Christian and I went to Laax on Sunday. We got fresh snow the night before which meant that we were skiing what's probably the best powder I've ever experienced. Mind you, that isn't saying all that much because I haven't been skiing a lot. I've tried staying outside of the prepared slopes as much I could, slowly learning how to ski off-piste. We always stayed close to the marked runs though because you could see fresh avalanches on most of the surrounding faces and visibility was hit or miss the entire day. Sometimes the clouds would open up and you'd be rewarded with fantastic vistas and the next moment you couldn't see the hand in front of your eyes. We had a chance meeting with Thomas and Julia and two friends from Argentina and joined them for a few runs in the afternoon. We managed about 80km and top speeds exceeding 85km/h. On the very last run of the day, when the lifts had already stopped running and we were just going back down to the valley, I bragged to Christian how I hadn't had a proper crash since I've picked up skiing again in Switzerland. Jinxed it of course. A few minutes later I was tumbling down the mountain. Serves me right I guess ;-) It was also the first day I was wearing my new helmet (or a helmet at all for that matter)...
Mark, Mark, Marc, Thomas, Ben, Samuel, Andreas, Emilia and I went skiing in Laax. Saturday was a glorious weather day with blue skies and no wind. Samuel and I arrived together while the others were already on the slopes. We went up the wrong mountain and split up. Samuel in search of his buddies who, as it later turned out, had a few beers, went off piste and got lost. Meanwhile I started a scavenger hunt trying to catch up with the main party. The way this worked was that they'd send me a text message with the lift they had just been on. I was three lifts behind at the start of the day. Towards the end I finally caught up with them and we had the last few runs together. Great fun.
We got fresh snow on Sunday. Unfortunately it was a little too fresh - it was snowing quite heavily all day, making visibility very poor. At the same time a fierce wind was blowing so that the snow was drifting horizontally. At some points on the slopes it was a fight between gravity pulling you down hill and the wind blowing you up - with no clear winner. I later learned on the radio that the gusts on the summits exceeded 100km/h wind speeds. Unsurprisingly most lifts weren't running and we had to content ourselves with the lower pistes. The big gondola was swaying so much they had to stop it and carefully inch past a pylon, lest it crashes into it. A frozen beard day ;-) According to my GPS I reached top speeds of 87km/h. Definitely time to buy a helmet... it should arrive this week. I like going fast a little too much and currently my desire for speed is greater than my ability to control it. Practice required.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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.
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.