2015-01-24

Skiing in Andermatt (Gemsstock)

Ben, Christian and I went for another ski trip on Saturday. We chose Andermatt because none of us was familiar with that resort. Driving around the village looking for a parking spot and ski rental we decided on the Gemsstock gondola. As it turns out Andermatt has three disjoint skiing areas and Gemsstock is the most difficult one for "advanced skiers". We take the second gondola to the very top of the mountain and set off. While the initial plan had us going down a red slope we somehow missed the turn off and landed on a black one instead. For Christian it's the first outing of the season. He handled himself well, being thrown in at the deep end and all that ;-)

It's cold at about -12°C and windy. According to my GPS I manage top speeds of around 77km/h. I don't have proper ski clothing and am using my regular hiking attire. This leads to a novel sensation: not only is my beard and face frozen, but the tip of my nose as well. Weird.

The weather is clear and beautiful at the very top, but we have thick clouds hanging around the 2000m mark. They cause a complete whiteout, so we have to carefully feel our way from one piste marker to the next. You can barely discern the next one in the dense fog. Christian finds one with a little too much speed and crashes right into it, breaking it clean off. A remarkable stunt considering that the poles are solid wood as thick as a man's fist. He's unhurt.

It's funny how your perception changes with the circumstances. I usually despise ski resorts and the way they destroy the mountain wilderness with the pistes cutting through forests and the steel wires of the cable cars disfiguring the mountain skyline. Yet at the same time I find myself disappointed when I have exhausted all available runs at the end of the day. Wishing for more options and better lifts. Oh the hypocrisy. On the other hand the resorts are similar to climbing gyms: training for the real thing. I'm not good enough a skier to go on ski tours just yet, but that has to be the goal. "Earn" a mountain by climbing it under your own power.

Ben and me.
Christian. Thanks for the photos!

2015-01-06

Skiing in Laax

Having exhausted what Engelberg had to offer we went to Laax on Tuesday. A much bigger resort. We had a perfect day of end-to-end runs there. We covered more than 8 vertical kilometers, sampling as many runs as we could. We had a relatively late start in the morning. To make up for this we kept going until the very end. In fact when we took the last lift up the guy operating it was already complaining that he had shut down 10 minutes ago. Well worth it. We had the entire mountain to ourselves in the beautiful fading light of a perfect winter day. Bliss!

The next day Torsten left and Anita's friends Miriam and Anne arrived to stay for a couple of days. Good time all round!

2015-01-05

Skiing in Engelberg part two

Monday comes around and I'm sitting at my desk at work. Torsten is still in Switzerland because his car broke down and he's figuring out how to get it repaired. This was quite an adventure of it's own, but mainly Sarah's to tell, since she originally wanted to drive the car back to Germany and was the unlucky one to have it fail on her. Anyway. Turns out repairs will take a while so Torsten gives me a call at work. The weather is still outrageously good, so it's a quick decision to take two spontaneous days of vacation and go for more skiing! This time we are a lot more confident in our abilities (we had both become rusty after years of not skiing...) and fully exhaust all options available at Engelberg. Including several top-of-the-glacier all-the-way-down-to-the-valley runs which include some yellow "Variantenabfahrten" sections over unprepared but marked slopes through a canyon. Great fun!

The impressive stone fortress of the Gross Spannort (3198m).

2015-01-04

Skiing in Engelberg

Sarah left back home to Köln, Anita had to start working again. That left Torsten and me. We decided to try skiing in Engelberg. Try, because the weather forecast wasn't too good, we were unsure about the snow conditions and most importantly - I wasn't even convinced I could still ski after my accident. Only at the ski rental did I find out that my ankle can bent just enough to fit a ski boot. It's painful getting into and out of one, but once in, I'm good to go! Great relief. We took full advantage of this ;-) At the same time the weather turned out perfect, the snow easily good enough for enjoyable skiing and the slopes nearly deserted. What more could you ask for?

Some people take a more hardcore approach to skiing...
...dude - it's nearly getting dark. Where do you intend to come down?!

2015-01-03

"Schlitteln" (Sledding) at Rigi Kulm

Anke and Richard left back home to Berlin but Sarah and Torsten stayed on for a bit longer. Chilling for a few days had recharged our batteries so we went to Rigi Kulm for some sledding action. The snow by now was no longer perfect, but still good enough for plenty of fun. Don't let the tame pictures fool you - "Schlitteln", as the Swiss call it, is a death defying extreme sport. According to my GPS I've reached top speeds of about 50 km/h which is a _lot_ if you are on an unknown and bumpy track with steep drops and no helmet on a vehicle that has no suspension and is nearly unsteerable. All four of us got thoroughly bumped and bruised. All four of us tremendously enjoyed the experience ;-) We followed up with a nice evening in the Rigi Kaltbad, a spa and sauna with great panoramic views of the alps.

Fun with stormy winds on the summit of the Rigi (1798m).

2015-01-01

New Years 2015 in Zürich

My brothers Torsten and Richard and their girlfriends Sarah and Anke stayed with us over new years. They had all been on a visiting marathon and the stay with Anita and me was the final leg of their journey. Thus our primary job was to cure travel fatigue. I think we succeeded ;-) Over a couple of days we enjoyed a lot of board games; saving the world via deeply philosophical discussions (why do I always end up as the antagonist bogeyman in these?); short strolls in fresh snow; good food and the cult classic movie Feuerzangenbowle to go along with some actual Feuerzangenbowle. Fun times.

2014-12-21

Oberjoch (2486m)

Andrey and I intended to climb the Schwarzhoren ob Grindelwald (2928m). We started a bit later than planned and couldn't park as close to the mountain as we wanted. Leaving the parked car at dawn we made good progress on frozen trails. There is still very little snow in the mountains and we also picked a Southerly approach. Still, by the time we reached the Schreckfeld at 2000 meters altitude we were digging our way through snow. This is a ski area and usually quite busy. Not on this day though. The snow is still not good enough for skiing and most lifts aren't running yet. Perfect for us. Unfortunately it became more and more obvious that we wouldn't reach our objective in time. We estimated at least three more hours to the summit which would leave us only little more than an hour of day light for the return. Maybe we shouldn't have picked the shortest day of the year for a 2000m ascent ;-) It was also getting dangerously warm, increasing the risk for avalanches. So we decided to scramble up the Schynenblatten instead. These are steep slopes (35° - 40°) connecting two ski areas. Turned out to be a lot of fun and provided a feeling of "mountaineering light". We arrived back at the car at sundown, proving we had made the right call not to go for the summit.

~+-1350m, ~22km

Our objective is the peak on the left.


Eiger North Face. This is where legends are born.



We scared these guys.





Me scrambling over the final cornice.


The delta in air pressure is enough to inflate the packaging.


Wetterhorn.