Well here we are. Season 2017 has been… in short… quite different. Last year privately ended for me with a huge change. I was looking at unemployment and moved back to Maribor not knowing if I would have any resources to continue the powder project or do more skiing at all. But if there is one constant in life it is change. And a lot of things changed. I moved, renovated my new home, finally had time to visit the ISPO properly.I started riding Freeride World Tour qualifier competitions and did a lot of exploring with my buddy Ranger John. Since so much stuff was going down I did not have time to write blog posts as things were going on but in the coming weeks I will catch you all up in a reverse fashion with a few articles that focusing on the highlight of this season starting with this adventure, getting into the FWQ competitions, ISPO 2017 and a bit of exploring around France in a small place you probably have never heard of. And since I moved I will also share a few interesting tidbits on building a gear wall and making your home reflect a skiing lifestyle.
The snow was not all to good for our parts of the alps and this season. With and the tons of change I decided to move the next phase of the #biwipowproject into the next year. But of course we would manage to make at least one trip this season to bring us further out into the wild and not forget what we learned last season. After hitting 20 degrees plus at home last Friday with flowers blooming and birds singing Jan and I had enough and were eager to move to colder and mostly higher climate.
It was a gamble. Since spring had enclosed the whole of Slovenia in a big way the itch was a persistent one. I needed snow like a old hooker needs coke. There was just not enough white powder up to this point to keep us satisfied. We also had not done any winter biwaks at all this season and with all the up and downs and rapid changes in my “grown up life” a proper trip with powder, climbing and sleeping outside at high altitude was exactly what our wild souls needed.
The problem was not only the lack of snow but also the avalanche situation. After a big dump and temperatures being all over the place in Tirol, even at very high altitude, lots of heavy deep slabs were coming down all over the place and killing quite a few freeriders. The first area I took of my minds long list of locations was the Arlberg. After 6 dead in the week before we took off and mostly in wet deep slabs covered even up to 10 m deep that was a no go. As I was packing my stuff last Saturday I had three more cards up my sleeve. The Obergurgl area, Pitztal and Kaunertal. Granted on the first look not very original but bear in mind that I am not thinking of the ski areas.
So on a somewhat rainy Sunday, when another dump should have dropped 40 cm of fresh on the Tyrolean alps I picked up Jan in Radovljica and we headed back to Innsbruck to meet up with my old rollerblading, now fellow swashbuckling ski-powder-mountaineering buddy and Red Bull Crashed Ice pro Flo Graf. After a long 8 hours we finally made it to Innsbruck. Thanks to my somewhat unexpected relocation, Jan is now a whole two hours away instead of 35 minutes so my commute to Innsbrucklyn has become substantially longer. But as a wise man said having the right people with you is already half the trip ;). And so sitting at the Machete – Borritto Kartel in Innsbruck for a good meal, checking the weather stations we came to a decision.
We would have to go as high as we could. We needed an area with lots of glacial altitude terrain where we might even get a nice steep descent for a few powder turns and some drops to improve our competition skills. Since we would be bringing all our gear with us we would also spend the night at altitude. The weather window was favorable for a nice “billion star hotel” night at around -4 degrees. In comparison to last year… not that cold. We decided to head to Kaunertal and ascend the Weißseespitze on the regular route, make the peak and find a spot next to or on the Gepatschferner, the biggest remaining glacial surface in Austria. With a surface area of 16 square km and and ice shell of 71 m thickness it is kinda like a little piece of Greenland in the middle of the Alps. After crashing again on Flo`s cozy couch we woke up early and a good 1.5 hours later we were already prepping gear at the Kaunertal parking lot.
The Ascend and the Peak
Our start was a good one. I decided to use my Salomon MTN Explore 95 ski since this would be a exploration trip. It`s awesome on the uphill and great in not all to deep snow. Its also works good in those steep descends, but most importantly it is light. Very light. When we passed the upper station of the lift the operator even gave us a few sweets when he heard that we were going to sleep at the top. We then proceeded up a old eastern slope, where a lift used to be before it got eaten by the retreating Weisseeglacier. From its top location we would have to climb the ridge to get to the Gepatschferner.
As we arrived under the climbing ridge it became apparent how bad the season has been. Usually at this time of the year the ridge is mostly just snow. No rocks let alone climbing are required to get to the top. It looked quite different from the pictures in the tour description I had googled. We continued upwards with a good tempo. Climbing ridges is always fun. This one was on the easy side. After a good 20 minutes we were at the side of the glacier. Now we would have two options. Traverse on to the Gepatschferner and go to the top from there. Second option would be to continue on the side over a steep field where a big avalanche had gone down probably a few days ago. Since we did not have a rope for the glacier with us we decided to continue up the side of the ridge. Since the whole area seemed to have settled I decided to do a steep zigzag while Jan and Flo went up by the side. It turned out to be the better decision. Or at least it conserved a lot of energy 😛 I think Jan liked his version thou since he likes to plow trough virgin snow waist deep #nopunintedned hahaha.
When we made it above we saw it in all its glory. The Gepatschferner lay in front of us. A huge breathtaking field of ice and snow that has been here a long time before we existed. I hope it will still be here for some time after we are gone. But that unfortunately is more of a wish if you look at where the world is heading right now. Regardless we still had a good 400 hm to go to make it ot the summit. From hear it was basic touring. Snow was good and so we made quick progress. We decided to stick to the sides of the open fields as we did not know how well the glacial crevasses were covered.
A good 200 hm higher we found a great spot with a view that had good wind cover. We left some of the gear and headed up to the peak. Jan and I had already been here a good year ago when we ascended the diretisima from the north side. The peak was fun. We spotted a ton of new terrain. The visibility was insane. Check the pictures. It is hard to describe. You could even see Piz Bernina, Piz Palu etc. We also spotted a lot of interesting stuff to do next season in all directions. Every time you go high you see all the lines form a different perspective. It opens so many options :). Dreams one step from reality!
After spending some time at the peak we then descended to our little “room with a view” spot and decided to chill in the sun on the rocks first. After all we had not done any high altitude ascends with full gear this season. It was showing. The sun was so nice and warm. Cozy. Friendly. But we were in the high alpine. As the day passes quickly here and ends early we did not want to be surprised by unforeseen winds or darkness. We started digging our accommodation. This time we would just make an open hole for biwaking as there was not enough snow to make warm snow holes. It was not supposed to be colder then -4 and with no clouds in the sky we would have one hell of a view. There was mild wind in the forecast from the west so we build a wall from the snow blocks we were excavating. The snow quality was great for building. Soon our little hotel with the view of a billion million stars was ready.
Next it was time to build the kitchen. And that is Jan`s expertise. While Flo and I were putting finishing touches on out sleeping place Jan made a nice kitchen. He even made three chairs to sit in if there would be wind. With all that done it was time to eat. To be honest we brought a lot of food. To much in fact. I had my travel lunch bag. This time it was beef with potatoes. Jan brought the Trek’n’Eat we found at Mont Blanc on our visit to the Ferrino Highlab at Tette Rouseu. It was green curry with chicken. Flo was more practical. He bought Goulash in a tin can. Splitting the meals in sunshine on the rocks above the valley felt better then a chef gourmet lunch at a 5 star restaurant. When finished we were all far to full to do anything more. We just cozzied up into our sleeping bags and waited for night to fall.
And soon it came. One after another the while starry night came on. Like lighting a twinkling candle. Soon the International Space Station passed above use. We counted the satellites and the planes as they were passing accompanied by Flo`s chilly playlist of good wibe music. Then here and there I caught a gimps of a shooting star to make a wish :). I really hope this one comes true. Sometimes they do :). I tried to take a few long exposures but they did not work out to well because I managed to break the closing mechanism on my little camera again. Oh well. Soon we were snoozing.
Then I woke up. I was not cold or anything. I just had a bad headache. My head was covered nicely. I guess I had eaten to much potatoes. Also it was altitude. We were sleeping at 3300. It was not as bad as my first high altitude biwak but it was not nice either. I did not want to take any pills or anything because the body has to adapt. On top of that a hole had formed on one side and I was laying on my side very uncomfortably but I was to lazy to get up and fix it. I twisted and turned and soon I was asleep again. Then first light came. Sunrise.
Kickers in the Backcountry
The day comes early in the mountains. And so it came on that day too. after a good hour of snoozing it was time to start the day. We would have to make food, pack up our things for a skiing descent with fat backpacks. On our way up we deemed it ok to descend on the steeper side route on skis over the icy part of the upper glacier down towards the old lift remains where we ascended on the stony side ridge. It all looked great except for the entrance. There a lot of wind has laid the glacial ice barren. We would have to start from there.
The incline was on the 40+ side so staying stable was a must. Backpack would have to be center weight. We would have to check the entrance from up top to see if it was ski-able from the top too. If not we would have to find our way around and take the really long way down over the Gepatschferner to the bottom of the Kaunertal valley. Since we had spotted a nice BC kicker on our way up we hoped for the first option to pan out.
Packing was taking it`s time. I had forgotten how much stuff we had for these outings. Logistics is always a pain in the ass. When we were ready we locked our skis and were ready to go. We descended to the side of the ice. After a good look we decided that it was good to go. One by one we descended. Flo went first with the GoPro, then Jan, then me. It was all good and you could see the whole Kaunertal resort from here too. Then the good part came. Powder. Since the north side was in the shade all the time and a good 30-40 cm had come down two days earlier it was nice. Finally some snow. Nice snow. Real snow. Not crud crust. Soon we made it to the kicker we passed on our way up.
It looked even better up close. We were all motivated. I had not done any kickers since Stubai opening. Jan and I had done two FWQ qualifiers and we needed to train on kickers in the BC pretty badly. The season had really been somewhat lacking in training opportunity. Frustrating. Seeing this kicker in excellent conditions we were not gonna let this opportunity slide :). So we started doing rounds. Jumping with my touring ski was funny as hell. The balance was way off and I had to leaned into the front full to stay level. Jan was improving his stance every try but Flo upstaged us both hard on our last round. He stomped a huge backflip. Bam 🙂 sweet props.
After a while we were all happily tired and just descended to the parking lot. By then it was already 11 am and the sun was burning the snow alive. It had turned to slush at the resort already and we decided that life is better in boardshorts 😛 We still had 8 hours to drive home.
I thought about the whole trip a lot since Wednesday. I have not felt so free for a while. All form the traveling, crashing at Flo`s couch in Innsbruck, eating burritos with friends, hiking and climbing up, the stars, the powder the kicker… the good times… that`s what it is all about. In a sense we are people of the Wild. Like the crazy book with the sad ending. The funny thing thou is that nature is just outside your door, the people who make the trip are just a jump away, but in all the noise of this pay to play existence we tend to forget that. That and the fact that we are lucky to be in the Euro bracket of the privileged as fuck 5 % of the human population who can in part do what we want without much consequence. Lets make it count !
Since I am finally back to normal operation again I will write up a few articles on the season form the end to the start. Next up Freeride World Tour qualifiers and a look at what ISPO had to offer:).