The five guys in my WhatsApp group “Hochtirol”, created for another tour in another place at another time, start pinging each other about where we can go riding this Saturday. Three of them I don’t know so well, and there are no descriptive pictures about who’s saying what, so its not long before I’m completely confused and begin typing in old-man Caps: “WHERE ARE WE GOING? LOSERS.” Or something like that.
Tobi cuts the crap and decides on the Pfuitjöchl, a popular tour right behind Lermoos, just across the Austrian border from Garmisch Partenkirchen. I’ve never been up to this particular spot, but the tour goes up to a big ridge-line which stretches for miles on either side, and I’ve been up to the left and right of it several times.
Its a great touring spot in my opinion. There are miles of treeless gentle slopes once you get above treeline, and even if the Germans are lined up like tourists at a cuckoo-clock shop, you can pretty much always find a fresh line by bearing a little to the left or right. Its downside is that the belt of trees at the bottom is pretty tight and gets skied out, making for survival skiing in all but the best years. Its also technically the “wrong” aspect. Fully south-facing, you’ve got to hit it quickly after a snowfall, and there’s got to be a lot of snow too because it is either going to be melted out, or have a crust like week-old bread all over it. Its quite literally on the bright side, however – all the sunshine on that face makes for dicey snow, but average snow in the sun beats good snow in the shade for me most days. When its good there – it’s great.
I picked up Tobi at seven AM at his place, after the drive from Munich. I tanked up and got some croissant fat-nuggets along the way, in wonderment at the people hanging out at the gas station at six in the morning, sucking on smokes and drinking beer while rocking out to techno. At a gas station. Oh well. We met the other guys at the trailhead and started up into the trees and first light.
The snow down low was thin. Skiing it proved to be a challenge later in the day, but thankfully, its mostly grass. That’ll go. As the sun peaked out illuminating the surrounding peaks and making for inspirational-motivational quote photos, we made the treeline and started warming up in the sunshine. Badly needed too. It was going at something like minus 10 degrees Centigrade, so my perennially cold fingers were not doing so hot despite the fast pace and all my hatches battened.
No stops, and we made the round about one thousand meter climb in about an hour and twenty minutes. The snow was not as bottomless as we had hoped, but at least it was fluffy. On the ridge, the wind was howling, and everyone was happy when we dropped into the shelter of a bowl on the backside, which was the best snow of the day. Its only about one hundred and fifty meters of altitude, but it was creamy and good. We treaded back up, and climbed back to the ridge-line we had just dropped off of a little further to the left.
Another rip of the skins was followed by careful skiing down the main face, which proved to be studded with rocks and other undesirables. It wasn’t bad, but when you don’t know what’s down there, you have to ski more carefully – and its not the same. Despite the thinnish snow – I wished for some fatter boards. I took the really light ones out, and my tips weren’t staying up. Faster riding would have helped, but, here again, the danger of shark fins kind of precluded that. I made one cranial snow sample on the way down as a result. So – the next round in the bar is on me – which, with this group, could be a substantial problem.
The sun was in full effect, and we had a quick break at treeline for a bite to eat. I recited my usual “reasons why it is great to be me” to the group. Chiefly, I am good-looking, intelligent, and modest. All were in full agreement, so I truncated the usual four-hour listing after about one-hundred points.
We skinned back up, passing the only group we saw that day, a group of four, I think, with three ladies and a dude, who had left the skirts at a picnic and made for the ridge to the left of where we had descended. They had been conspicuous in their disdain for their equipment on the way down, skiing more rock than snow on the aspect they had chosen, which led to speculation that they must be the heirs to the Conrad Sports ski-shop fortune. Only people that get new gear every day ski like that.
In any case, P-Tex-Rex had broken a nice trail up to the ridge, so we followed it, despite some reservations about coverage. Another five hundred meters or so, and we were up. Mr. Rex had muddled about on the ridge and either disappeared into thin air or dropped off the back side, so the even thinner snow on the face we had just ascended was all ours.
It made for entirely mediocre skiing. Which is kind of the point of all this writing. At no point was it awesome, but the combination of sun, good friends, beautiful scenery and a few laughs at my crashes made for a great day. The ride back down through the trees to the car was, as always at this spot, crap – and will probably pay for the Conrad Kids next skis due to the repair work we will need, but all in all, round about one thousand five-hundred meters of skiing was had that I won’t soon forget.
Most people can’t say that about their Saturday – but I’ve been fortunate enough to find this lifestyle where I have it all winter long, nearly every weekend. A day at the resort might be objectively better, but subjectively – this is better than ten days at any resort, for sure. Its tough to say why, but I think anyone who’s done it can agree.
At the car, bases were examined, I was cajoled into not driving in my ski boots, and we all agreed we’d do it again in a week or so. It’s going to be a great winter.