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…

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Pizzo Rotondo 3192m

I’ve had plans to get into the Rotondo area for the past four years but the plans never quite materialized. This year it was the destination for the annual “Ralf & Guido Tour” with the ZSS — in previous years, R&G tours have gone to Wallis for multiday high-altitude ski touring at its finest (Turtmanntal and Zinal) but this year a single day trip was the only possibility. The magic of the Rotondo region is that it marks the border between the typically colder north and milder south right in the middle of the main alpine ridge, offering views of the central swiss alps and the 4000ers of the Berner Oberland and Wallis to the west. All of this coupled with a tour that ends in an exciting 200m couloir to get to the summit of Pizzo Rotondo makes for a very attractive tour.

The Bedretto was a particularly popular spot that morning — I guess the scary amounts of new snow and strong winds in the north pushed everyone south of the ridge. You had to be quick if you wanted a spot to sit down on the bus from Airolo:

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Soon we found ourselves on the north side of the beautiful Bedretto valley in flat light…

On the lower slopes we definitely were not alone…

But soon our track veered off from the main stream onto some steep and firm terrain:

Eventually the visibility went down to almost nothing. Once we reached the couloir, its walls provided some much needed contrast and a reference point:

Our group on the summit:

Descending the narrow snowy ridge was quite spectacular in the flat light:

Back in the couloir:

Then it was time to ski! It looked a lot like this:

Although the visibility improved lower down, the snow deteriorated…

On the way out, we waited for a bus next to this family-friendly ski resort:

This friendly woman wanted to make sure no one needed to use the facilities before she locked up…

And everyone generally enjoys huge amounts of snow, especially on roofs…

See the full size gallery here.

chasing the sunrise

To catch the sunrise highlighting the storms brewing over the mountains in the distance… that was the plan but getting out of bed before 6am on a Saturday, just to bike up the local hill is pretty challenging.

I was half an hour too late and had to settle for the beautiful color while still on the uphill road:

Since I missed my main objective, but I had a tripod with me, I decided to play around a bit and see whether it’s possible to use the automatic shooting functions to catch myself riding the trail:

Finally on top, I had the place almost to myself with great hazy light — I think I prefer it like this compared to when it’s perfectly clear. It also means fewer tourists…

Some telephoto shots with the 20 year old Minolta Rokkor 135mm f/3.5:

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Check out that nice in-lens vignette at f/3.5:

And a view up at the trio well-known to most residents of this lovely city… but from a slightly different perspective:

Life decisions… and mountains early in the morning

A few years ago, we were faced with the heavy burden of making one of those decisions that would clearly mark our lives forever. Choosing where to move after Seattle was a task that defied any clear optimization. Though it seemed trivial compared to all other parameters (job, language, city size, music scene, beer quality etc.), being near mountains was a bigger factor to me than I perhaps dared to admit. In retrospect, it’s something I craved the most during the long years moving around the (mountain-less) world — Cairo and Missouri, where I spent a combined 11 years certainly have their charms, but snowy mountain tops are not among them. Spending some time near the Cascades rekindled my love for the outdoors and for the special kind of suffering that brings you to places not accessible to those with less resolve.

Now, with the mountains an easy train ride away, I can head out almost anytime conditions and time allow. In this case, it was early last Wednesday morning. 1000m of beautiful snow and bluebird skies, a few hours with friends and time to be alone with my thoughts during the meditative ski up the mountain. Steep powder-inspired adrenaline. Back at work by lunch-time.

As usual, the full gallery here.

Early morning commuters

Starting out just after sunrise

Sunrise over the Redertengrat, Lachenstock, Zindlenspitz…

The Wägital still enshrouded by fog

Finally in the sun…

Approaching the upper slopes of Fluebrig

Coming on to the ridge with the retreating moon…

Incredible views from the saddle

Going down — in the end, what every tour is about…

And before heading to the office, a final look back

pre-work lake-to-sky adventuring

Abundant snow fall at low altitudes meant that some “special” tours were doable — including Stöcklichrüz, which is a hill above the town of Lachen on the southern end of the Zürisee. What this tour lacks in fun steep slopes it makes up for with the novelty of skiing basically from lake level…!! Good fun, back at work before lunch time…

Full gallery on www.rokroskarphoto.com.

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First skiing of the season — Redertengrat

… this actually happened two weeks ago, but somehow I haven’t found the five minutes I need to post the pictures. We went to the closest awesome place, Wägital with its always-tracked-to-hell Redertengrat. The freshly-coated forest looked spectacular in the diffuse light coming through the fog and it was a lot of fun trying to capture the feeling on camera. With the falling snow and the wind and the crap that got stuck on my lens somewhere in between and the zero visibility it was pretty satisfying. It looks like it might be a yearly tradition to ski this tour in a white out. Always fun but leaves you wanting just a bit more… aching for the next adventure.

Full gallery on rokroskarphoto.com.

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