“The balance on the razors edge”. Sure it might sound like a murky climbing book title where someone explains the essence of the human condition he learned somewhere deep in the Himalayas. All of us mountain addicts are a bit weird. We all write about our epic wins and moments but often we overlook how close to a epic fail we were. This season my balance got tested quite a bit. Specially four times. Here a few quick lessons in learning the hard way.
A WAKE UP CALL
It had been a weird week. The conditions were swinging to spring and I had just returned from our Grand tour de Alps. I was motivated and a aggressive drive had been bugging me. I wanted to do something steep again. It was like a craving. An itch that needs scratching. Real life was not helping here with lots of drama so I needed a win.
Not far from Maribor, a good hour away lies Peca. A mountain about 2100m high, one that is not to be underestimated. On the Austrian side close to Petzen ski resort are a few nice super steep lines await. I call them Pecalaska. A few locals ride them from time to time. They are pretty exposed and with good conditions, not super hard. Basically if its great you can do a fall line with 120 km/h. That`s what I wanted.
Since my riding buddy was busy and everyone else had something to do on that weekend, my ego caught my safety sense of guard. My twin brother and his girlfriend, both ok freeriders but not skimo pepz wanted to go skiing the resort there so I saw an option in scratching my itch.
My mind concocted this plan. I would lone wolf the line early with a spotter. As we have finally adapted radios for our basic comm I would have them spot me while I do one of the direct three culis.
I had no idea how the conditions would turn out except that it was not super cold and sun would be out. Facing NE the culis would still be in the shade for most of the day. I wanted to start early. Well that where problem nr. one was . My spotters did not.
When we arrived I was already in a state of single minded focus. I am rarely so stupidly single minded but I wanted to do this. When I exited the upper tram station and saw the lines it was on. The clock was ticking.
The weather report had given me a short window of opportunity. At 11.00 clouds would already start moving in and the wind would pick up. It was 10.00 already. I explained the plan to my two spotters, tuned the radio and was off.
From the resort its just a good 400 hms to the top. A good 35 min later I was already approaching the peak ridge. While ascending I checked the culis and Nr. 3 was my pick. Unfortunately two riders rode it as I saw them from the distance. Now only the steepest and most exposed Nr. 1 remains. While hiking up I had already made my peace not to ride a first line. Also with then safetly at the bottom I was now sure it was doable.
That is until I came past culi Nr. 1. I was looking down into the steep depth. The conditions were all over the place. At that the razors edge started grinding on me. Do I do this ? It is risky… should I go for culi 3. instead? It was tested and stable with a bit of sun. No idea how the snow would be on this one.
As I looked down more into detail, there was a middle section full of what seemed to be barely covered sharks. Could I jump them. At that point my mental map had already been established. I would go for it. I would start form the top side to see if it was doable. if not I could still use my ice pick to climb out.
The conditions were complex. I would start slow, not the usual drop in full speed. It was hard hardpack with fluffy topping. The kind of sluff that likes to sweep you off your balance. I did not have my technical ski. The MTN Lab I got after I lost my Q118 was proving to be a pain in the ass for this.
I maneuvered to the sharky part. It looked ok. My mind was at ease. False ease. I figured. Ok here we go 120 km/h three turns down the steep. Make it look good boy. I let gravity take off.
Boom acceleration. The super rush, the Adrenalin, the definition of the addiction of steep skiing fast lines. I leaned into a first left turn. That`s where I knew I was on the edge. Literally. Stone hard sand dunes had formed in the 100 km/h wind that had blown here a few days earlier. This skis was too stiff to wobble it off. On one of the bigger dunes I was sent flying.
It is good that I know how to fall. Instinctively I turned skis down to the bottom and was on my feet a few seconds later. Well that was close. That was crap I thought while doing the rest of the turns down.
The conditions with the new fluff, the hard pack and the hard ski… I could only do slow turns. Still I was happy objective archived. I had my steep line, but again the razors edge was close to being crossed. Still thinking back doing all this alone without assist. My skiing had progressed in the last two years to a certain extent.
Thou even thinking of consequence here all lights turn to red. I learned something again. Something I usually really take to heart every time I go riding, but recent other factors had made me forfeit this added layer of safety. But I learned:
Don`t lone wolf really dangerous stuff, and I also did something dumb for the second time. I underestimated Peca mountain. Even if it is just 2100 m with lots of trees it still is steep and deadlier that one might think.
THAT DAMMED TEMPERATURE AND THE DAMMED LAST RUN
You guys have read Le Grand Tour – Part II but a situation to ponder came up in Part I *soon to be released haha*. Watch:
It was a really deep day. Temps when the snow was falling were around -12 to -20 up top and a good fluffy 50 cm had come down in Fieberbrun.
I had moved to Innsbruck for the big Sylvester trip so Gabi, Michaela and I were late that day to ride some pow there. We arrived at 10.00 and needed till 11.00 to even start up the mountain. Michi had joined us from a full parking at Steinplatte.
It was on. Tons of tourists but not to many Freeriders. We had moved out of the area into the lower part of the Weisseloder contest face and were gradually working ourselves to the west on this northern flank. Then on our last run it happened. I begged Michi for a good pic and charged a steep flank. I did not think that an avalanche could break as everything had been super stable the whole day. Sure it was the steepest part there but what the hell, I thought.
The hell yeah! Said the mountain. First the whole flank broke under me waist deep. Fortunately the snow was super soft . I quickly escaped to the riders left. Then bum bum.. all that went down too. I thought shit!, speed up and was out next to a tree a few moments later. At the same time my phone started ringing.. later I found out it was my mom. Do I get GNAR points for that ?
Underneath Michi was taking the picture above of me and just casually moved away from the avalanche. On that day I did not consider myself in danger. Later thou as my head started analyzing the whole thing (jup I over-analyze everything) I saw a few red flags I had ignored.
There was 50 cm of fresh at ultra low temps on a shady north face. So layer bonding was really weak. 20 minutes before the incident my Suunto Spartan watch beeped a storm warning. Wind changed direction and the temps dropped for 5 degrees in less then half an hour. Indicators like that should not be ignored or taken lightly. I did take them lightly. To lightly. Also it was the “last run”. That is a curse… Always remember: “There is no last run only one more for the day. The last run is the last one you will ever make.” Remember that.
OFFERINGS TO YUKI HIME “SNOW PRINCES”
Well it had started for me as total chaos. 2018 has had a lot to take in on the real life front but the winter was compensating the ying to the yang in the fullest. But it would not be long before that 2018 crap came to find me in the mountains too.
It was one of the deepest days of the winter in Austria at our go to powder playground Zauchensee. Man I know every stone of this place by now. Still mother nature knows she is queen and snow princess seems to have demanded a offering from her noble samurai.
On a epic flank with S exposure on a day of rare beauty it happened. It was one of the first days I was testing my test PRIDE ABS Avalanche airbag unit. I wanted to get one of those stupid GoPro stick shots in super slomo. You know for the #instashot. I knew S was unstable. But since the day was ok and we had no avalanche situations I thought WTF. Mistake.
I took off and then it happened. I overextended on my first turn with the pole in front of me and basically tripped over. A second later the flank let loose and I was going down hill on an escalator.
While tumbling in the snow sniping seeing black white while I rolled over one of my skis let loose. I was already to pull my airbag when I came to a standstill. I looked up and in the snowfield my ski was gone. Then Eric came a top to quickly check if I`m all right and he also let off some sluff.
In my mind I knew by then. My ski was gone. Searching for 5 hours digging up the whole area to no avail. Eric helped, Martin helped I was frustrated. How the hell am I gonna get a new pair. Where. How much cash I did not have would it cost. And I needed a ski for a trip to Bad Gastein a week later. After giving up for the day Martin took the time to escort me down the hill on one ski. There was so much snow. We needed like a good hour. I invented “Monobutskiing”.
I even went back with a metal detector two days later. Searching with my friend Jure for 6 hours. Jure was a trooper and I am happy that I have crazy friends who would come with me just to help me correct my selfish blunder.
Again as the Ying and Yang balance themselves out I got a cheap pair of backup skis from my friends at Vertical Adventures, the MTN LAB and a ZAG test ski that, as fate would have it, did not prove to last my riding style of 2018 for more then 3 days. Big thnx to Jernej for that save here. In retrospect. This one thought me a lesson.
Comfort zones are an illusion. Mother nature sometimes is like a siren. In a moments notice she can turn it around. ALSO keep that go pro in the pocket sometimes and do not sell your old powder ski just yet. It is always good to have a functioning backup. Always plan for redundancy.
NAHOD IN GORSKE SANJE – THE SEASON FINALE
Jan had told me about this line a while back. Nahod it was called. In fact we even tried to find it in total fog out on one day in January. Out of all days last week we went for it and did it good.
As you can see by the line it looked mega fun. Steep day with your adventure buddy. Like countless trips in the last 2.5 years together. Except it wasn’t. Even in the morning the whole thing had an early feel to it.
Silence, one sided conversation, talk of season ending and no more motivation. Short a lot of bullshit. Still even with things tense the day was enjoyable. Like some ok days. It was still fun if you forgot all that.
While descending thou a thing happened I had not seen before with my riding buddy. While doing a kick turn he forgot that he had really long skis now. A Black Crows Anima 188. One of them caught a tree and he was hanging, falling to the side. I was above and watching. Could not to anything.
My mind was already in damage control mode thinking of the what if worsted case scenario and how to quickly get down if he would not catch himself. Fortunately he did. We brushed it off like nothing big but again. The razors edge was close.
Later that day 2018 would catch up in another way and end our season together. Sad. I learned something on that day.
Sometimes while one is used to doing something in a way, a small change might slip once mind. In a area with no room for error that can spill disaster. And also people and relationships are hard. Specially this one.
As we progress in our skiing and our mountaineering we are always further out on the edge. Still you do not want to take stupid risk. After all the consequences would not only mean your doom but also embarrassment. You wanna be so good, that it is controlled, on that edge never going over it. You lean out of the window precisely that inch that does not topple you over. Still sometimes mother nature just smacks you in the balls and if you are lucky you walk away from it and learn your lesson. If not. Well that is another story I hopefully never have to write.