Andermatt, Switzerland: March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

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Andermatt, Switzerland: March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

Postby ChrisC » Thu Aug 20, 2020 8:41 pm

I had meetings in Europe in early March - so I was looking for an Alps resort that had made it through a relatively snowless and sunny mid winter with good conditions. Andermatt previously received the large early season snowfall from the South (i.e. Venice floods) in November and December - reporting a 450 cm base .... and there was on/off snow forecasted for the weekend.

Tony and I skied Andermatt-Gemstock last year, but it was not really advisable to ski a lot of the famous off-piste routes/faces since it is difficult to scope them out from from the pisted/developed bowls. The Gemstock is a conical stand almost stand-alone mountain - with the option of skiing nearly 360 degrees from the summit.

Another reason it is difficult to explore Andermatt-Gemstock - the lack of opportunities for joining a guided group. A standalone guide for a day from Andermatt Guides http://www.andermatt-guides.ch/EN/winter.htmlis" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; 650 CHF. Guided groups are only available on Fridays for a more reasonable 170 CHF. (Comparatively, neighboring Engelberg had guided groups to join on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to ski their BIG 5 off piste areas for 170 CHF). The first time exploring the remote off-piste in Andermatt - you should have a guide

The exception to the above guiding options is once a year - early March - when Andermatt Guides host Freeride Days over a long weekend -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This year's dates were March 6-8, 2020 -- and there are a ton of great choices -- Freeride full days, Freeride half days, Avalanche Courses, Steep Skiing Courses, Touring Courses, Technique and Demo Days - combined with block parties in town on Friday and Saturday A guided Freeride Day was 170 CHF - and you could also purchase lift tickets via Andermatt Guides for 50 CHF.

Prior to arriving in Andermatt on Thursday night, I signed up for full day Freeride Groups on Friday and Saturday -- and was enjoying it so much I added a half day AM on Sunday. This also let me ski the 'new' Andermatt-to-Disentis link on Sunday afternoon.

Piste Map - Some of the more famous off-piste lines are spelled out: Guspis, Felesental, Giessberg, etc.

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Fat Map - The blue are the off-piste routes

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Topo Map -Major Off piste areas highlighted.

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I prefer North being page up
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Day 1:Friday, March 6th

I arrived in Andermatt Thursday evening March 5th. The town is really dead during the week. Restaurants/bars were maybe 30%+ full and no one on streets - but that's fine with me. It's very much a weekend town.
(Just a note about lodging in Andermatt - you cannot just go to Expedia and book a room. Most inns are still very local and not on American travel sites - you need to use either 1. Booking.com (European origination) or 2. Email/call places directly.)

It started snowing lightly in the evening and continued on/off throughout the night - awoke to about 4-6" new in the morning (near 8" by day end). There were only 2 Freeride groups on Friday (they would run a lot more on the weekends). I was the only American - and English speaker. No Brits :shock: Most group members were Swiss - German, and a couple Swiss - Italian. The guides could speak much better English than they gave themselves credit for - and all the Swiss could speak English. They would help out. Some alpine ski terms - combined with ski pole pointing - are universal. I never felt lost. They also were extremely nice to me - always giving first tracks. \:D/ Sometimes even before the guide.

Friday was snowy and cloudy all day -- combined with some wind on top - the summit tram never opened. Me: crap - I'm at Andermatt paying for a guide ....and just the hell T-bar is open...lower tram and 6-pack too. I was wrong. No one was at the mountain but us Freeriders and a Touring Group. And the T-bar was access to some nice off-piste near the T-bar .... and the famous East Side of Andermatt. We would either traverse off the backside/eastside from T-bar ... or hike above the T-bar. I probably did every variation of the off-piste areas known as Geissberg and Gemsplaggne. The vertical was a respectable 3200-3400 vertical ft.


Overview

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SkiTracks

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Due to the snow and wind - not too many photos. Most of these are on the East Side - Geissberg and Gemsplaggne areas since the Gemstock semi-shielded these areas from the fog/low clouds. There was noticeable wind-loading due to westerlies / northwesterlies. Overall - it turned out to be a great storm day. The terrain was a series of steep open faces - with some cliffs/rocky areas separating them. Quite steep in parts. Important note: there were some Alders that provided definition on the lower 1/3 of the run.

Our group hiking made the Instagram feed
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My photos:

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Alders at the base:
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There is a huge waterfall/gorge that you must cross to get back to the tram - with a rather tenuous traverse intersecting it. In order to find the safe crossing - you must keep your eye out for a small church located above the town of Andermatt.
Last edited by ChrisC on Sat Aug 22, 2020 1:05 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Andermatt, Switzerland: March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

Postby ChrisC » Fri Aug 21, 2020 4:25 pm

Day 2: Saturday, March 7th

Another larger storm moved overnight leaving about 8-10" on the Gemstock and about 6" in town. Combined with the previous day's snowfall - there was easily 12-18" in places. The tram opened - despite poor visibility in the morning - and it had been closed on both Thursday and Friday. The limiting factor was the storm - but it must have been coming in from the West/Northwest - since the Eastside runs were again shielded by the mountain at times. The main bowl of the Gemstock had OK-to-poor lines at times - while the Festenal area was getting the storm full-on most of the day.

AM walk to tram through Andermatt
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I had a new guide today who - despite the conditions - just skied in sunglasses all day. WTF?! He knew Andermatt so well that he was skiing almost by Braille. I had 2 others in my group from the previous day - who semi-served as German-to-English translators. Gemstock tram lines for a Saturday with great snow were non-existent - walk on every time - both upper/lower trams. I was a bit surprised - Jackson would have been a horrible.

We tried a run in the Festenal area - great powder - but visibility was difficult.

Afterwards - our guide took us on the off-piste areas east of the Russi Run in the main bowl. He was able to string together many steep faces marked by some cliff zones/rocks to provide perspective. Excellent - even some sun breaks. Except for the Andermatt Guides group - most were staying very close to the marked piste / Russi Run.


Fat Map overview
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The third run of the day was perhaps my best ever in the Alps. We were going to do another off-piste run in the main bowl - but our guide pointed us to perhaps Andermatt's most classic and famous line - Giraf - due to a sun break on the East side of Gemstock. No one had skied at 9:30 am - so we had first tracks for a nearly 5000 vertical to the valley floor traverse.

The line is amazing - one couloir at the top, a big open middle, and a huge long couloir for the exit. The giraffe name comes from the exit couloir since it is reminiscent of a the neck of the animal. Luckily the egress couloir had been untouched and filled in so it was amazing.

Fat Map overview
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Pics - used my 'stupid American' / 'I traveled so far' card to have 2nd tracks after the guide for most of the way.


Couloir 1
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Open middle
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Couloir 2 - the neck of the Giraffe
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The guide said he usually saves this for a last run - since the traverse to Andermatt is a trek. About 30+min. However, he thought the moment was worth it - I agree!

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guide
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if only all traverses were like this
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Tracks
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After lunch we went and did one of the steeper semi-inbounds couloirs -- Gipfel Couloir

I had to go look up what we skied. After a shot hike, the couloir was tight and super steep - and also on the stormy Festenal Bowl area - but opened up into some super deep powder skiing once our of the couloir proper. No one had gone near this couloir all day - except our crazy guide in sunglasses.

Fat Maps - Gipfel Couloir
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Borrowed photos:
Hike up on the ridge
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Couloir down
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I just stopped with photos .... too difficult. We did another semi-Giraf loop into Andermatt where there was free Raclette.

Andermatt Guide photo - guide in sunglasses - in red.
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The guy on the left knew a lot about the WePowder site - including the founders. He was a Zurich local - asked him a lot about where to ski locally. The Swiss really do not like to drive more than 30-90 min to ski.

Also, my Swiss group really did not like Engelberg (when I brought it up). They think it has been overrun by powder hungry Scandis - and gets skied to quickly. No one was a fan. Me: It has amazing terrain - I guess to accessible.

BTW - Andermatt was mobbed on a Saturday night. If you ever plan to stay over on a Saturday - get something lined up 48 hours beforehand.

The group was very well-accomplished: most had been to Western Canada, Japan, Kamchatka, Gulmarg, etc. .... I had to take notes.
Last edited by ChrisC on Sat Aug 22, 2020 12:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Andermatt, Switzerland: March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Aug 22, 2020 9:50 am

That's quite a score!

Engelberg being overrun is laughable by North American standards. Galtiberg, which is probably a fair terrain analogy to Giraf, was only lightly tracked settled powder when we skied it over a week after the last storm. But you skied Giraf first tracks a day after 18 inches new, I'm sure on a completely different level in quality. And I'm guessing the exit traverse from Galtiberg was way more tedious. My guess is that Engelberg would be congested on weekends being that close to Zurich though.
ChrisC wrote: The Swiss really do not like to drive more than 30-90 min to ski.

Just as spoiled as SLC locals! And It confirms my impression why St. Moritz is so uncrowded.

My first day (a Friday) at Andermatt in 2013 was nearly hopeless with weather. The top was open but visibility was terrible, and and some of you know that I have more tolerance for that than most people. I could ski some powder just off the right of the Russi trail, using the orange balls for reference, but no way could I venture farther afield. Sunday was the one day a week group guiding was available, but weather was even worse with top tram closed. I did not ski Saturday or Sunday on that trip; Richard and I took road trips to Lake Como and Lucerne.

Would you feel comfortable navigating some Gemsstock off-piste without guides, assuming a favorable snow stability report of course? I agree that Engelberg off-piste is extremely accessible. We had no issues skiing the Laub and the Jochstock off-piste ourselves without guides.
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Re: Andermatt, Switzerland: March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

Postby ChrisC » Wed Sep 23, 2020 9:29 pm

Day 3: Sunday March 8th

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Fatmap Felsental
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I had secured an AM half day guiding slot for the Gemstock on Sunday. The skies went bluebird with a perfect 12-18" of new snow. I had the same guide again - so we did the NW facing side of the mountain (I make my preferences known) that was socked in the previous day. Specifically - we skied the Felsental bowl/off-piste area. This side of the mountain is quite fun - less steep than the NE side of the mountain - but the terrain has lots of fun features - or you can just open it up since you can see everything.

However, you have to watch at bottom where a giant gorge splits the bowl in half. Since you can ski direct to tram from the bottom section without any traversing - we were able to do 2 laps. The only issue: half of Zurich showed up (like the powder princess SLC crew). The tram lines were building into the 20-30 min zone - I bailed at 11am.

No photos because i had forgotten to charge my phone the night before - so had to make arrangements in the AM to charge.

The goal for the afternoon was to get to Disentis and take the train back to Andermatt - specifically the famous apres-ski train. I cannot believe your lift ticket gives you free access to a segment of the famous Glacier Express line (Zermatt-St Moritz).

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I was not able to lap too many sectors of the interconnection, but made an exception for the new gondola area (lift 5) and chair 7 - since there was stil powder with nice lines. The gondola was the sector where there was a large avalanche burying multiple skiers over Christmas 2019/20 https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/26/europe/s ... index.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

The tram to Disentis unfortunately could not come right down to the valley due to powerlines. However, Disentis is an extremely cool mountain - a series of off piste valleys - like a mini-La Grave. I did not explore the valleys, but I would if/when I could return to Disentis. I was able to ride both surface lifts to the summits, but the terrain is relatively mellow - you need to hike. A travel writer for the NYTimes even designated Disentis as Switzerland's Valley Z https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/trav ... entis.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

PM Photos

Reflection back to Gemstock from Sedrun
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The NE side of Gemstock - where I skied the 2 previous days
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Gondola #5 zone
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Chair #7 zone
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Sedrun Valley
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Sedrun from Disentis Tram
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Disentis
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The train back back from Disentis to Andermatt was fascinating. Sure you had the beer and food car - which was mobbed. But a series of different characters got on and off at ever stop - skiers, towns people, backcountry teams. Fun!
Last edited by ChrisC on Thu Sep 24, 2020 1:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Andermatt, Switzerland: March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

Postby ChrisC » Wed Sep 23, 2020 9:47 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:That's quite a score!

Engelberg being overrun is laughable by North American standards. Galtiberg, which is probably a fair terrain analogy to Giraf, was only lightly tracked settled powder when we skied it over a week after the last storm. But you skied Giraf first tracks a day after 18 inches new, I'm sure on a completely different level in quality. And I'm guessing the exit traverse from Galtiberg was way more tedious.


Galtiberg and Giraf are both on the same epic scale - and equally great. Both traverse-outs are tedious - not sure which is worse. Giraf is just long, while Galtiberg had some narrow/do not fall areas.


Would you feel comfortable navigating some Gemsstock off-piste without guides, assuming a favorable snow stability report of course? I agree that Engelberg off-piste is extremely accessible. We had no issues skiing the Laub and the Jochstock off-piste ourselves without guides.


Yes. Now I would feel comfortable dropping off of either side of Andermatt. The trickiest part of Andermatt is not getting caught in some large gorges on both aspects. However, I still have not skied the off-piste runs further off the backside of Andermatt (Guspis, UnterAlp) but they are supposed to be more mellow.
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