Thursday, March 10, 2011

That's Why They Call It "Touring"

It hasn't snowed in the Tirol region of Austria for 3 weeks. In order to find fresh pow, one has to (A) stay in the very high alpine terrain, where the temps remain cold day and night, and (B) ski where nobody else knows or dares.

As you can see from the above photo, we found plenty of fresh pow today. We (4 Crazy-ass Austrians, Ted, myself) drove an hour over to Zell Am Ziller, took the lifts up to get free 3000 ft altitude (actually it cost 11 Euro), then toured up to, and skied, the tallest peak in Tirol. The terrain was pretty gnarly.

How gnarly was it?

Answer: I wore my helmet on my way up.

Ski crampons are great. Not too many skiers know what they are, but my crampies saved my ass today. When you're climbing icy, wind-swept alpine terrain on skins and it gets too steep for your skins to hold, you use ski crampons. I deployed mine today, and I was Shut-The-Front-Door happy I had them. It's 10:30 PM now, and I might still be out there if I didn't have them in my pack.

Touring is so much different in AUT than in North America. In places like Revelstoke and in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, you really don't have to worry about falling off mountains while ski touring. You may get knocked off the mountain by an avalanche, you may get unlucky or stupid and fall off some rocks, but the snow is so deep that if you slip while climbing on your skins, you'll probably slide about two meters before you ker-plunk into 10 meters of snow like a lawn dart.

In Austria, not so much. Much shallower snow pack here, and the milder temperatures cause ice on many West- and South-facing slopes. If you slip in a bad place, you may slide down a few thousand vertical feet and through several different ZIP codes before you hit something hard enough to make you stop. It's definitely a concern. I would never tour here without my posse of crazy-ass Austrians who have been touring these mountains for 50 years and will not let me get hurt.

Ted grabbing fresh tracks. Nice jaaaaaaaaaacket....does it come in a mens model?

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