It had been a long time coming. Finally we got our act together and coordinated a girls only ski weekend.
Its not that we have anything against guys coming along (they can be quite good at snow shovelling and digging) but as you can imagine, the dynamics of a group of girls ( bitching, cat-fights, crying) is quite different to that of a mixed sex group (bet the guys are turned off now)
Here are some nice photos of the weekend on Flickr
I got the train on Saturday morning with Abi and Mathilde in the direction of Goschenen and changed a few times to arrive at Andermatt at about 9.30. The plan was to meet the rest of the group, Heather, Kate and Kat at the hotel they had stayed in the night before, and catch a gondola for some piste runs before tackeling the back of Gemstock and some freeride skiing.
The conditions were perfect – we had inches of snow. Beautiful fluffy powder and I just couldnt wait to get stuck in!
Our first few runs on piste were fine, Kate had a look at our skiing, gave me and Abi some pointers and we were deemed fit enough to handle the freeriding! I only started skiing last year but I already feel so comfortable and confident off-piste that its all I want to do. To hell with pistes and crowds and waiting for gondolas and give me fluffy powder any day.
The run through the valley behind Gemstock was amazing. Like fairytale land, quiet unspoilt and with very few tracks. After we descended the first slope we came to some smooth randonee trails we could just float along. We came to a collapsed track over a little stream, obviously there had been too many skitourers passing over the iced section and it had collapsed. We also came across an avalanche field whcih we had to ski over, always quite tricky as the balls of fresh avalanched snow freeze quite quickly creating cannon sized balls of frozen ice. Quite tricky to tackle on skis.
Ski Touring / Backcountry skiing / Ski Mountaineering
After we had done most of the descending it was time to skin up and get the `felle` on our skis. In case you dont know what I am talking about here is some background info on skitouring from Wikipedia.
We made it back to Andermaat, starving at about 13.30 and had enough time to buy some food in Coop while the rest of the group collected some left belongings at the hotel, to…miss the train up to Oberalpass! Bummed, we had to wait an hour for the next one. But we still had time to make it to the hut before dusk.
From Oberalp to Maighels
We made it up to Oberalpass and skied down into the valley which would eventually lead us to the gentle climb into the next Maighels valley where the hut was located. Unfortunately we put our skins on a little too early and had a quick lesson on skiing with skins on (as opposed to climbing) there were a few falls and face plants and it was quite funny to watch each other build up some speed and then all of a sudden stop and fall over. The skins make it quite difficult to guage speed as it decreases and increases without warning with skins on.
The climb was going to take us about 1.5 hours to the hut. Nothing serious and very gradual…I was looking forward to doing some work and having a beer in the warm hut at the end of the day. As we ascended, the views and the surroundings were absolutely spectacular. There is an eerie stillness in the mountains which always seems to be amplified at dusk by the colours of the sky.
Easy there tiger!
We were going at a pretty moderate pace and according to Kate at “text book speed”. Although 4 out of 6 of us had ski touring experience, two of the girls didnt but one was a very experienced skier and the other, like me, didnt have so much ski experience. However, I have a lot of mountain touring experience and some ski and snow shoe touring under my belt and I feel totally at home in the mountains. But the groupmember who had least experience found that climb to the hut, tough.
Open Mountain Experience
It is so easy for an experienced mountaineer or adventurer to underestimate the impact of a first real open mountain experience on the human mind and body. I remember my first ski tour, I was absolutely destroyed after the first 3 hours. Everything was swollen from the altitude and my entire face was sunburnt as it was late Spring. My feet hurt from all the blisters, my knees hurt as I had fallen a couple of times and I couldnt wait to get to the hut. I was also extremely dehydrated. As we approached the hut Kate and I were up front and so engrossed in conversation that we didnt notice we had been opening up a gap on the rest of the group, we both knew that the hut was very close so we didnt think anything of it and we continued to motor on, knowing that we were also in a wide, open valley, with little to no avalanche risk. This had a grave impact on a member of the group behind us, as insecurity rose about the remaining distance to the hut. She felt uncomfortable in her surroundings and capabilities and we should have recognised that earlier. There was a moment of panic and nerves, an alarm was raised, but as soon as we re-grouped the distress ended and we carried on for the last 45 minutes to our destination.
The alpine huts are mostly owned be the SAC (Swiss Alpine Association) you can become a memeber and receive a discount for your board. Suffice to say, as with most things Swiss, they are extremely well organised and efficient. Depending on the accessibility of the individual hut, supplies are brought in by helicopter or snow mobile and the food is for the most part, delicious! For a night in one of these warm cosy huts with dinner and a couple of beers (as much as you can eat) expect to pay about 80 Francs (50 Euros).