Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ski touring in Switzerland 2014 to 2015

As the current ski season draws to a close, I should recap the ski touring that we did on the previous season. Since Laure was pregnant, we took things relatively laid back for the most part.

Oberiberg night tour with Stephen

Early in the season, I decided to go ski touring as much as possible as a form of training for the Japan ski trip later. I met a guy named Stephen through a Meet Up group on the internet that wanted to train at a local resort at night, so I said, why not?
It seemed kind of crazy but cool to go ski touring at night.

Stephen turned out to be a super cool guy that was starting to do Ski Mountaineering races. He had a bunch of super light ski gear that he could put on or take off in a matter of seconds. Since the avalanche danger was basically zero (we were practicing on the resort piste), Stephen and I split up and he did three laps during the time that I did two.
The 472 m elevation gain over 7.5 km was enough to warm up our legs at Oberiberg.

During the couple hours we were out, we came across a few other skiers. It felt like we were part of some cool club. On the other hand, I had this crazy fear that a Snow Cat would pop out of nowhere and run me over without noticing my headlamp.

Furgellen hut with Laure and Ralf

Last season, Ralf finally agreed to go on a tour with me and Laure despite the fact that we're splitboarders. We went up to cute little place called Furgellen hut located somewhere within an hour drive.
I love seeing ski touring and snowshoeing signs in Switzerland.
The sports are so approachable here compared to back in the States.

The tour was nice and mellow, which was a nice way for Laure to warm up her legs for the season while baking a bun in the oven.
Taking it easy.
The hut is a short 431 m climb from the trailhead.

As luck would have it, the ridge was pretty windy. So instead of summiting the peak, we decided to hang out at the hut and slurp down some hot soup while our jackets dried. At the hut, we saw many other skiers, some of whom were probably in their 60s. I love how ski touring is a national sport in Switzerland for all sexes and ages.
Here comes Laure carrying our little one.
Don't forget Ralf!
We climbed 431 m over 6.6 km to the Furgellen hut.

Schafberg attempt with Laure

Laure and I attempted to climb a peak named Schafberg. Unfortunately most of the tour was under the clouds, which was cold and somewhat depressing. Since we started late and were running short on time, we decided to turn around early to ensure that we could make our way back without risking losing sunlight. We came to a mere 124 vertical meters and 1 km away from the hut, so it was a difficult decision to turn around. Times like these test our rationality and commitment to safety.
Laure's huge smile when we cleared the clouds.
Finally above the clouds.

On our way down, we were once again engulfed in the clouds. Our visibility was so terrible that we could barely see our own snowboards. We had to move very slowly to ensure we didn't go off a cliff. This made our descent painfully slow and cold. To make maters worse, Laure had a major equipment failure and one of her bindings broke just before we rode down. We improvised with a multi-use strap to hold her foot down to the board to get her down the mountain.
We always carry this orange strap with us. So many uses for just 5 dollars.
Crappy visibility once we were back under the clouds.
Despite our failed attempt at Schafberg, a 960 m climb over 12.7 km is still not too bad for a pregnant lady!

Stotzigen Firsten attempt with Luc, Mark, and Eleanor

Next day, I met up with other ski tourers to attempt climbing Stotzigen Firsten -- spoiler alert: we failed. I had known Luc through work and I had gone ski touring with Mark and Eleaner in a guided tour during the previous season. Laure decided to take the day off from skiing that day.
Eleanor had previously done this route and led us most of the way.
We were climbing some badly wind scoured stuff. The other side of the valley looked better.
We stopped at a hut shelter for a quick lunch as the clouds started kicking in.

From the hut shelter, it seemed that all the ski tracks above us had been hammered flat by the wind. We were uncertain about continuing the route on a very solid snowpack without any visual cues of previous skiers. We also saw an alternative route that had been protected from the wind south of the ridge. But it was on a roughly 28 degree bowl without any previous tracks, which seemed borderline risky for avalanches. A few of us (myself included) felt unsure about proceeding, so we all agreed to turn around and enjoy the snow below us.

In hindsight, we would have probably been okay to climb the original route with ski crampons, but it would have been purely just to summit. The snow on the ridge was likely scoured all the way to the summit with terrible snow for skiing.
Eleanor near the point where we turned around.
The clouds kept shifting in and out with the wind.
Arrrgh!
We actually got some great low angled snow as consolation prize.
We climbed 957 m over 12.3 km towards Stotzigen Firsten.

Hokkaido, Japan

Becky in Hokkaido.
I wrote a separate blog post of my ski touring in Japan.

Blüemberg with Fernando

My last tour last season was climbing Blüemberg with my friend Fernando, who was visiting from the States.
We start by taking a public "bus" to the gondola.
The tiny gondola looked like something preserved from the mining days of the nearby village.
Lidernenhütte is a popular hut located near the top of the gondola.

From the top of the gondola, we made a short ascent to a nearby peak named Blüemberg. The sun was out and the sky was clear, which was great weather for touring. Fernando was still getting over his jet lag, so he was hurting a little.
The last few meters to the peak are steep and require some scrambling with a steel cable.
We descended the north face of Blüemberg, which was surprisingly tracked out.
It's funny how you can sometimes find more ski tracks in the backcountry than at resorts in Switzerland.

The snowpack was very stable, which was great for us to descend a slope that usually has a non-trivial danger of avalanches. On the other hand, the snow was tracked out and heavy, which was not the best for skiing. I guess you can't have it all.
The snow thinned out at lower elevations and we hiked the rest of the way.
We climbed 786 meters to Blüemberg and descended 1,742 meters on its north face covering 14.2 km.