across the alps ON SKIS

Adventure - - Downhill Mtb -

I was lis­ten­ing to Elvis in­stead of Mat­tias’ new road com­puter and ac­ci­den­tally took the wrong exit out­side Turino in Italy. I am now head­ing to­wards the Aosta val­ley in­stead of Milano on our way to Aus­tria. I can hear the guys back in the car - Mats, Jonatan and Mat­tias - think­ing this is quite funny and at the same time a bit wor­ry­ing - won­der­ing what the next seven weeks are re­ally go­ing to be like, when we will do our first part travers­ing the Alpine Arc on skis with a guide who can’t even fol­low the right di­rec­tions from a road com­puter.

Well, we are fi­nally back on track again to­wards Aus­tria where this whole ad­ven­ture is start­ing. Ac­cord­ing to our orig­i­nal plan we are three days late. Good start… We are de­layed be­cause of a never-end­ing dump in my home­town La Grave. The road was blocked for two of the days and on the third day we just could not leave the pow­der moun­tain in La Grave with­out putting some tracks on parts of it af­ter a four day long storm. This whole trip is about good ski­ing and life qual­ity, so leav­ing La Grave and the mighty Meije in per­fect pow­der con­di­tions had not been pos­si­ble. With a slightly de­layed start our ski tour be­gins in the mid­dle of “Week 1” so that we can stick to the rest of our orig­i­nal plan, as dif­fer­ent groups will show up ev­ery week and join us for parts of our jour­ney through the Alps. We – the core team – are Jonatan Hultén and I, moun­tain guides in pro­fes­sion, and Mat­tias Jo­hans­son, a ski­ing and climb­ing en­thu­si­ast who has taken a long break from his nor­mal job to ski through the Alps. We are go­ing to tra­verse the Alpine Arc dur­ing two win­ters seek­ing the best way to ski it, and plan to reach the fa­mous Cote d’Azur at the Mediter­ranean Sea, April 8, 2007. Ev­ery week eight to ten skiers join us to ex­pe­ri­ence a part of this long ski ad­ven­ture tak­ing us all the way to the glam­orous beaches off Nice.

Soar; af­ter 10 hours in the car, we take the lift to Ru­dolfhüt­teAlpinzen­trum, the start­ing point of our tour. Aus­tria rules al­ready the first evening when we en­joy a great din­ner buf­fet along with the ap­pro­pri­ate ‘weis­bier’. We all agree that we have to get back to Ru­dolf­shütte to ski some more in the area. Al­though, ap­par­ently, this is some­thing we will agree on in al­most ev­ery val­ley, hut or ski re­sort we pass dur­ing this amaz­ing jour­ney on skis through the

Alps. Very in­spir­ing ac­tu­ally to re­alise that there are so many great places through­out the en­tire Alps!

Two more kick-turns and we are in Hin­teres Um­baltörl, the sec­ond pass to­day, at 2845m. The last leg is a bit slow. We have climbed just over 1200 ver­ti­cal me­tres to­day. Once at the pass we can see down into the other side, per­fect snow and big open bowls that will take us down into Italy and the Ahrn­tal val­ley. This is the first border we cross on skis. Af­ter a short break with a hot drink from the ther­mos and a Pow­erBar, the much-needed en­ergy comes back to us so we can truly en­joy the run. A few care­ful turns to check the snow be­fore we all let our skis go and cruise down th­ese great bowls in big, open turns. Ev­ery­one gets re­ally in­spired from the en­ergy in the group on the last fields down into Italy. The scene looks more like full-on freerid­ing than tra­di­tional ski tour­ing. When cross­ing the stream over frozen slip­pery rocks to get into a cross coun­try track that takes us the last kilo­me­tre down to Kasern, there is al­most an re­li­gious spirit in the lit­tle ”Alp travers­ing” team. This is what it is all about. We stop at the first bar we see, with big grins on our faces we or­der a ”birra” and start talk­ing about where to sleep tonight…

The first weeks of this ski­ing ad­ven­ture through the Alps are even bet­ter than ex­pected. We are spend­ing the nights in un­guarded huts, we do not see a sin­gle ski track and the ski­ing is just as good as it gets. We meet a lot of great, nice and help­ful peo­ple and when­ever we get to civil­i­sa­tion the food is out­stand­ing. We learn that both Aus­tria and South-Ty­rol (North Italy) are easy and friendly places to be in. The lodg­ing is cheap. In the val­leys we stay in “Zim­mer-frei”-places and get a huge break­fast served by the land­lady in the fam­ily kitchen. Beau­ti­ful. It is easy to get back east to pick up the van af­ter each week, thanks to the wellor­gan­ised ”Post­bus” bus sys­tem that seems to go even to the deep­est and most forgotten val­leys. We are tour­ing from Sun­day morn­ing to Fri­day night link­ing the dif­fer­ent val­leys and more or less well known ski re­sorts, keep­ing an av­er­age of 1000m climb­ing a day, and there­after well de­served, long, ex­cit­ing runs down. Ev­ery Satur­day there is a new group of en­thu­si­as­tic skiers or

snow­board­ers show­ing up to join the tour and the “old” group goes back home with a lot of mem­o­ries and some­times pain in their legs.

To ar­rive in an un­guarded hut is an ad­ven­ture in it­self. We share the work that has to be done to be able to en­joy the evening and to be in good shape and mood for to­mor­row. Quite of­ten you have to start the hut visit with shov­el­ling, to clear the front door from snow. Ev­ery hut in Aus­tria seems to have a wood stove, so one per­son has to start work­ing on get­ting the fire go­ing. Then the wa­ter, ei­ther to find the stream that al­most al­ways is in the close sur­round­ings of a hut, or to start melt­ing snow. It takes a se­ri­ous amount of wa­ter to feed a group of tired ski tour­ers for the night and the fol­low­ing day. In Fe­bru­ary and March the day­light goes quite fast, so most of the time this is done by the light of head­lamps. Days be­come weeks and we pass val­ley af­ter val­ley on our ski jour­ney west­wards. When we once again put the skins on one morn­ing, I re­alise that we will leave Aus­tria be­hind for this time and ski into Switzer­land. Quite amaz­ing, we have al­ready crossed two coun­tries, Aus­tria and South-Ty­rol, on our trip to­wards the Mediter­ranean Sea. Well, South-Ty­rol is part of Italy but af­ter spend­ing some time here I be­lieve the South-Ty­roleans con­sider their land to be its own coun­try; a mish-mash be­tween Ital­ian and Ger­manic – with the great Ital­ian food and cul­ture, the Ger­manic or­der and most peo­ple speak­ing Ger­man. Any­way, the tour has so far zigzagged over th­ese two borders. To­day we will cross the Swiss border to do an­other two weeks on this win­ter’s part of our Alp tra­verse. An­other Satur­day, a new group of keen skiers with a lot of ex­pec­ta­tions show up. We are in a park­ing area out­side a ho­tel in the Ro­manic speak­ing part of Switzer­land, hand­ing out the safety equip­ment. Bat­ter­ies are be­ing checked in the avalanche trans­ceivers. A shovel, probe, har­ness and head­lamp are handed out to each and ev­ery­one. Climb­ing skins, ski cram­pons and skis are ad­justed to fit the skis. Well, then it is time for the guide’s opin­ion on the weight of ev­ery pack. On a full week of ski tour­ing you can­not bring too much. Ba­si­cally you climb, ski, eat and sleep in the same clothes for a week! We have seen quite a lot of bad weather so far on this tour. In­tense nav­i­ga­tion and tough de­ci­sions are sig­nif­i­cant, es­pe­cially when

trav­el­ling in new ter­rain ev­ery day. This week, the sec­ond-last on the tour, is go­ing to be like the pre­vi­ous week con­sid­er­ing the weather. Plan A turns into plan B which quite quickly moves on to C and D be­fore it is Fri­day. De­spite quite dif­fi­cult weather it turns out to be an­other great week with un­for­get­table pow­der runs. Not to men­tion the last day’s climb of Ober­alp­stock with ex­cel­lent con­di­tions and great snow.

A week later we are re­lax­ing in some deck chairs in a forgotten val­ley in Switzer­land, a side val­ley of Bin­ntal, which in it­self prob­a­bly is quite un­known. It is late in the af­ter­noon and the place is more than unique. It is some kind of camp that is run by a fam­ily that brings out a pic­ture in my head of a quite fa­mous mo­tor­cy­cle club with roots in the early 70’s in San Fran­cisco. Any­way, they are very nice peo­ple and there we are, hav­ing a cold beer look­ing at the set­ting sun on Easter Fri­day, just one day away from the end of this first stage of the Alp Tra­verse. I sleep like a baby de­spite the pa­per walls and squeak­ing beds. Af­ter an ex­cel­lent break­fast boosted with painted eggs to salute the day, we are off again. The skins are back un­der the skis and we start to climb through a dense for­est. Af­ter a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres we are fi­nally get­ting onto my map, that par­tic­u­lar map I could just not get hold of. Good thing I got the rest of the last day on the map, at mid­day the clouds move in and the vis­i­bil­ity closes in. The last part of the run down to Col de Sim­plon is quite steep and the ter­rain is com­pli­cated. Fi­nally we are at the side of the road and can take the skis off. Half an hour later we catch a bus to Brig where we jump on a train back to An­der­matt, just in time for a slow, late sea­son af­ter-ski and a beer to cel­e­brate a nice seven week long ski tour. It is rain­ing and I am truly en­joy­ing not wor­ry­ing about the weather fore­cast for to­mor­row. Per Ås is a cer­ti­fied UIAGM moun­tain guide, a Swede liv­ing with his fam­ily in the leg­endary off-piste re­sort La Grave in France. Per is a true dis­ci­ple of life qual­ity – good food, good ski­ing and good times. He has been dream­ing of travers­ing the Alps for a long time – and is now mak­ing this dream come true to­gether with friends and clients. Why? To see and ex­pe­ri­ence more beau­ti­ful places in the Alps, es­pe­cially en­joy­ing all the great runs there are to be dis­cov­ered.

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