Engelberg freeriding

Sometimes you can’t resist the slopes, the snow, the sun, the friends. It’s always fun skiing with Romain and Andreas — we used to pretend that these workday ski outings were group meetings, but now that I’m no longer an astronomist we just call them for what they are: skipping work to play in the snow.

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On this particular day, we didn’t actually go touring but instead opted for a lift-accessed pow-fest. The avy danger was a bit sketchy so the plan was to stick to cruiser slopes and soak in the sun on the family-friendly side of Engelberg at the Brunni resort. When we showed up, the only other people in line were kids going sledding — are we being crazy?!

Once we traversed out of the resort proper, the light, fast powder confirmed that we made the right choice, although it wasn’t quite as plentiful and untracked as we had hoped. Here’s Andreas practicing his tele-style:

We skied all the way to the bottom and at the end found ourselves on ~5 centimeters of snow on top of grass. I cried a little for my skis here and there. Here’s Romain on the most dangerous part of the day:

We eventually got back up to the top and scoped out new lines:

Prof. Teyssier showing off his impeccable french powder style with Titlis in the background:

Lunch on the terrace at Brunni is spectacular with huge cliffs on all sides:

Finally we realized that the south-facing slopes were not gonna last much longer and headed a bit further north in the Engelberg valley to the famous (secret?) Haldigrat non-resort. This place is really special — a single lift allows you to access relatively gentle ungroomed slopes… with an hourly capacity of 50 people.

You call up the guy and let him know you’re coming up so you can pay him for the runs that you plan to do:

The views are amazing all the way to lake Luzern and the north-facing snow stays good for some time — if you can find some untracked patches still a few days after the snowfall…

… which we did

On the way out we got stuck between two creeks and opted to ski out one of them…

View the full-size gallery here

Furggeltihorn (3043m) – Läntahütte – Furggelti

Tobias and I chased the weather window for a two-day trip all the way to the border between Graubünden and Ticino, to the picturesque Läntatal. The end of the valley is marked by the tallest peak of Ticino, Rheinwaldhorn. The rolling Läntagletscher provides the source of the Valser Rhein, one of the tributaries of the Vorderrhein, which eventually becomes the river Rhine, which does important things like demarcates the borders of France, Switzerland and Germany, and winds its way into the North Sea.

We skied in to Läntahütte (a great little hut with very friendly hut keepers) over a somewhat mediocre Furggeltihorn and hatched an awesome plan for the next day — ski up to Rheinwaldhorn, over to Grauhorn, and ski the west-facing slopes into Ticino. Apparently, this descent can only be done during winters with a lot of snow in the south, which has certainly been the case this year. We set out well before sunrise toward the Läntagletscher to be ready to ski off Grauhorn at noon. After gaining the glacier proper the conditions quickly deteriorated and all of a sudden we were in a complete whiteout. We weren’t expecting much crevasse hazard but since we couldn’t see hardly at all, we roped up and continued upwards. Several times the visibility would improve enough to lift the morale, but eventually we realized that it’s probably never going to clear. Going over Rheinwaldhorn and into unknown terrain on the other side was not an option in those conditions so we descended back to the hut, had some coffee, hung out with the dog, stared mournfully at the fog-wrapped glaciers and headed back up the way we came in the previous day. Turned out we made the right call, as the conditions didn’t really improve for the rest of the day, it even rained down in Vals. Still, we were glad to have checked out a new area and will leave this itinerary for a future outing…

coming up out of the valley to the impressive view of the Zervrailahorn
spring-time snow craters
on the summit of Furggeltihorn looking out toward Güferhorn and Grauhorn in the background
Steep drop-off from the summit
starting the descent off the summit toward Läntatal
our objectives for the second day in sight — Rheinwaldhorn on the left and Grauhorn on the right
mountains are big, people are small. good thing to keep in mind.
final steep slope down to Läntahütte (you can see it if you look very closely… second largest boulder in the photo)
slightly before the whiteout got really bad
heading back up out of Läntatal
some eXtreme skinning was required
skiing down toward the artificial Zervreilasee
end of the road

Böshorn (3269m) – Fletschhornhütte – Sengchuppa (3607m)

I met Yves two years ago during the Davos conference, where we did a couple of tours together. Over the past two seasons, we’ve been trying to come up with a weekend when we were both free for a tour somewhere in Wallis since Yves is from those parts. Last year we were foiled by weather, but this year the plan worked out and we had a great two-day tour near Simplon pass.

We headed to the Fletschhornhütte, an awesome little hut positioned at just over 3000m on a dramatic ridge line looking out toward some of the the eastern Wallis 4000ers. It’s an unmanned hut, meaning you have to bring your own food but everything else including blankets, a wood-burning stove, and cooking utensils, is there. A really awesome place: simple, clean, and away from the crowds. We were the only two people there.

On the first day, we approached from the Simplon pass road and headed over Böshorn, a classic peak of the area since it’s relatively high (3269m) and apart from the airy summit scramble fairly easily accessible. The way up to the peak was a complete zoo, since part of the approach is shared with other popular peaks that are favorites with large groups on the weekends. We were happy to disappear over onto the other side into complete silence and isolation.

We miscalculated the elevation gain needed on the first day a bit and ended up doing slightly over 2000m of climbing — which would have been fine except that we had to chop wood, melt water etc. as soon as we arrived, preferably before it got dark. Instant noodles never tasted better.

Next day we awoke to a glorious morning and headed over the Gamsagletcher towards Sengchuppa, which definitely takes the crown for the most amazing peak name of all time. We reached the top in 2 hours and descended back toward Sirvoltesattel over the glaciers. There were pockets of really amazing snow, which in parts had strangely not even been touched by wind. At the end of the glacier, we skinned back up and over Sirvoltesattel and descended back to the Simplon pass road. A really great weekend in a nice corner of the alps, which serves up with some spectacular solitude. Fletschhornhütte is highly recommeded!

Crowds rolling over toward Sirvoltesee above Simplonpass road

wind-sculpted snow on the lower slopes of Böshorn

Yves on the approach to Böshorn

Finally in view of the summit… erm sort of. We spent the next hour or so in a whiteout. 

Since I expected the scramble to require full attention, I left my camera in the pack where we left our skis… big mistake, as the views from the summit were amazing and the scramble really fun. I kept my phone in my pocket though, so the next few shots are taken with that.

Once on the summit, the clouds would magically part every few minutes and give us an amazing view of our surroundings — here, Fletschhorn in the background and Sengchuppa (our sunday objective) in the foreground)
looking north toward Berner Oberland

summit selfie
downclimb selfie

Yves navigating the ridge on the descent
Once away from the summit ridge, we were also out of the fog — Yves searching for our exit

starting the descent toward the foot of the Gamsagletscher
Our tracks and the summit in the middle right
Checking the map on the glacier

Popping over the ridge toward the hut served up an amazing panorama

the little hut is on the ridge in the lower right

Weisshorn on the left and Brunneghorn in front on the right — I climbed it two years ago

traversing toward the hut

first things first — chopping wood

cozy inside
cooking snow
sunrise and the latrine

Sunrise on Dom, Lenzspitze, and Nadelhorn

Looking north toward the Aletschgletscher

leaving the hut

approaching Sengchuppa

on the summit!

Yves descending 

Skiing down the glacier

crazy wind pattern — the smooth part was completely untouched by wind

Looking at Böshorn from Sirvoltesattel before our final descent

On-location with Filme von Draussen

Tom (of Filme von Draussen) somehow convinced Andreas and I to get up at 2am and go on a sunrise ski tour… two of them actually. In retrospect, getting up at 2am was worth the glorious sunrise views we got each time and after coming back into the city in the late morning, the rest of the work day was actually quite productive. Each time we had nice fluffy powder to ski on, which made the early morning much more bearable. So not such a bad idea at all… plus, now we know Hüenerchopf, the area’s preferred ski touring mountain for everyone over 65, like the backs of our hands.

The first time we went I left my camera behind (idiot) but managed to snap a few pics of the process during our second outing. Tom’s video will tell the rest of the story…

Andreas happy to see the sun rising

tops of the Churfirsten get some morning rays

breaking trail through fresh pow on Hüenri — by the end of the day this would be completely tracked out. On a Tuesday. 

set up

Andreas shredding the Hüenerchopf gnarly (!) NE face… 

Andreas in a sea of slightly wind-blown pow

Bannalp spring touring

Keith and Meggie were in town and dragged their (borrowed) splitboards all the way from Jackson, WY to do some epic tours in the Swiss Alps. Of course, the two weeks they were here there was no snow to speak of and the t-shirt weather melted (and hardened) whatever happened to be there before. Nevertheless, we dragged ourselves out of bed early one morning and headed for Bannalp — a sweet little area, relatively high with quick gondola access. The icy, lumpy snow sucked for the first-time splitboarders and reminded me why I ditched the snowboard in favor of skis for touring many years ago. We had a leisurely lunch and waited for the snow to soften up — the sun-drenched slopes served up surprisingly good skiing despite our fears for the worst. Good times were made better with beers and epic views at the end of the ride of course.

splitters are super stoked early in the am

american blue hunting team scoping out the alpine ibex

americans in the sunshine

americans focusing on making the edges stick

X-treme american focus

reflecting meggie’s american state of mind
Keith booting up to maximize the down

corn is the new american powder

looks like pow feels like pow

way steeper than it looks I swear

mad american airtime by meggie

this is not an american resort, I promise

meggie shredding the american way

Diethelm-Fluebrig (2092m)

With some new snow finally reaching the north side of the Alps, Tobias and I went to sample the conditions in nearby Wägital. Only 45 minutes by car from Zürich it’s quite a little gem of a place. I’ve been there twice before on Redertengrat and both times I was eyeing the obvious serious-looking massif across the valley — Fluebrig and it’s peak Diethelm. It looks intimidating, but the ski route is quite benign in good conditions. Down low the temperatures have been quite high recently so there was a lot of refrozen snow, but up high the powder was wonderful. Although there were tons of tracks on the lower slopes, it turned out to our surprise that no one had actually gone to the summit in recent days, leaving us with a perfectly blank canvas on the upper part of the mountain. The final bit to the summit is a nicely exposed ridge with sweeping views… very nice little peak!

winter wonderland in the morning

some fresh sluff… 

on the upper slopes of Fluebrig — Wägitalersee below

approaching the ski depot on the way to Diethelm

panorama experiment — obviously this shouldn’t be done with a wide angle, but still looks ok!

picturesque ridge

we climbed the little snow spur with the help of a fixed cable

descending

Tobias finding the powder on the upper slope of Fluebrig — Zürichsee in the background

our lines on the right

skiing a fun gully
Tobias ripping a turn above Wägitalersee
Sahara sand layer wrapped in the giant snowballs

the whole Fluebrig — almost the entire ski line is visible. The descent was from the upper right slope, down the leftmost (wide) gully. 

Poncione di Tremorgio

It seems that every time Nick comes to visit in the winter we go to Ticino. Last time two years ago the avy situation was horrible and we went bouldering in Chironico. This year, the weekend in the north was marked by yet another Föhn storm with temperatures in some valleys approaching 20-degrees… luckily, there are insane amounts of snow in Ticino so the choice was obvious. We headed up Poncione di Tremorgio above Ambri — didn’t quite make it to the summit, the snow started to get slabby and there seemed to be a storm moving in so we turned around just below Lago di Cara. On the map, we saw what appeared to be a beautiful glade running most of the way down to the steep forest trail, and apparently the ridge that separated it from the rest of the route was enough for most people to not bother. The five minutes of extra skinning paid off and we had beautiful open trees most of the way down with untouched powder — awesome! We finished the day off in classic Nick and Rok fashion by missing the trail out slightly and getting stuck in a gully filled with half-melted concrete snow. Brought back fond memories of the Cascades…

Coming up to the village of Gioett

Alpe Cara

Light was pretty flat most of the way up above treeline

Descending

gloomy clouds

Descending off the ridge at Alpe Cara

fun steep slopes off the ridge

tree slalom

we ended up on a cliff at one point

fun steep forest skiing