Up, up and away for family thrills
‘Ski Sunday’ presenter Graham Bell gives his daughter an introduction to ski touring in the Austrian backcountry
Once the preserve of leathery-faced old men who trudged off into the backcountry, ski touring has boomed in popularity in recent years. Many more people now appreciate the freedom and solitude of getting off the beaten track, potentially to access acres of untracked powder. As an oldish, slightly weather-beaten man myself, I can see the attraction of sticking climbing skins on the bases of my skis and hiking up for a couple of hours, with a glorious descent as payback. On a family trip to Lech am Arlberg in Austria last Easter, I wanted to see if I could persuade my sporty, but truculent, 17-year-old daughter that uphill can be fun.
Lottie was introduced to skiing at a very early age. She first took to the slopes when she was a year old, strapped on my back in a baby carrier, then began skiing between my legs the season after. When she was 13, after countless ski holidays, I took Lottie on an off-piste trip from Champoluc in Italy to Zermatt in Switzerland, which included a 4,500m heliski drop on the Monte Rosa. So she can cope with challenging terrain skiing down, but she’d never had to hike up.
My wife, Sarah, and son Louis, 20, are also strong skiers. But they made it clear from the outset that they had no desire to give ski touring a go, preferring instead to explore the pistes of Lech and the linked resort of Zürs and to enjoy the slope facilities.
At the top of Zürs, I gave Lottie a quick refresher on how to use her avalanche safety gear. As with many resorts that offer great off-piste, Lech has its own transceiver training area with pre-buried devices on which to practise. However, I wanted to make the simulation a bit more realistic, with some probing and shovelling, so I buried my transceiver in my backpack just off the edge of the piste and asked Lottie to find it.
As a product of the Game Boy generation, she worked out how to use my BCA Tracker 3 transceiver in a matter of minutes. She then proceeded to conduct a near-perfect search, working her way slowly to the target, kicking off her skis to crawl in for the last few metres, marking with her glove the spot where she thought the backpack was buried. She then pulled out her probe and hit my backpack on the first attempt. Of course, I was aware that she might react very differently under the pressure of a real-life rescue, but it was comforting