Ski Touring in Switzerland – The Sulzfluh

Post by blogger | February 15, 2010      
Sulzfluh Switzerland decking.

Returning from a ski tour in Switzerland, you don't even go inside the hut, just hang on the front porch, watch the other skiers return, and order up some goods. Yep, that's your friendly blogger packing it in.

Things get pretty busy keeping going, so sometimes I wish I could clone myself. Apparently, some of my counterparts in Austria already did that for their own gig.

I got a ride over to the Dynafit press event in Switzerland from Viennese twin brothers Axel and Andreas Jentzsch, who run what’s considered one of the most influential websites for mountain sports in central Europe, During the 3 hour drive the brothers kept up a superhuman workload of photographing various climbing and ski touring areas, answering their phones, checking things on a laptop with mobile wireless, and even finding time for a calorie stop.

We were headed for Dynafit’s fourth annual “Press Event,” their journalist junket they hold at a different classic European mountain hut every year. I’ve been to a lot of press events over my years of magazine writing and now blogging, and these Dynafit deals take the prize. They’re not particularly deluxe. No pole dancers or free luxury suites. Instead you hunker down with a bunch of like minded colleagues in what could be described as clean, well maintained, but funky accommodations. Like this year, when most of the men were lodged in one room with long continuous beds at the Sulzfluh Hut (actually a large lodge) in Switzerland. Earplugs, essential. On the Dynafit press junket plan you spend two nights, with a classic guided ski tour during the full day you’re there. The idea is sort of a roots seminar for those of us not from the ski touring motherland, and some goodwill banking (otherwise known as Coolaid drinking) for those who are.

Arlberg Pass

Axel and Andreas figured it would be faster to head over the famed Arlberg Pass, as well as more interesting for their guest. They were right. The closest thing I've seen to this in North America is Colorado's Red Mountain Pass, but it doesn't even come close to the Arlberg's mixture of ski resorts, dwellings, and huge avalanche slopes. Plus, the way they construct the roads blows your mind. That's what you see on the cliff in the photo above, a major highway cut in like something from a fantasy novel.

Arlberg Pass avalanche

The view as you head over Arlberg Pass, just huge terrain, avalanche prevention structures everywhere. It's almost like another planet.

Lichtenstein castle

We had to drive through Lichtenstein to reach the Partnun area of Switzerland, and Axel said this castle in Lichtenstein is where the King lived. I'll bet it's an interesting place to visit. They probably still wear armor and do jousting for recreation.

Lichtenstein sign for Chur

For those of you who may be familiar with this area, here is the sign at the turn, heading out of Lichtenstein.

Austrians check their oil too. Axel owns a really nice diesel Volkswagen van that I envied.

Austrians check their oil too. Axel owns a really nice diesel Volkswagen van that I envied.

Backcountry skiing trailhead.

I'm always amazed at how many excellent roads probe the Alps. Yeah, it's not the empty American west, but at least you don't have to own a snowmobile just to get to your local stash. One such road took us to the trailhead for Sulzfluh Hutte, where we met up with Dynafit staffers as well as a gaggle of journalists. These things are always an eye opener for me, the innocent country boy, as you get a bunch of somewhat cosmopolitan Italians, French, Swiss, Germans, Austrians and so forth, all chattering away. They all seemed to like me better, now that Obama is president. Pretty amusing, really, how much Europeans like our cowboy culture -- unless it involves the leader of the free world.

Snowmobile in Switzerland for backcountry skiing.

During the past few years of Euro ski trips, I've been amazed at how prevalent the use of snowmobiles are in the Alps. Not so much for recreation, as they just don't have room for that, but use for farming/ranching and backcountry hut logistics is very common. I guess great minds think alike, as we certainly put sleds to such good uses all over North America.


Most huts I've been to don't look like much on the outside, but once you get used to what they have inside, the sign is enough.

Sulsfluh Hutte

And just so you know what is outside the hut... This Sulzfluh rises above as a beautiful rocky edifice that frankly doesn't look like great skiing, but a nice glisse route winds up to the right and behind the cliffs for about 4,000 vertical feet. This is like having a full service hut up in a place like Pearl Basin between Aspen and Crested Butte. I wouldn't want to see as many of these around here as they have in Europe, but a few more would certainly be appreciated. What irks me is the lack of vision many of our hut builders in this part of the country have had over the years, resulting in far too many huts built down in the forest, some even without views. Let's have a few more at or above timberline!

The next day, we climbed and skied the Sulzfluh. I’ve got some good photos so I’ll be working on a trip report. Meanwhile, if you’re planning a ski trip in Switzerland, Sulzfluh Hutte and surrounding region are a recommended destination.


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20 Responses to “Ski Touring in Switzerland – The Sulzfluh”

  1. Thomas B February 15th, 2010 2:08 pm

    The lack of good pastries on Denali will crush you.

  2. Robie February 15th, 2010 9:24 pm

    LOL ! Perhaps some sweet flavorings for icys would suff-ice!

  3. Euro Rob February 16th, 2010 2:49 am

    Yeah it’s pretty imprudent that so many people make a difference when meeting people from the US now as opposed to when Bush was president. Makes me a bit ashamed of my compatriots. Can we please get over such nationalistic feelings in the 21st century?

  4. Lou February 16th, 2010 8:40 am

    If the lack of pastries doesn’t kill me, it’ll make me stronger.

  5. Mark W February 16th, 2010 9:37 am

    Eat many pastries now so when you face great deprivation on Denali, it is no problem to lose 30 pounds, right?

  6. Tom Gos February 16th, 2010 11:38 am

    Lou, agreed on hut planning here, it seems our hut organizations are dominated by nordic meadow skippers who are terrified of the mysterious alpine mountains.

    I’m curious about the snowmobiles and haul sleds you saw over there. Do they use big utility sleds or the crotch rocket style mountain sleds we see so often here? Also the trailer pictured in the photo looks cool, alot different than the bath tub style ones I often see here.

  7. Tom Gos February 16th, 2010 5:15 pm

    Hey Lou, just wondering why my comments aren’t showing up? Sometimes it seems they show up about 24 hours after I post, but they show the date and time for when I originally submitted it. Have I been placed on watch list of sorts for some reason? Thanks.

  8. Lou February 17th, 2010 9:30 am

    Tom, your comments are being held for moderation and I have no idea why. The reason why they show up late is that not many comments end up in the moderation que, so we don’t look at it very often unless I’m at my desk all day watching email notifications come in.

    I value your comments and apologize for them getting held up like that, and I’ll look into it.

  9. Tom Gos February 17th, 2010 10:46 am

    Thanks Lou, I hope you understood that I was just kidding about the special watch list, but it seems that may be exactly what the cyber inteligence was doing. Keep up the good work.

  10. Matt Kinney February 17th, 2010 3:05 pm

    Back in the day…. I used to service the Chalet daily and transport guest/gear/me with a two runner sled with a steel frame pulled by a 500cc Polaris WT..which I still have but its out to pasture these days. I put 7000 hard miles on it. I now run it about once a month at 80mph, cover and stow it. Its a work sled. I have skins and glide wax for play.

    I found that the plastic tubs were not as durable and tended to crack and break at stress points. Of course with a sled you may have to groom the trail a a few extra times to pack the trail in prep for runner sleds. Runner sled do not pull well through deep snow. I could haul up to 700pds on a runner sled on packed snow. With all the traffic to those lodges packing the trails in Euro, runner sleds seem best. The runner sled I had also had foldable frame that allowed a rider to stand on the back and tip or lean to keep the sled even. I used it a time or two for some local “base only” approaches for skiing and it carried skiis, packs and one ski partner well.

    Also be sure to tip your runner sleds on the side when not in use or they ice up, stick to the snowpack, etc…. Clean the runners often.

  11. Lou February 17th, 2010 3:11 pm

    Yes, the Alps work sled style (from what I’ve seen) is generally to use a runner sled, and keep the access trail pretty well maintained. But I’ve seen some of the big “bucket” sleds in use as well. Some access routes are maintained by snowcat. I’ve seen quite a few gigando snowmobiles such as Skandic, but no doubt they onlyuse those when the trail is in great shape. Quite a few touring/trail sleds, with some high performance units mixed in. I’ll bet those are geared down. The trails get pretty icey, I’ll bet the smart guys install extra idler wheels, ice scratchers, etc.

  12. Will February 18th, 2010 2:19 pm

    Nice report but CH ain’t in the EU…

  13. gringo February 18th, 2010 3:42 pm

    …what Will said…

  14. Lou February 18th, 2010 3:49 pm

    Messed up on that detail though I certainly did know it. General point still holds. I’ll change wording. Thanks.

  15. Geoff February 18th, 2010 5:07 pm

    when I worked at a backcountry hut in Austria all the hutkeepers had the smaller “crotch-rocket” type sleds. One of the reasons was that they would often have to ride through avy slide zones, and wanted vehicles that could zip through the runouts fast and could get over/around slide debris if necessary. For big loads, they all had snowcats in the garage that they would use when conditions were stable. Our hut had a Kass-Bohrer big enough to fit two tons of frozen meat (and one cold, scared American) in the back!

  16. scott anderson February 22nd, 2010 9:48 am

    Hi Lou,I’ve been following your site for a while,it’s unique.I too have spent quite a bit of time in the swiss alps,especially back in the 80’s with a SAC guide aspirant.That was great.Now I have an 18 year old son who’s taking next year off before jumping into further education.He’s considering the fall NOLS Rocky Mountain Semester course.Is this the one Louie attended? What did he think of it? Seeing as how seriously you two take these things ,I’d like your opinion.Thanks,Scott Anderson,Portland,Maine

  17. Lou February 22nd, 2010 10:40 am

    Scott, Louie’s NOLS course (Wind Rivers Mountaineering) was overall worth doing. But from what I hear one of the instructors spent the whole course grousing about how the world was coming to an end due to human caused environmental problems, and that was somewhat of a buzz killer.

    NOLS has re-invented themselves over the years as more of an environmental advocacy and adventure travel organization than their original roots as a pure skills educational endeavor. Part of your tuition money will go towards them spending time and energy on environmental ‘education’. It’s not as much a mountaineering training school as it used to be. Some good can come of that, of course, but in my opinion when you’ve got a group of young men on the adventure of their lives, good leadership means you should be willing to support a positive buzz of excitement. More, men in their 20s are at the most risk of poor judgment of any time in their lives, and thus, an organization such as NOLS has a duty to put energy into reducing such risk, and when endless environmental grousing comes from an instructor instead of mentoring about mountaineering judgment and leadership, it’s not a good thing in my opinion.

    Plenty of negativity will come later in these kid’s lives, and most kids these days are totally up to speed on environmental issues due to emphasis in school and in the media.

    I actually saw this coming and warned Louie about it before the course, so he was ready. But he did comment on it when he got back.

  18. scott anderson February 22nd, 2010 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Lou.I was starting to wonder what the mix between mountaineering training and environmental education would be.Don’t get me wrong,my daughter is studying that very thing at U of O,but for a young man who wants to get exposed to as much technique as possible,what other possibilities might exist? What about guide school up at Ranier-does that seem plausible for a rookie?Any thoughts are welcome.Thanks,Scott

  19. Lou February 22nd, 2010 3:05 pm

    At this point, good hard skills are harder to come by than I thought. Guide apprenticeship and training are one good option, but not so much for basic training. It’s a dilemma. But since every kid I know is either expecting to become a video producer or environmental scientist, perhaps schools that just mix filmable experience with environmental education are what everyone wants. Who cares about how well you can tie your knots, or if you can rappel with just a rope and no biners, or if you return from a course as an expert map reader. That stuff is so 1960s!

  20. Lou February 22nd, 2010 3:06 pm

    Apologies for not saying “young people” instead of “young men.” So 1960s of me!

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