ahead, and off in the distance, I can see him trying to get up the next step section. Up up up….then sliding out and down. His skins were not gripping – too much ice on the top of the slope. Watching his progress – it looked really difficult – and the second time up, he elected to take off his splitboard halves and try it on foot. Snowboard boots are pretty dreadful on ice…..he slid all the way back down.

I could see from where I was that he was getting winded. So I shouted over that he should just stop – and that I would come give him a hand. I left my other buddy on his own – sure that he could make it now – and made tracks as fast as I could over to the next big slope where my other friend was now waiting.

I kicked in steps for him. It wasn’t that bad on skis – but he wasn’t getting any purchase – so I used the toe of my hard boots to create holes for him to step on. It worked! Only – I started higher up than I should have – and when my second splitboarder made the slope – he wasn’t even able to make it up high enough for my steps!  So down I went – again….and kicked in the last few steps – while also shuttling up some splitboard parts. My buddies were really tired – and to be honest – so was I! So I did what I could to help.

Up and down, up and down – I hit all those slopes at least twice – also while having to burn up a lot of energy carrying stuff and doing hard work. I really, really wanted my ice-axe to make those steps – and in the future – I think I’ll be a little more liberal in taking it with me. Also – Snowboarders = Knives – Splitboarders really do have less purchase on their gear – so while I tend to think of knives (ski crampons in USA-Speak) as specialized ski equipement, mostly for spring – I’d go so far as to say that splitboarders should nearly always take them.

The route out was no picnic for the snowboarders either….a lot of it was flats – so they resorted to booting it, and the think shrubs near the boat was combat-boarding all the way for them. They reached the boat barely having the will to live – and the cold wind on the ride back didn’t make it better!

Still – the experiences had made for one of the best days out yet, and now, after a few months, we all laugh about the hard work it took to get out of there.

All in all – the trip was a round success. Everybody left a little different than when they came – and that is, after all, the mark of a good vacation.

Compared to our first trip to the islands a few years ago – the scene has exploded. Its not a secret by any means…and it has lost something through this. The isolation and the authenticity of the experience aren’t what they used to be, for sure. Before you think I’m advising against a trip – let me also say that while the Lofotens have surely come closer to the mainstream – that has also brought a lot of good things with it.

This time out – we met a lot of others who are into touring like us. The scene is here, for sure. I’m a bit old for that now – but I still like those people, and its a great vibe. The lodge is a great place – and only the volume of people coming through today can sustain that – so that is a good thing!

The numbers of skiers also make a lot of the other infrastructure issues like flights, boats, busses, etc much easier – and I was glad for that.

All in all – I think we will certainly be going back again someday. If you’d like to go yourself, hooking up with Seth Hobby and Northern Alpine Guides is a good choice. They have good guides, and they can provide amenities that a smaller, or non-local guide cannot. In the end – its pretty cost effective to ride with Seth. He’s got a great operation! Go check it out at


Ski Touring in the Lofotens – big trip out to the Trollfjorden!


So for the final day out – Seth had a really big, and special plan for us. There is a particular fjord in the islands called the Trollfjorden – I think if you google it – you may find some information about it from other sources, but it also appears to me that there may be more than one fjord that people like to call the “Troll fjord”….so keep an eye out for that….

In any case – this Trollfjorden, (we’ll assume it is THE Trollfjorden) is the largest fjord in the islands – being something over one kilometer in length, I believe, but in addition to its size, it has a couple of other neat features.

One – it is located far away from any roads in the islands, and is accessible only by boat from the sea. The area around it boasts some of the most alpine mountains the islands have to offer, and here you will find steep spires and chutes that you don’t see as much in other parts of the Lofotens. Because of the isolation, it doesn’t see nearly the amount of traffic as other spots.

Two – the entrance to the fjord is hidden behind a rock, and is, when you approach from the direction of Svolvaer – completely hidden. You will pass by it without seeing it, unless you know where to look, and, I suppose it goes without saying, the entrance is quite small – perhaps only 50 – 60 meters wide at the entrance.

Three – what an entrance! Passing through the mouth of the fjord – your already small boat feels still smaller indeed as you look at the sheer granite walls on either side of the entrance! Climbing them would take a lot of crack-work, and you’d need several pitches at least to get up. The shadows and the rock make the air going into that fjord get noticeably colder and it really does feel like you are entering a hidden fortress. When you think of the word “fjord” – this is what you probably think of.

Four – and this may be the best bit – as impressive and foreboding as that entrance is – after a couple hundred meters, the fjord widens a bit, and becomes decidedly more friendly. The back of the fjord is the widest bit, and there is a dock and a little house there waiting for you to tie up to as well!

power station and dock
power station and dock

No – unfortunately – its not a cafe or bed and breakfast with fairy-made muffins and coffee sweetened with distilled mushroom juice. Its a power station – a hydroelectric station – but a rather inconspicuous one. There is a reservoir higher up behind the station, and years ago the Norwegians built this little house with some turbines in it, and connected the reservoir the house with giant pipes running downhill. These have been well integrated into the landscape – so at very first glance you may not notice them.

making it look easy, as always
making it look easy, as always

The dock – used by maintenance crews, and everybody else – is VERY high, and since the tide can be significant here – you have to give some thought to just how and where to tie up. In addition – if you happen to come at low tide, you’ll have to climb up that dock to get off the boat, which is a breeze, but you’ll also need to get all your gear up there as well. This is not difficult – but you should take care, because anything dropped here is going right into the drink – and you won’t be getting it back.

Careful there
Careful there

So – after taking care of all that, we took off up the back of the fjord in the sparkling sunny morning – going around the house and up into the trees and brush behind it. We came quickly to a somewhat steeper grade, and bushwacked as bit going up, first with the large pipe of the power station on our left, and then, after crossing over it, on our right, and then again on our left. There is a small flatter area at the top of the grade, which is probably a small pond or lake from which the power station is fed, and after this, you continue up into a gully with steep walls on both sides.

going up
going up

The scenery is impressive, but even though it was only about 10 in the morning, we were already starting to get a little ancy about the snow. It was warm, and late in the season, even for the Lofotens. We had taken a bit too much time getting the boat out that morning and with a couple of splitboarders in the group, we weren’t winning any speed medals. We doubled up our efforts to get out of that gully before any small slide had the opportunity to bury us deep in the terrain trap.

Exiting the gully, you’ll hit a saddle, where down the other side the hill drops off down to another little lake. On other days, we might have taken the opportunity to rip the skins and get these turns down to that shore – but we decided to keep the skins on and curve around to the left, taking a more gradual route down with benches and some down-skinning to come out at the far end of that little lake, and underneath a ramp going up and to the left behind the ridge now situated to our left.

going the long way around
going the long way around

This turned out to be another mistake. Winding around was not so bad, but all the downskinning and even straight up skiing with skins on was a headache for all of us – and for some of the less expirienced members of the group on splitboards, it was downright hairy. We all made it just fine, but the percieved advantage of not having to rip the skins and then transition again at the bottom did not materialize. We were already kind of tired, and the skiing with loose heels and carpet hadn’t been any fun anyway.

I’m starting to think that one day, I’ll learn this lession. It seems to me that every time I decide not to transition, whether it be from climb to ski or the other way around, just because I think it will be a hassle and that I will be able to compensate using some other technique – I end up regretting that decision. I either end up just dead tired, or hurt, or both. If we had ripped the skins leisurely  at the top, we’d have had a couple of really nice turns down the side of that saddle, through really interesting contours. We would have taken less than half the time, even with the two transitions – and we would have been fit and rested. I wish I could say lesson learned – but not very long after this, I had a similar situation and I again decided on leaving my skins on. In that case, I tried to navigate an extremely steep slope and slipped. Having very little edge hold due to my telemark heels – I kept on sliding, until I hit rocks, which only had the effect of launching me into the air over a small cliff. I broke some ribs and some gear, but in the end I was very lucky. It could have been worse. I think the lesson is that despite all our belief that efficiency is something you learn, it is also very much a question of choosing your tools, and that no matter how fit, or good you are, choosing the wrong tool will doom you to be slow and awkward – and that there are no real shortcuts in backcountry travel.

getting up that ramp
getting up that ramp

We took a break at the lake, and had a bite. The ramp above us had not been skied all season, and was filled with dried out surface hoar that would be a dream to ski on. The bottom half, especially off to the left side (going up) was all in the shade, and despite the warm temps, in there it was cold!

We made time getting up that ramp. It has a nice angle, not too steep, and above all, very constant. We preserved the snow for our ride down and made sure our kick-turns left lots of fresh for everybody in the group.

Coming out of that ramp into the sunlight was magical – with a small cirque going almost all the way around and views of the ocean in the other. Prominently sitting in the middle of this relatively flat area is a large boulder – transported there by gravity or by some long-melted glacier. Its big enough that ten people could picnic on it, and around the back the snow had collected in such a way as to allow you to go up it without even taking off your skis. It sits naturally in your path, and you are drawn to it.

Once there – the splitboarders in our group had decided that this would be their high point for the day. While I have no problem riding with splitboarders, and don’t care for endless arguments pro or con, my expirience is that they have a lot more work to do than your average skier to get up the mountain. There are a couple of reasons for this, but I think the biggest is the lack of a walk function in their boots. They are a lot stiffer than most imagine, and they have a significant forward lean. When I watch my wife walk, I can see that her forward stride is limited because she can’t really bend her ankle backward like I do when I take a long stride forward. She ends up taking 2 or 3 steps for every one of mine. For this reason, we’re going to experiment next season with a hard-boot setup for her. A soft hardboot is not much stiffer (if at all) than a snowboard softboot – but it has the advantage of a walk function. I am pretty sure that a TLT6 or similar coupled with a dynafit binding or comparable system would be a much easier to use package. Stay tuned for our expiriences!

The skiers took off to gain the peak behind the boulder. It was up a steep incline, and in a couple of places, you really needed to know how to do those “backward kickturn” things. I’ve spent my share of time wallowing in the past – so I’ve got it down these days, but despite this, I really can’t help anyone else that much, except to be patient and encouraging. Sure – if you want, I’ll give you tips – but like so many things in skiing and life – you really have to figure it out on your own. There is no learning except self-learning.

I’m always fascinated by this. I’ve spent most of my free time and all of my daydream time skiing since I was a teenager – and yet – if you asked my how I ski – I’d be hard pressed to tell you. I could give you some crap about weighting and unweighting, pushing with your pinky-toe, plunging your knee into the tips of your skis….all that, but I don’t really believe that anyone hearing that could really ski better. Nor do I really believe that is what I am doing when I am skiing. Certainly it is clear that if I actually thought about all the stuff I do when I ski, I’d screw it up. Its far too complicated, and it happens too fast.

I’m a nominal Buddhist – and skiing is why. For anyone out there who is not a skier, you could easily write it off as flaky, but if you’ve spent even just a little time with Buddhist philosophy, it would be hard to ignore some of the parallels that I see and feel with those ideas and how my body and mind react when I am skiing.

working on my unattachment
working on my unattachment

A thinking skier is a poor skier. You can see this every day in adult beginner courses at every ski hill in the world. Adults have trained themselves to “learn” stuff, to “pay attention” and many believe skiing is a skill – perhaps similar to embroidery – that they can see, understand, and emulate. They stiffly stutter and control their way down the slopes, and you can see it from a mile away.

Compare this to children. They are not better learners than us – I don’t believe that. My kids still don’t know that when they eat a whole bag of gummi bears in three swallows they will get a stomach ache – but they ski, most of them, with a grace that comes from no teacher, and they “learn” not by “getting it right” but rather by letting go.

That’s not saying that kids are great skiers right from the bat, but I have seen that the less they are conditioned to “learn” skiing, the better they are, and the faster they improve.

I also find it wonderful that as your skiing gets better, you seem to concern yourself with it less and less. It doesn’t so much become second nature as much as it allows your true nature to just be. I know that when I am skiing – I am not just not thinking about work, or other stuff I don’t like – I am really and truly not thinking at all. Nothing. In most of Buddhism – this is the end goal of most forms of meditation. I can’t really get there sitting on a mat – but it seems to me that with the first rush of the snow under my bases – I am gone, long gone from the everyday world and that if there is a zen-like state – I find it when I ski.

All that just to say – keep un-learning those kickturns and soon, they’ll happen all by themselves!

The “top” was really a long, sloping extremely flat plateau, with great views of the mountains and sea all around. We slogged it up that plate and posed for glory shots in the 366 degree sunshine.

on top! Tyler - relaxed, as always
on top! Tyler – relaxed, as always

We didn’t hang out too long – our friends were back at the rock – and by now – their little spot in the sunshine had turned to a freezer in the shade. It was the middle to late afternoon now and we needed to make a move.

We took the long ride down and made some Euro-Wiggle down the slope we just slogged up. Nice. The pow was virgin and the stable weather along with the sheltered nature of the little couloir / ramp we went down had allowed the top layer to become a nice bed of hoar – which is a disaster if there is too much, or worse, it gets buried and becomes a bed of ball bearings for slabs on top of it – but in the right amounts is a dream to ski on and as long as its all on top, not really a problem avalanche-wise.

We met up with the crew. They were already transitioned and ready to go – but had gotten quite chilly sitting in the shade.


This is where the real skiing began, and also – the start of our great adventure!

More to come!

Stashes in the Lofotens


the top!
the top!

After a couple of really nice days out with Erin Smart – we were kind of sad to see her go! She was a really good guide and one I hope to book again in the future – which is, in the end, the only real measure of satisfaction. Still – because my wife and I had been out with Seth Hobby a few years prior, and kind of considered him a friend, we were excited that he would be spending the next two days with us to finish out our trip. Erin’s season in the Lofotens was coming to an end, and it was back to Chamonix for her – I am sure she was glad to get home and see her hubby again!

Seth knew that we had been to a lot of the Lofoten “standards” – and he aslo knew that we had seen a lot of other tourers underway, so he wanted to take us somewhere off the beaten path.

Most of the touring in the islands is done in the immediate vicinity of Solvaer and Kabelvag. While there is certainly a lot to do there – we had seen quite a few people, and sometimes – that area is quite exposed to the sea. The islands are really pretty thin there, so you get the winds from the south, as well as those from the north. It is obviously very maritime.

Seth has been all over the islands and he has noticed that there is an area located a bit farther afield that has two advantages: one – being about a 30-40 minute drive from Svolvaer, they don’t get all the tourists, and two – at this location the islands are a bit “fatter”. While this doesn’t change the character of the snow that much – this little bit of the islands is less windy, can often be colder, and can offer snow when other spots fail. (of course – depending on the situation at hand, it can be a low-snow area as well.)

Seth keeps tabs on this spot for just these reasons. Sometimes – if other spots are not going – he can still find a bit of the goods here. In fact – several years ago, he chose the spot as the site of the Scandinavian Freeriding Championships. There was good snow – and the area’s promise was cemented in his mind.

If you follow the road out of the islands for about 40 minutes, you’ll see a small parking area off to the left of the road. We were lucky – it had been plowed, but this is apparently pretty common. We parked and skinned up before even leaving the parking area.

this is what he looked like - just fatter
this is what he looked like – just fatter

There are a couple of spots you can reach from this parking spot – but the one we chose was on the opposite side of the road, so we walked across and skinned alongside the road for about 400 meters or so before turning up an obvious drainage and into the woods.

We were treated to the sight of an arctic hare making a run for it as we approached. It looked a lot bigger than I had imagined, certainly at least twice the size of the rabbits back home in Munich – but perhaps most of that was fluffy fur for those cold arctic winds.

We continued up the drainage, and like always in the Lofotens, the trees soon gave way and we were in the alpine – although we were only about 80 meters or so off sea level. We followed a meandering route to a bench below a peak – itself just a bit higher than another prominence off to the climber’s left. All of the area looked skiable, but over to the left under the other peak, the lines looked a bit steeper and the runout was not as forgiving.

We spaced out for the last ascent up the steeper face of the final pitch to the top, going to the left around an outcropping of rock. The “peak” was a really a long, sloping relatively flat plateau , but we stopped at the edge we climbed up on because there was no good skiing to be had by continuing the few meters higher and 100 meters further.

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panorama from the top
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how many times a season does Seth have to do this?
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pano from the other side
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obligatory fjord shot

We took the time to look all around. Quite a view from here. You’re closer to the mainland here, so you can see the mountains there in a little more detail than other places, and because the islands are a bit thicker here – the view is more alpine than the other spots we had been. (as opposed to maritime – remember – all things are relative)

What followed were some of the best turns of the trip to that point. We snaked down, this time around the other side of the rock we had avoided on the way up – making for nice, steep untracked. The powder was light and dry, and everybody was throwing plumes of it in the air. Regrouping on the bench from the way up – we group skied down, taking the opportunity to air off of a couple of drops and enjoying the rolling terrain.

the last pitch before the woods were straightlined, especially by our snowboarders, as the snow was heavier down here and we also had a little flat to cover through the woods back towards the car. No amount of coaxing helped though – all the snowboarders had to get a leg out to make the last meters to the road.

The way home was great – and along the way, Seth hatched a plan to get one of the rib-boats and take it out for a spin! The reason was two-fold: One, we had decided that, if the boat was in order, we’d like to take it the next day for a boat-only-access tour to the Trollfjorden (!) and two: the weather was great and a beer in Henningsvar sounded good!

We got the boat! We all put on the rescue suits which are mandatory here – which was fun. They are big and bulky but if you happen to fall out of the boat – they’ll keep you alive for about 10 minutes and floating on top. Even with ski jackets and hats – the ride to Henningsvar was cold and windy.

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taking the rib boat out – this is the lodge as the people it was built for would have seen it

The view of the islands from the water is a MUST however. You really get a feeling for what this place is, only when you see it from the sea. Passing by each little town you notice more than ever they are not randomly placed – but rather that every one of them is intimately connected with the sea – and that the true face of every one of them is not the road leading in – but the harbor connected to the world.

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seen from the water, the mountains become even more impressive
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selfie on da boat

Henningsvar is the best example of this. It is a town built entirely on small rocks jutting out of the sea. Most of them would not be big enough to put a gas station on – but they have been covered with buildings on stilts – and these in turn have connected to each other with bridges. There are no roads to speak of – and the town surrounds a small protected area between all the rocks that is something like an aquatic town square – where all the boats are. It is a town built only on the waves.

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pano around the main “lagoon harbor” in Henningsvaer
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another shot – all those houses are partly on rocks, partly on stilts in the water

This place must be jammed in the summertime. There can surely be no place else like it on earth. Hotels abound – and at one of the nicer ones I bought a round. 8 people – about 90 Euros! At that price – we enjoyed the sunset and then piled back into the boat past hot-tubbing Norwegians – and sped back to the lodge for dinner.

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this is how Stephan thinks 10 Euro beer tastes

An early night again – as we were excited about the next day – Trollfjorden! The biggest fjord in the islands – accessible only by boat with a hidden entrance and wild. Only having been skied by few – and only a couple in this season. More to come!


Lofoten Huts Look Like the IKEA Catalog – Only Cleaner

27-06-2014 19-04-06
This is the place – this hut is gorgeous – so gorgeous that we forgot to take photos of it.

So we took off under cloudy skies and parked over near the little ski hill in Svolvaer. Its not a big place – tiny by any standard, but it deserves mention perhaps because it is what ski hills should be – cheap and run for the love of it. The whole thing is a non profit, run by the local parents of the kids in town – mostly so their kids will have a place to ski, race and generally get good at skiing – since the expectation is that when they have got the skills to really ski – they’ll head into the hills on their own as we do.

I like the idea of that: a ski hill acting as a feeder for a thriving ski-touring scene. Unfortunately – for the largest part of the skiing world, it’s the other way around. Although I am encouraged by the new interest in human-powered skiing – so much of it is all about beef and macho that I wonder how long it will be before lifts start getting built in the name of “access” and the only use for a set of DIN 16 Super-Bad Bindings with DeathGrip Boots and a stumble function is so you can skin from your runout back to the bar. To me that’s just a ski resort by another name – not that I mind ski resorts, but we’ve got enough of them.

So up we went, and despite some cloud, we managed to stay mostly out of the snow and rain- with occasional sun.

Toby wants to wait for the lift – we didn’t tell him it was closed except on weekends and school holidays
Toby wants to wait for the lift – we didn’t tell him it was closed except on weekends and school holidays

Up and around – with nice snow. The night before had given some fresh, so we made nice tracks all the way.

We kept going for more
We kept going for more

The air was quite cold though – so none of us was all that unhappy for a little lunch break out of the cold in a brand new hut of the Norwegian Trekking System (DNT). These things are all over Norway – and they are some of the nicest I have ever seen. Part of this is due to the lower traffic they see than many Alpine huts – but its also true that they are much newer, and that the Norwegians – being cancerously polite and ordered, take much better care of them than your typical French Weekend climbing / beerdrinking party.

This one was a beaut. It looked nicer than home!

We make this place look crumby
We make this place look crumby

We could have easily overnighted here. I wish we would have. As it was though, we had our lunch, warmed up, and tried to decide if we wanted to go back out or just take a nap in the sun on the couch.

In the end, most of us went – except Sabine – my wife of extraordinary beauty and intelligence. She stayed behind while the rest of us took a couple more laps. These were good – but I think a cuddle with the missus would have been good too.

Since I’ve given away the secret of these great huts – please keep in mind that they are not free. There is a small cost associated with them and you are on your honor to pay it. Please do – the fee finances the hut. You can find out more about the kinds of huts there are and how it all works by googling DNT.

Even our guide was having a bit of fun – and when I did a pro call-out on a guide running another group through – she filmed it. Smiles were everywhere.

Erin Smart - a good one, based out of Chamonix
Erin Smart – a good one, based out of Chamonix
Another lap
Another lap

Eventually – it was time to get gone though – so we looped around the hut and picked up this lady….

Sabine Maschina - oh so meana
Sabine Maschina – oh so meana

and continued on. There was a small climb, and then a small traverse with some flats to get us back to the top of the ski resort. Flats plus snowboarders – you guessed it:

Slowboarders - STILL TRANSITIONING! Its ok - we like them anyway
Slowboarders – STILL TRANSITIONING! Its ok – we like them anyway

And that was that!

When we got home – there was some of this:

Whale Meat
Whale Meat

Which was grilled – and tasted….well… kind of dry beef. Some claimed a slight fishy aftertaste – but I didn’t. We got the whole story from the owner of the lodge – it was a point with him.

It seems that the Norwegians allow limited whaling – and only of pilot whales. Accourding to him – these smaller whales have recovered, and while they can’t be fished in large numbers – the amount allowed by Norway is ok. Even that, he says, is not reached – and less than half the allowed amount is even taken.

I decided not to discuss it – also because I didn’t have any reason to disbelieve him. All in all though – even though it was ok – I’m not hankering for a whale steak in the future. You’re not missing a bunch – I can assure you.

A few beers – a few jokes – round disapproval of Tyler’s remarkably stinky socks – and off to bed.

Beating the crowds in the Lofotens – or not, as well as weather wisdom

Panorama - all above treeline - just 100 meters off the sea
Panorama – all above treeline – just 100 meters off the sea

After a night spent playing Cards Against Humanity – we all were ready to get back out into the good snow that the Lofotens were offering us. We weren’t going to have quite as much luck with the weather today – but we didn’t know that yet…. Still – as an interesting aside – those games of Cards Against Humanity provided no end of insight into the various mentality differences present on the trip – and a combination of incredulousness and laughter. For anyone out there who’s not familiar with the game – its a card game, currently a hot item in the US, featuring cards with various chopped up phrases or bits of phrases or names on them. The object of the game is to form sentences or statements using these phrases by adding them to a “starting phrase” drawn at the begining of the round. At the end of a round – everyone has provided what they believe to be their “best” answer – and the person playing whose turn it is decides which of the answers they like best. As you can see – the game is very open-ended, and what consitutes a “good” answer is completely subjective. This leads to lots of laughter and conversation – which is exactly what a good game is supposed to do. Its a blast and a good choice for games to take on a hut trip – as it is small like a deck of cards – with no bits and bobs to play like dice. During the course of our games we discovered that the Germans were generally interested in making locical and “correct” statements – quite often having to be extremely clever to do so – while the Americans were chiefly interested in expressing statements which are taboo or similarly politically incorrect. I can’t say I was particularly surprized – I’ve learned a lot about the Germans living with them for 15 years…. What DID surprize was the coolness with which the Germans responded to genuinely teeth-sucking themes. Statements such as “When I visit my grandmother I….. “make sure to take a condom.” were greeted with jaw-dropping by the Amis – but the Germans calmly nodded and said: “yes – that is a good use for that card. Can you pass me the beer?” No emotion. None. Next hand.

Jens - this guy could talk about rim-jobs with the pope and not even stutter.
Jens – this guy could talk about rim-jobs with the pope and not even stutter.

Tyler and Kortney – the only Americans in the group who still live there, spent the next days continually revisiting this topic. One the one hand – the Germans showed no interest in CREATING cawdy statements – but on the other – could talk about HORRIBLE subjects without so much as blushing. So – back to skiing. We took off under cloudy skies for a tour near Torskmannen – one of the more popular tours in the Lofotens. We had chosen not to go to Torskmannen though precisely because it gets quite a bit of traffic and we had hoped to get to a more secluded spot in the area. All around Torskmannen are some nice peaks. To get there, you drive toward the mainland from Svolvaer, about 20 minutes or so. There is a ninety degree turn to the right in the road with a smaller road branching off to the left – and you’ll want to take this left turn. It is right after a bridge crossing a small fjord – and there is usually a cute little wooden fishing boat moored on a buoy in that fjord with a tiny little pilot house. The road you take to the left is where the power station is – and people gernerally park by the powerstation to go up Torskmannen. (Don’t block the road or the entrance!) Poke around to find other spots – just open your eyes!

this is the boat you’re looking for

Anyway – our secret spot was mobbed! A group of twelve South-Tyrolians and their guide was skinning up when we arrvied – but we decided to get at it anyway. In true Euro-Dick style they spent most of the uptrack skinning beside us – neither passing nor falling back – just tracking shit up and making us feel like a problem. Eventually we took a break and let them have it. The snow was sketchy in spots. There was some wind-blown that was quite nice, but then you’d have patches of wind-affected and even bare ice in sections. We all knew that the ride down was going to be less than magazine-perfect pow – but as we topped the ridge – the weather hit like a bomb. Within a minute – the wind picked up, and when I dropped my pole, I had to dive after it! Such was the wind on that little ridge. Then the snow and clouds came – and we were in a whiteout, with no visibility and very uncomfortable. We had intended to continue on, into a small depression and further climbing to a peak, skiing down the other side and then skinning back up to the ridge on which we were standing and on out home. But the weather was so bad – that even after waiting it out for about ten minutes, we called it. Waiting just a few minutes in the Lofotens can make a big dfference – as often, the weather moves in and out in waves. Five minutes of heavy snow and crap – five minutes of sun. This can put a big burden on your outerwear, of course, as it has to handle everything, but rarely is the weather constantly bad. If you take a look at the weather patterns which affect the Lofotens – you can see why. They sit at the polar confluence zone – meaning this is the band where polar air mixes with temperate air. All this difference makes for turbulance, and alternating bands of snow, rain, clouds, sun, and everything. They roll in all day long, and rarely are the bands very wide – so your weather changes constantly. lofotens pic Of course – when the winds are blowing from the north-west, that means they are more polar in nature, and they tend to have less moisture in them, so any precipitation you do have is lighter, colder, and less long-lived. Should the winds be coming from the south-west – they are more temperate – bringing more moisture, and often heavy cloud. If you get these winds – it is more likely that the weather you get will stay longer – so it makes sense to pay attension to this when deciding if you want call it a day in the islands. During a small break in the clouds – we saw that group of Italians trying to come back down the slope beyond the ridge we had intended to go up as well. What a junkshow. The group was far too large for one guide (a trend I’ve seen more and more) and in the whiteout everyone had become separated. They were scattered all about the hill, with many having skied too far down the slope to return to the ridge we were standing on without skinning back up. Some were as far below as 150 meters! Worse yet – when the clouds lifted – they all thought better of their decsion, turning around en masse to try and keep climbing to their original goal of the peak. Of course – 5 minutes later the clouds were back, and we could hear them shouting to each other trying to reform the group and go back down to the ridge. Again. We made the best of it and took our window to make some turns down the face we had come up – and as we did, we got pretty good visibility and a few spots of pow. It was good – but the best part was getting out of that cold, biting wind.

Tyler - getting out of the wind - and into your heart, baby.
Tyler – getting out of the wind – and into your heart, baby.

We found a spot near the bottom and grabbed a bite to eat – wondering still if the weather would clear and we could go back up for another pass. Things weren’t looking good though, and the cold and the hot waffles waiting back at the lodge made the decision to cut the day short pretty easy.

getting out while the gettins good
getting out while the gettins good

Before we went though – we scored some Gnar points by going in for some extreme pole-wacking.

Lofotens – First day out touring

Heading up the local hill
Heading up the local hill

We were stoked to be getting out for our first day of touring together as a group in the Lofotens – and the weather did us a favor as well. We’d come in quite nervous as the snowpack in the islands had been pretty miserable all winter.  Just like most of the rest of Europe (excepting South Tyrol) – but our optimism had paid off, with two storm cycles moving through right before we arrived. Since snow only grows from the ground up in 5 star Swiss ski resorts – we were ready for the weather to be grey with intermittent periods of shitty. The sun on our faces only improved our already good moods.

Tyler's in a good mood
Tyler’s in a good mood

Stitend – who knows how its really spelled – is a nice hill just behind Svolvaer. Its the local’s hill, so its not uncommon to meet others there, but the place is big enough to let everybody have some space. There is a small parking spot by the start of the local cross-country trail (which is lighted – Scandinavia has got its shit together.) and you follow that for the first bit until you come to an obvious ridge running down from the summit. Up that you go, but there are already no trees – you’re above the arctic circle here – just stunted growth and some bushes. There is almost always a well-worn skintrack in. You’ll land on a bench after a little while – which is a good stop for a drink and then from here on in you can see your route to the top.

this is the stuff you'll be seeing
this is the stuff you’ll be seeing

Water in pretty much all directions – with the scent of the ocean at even the highest elevations. Keep an eye out for sea-eagles. They are by no means rare – but the sight of them is impressive nonetheless. This is the last, best place in Europe to see lots of them.

Sabine and I could tell on the way up that there was a lot less snow on the ground compared to our last trip – but things were stable anyway and there was enough. Even a bit of fluff, which is what we do this for anyway, right?

Toby - breaking shit
Toby – breaking shit

So this is Tobi – and this is how I usually see him. He’s forever out there breaking trail and carrying 40 kilos of gear and crap like that. He’s big and built like a brick shithouse and he skis like he means it. For years I’ve been giving him crap because he uses the heaviest touring gear I’ve ever seen – so just before this trip he pulls the trigger and buys a gazillion Euros worth of gear.

A pair of boots, two pairs of skis, two bindings – you get the idea. Why? because Tobi is a skier – and like all skiers, he loves gear. He also has poor impulse control. In any case – I was wondering how all this new stuff was gonna work out with big, meaty Tobi and his iron-fisted ski technique. Tobi has a history of poorly fitting boots and busted gear – so the new stuff was….umm…concerning.

On the way up: some strange clicking and mushy boots. Tobi had already loosend up the locking mechanism on  his Scarpas – and he hadn’t even locked them down!

Later: clicking at the toe-piece of his new Fritschi Vipecs. These are the ones:

new bindings - seldom a good idea
new bindings – seldom a good idea

I gotta admit that they are really slick, but there is an adjustable pin on one side of the toe-piece. Its meant to allow for adjustment to different boots out there -but the word on the street is that very few boots actually need it, and the adjustable screw tends to go loose on the new bindings.

You can fix all of this by adjusting and locking it up with green loctite – which you can’t even get everywhere – and then, of course, checking it in five-minute intervals, etc – but what a pain. I expect this “feature” will disappear off next year’s versions.

I fixed things up by screwing the thing in tight until the boot would not release, and then backing off of it little by little -checking each time to see if I could get the boot to release laterally. I took the boot out and pushed it sideways and let it pop back into place. Problem solved. Until it wasn’t again – and I did it all over. Wasn’t that bad once I had it figured out – but who wants to be doing that? Does anybody test these things anymore?

On a side note: what book was that, that said you should always release beta products and let the public work the bugs out?

a place to get rad
a place to get rad

So we get to the top – and meet up with Norwegians, Americans, some Frenchmen and some Swiss (who oddly refused to speak German to us – Swiss are snobs, anyway….) and then got ready for a trip down.

It was filled with creamy goodness all the way out. Here are some pics from a previous trip….one is a shot you will see in every article about the Lofotens, ever. Always.

sabine stitend



You can, of course, make it better.

One thing to note: on the way out – your path takes you down to the edge of a little lake – back to that cross-country path, and right next to the town’s shooting range.

Norway is kind of like Europe’s Texas in that everyone here has guns and goes hunting. Since they live in the middle of a wilderness – I suppose this is OK, and unlike Texas, when they want to practice their shooting, they don’t target the neighbors – they go to the range.

The problem with this is that the slope we toured on is the backstop for the range. The place all the bullets fly into. If you come out on the wrong day – you could be in serious danger of getting a bullet in your bubblegoose. So check! There is a sign at the parking spot, and it makes sense to ask some locals before going. If you do hear shots or strange noises on the rocks, duck and cover, or put big Tobi in front of you.

When we got back, we had some beer at the bar until we realized it was ten Euros a bottle. An impressive shopping tour followed with lots of this:

most northerly brewed beer in the world. Made with polar bears.
most northerly brewed beer in the world. Made with polar bears.

A meal at the lodge that was big and good was followed by a little conversation and ski-binding maintenance. Then – sleep. On to day two,

A trip to the Lofotens – Again

Kalle i Lofoten, near Kabelvag Norway


A few years ago my wife and I had a great time up in the Lofotens for a week of ski touring. The Lofotens are islands hanging off the coast of northern Norway, about 350 kilometers north of the arctic circle – and have been known for centuries as a beautiful and wild place at the edge of Europe.

The location is stunning – and yes – in a way, its wild too – but the best part about all this is that while you are far away, this is Scandinavia – so everything works. The infrastructure is there, the public sector is impeccable in its performance, and even at the edge of the world, you can still get a great cup of espresso in a cute cafe and catch a movie in a first-run cinema with seating for 12.

solvaer town


Add to that the fact that, while these mountains are alpine in character and striking – they are not that big. In two or three hours you can get to the peak of nearly all of them, which is a great thing if some in your party are new at this – or perhaps just not that hardcore. The high latitude means that in some places, you’ll skin up on the beach, hit treeline about 50 vertical meters later, and have views of the ocean in all directions when you top out!

this looks like a Viagra ad. It is not.
this looks like a Viagra ad. It is not.
scenery in the Lofotens
scenery in the Lofotens

This time – we’d done so much talking about all this good stuff that I convinced 5 other friends to come along. None had been to the Lofotens before, although two of the crew had been skiing in Norway before.

Most of the group - with our guide - without Tyler. Sorry buddy, somebody had to take the picture!
Most of the group – with our guide – without Tyler. Sorry buddy, somebody had to take the picture!

Getting to the Lofotens is not too bad. The Norwegian government subsidies flights to the islands as it does to a lot of its far north in a effort to make development there more enticing. You fly into Evenes airport which is about two and a half hours away from Svolvaer – the main town on the islands. Alternatively – you can take a ferry from Bodo – which is the nicer way to go, I hear, but it takes a half a day and the times can be dicey – so I’ve never done it. Several members of our group did though – and they gave the scenery a thumbs up.

While there may be some direct flights from the UK, for the most part, everything runs through Oslo. There’s not much to say about this airport in Europe’s smallest capital city – except that you should do the math before ordering a second coffee – at roughly 8 Euros a cup, your first experience with Norwegian prices is likely to be all the stimulant you’ll need for your layover.  Coffee is bad – booze is worse – which is why a trip to the duty free is an integral part of pre-trip planning in Norway.

know your limits - everybody stock up. Do not become distracted by the offers for various forms of fish dubiously preserved for your pleasure.
know your limits – everybody stock up. Do not become distracted by the offers for various forms of fish dubiously preserved for your pleasure.

If all goes well – you’ll land in Evenes in a few hours. The airport is refreshingly small – making coming and going a breeze. You can get shuttles here to the Lofotens – but as access to the best ski spots needs a car – you’ll probably be picking up a rental and cruising out on your own. There’s really only one road on the Lofotens – so when you leave the airport – just take a left and follow the signs. Be prepared for winter travel,  and if you want snacks or a bite to eat – its probably best to do these either at the airport – or at the gas station directly after that left turn. There is quite a bit of nothing on the way to Svolvaer.

If you come in at night – you might get treated to some sights like these:

blurry - but you get the idea
blurry – but you get the idea

We all got in ok – each of us coming from different corners of the globe, and settled into our new digs. These were a significant upgrade over the last time, which is to say they were quite swanky.

Kalle i Kabelvag
Kalle i Kabelvag

The place is an old whaling station converted to a hotel for skiers. Its built out into the water on stilts so you could service the boats, so views are built in. There is a main house, where you eat and can hang out describing how rad you got to all the other guests, but you sleep in separate little cottages with a small living room and kitchen and up to six beds. We had two of these back to back with room for 4 in each – so we had a little space to stretch out – play Cards Against Humanity and air out our socks.

Which is what we did when we got in…..

Tomorrow: First day touring in the Lofotens – or – What gear will Tobi break?