What a crazy gear panic I’ve been perpetrating here lately! Gear is fun. Gear is important. But gear isn’t everything. A trip report to break things up, this one from my recent European soujourn.
Alps on a perfect day, launching off Zischgeles above Praxmar. Andreas raises his ski pole in salute! Click image to enlarge, and you'll see a hut in the lower right portion of the image. Amazing where they put huts in the Alps. Thousands of them, in every location you can imagine. Sometimes it's just too much, that is until you need a beer.
(Austria, January 14) So, due to lack of snow closer to Germany, the press event I’m attending changed location to a popular backcountry skiing area near Innsbruck, known as Praxmar. Thing is, even here they’d been getting rain at the lower elevations (which I’d had the privilege of touring in the day before), which in turn rotted out the snowpack. Up high, however, things glowed white and tempting. A common higher altitude goal out of Praxmar is a peak called Zischgeles. Really just another midrange alps summit in terms of elevation and terrain, Zischgeles is still a lot of fun, as well as being a good ‘view peak’ due to it being a bit of an outlier from the core peaks of the area.
Praxmar is set up as a sort of backcountry skiing resort. You find good map signs at the base, and one of the standard tours includes a system of educational billboards that explain everything from beacon use to snowpack evaluation.
The day began with a rather large group of guided skiers. I usually try to stay away from these sorts of things, but it's fun to join once in a while and check out how Euro guide and ski culture operate.
Here is where the humor began. As many of you know, an unfortunate tradition in Europe is that skiers tend to march in lockstep, rather than spreading out in avalanche terrain. This has resulted in many unfortunate group accidents over the years, as well as the frantic competition among beacon makers to produced the ultimate group search function so dead people can be found quicker. Instead, isn't it so much better just to spread the group out a bit? Guides are now getting hip to that. Thus, once we entered avalanche terrain the guide shouted back for everyone to separate 'about 40 meters.' Of course, the first thing that happened was the group stopped directly under a loaded avy path (which actually 'lanched later in the day) so they could spread out. After that, it was amusing to observe the definition of '40 meters.' Put simply, if there was an attractive ski girl in the vicinity, '40 meters' was more like 4 feet. But to their credit, some of the skiers did separate.
Due to avalanche danger, our guide wisely stopped the large group before steeper terrain higher up on the peak. As a smaller sub-group, I was with friends and guidebook authors Axel and Andreas. Since we could travel more efficiently and safely than the larger group, we kept going and joined up with film maker Nick Waggoner and Dynafit sponsored high mountain skier Sabastian Haag. In this photo, we're nearing the small but fun Zischgeles summit.
At the summit, looking south. The Alps, land of thousands and thousands of crosses. It's actually quite amazing, as nearly every summit has a rather substantial cross that's obviously well maintained. The crosses make good belay anchors, and as a Christian I like being reminded of my faith, but frankly it would be nicer if most of the summits were more pristine. Makes you appreciate our North American wilderness summits.
Nick Waggoner (left) and your friendly blogger getting that obligatory summit shot. I've known Nick for a while now, but I think this was the first time I'd ever skied with him. He's quite strong and game for just about anything. I guess that happens when you make your life hauling a ton and a half of film gear around the globe.
Nick dropping off the summit on a little pitch that tempted us. Snow conditions varied from good, to bottomless Euro muck that my buddy Fritz said 'on a scale of one to ten, was a minus ten in quality.') I'm not sure, but isn't this a fixed heel blackmail shot of a tele skier?
Not a huge day, but big enough to make subsequent nourishment an appropriate option. I like the meat plates they put together at the Austrian gasthauses and huts. This one was par for the course. Combined with a radler (beer and lemonade) the snack was perfect.
Yes, the snow lower down was bad, but the sun was good.
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