Day 6: Gargellen, AT to Klosters, CH
Gargellen is a small (compared to everything else) but interesting ski area from which you can start or end a number of ski tours. Since I'd never really done anything like that, I figured that it’s now or never and made plans to do the Madrisa Tour, which takes you over the border into Switzerland and back. You can see the beginning in the upper right corner and the end in the upper left corner.
For experienced turn-earners, Madrisa is rated as technically easy, but keep in mind that I only had six lift-served days under my belt before leaving for Austria, and then five bell-to-bell days on this trip, so my legs were hardly in top shape to say nothing about my level of endurance. Add to that a foggy day with flat light and this resort hacker had a nice list of excuses. As Admin and Co. can attest (Jitterbug, i.e. the Jamesdeluxe Memorial Bootpack), it's rarely a pretty sight, but I finished.
My guide Jonny Marinac sized me up, LOL, and we headed to the mid-mountain restaurant to look at maps, discuss the route, snow conditions, avalanche danger (Level 3), and the terrain that we could safely ski/skin through. We also took a look at the display that explained the history of the Madrisa Tour and the 40 years of cooperation between Austria and Switzerland to keep the route accessible for people on both sides of the border.
From the top lift, we skied down and started our way up a little more than 1,000 verts.
Throughout, Jonny gave tips about proper form to avoid tiring inefficient movements, of which I had plenty. He normally would have zoomed up the track in no time, I’m sure, but made sure to stay within sight of me. It was pretty obvious that he'd guided every level of guest imaginable and had plenty of patience.
We made it to the top by 11 am, where there's a Switzerland border sign.
And started the 3,300 vertical-foot descent. Given that this is a popular route, there would be some isolated tracks on a sunny day, but with the fog and recent snow, it was soft, untracked knee-deep the whole way down.
View from the bottom:
A walking encyclopedia of the region, Jonny could identify and/or tell stories about every village, peak, and rock formation on this route and dozens of others.
We skated into St. Antönien for a break.
You take a bus or taxi into Klosters and up the Madrisa side via a gondola and two really long t-bars. As I heard at length from several people, at many Swiss ski areas, where prices have always been quite high, there's been a noticeable lack of investment in new lifts over the last decade or two at all but the really high-end resorts (Zermatt, etc.), especially in comparison to Austria, where a decent percentage of ski areas have really up-to-date lift infrastructure: high-speed lifts with bubbles, heated seats in gondolas (no joke). In fact, several times during this trip, when there was a rare older lift or t-bar in Bregenzerwald or Montafon, locals got really apologetic and explained that said lift was slated to be replaced soon. I told them to give me a break -- they were spoiled.
Another interesting development is the Swiss central bank's recent decision to scrap its currency cap. Long story short, it's now even MORE expensive to go on vacation in Switzerland than it already was. I heard numerous stories of large-scale cancellations at Swiss resorts and the tourism industry being adversely affected in general. Of course, the Austrians are noticing an increase in business due to this, including from Swiss people, whom I ran into to frequently.
Finally above the inversion, everyone was happy.
It was here that we nailed the best powder of the tour: south-facing but superbly preserved. Unfortunately, I was whooping it up too much to take photos. We finished the day with a 1,200-vert skin up the other side of the Madrisa -- back into high winds, fog, and snow -- before reaching the border back into Austria.
We embarked on another long flat-light powder run back to Gargellen, by which time I was clearly dragging. 7.5 hours after departure, we stopped at a base restaurant for drinks and pizza. Thanks again to Jonny for being a fantastic Bergführer. A great experience, especially for those in better shape than me.