Resort and backcountry skiing and snowboarding in Europe and Asia, including our famous reader-submitted No-Bull Snow Reports.
Sun Feb 03, 2013 6:21 pm
“Getting skunked” in the Alps is not getting too little snow during your visit; it’s getting too much. You’re confined to the pistes or next to them and it’s still slow going with tough visibility. Admin and Patrick can confirm that I have a fairly high tolerance for bad light, and both of them have declined to ski lines I favored due to inadequate visibility. Nonetheless in a big storm in the Alps above treeline it’s questionable whether it’s really worth it to be out there. There’s generally no equivalent of Wildcat at Alta or chair 22 at Mammoth for storm day skiing.
A storm was predicted to come in Friday, go all through Saturday and perhaps take a short break Sunday. Friday was still overcast and Richard was definitely not skiing. I planned to go up the long 2-stage Gemsstock tram, ski the pistes and get an idea what was there and investigate the possibility of guided skiing for Sunday if the weather cooperated. Through the ski school a ski guide can be hired for a flat rate of 530 Swiss Francs but it’s one’s own responsibility to form a group to share that cost. As I bought my lift ticket I overhead a couple of Swedes Gunnar and Bo making similar inquiries. I advised them of the weather forecast so they also bought single day tickets.
I went to the top with them and skied the Bernhard Rossi black piste. It was already snowing and thus we had to work our way down slowly. Bo was also in rental boots and skis. Fortunately with NW exposure the subsurface wasn’t bad and the new snow was making it softer. About halfway down we caught a break when some local snowboarders came down and skied just beside the piste marker.
I followed them and found the all soft snow just off the piste to be easier skiing. Eventually the Gemsstock tram midstation came into view.
The black piste is 3,000 vertical from the top and ends a few hundred feet lower the tram midstation at the Gurschenalp chair. We went up that chair and in for a break with the 3 other Swedes in their group. At least a couple of them were interested in the guide for Sunday idea and Gunnar and I exchanged texts to keep in touch as I knew Richard and I would do something other than ski Saturday.
The Swedes were in a different situation as they had flown into Zurich for a 3-day weekend, did not have a car and were eager to ski despite the weather. We came out and skied 3 runs of the Geissgrat T-bar. That was a first tough ride up and one of the Swedes and I were lucky to hang on without falling off. I apologized for the near extinction of T-bars in North America and took future rides by myself to avoid inconveniencing someone else. Sweden is in the rain shadow of Norway’s mountains so they were quite pleased with the soft snow of the T-bar piste, but to my jaded North American view it was still an inconsistent mix of packed and soft snow, and with visibility the nature of each turn was a surprise.
Lunch was about 1-2PM and I had probably had enough, but thought I should hang with the Swedes to inquire about guides at the end of the day. But after 2 more T-bar runs the 2 most eager Swedes headed up top again. By this time it was 3PM and I knew I needed to get down. I skied to the bottom, visibility improving only a little down low, and since the rain/snow line was right in town at Andermatt the lowest few hundred vertical was some very thick snow.
I went into the Gemsstock office to get a list of 4 private guides, but needed to get to the train station at the other end of town in 15 minutes. The bus only runs every half hour so I had to walk it in the rain and I just missed the train and had to wait another 40 minutes to get down to our hotel in Goeschnen. This gave me time to text the list to Gunnar, but I never heard back from him, no surprise in view of the continued bad weather.
Friday night we drove an hour to Lucerne for dinner and to walk around the town a bit. Saturday we drove south to the medieval castle at Bellinzona, lunch at Lake Como and finally down to the Duomo in Milan and dinner there. Richard’s prior Euro ski trips were a mix of skiing and tourism so he was prepared to research alternatives this time too. Andermatt/Goeschenen is convenient for excursions because of the location at the north end of the Gotthard tunnel on the main motorway between Zurich and Milan. I would also note that these alternatives on down days are easier to execute if you have a car. Another option is to stay near Lucerne, where Andermatt is an hour away on one road and the Grindelwald/Wengen/Murren areas are an hour away on a different road. I did check weather forecasts in the Jungfrau region this weekend and they were no better than at Andermatt.
By Sunday morning the forecast had changed from “partly cloudy” to “cloudy.” I nonetheless suited up and Richard drove me up to the Andermatt information office. They reported wind up high so the upper lifts and Natschen and Gemsstock were closed, and Gemsstock would remain closed for avalanche control even if the weather relented. So I decided it made no sense to ski Sunday either. We went to the transportation museum in Lucerne on the way to Zurich. We fly home Monday.
Out of 14 potential ski days, 2 had bad enough weather to not be worth skiing at all and another 3 were weather constrained. I think that’s fairly typical for above tree line areas, and I know of other people's trips that have been much worse. You’re not going to get your powder during storms in the Alps. You do have the advantage of the powder being potentially accessible for several days after storms, especially if you hire off piste guides. But if you want good quality “several days after” powder, altitude and exposure are critical. On my prior trips I noted that Grands Montets and La Grave had exceptionally good snow preservation. Many of the places I visited this time did not, and I chose January for this trip largely for that reason.
Mon Mar 04, 2013 4:10 pm
This might be an interesting read - some idea of what you couldn't see and future plans for Andermatt http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/ski ... 16638.html
Mon Mar 04, 2013 11:26 pm
At the entrance to town there was what appeared to be an arrested construction site. Maybe they don't work on it in the winter, but it looked to me like something that ran out of money and was on hold indefinitely.