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!