Ski Touring News Roundup — October’s End 2016

Post by blogger | October 26, 2016      
Window at Wildsnow Field HQ, looking northeast.

Window this morning at Wildsnow Field HQ, looking northeast.

We’ve been up at WildSnow Field HQ doing a slew of improvement projects. Mostly, removing trees that block views or could fall on our tiny house (aspen trees on shale soil at 9,000 feet tend to drop with some regularity). Per expectations re global warming, we’ve begun getting snow in the Colorado alpine but it usually rains below about 10,000 feet. Sometimes this dichotomy continues through November. Each year is different. Colorado ski touring below 10,000 feet in November has never been a good call; December is when it usually begins — if not January. Thus, the higher snowline isn’t a big deal. Yet. If the trend continues later and later into the winter, the whole picture of how we do backcountry skiing would drastically change.

Also at Field HQ, I hooked the Marblecam back up. Optimism rules, though at this point the webcam only shows our snow-depth board sitting on grass.

It has begun in the Alps, both the good, and the sad. One taken by an avalanche in the Zillertal. No mention of airbags, and apparently they had to use dogs to find the victim. Leading one to wonder, was he backcountry skiing without a beacon? On a lighter note, I got a chuckle from the news that the EU is taking Austria to the Court of Justice for discriminating against ski instructors from other countries. Come on. Austrian ski instructors are the best, there should be no doubt when you plop down mucho euros for a private, should there? Article here.

The most dedicated ski mountaineering historian in the U.S. is? Clearly, Lowell Skoog. If you’re in the PNW, you are required by WildSnow reader’s agreement you signed, you must attend Lowell’s presentation at the The Everett Mountaineers Awards Banquet, 5th November Good article here.

Ever wondered why they can’t make a phone camera with the creative control and quality of a DSLR? Aparently it can be done, and cheaply. Check out this fascinating article by a guy who figured it out.

Key to making a small cam perform like a big one is that “phone” cameras and lenses cost pennies — and they’re small. Use more than one cam-lens combo in the same housing, run software that combines results, and you can probably create the camera-lens equivalent of SLR stuff that weighs kilos and costs thousands of dollars. This is earth shattering disruptive to the SLR industry, who’s sales are already being eaten alive by small high-quality point-and-shoots as well as phone cameras.

Remember that guy who hit you from behind during your last day of alpine skiing, before you switched to 100% human power? You know, the bozo who just kept skiing away as you lay there clutching at the leg injury that would buy your surgeon his house in Vail? The guy who slammed you now owes someone 250 grand. Article will make you all warm inside.

Come hither, younguns, and hear the tale of days gone by, in the White Mountains of the eastern, when people were allowed to cut ski runs where they wanted. Unfortunately, the nature of vegetation is you cut it back, give it sunlight, and it grows all the faster. Upkeep and restoration are required. Granite Backcountry Alliance is a new non-profit formed to do exactly that. They intend to revive the old Northeastern U.S. trails, as well as glade a few new ones.Check them out.

National Geographic is desperate for web traffic. You can tell because they’re making a habit of publishing exploitative lists. Latest, the top 10 SECRET ski towns of North America. Is that oxymoronic, or what? Have to admit, I read it. I get Smithers, I do not get Los Alamos (though, yes, Pajarito is unique). I mean, are you going to move to Los Alamos for the skiing? Alamos locals, are you keeping it all to yourselves, should I skip Smithers and head down there? Article here. In any case, National Geo has sure come a long way from the mag where I used to get anatomy lessons.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


20 Responses to “Ski Touring News Roundup — October’s End 2016”

  1. Jim Pace October 26th, 2016 1:57 pm

    How is one supposed to feel when one’s home town is picked as the best “secret” ski town in NA? At least the author asked a good choice for a local perspective, Marty Rood.

  2. SteveR October 26th, 2016 4:58 pm

    There’s an article on the avalanche fatality here.

    The victim was a climber not a skier and the article comments that the second victim had no transceiver.

    That said, the article goes on to say that a lone bystander witnessed the avalanche and assisted the first victim whose hand was sticking out of the snow. The 2nd victim was 2m deep – So I’m left wondering if a transceiver would have made any difference in this instance. The single bystander would have almost certainly spent time making sure that the first victim had a clear airway before starting to search for the second victim, and even after locating him, he would have had to have dug a 2m deep hole to reach him.

  3. Jernej October 27th, 2016 4:37 am

    Just what exactly makes Austrians the best instructors? Any ISIA member should have equal rights.

  4. Trent October 27th, 2016 6:33 am

    Jernej, the article begs a further question: why would Brits spend all that money and time to travel to Austria only to be taught by a Brit? Why not just go to Scotland and pocket the savings? Or, to extrapolate further in the other direction, why not have British owned and staffed hotels and restaurants in St. Anton? That way the Brits, presuming they fly British Air direct, won’t have to speak to a local for their entire trip. We’ll have to ensure the bus driver is British too to make sure the transfer is culture free, I mean safe, I mean comprehensible. If we are forced to hire an Austrian bus driver, we could just duct tape his mouth to keep the Brits from hearing anything but English.
    Wild Snow readers, which duct tape brand is best suited for this? Sound muffling and ability to place the brand logo of the tour group on the facing are top criteria.

  5. Lou Dawson 2 October 27th, 2016 6:51 am

    Branded duct tape, I think it’s illegal in the EU, isn’t it ?

  6. SteveR October 27th, 2016 7:38 am

    @Trent – Hey! Not all Brits support
    ‘Brexit’, just like not Americans support Trump.

  7. SteveR October 27th, 2016 7:39 am

    * not all Americans

  8. Trent October 27th, 2016 8:24 am

    SteveR, an alternative: we could fly the Brits to Epcot and house them in the German section. A quick perusal of the website describes it as a “traditional Bavarian village.” The site also implores us to, “say ‘Guten Tag’ to flavor.” What could possibly go wrong?
    To be fair, I’m glad those folks are outside, exercising on snow, even if they try hard not to be in Austria while they’re in Austria. Cheers.
    Lou, to hear the guys at Cripple Creek/Totally Deep tell it, isn’t your webcam of Flarble?

  9. Armie October 27th, 2016 8:35 am

    I realise you are, as we Brits would say “taking the p*ss” but you have essentially described the “Typical” British package ski holiday. You will fly on a Brit charter flight, be met by a Brit courier shown to the right bus, it may be driven by a local but they won’t say much, no duct tape required! Although,increasingly even the bus driver might be a Brit. You’ll stay in a chalet with other Brits, hosted by a Brit chalet “maid”, you’ll eat breakfast and dinner in the chalet and there will, these days be Brit telly ‘cos of satellites! However ski school! You may have to mingle with the populous of your chosen alpine country, the instructor will speak at length in their native language to half the group, you will be told to “ben ze nees”.
    Wednesday is chalet staff night off so they will reserve you a table in a local restaurant where you will enjoy a local delicacy, usually involving cheese …and of course wine!
    I can see that this may appear BAD but the trouble is we quickly get into “foreigners” taking “our” jobs territory..sound familiar?
    Anyway, my last trip the bus driver was a Brit, I got chatting and his family came from about 20minutes down the road from me. He had relocated to Cham, had a French girlfriend and was going through the French guide system at ENSA. Surely what the EU project is (was)all about?
    BTW I love Scotland (my Grandma was Scottish) but I can be in Cham in about the same time, for about the same cost AND there will definitely be snow.

  10. Wookie October 27th, 2016 9:54 am

    Oh boy: get ready…..

    In all, I think competition is GOOD for consumers. So – sure – we should let non-Austrians guide like locals, provided they are properly trained and licensed. In theory, the added offerings will increase variety and lower price – a good thing.

    Licensing and training is really a kind of union to, conversely to this, keep competition to a reasonable level and allow guides to actually make a living. Its a push-pull thing.

    Two issues I see: One – many of the foriegners teaching/guideing/whatever in Austria or Germany or Italy – do NOT have the same level of training or competence as is required for an Austrian accreditation….so you are not comparing apples to apples and it undercuts the local market.

    Second: The english-speaking (esp American) guides charge WAAAY more than an Austrian or German guide in general. Austrians charge by the day. (I won’t even SAY what that price is because I’m already wearing milkbone underwear on this post) ….the Amis charge per person. The difference is….uh….big.

    So – they don’t really compete. They just do a lot of US and UK based social media and advertisement and cater to an all-Anglo clientele. The Anglophiles don’t know they’re on the losing end of the deal – so its all ok….EXCEPT that the Austrians don’t get the US/UK business.

    On the upside: The US/UK guides do a generally better job of customer service and general “coolness”. I have and continue to hire some of them, despite the fact that they cost a lot more and I do know it. In the end: I think the Austrians should up their social media advertisement game, improvbe their freindliness, and then they could probably charge more AND get the Anglo business.

  11. Jernej October 27th, 2016 1:02 pm

    Well, just like guides need to be IFMGA certified, the ski instructors need to meet the minimum criteria of ISIA. Forget about the brits, why are french, swiss, italian, german or slovenian (to limit to alpine nations) instructors worse and unable to equally compete in austrian resorts? Forget adults, why would anyone need to leave kids with an instructor who doesn’t speak any of the languages the kids do? The point of EU are equal employment opportunities. As long as I speak the language the customer understands I should be able to work, not deal with b.s. ‘locals only’ rules.

  12. Bard October 27th, 2016 2:47 pm

    Anatomy lessons from Nat Geo, hahaha. Right there with ya, Lou.

  13. See October 27th, 2016 7:06 pm

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    I was walking around my neighborhood recently and I realized that half the people I overheard since I left the house were speaking a language other than english (I’m in California). I think that’s pretty cool.

  14. JCoates October 28th, 2016 12:22 am

    Well I can sort of side with the Austrians here. Austrian resorts–and especially the ones they mention (Stanton, Kitzbuehl and Saalbach-Hinterglemm) have really become a $hit-show in the last few years. Italy hasn’t had snow in a couple of years. The Swiss have banked themselves into a tourist wasteland where no one can afford to visits unless maybe you’re another banker from Lichtenstein. And the French resorts (minus La Grave)..well…they sort of suck unless you just want to ski around in your Bogner one-piece and try to look cool. So Austria has really been the only game in town. So imagine busloads of ugly tourist from Britain to Romania (none of who know how to ski in control) descending on your little ski town every ski season. Wouldn’t anyone be a little “jaded” as we like to say? Trust me… a drunk Brit in Stanton makes a sunburned American in Cozumel look like a quiet respectful world traveler. I think with respect to hospitality, the Austrians have already gone “above-and-beyond” because if the kind of BS that goes down in a typical evening in say Ischgl happened in Colorado, we Americans would have already built a wall.

    For me, well I know how to ski already and they have plenty of amazing off-piste huts there–so that’s why I tour!!!

  15. Armie October 28th, 2016 12:57 am

    What Jernej said.

  16. Trent October 28th, 2016 7:20 am


    Brilliant. I should have remembered that you can’t travel in the winter without Sky. Who wants to ski or talk to locals when you could watch United draw 0-0 away to Bournemouth from the pension while pouring half liters of Stiegl down your throat?
    I’m really enjoying the view from inside my glass house.

  17. Bruno Schull October 29th, 2016 9:36 am

    I followed the link to the article about the fatal avalanche. It’s a sobering analysis–especially the picture of the footprints ending abruptly where the slide broke. I read a little German, and from what I understand, they were climbers, not skiers. They climbed the slope in the morning, 40 to 50 degree snow in places, and then made the summit, and descended. The slide broke when they were descending. There was some discussion about what actually triggered the avalanche. I think there was a weaker layer near the glacier ice, but they are not sure if the climbers triggered a small slide which then initiated the larger slide, or if somehow, perhaps at a point over rocks, or where the snow was less deep, they triggered the large slide directly. In any case, the main thing I take away from it is the fact that there does not seem to have been significant snowfall or accumulation–the peaks are almost barren. But there was high wind beforehand, and that created a hard wind slab. Also, I think it’s relevant that the slope held when they climbed up with crampons in the morning, and then broke later on the descent. It also brings up the constant question of whether or not climbers should carry beacons, rescue gear, and so on. In this case, it does not seem like it would have mattered, because they were both buried. The climber who survived was dug out by a witness. It must be so hard for the families. I really feel for them. And the season has not even really started. These last two years have been really deadly in the Alps, especially with the very high temperatures in the summer. I hope the winter does not follow the same trend.

  18. jay November 1st, 2016 11:44 am

    Interesting read regarding survival of the alps and other winter resort destinations.

  19. Dave November 16th, 2016 9:38 am

    Nat Geo spoiling the *super secret* ski towns for those in the know, eh?

  20. Lou Dawson 2 November 16th, 2016 1:20 pm

    Next it’ll be the 10 best kept secret towns for the amateur entomologist, and after that, who knows? Lou

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