Category Archives: Travel

Eastside Exploration

Will, Juliana, and I forged a plan to head down to the Eastern Sierras near Bridgeport for the day to ski a bigger line and just escape the Tahoe Basin and explore a new place. As we made the scenic drive down to Bridgeport, the temperatures fluctuated between really cold and extremely cold with the lowest temperature at -17 degrees.

Approaching Bridgeport. Yep, it's cold.

Approaching Bridgeport. Yep, it’s cold.

We parked at the end of the road closest to our objective and saw one other car filled with Bridgeport locals heading out for a ski themselves.

“Grandmothers on the run.” Bridgeport locals know how to have a good time.

Starting our hike around 9:15 am, we weren’t quite sure how to reach the Northern couloirs of Mt. Walt, our days objective, so we just started hiking, hoping to get high enough for an open view. We probably climbed an extra 1200′ or so, but we were happy to get a tour of an area that we were unfamiliar with and Juliana and I even got to make some fun turns before putting our skins back on and starting the real climb.

Will skinning up the extra nob with Twin Lakes in the background

Back on track. Will puts in the track up to Mt. Walt's couloirs

Back on track. Will puts in the track up to Mt. Walt’s couloirs

After that detour and a bunch of trail breaking, we approached the base of the couloirs a little before 2pm and they were both in the shade. The low temperatures were nearly unbearable in the shade and the snow looked to be wind affected. Our main objective was also not quite filled in. So we decided to keep it mellow and stay in the sun as we crested the ridge. Stellar views greeted us and gave us more ski objectives.

Couloirs looked cold and wind affected, so we opted to stay in the sun and take in the beauty.

Will taking it in!

And then dropping in.

The skiing turned from good to great as we descended – the highlight being a steep north-facing sheltered slope that was just perfect. We made first tracks down the slopes and tried to find a better way in on ski out, skiing right to our cars through some dense trees. At the car we congratulated each other on a successful day in the mountains – we stayed safe, warm, skied great snow, and learned a lot about the area. A backcountry skiing trip to the Eastern Sierras is never complete without a stop at the hotsprings! So despite the single digit temperatures, we hit up the travertine pools just in time for sunset.

Will and Juliana enjoying the soothing springs and the stellar views.

Great day and I can’t wait to get back there!

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Sisters Tour California

Between August and mid-October I spent a lot of hours working on a stream restoration project in Lake Tahoe. The end of the field season was going to correspond almost perfectly with my sister’s trip to California for her work with the non-profit Impact edVentures, a surfing and service trip to Santa Barbara, CA. Well, that trip was called off, but she was still coming out to California to recruit students, so we made a plan to meet up in San Luis Obispo and do some surfing and general coast touring.

I was able to get off a few days early and so I decided to first rally down to the Eastern Sierras Wednesday morning and do some leaf peeping as well as mountain biking and hiking with my friend Tim. The weather was perfect and the colors were peaking. We did a super fun mountain bike ride along lower Rock Creek and a hike from Lundy Canyon up into the Lakes Basin in Yosemite National Park. It was a fabulous and relaxing start to the trip.

Lower Rock Creek aspen grove

Early morning light at Lundy Canyon camp

Hike into the High Sierra – Lakes Basin

Next I headed down to SLO to meet up with my sister and her friend at the Thursday night Farmers Market. I’d never been there and the town was pretty awesome – bustling after the Farmer’s market, there were cute stores and cool bars and restaurants everywhere. We went to bed pretty early so that we could explore town more via bike the next morning.

After grabbing breakfast at Sally Loo’s (AWESOME) and riding around town, we headed out to the coast to the local state park Montana de Oro and explored hidden surf spots and bluffs.

New friend Julie checking out Hazards surf spot.

Coastal bluffs at Montana de Oro

We grabbed some lunch at an amazing Thai place in Los Osos and Nicole and I headed to Pismo Beach to try our hand at surfing. Pismo was sunny and warm and the swell was good enough that we could stay away from better surfers and catch a mixture of big waves and beach break. We both got pummeled for about an hour, but had some good rides. I caught the biggest wave I’ve ever caught only to face plant off the board on the drop in! Surfing is always humbling and must take months to even become an intermediate! I have so much respect for good surfers and the ocean in general. After we were exhausted, we changed and took a walk on the Pismo pier and saw about 10 dolphins playing in the surf, a bunch of huge pelicans up close, and an incredible sunset. We liked this place and made plans to come back the next morning for another session.

The Pelicans of Pismo Pier

Sunset at Pismo Beach

After another fun night in SLO, and a morning surf session at Pismo Beach, Nicole and I drove north up the coast towards Big Sur. We stopped at overlooks and other classic Central California Coast sites.

Elephant seals near San Simeon – 500 of the 10,000 that were on the coast!

Big Sur classic shot at McWay Falls

We scored the last camp spot at Pfieffer Big Sur State Park with just enough time to hike up to another waterfall and set up camp. The campground there has eluded me for years. The first year I went there, it was raining non-stop forcing us to evacuate to our dry homes. 3 years ago, my husband and I returned and it was closed due to flooding damage. But this year, we finally got to camp there, in good weather and it really was a perfect Big Sur site – Redwoods, a beautiful river, nice sites, sunny weather, and quick access to many cool hikes and beaches, like the one we rode our bikes to the next morning – Pfieffer Beach.

Pfieffer Beach is so cool! Can’t believe I hadn’t been there!

Biomimicry at Pfeiffer Beach

By lunchtime Sunday we were in Santa Cruz and at my friend Matt’s awesome property. Waves were small and the tides were high, but we hit up Pleasure Point for an evening surf and grabbed dinner in Capitola before hanging out at the hot tub and calling it a night. Monday morning I woke up to rain and it was time to get back to Tahoe since it was snowing! All in all, it was a perfect 5 day trip. California is full of so many great places that it could take a lifetime to explore them all.


Filed under Biking, Travel

Dreaming of Winter…

Photo by Lynsey Dyer, Selkirks, BC

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Filed under Backcountry Skiing, Random rambling, Skiing, Travel

Mountain Bike Oregon

A few weeks ago, I headed up to Oakridge, Oregon with my friend Lauren to participate in Mountain Bike Oregon (MBO). This was my first organized mountain bike event – basically camp in a park with a bunch of mountain bikers, sign up for rides which are shuttled and guided, drink microbrews at the end of the day, and, oh yeah, you get to demo pretty much any bike you want. I rode $4,000+ carbon mountain bikes all weekend (favorites being the Ibis HD and any bike with X-Fusion Shocks).

The trails in Oakridge are narrow, forested, and smooth. We rode Salmon Creek, ATC (Alpine Tire Clover), Lawler and Hardesty, Moon Point and the Middle Fork, and Larison Rock – we rode a lot – but it was easy when you’re used to climbing 2,000 feet to start rides in Tahoe and all of our shuttles were included in the price! I also got to hang with my old college friend Nikki and her husband Sean!

Though I’m not sure I’d go to MBO again, I’d definitely pay another visit to Oakridge. Next time I’ll bring my own carbon bike, play boat, and fly rod!

Scenic Section of ATC

Rider in the forest

Racing in the Pixie Bike Race – made it to the finals but was taken out from behind! (Photo by Lauren)

Lauren, Bill and I up on the Moon Point Lookout

Cool waterfall on the way home

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Summer Fun!

Summer has been super busy so far! And starting tomorrow, I’m off to boat the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for the next 3 weeks.

Summer is wedding season so I’ve spent almost every weekend in June attending a wedding or bachelorette parties. Luckily, my friends got married in beautiful Todos Santos, Mexico and so PK and I, having never been to Mexico, made a little vacation out of it.

The perfect and beautiful couple in an equally stunning location

Rooftop cocktails at the Villa Santa Cruz

The next weekend was dueling bachelorette parties in Sonoma and both were a lot of fun.

Bachelorette Party 1

Bachelorette Party 2

This past weekend was a hike up into Desolation Wilderness – it was great to spend a weekend at home.

bach 3

Bachelorette Party 3 – hiking in beautiful Lake Tahoe

Oh yeah, and we went to prom, my friend’s brilliantly orchestrated birthday party with at least 200 of Tahoe’s best, wearing their interpretation of prom outfits (or what they could find at a thrift store).

Prom! Hadn’t done that for a while!

And with that, I’m off-line for three weeks!

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10th Anniversary of Riding Bikes from Yellowstone to Alaska

On June 23, 2002, my friend Tim and I set out on the adventure of a lifetime – we pedaled out of Yellowstone National Park on our bicycles to make our way some 3,000 miles over the course of 50 days to Anchorage, Alaska.

Heading out of Yellowstone National Park

Fresh out of college and a little dissapointed with the lack of adventure real world jobs in my field seemed to hold, I decided I needed to do something bigger. Tim, who was my coworker and one of my best friends in San Francisco at the time, was a willing partner. By an act of pure fate, I met Detroit-area philanthropist in a bike shop in my hometown who interviewed me on the spot and offered to give us a grant to pay for the entire trip! Thanks Beth!

Earlier that year, a friend and mentor of mine had just sent me the following Goethe quote and it never seemed more true.

What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

So we set off on June 23, 2002, ready to explore. We saw countless bears, moose, and eagles along the way; met some characters; and slowly traveled through some of the most beautiful places in North America. Along the way I learned many lessons, but the most memorable were from my travelling companion Tim. He taught me how to cook and laugh at both adversity and assholes. We still practice those skills today and are lucky enough to have adventures each year! It really is the incredible people I’ve met that have made my life so amazing. Gratitude.

Our route from Yellowstone to Alaska – we crossed the continental divide 5 times!

At the top of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park

The AlCan Hwy was pretty dusty at times!

We made it!!!

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AFS: Days 5-7, The Magic of the Selkirk Lodge

On Day 5, the weather was clear! Anne decided we could have a big skiing day and the group was elated. So we skied down to Kate Lake and started the hike up Justice again, only to find clouds in the same spot. Aborting the mission, we decided to ski near the Albert Icefield, which is down valley and was in the sun. We skied a long run down to Victoria Lake, skinned up, had a dance party in the sun (YES!), skied back down, and began our skin up the Albert Icefield. I took about 75 photos during the hour hike because it was so stunning. The large ice features and crevasses loomed to our left in addition to some beautiful ski lines that we all were eying. The snow on this slope was warming though and once we reached the top, and cooled down a bit with a pants off dance off, we decided to split into two groups. 5 of us plus Michelle headed up to the top of Paradise, a 2,000 vertical north-facing powder run. 4 stayed behind to get some skiing photos through the icefield features.

Sandra skinning up near the Albert Icefield

Lynsey above the Albert Icefield

Careful preparation for the pants off dance off.

The lodge is down there somewhere – I’ll need to come back to ski that mountain on the left.

Claire and Michelle taking in the view above “Paradise.”

Paradise lived up to its name and delivered steep powder turns and even some face shots! Lots of high-fiving and general celebration at the bottom. Claire declared it her best run of the season and I honestly couldn’t think of too many better runs. It was super fun and we still had more skiing to do! We skied another 1500 vertical and then had about a 1.5 hour hike back to the lodge. I was pretty tired at this point and was dragging a bit. My iphone didn’t feel like playing music to get me through the skin and so Anne lent me her ipod with a secret backcounty ski mix that included Ozzy and other classics. I ran right up the track with the music blaring, exhausted when I reached the lodge. Then I realized, wow, this was my first day this season where I was tired from backcountry skiing… and it felt awesome! We had finally earned our dinner – and dessert!

On day 6, it was cloudy and snowing. It had actually snowed about 10 cm, but with wind loading, it was three feet deep in some places. After helping dig out and fill buckets for water, we got to work inside setting up both roped and unroped crevasse rescues. We then headed out to practice roped glacier travel and the drop loop system. We were getting more efficient with our anchors and knots that we were using throughout the week. All this stuff takes constant practice, but it was great to feel like we were retaining some of it. After running through the drop loop on our own, we headed over to search for “victims” in a multiple deep burial situation. It took me about 4 minutes to probe strike all three “victims,” but it honestly felt like 10 minutes. Scary! But another great skill to practice, especially in light of the deadly slides this year.

After the kicker incident of Day 4, Nat agreed to help me fix my kicker. Oh wait, did I not tell you about the kicker incident of day 4? Well, you see, having no experience building a kicker, I built it with a bit too much kick and the following photos were the entertaining results.

Flying squirrel? (photo by Emily)

Thank GOD for yoga right? (photo by Emily)

Nat, with her experience, skinned up and helped me whip this kicker into shape by filling in the transition and making the lip less abrupt. We both hit it, but only once and it was exponentially better. I wanted to try a backflip, but the light was popping and we were able to set up and get both group and skiing photos near and below the lodge.
What SheJumps is all about! (photo by Emily)

What SheJumps is all about! (photo by Emily)

Ashley getting it done!

Can’t just take photos all the time… bucket filling tampmasters!

Time for dinner, but not before we claim!

This place is kind of pretty

The forecast for Day 7 was finally for solid sunshine and when we woke up, it proved to be spot on. Meanwhile, I was trying to be extra nice to Grania in Reinet in hopes that they’d invite me to stay one more week. I even wore their favorite outfit that morning (pictured below). The ploy didn’t seem to be working, so we headed out early to ski as much powder as possible that day.

One of the many nights I wore fashionable clothes. (Photo by Hannah)

The hike up was beautiful. We could see farther than we had seen the entire week. We even saw fresh wolverine tracks and tracked them for a bit.

Anne – a trail breaking machine.

Wolverines (not pictured) like to break trail too.

Skinning up to Campion in front of Virtue.

At the top of Campion bowl, we all were in awe of the view. Some girls wanted to rap down the front to practice their new skills, while a few of us were just amped to ski. Being our last day here, I was pretty set on skiing pow! As we dropped into to Campion, we were treated to the smoothest, easiest, and most fun powder turns I know about (I’m willing to test this theory out). The snow was literally the perfect density. We skied down hooting and hollering and then transitioned to head up to the top of “Espresso,” a run many of us had pointed at earlier that week.

Nat making some turns on Campion. The snow was exceptional.

Heading up Espresso, the snow also looked amazing. We also spotted a few other enticing lines on our way up. We truly needed another month here! The run down Espresso was steep and fun. Anne let us open it up a bit at the bottom and we all tried to add our own style to the run which was fun.

The snow looks so good!

Justice, where have you been all my life?

Yo, check her out, McKenna’s about to rip the sh** out of this line!

Mission accomplished. Our tracks on Espresso (photo by McKenna)

Anne said we had time for one more quick run. Knowing it was likely my last powder run of the year, I jumped at the opportunity to ski Devine Coll. Four of us headed back up to prolong our time at the lodge a bit more – even though it meant we needed a quick pace to the heli. A somewhat frantic skin as we could hear the helicopter approaching was probably the best way for me to the leave the Selkirk Lodge. No prolonged good byes. No chance to really think – we just schlepped gear and jumped in the heli – 10 seconds later, the lodge was out of site.

Quick, hide! It didn’t work. At least I got to ride in the front.

I’d like to wrap this all up, but it is really unfinished – even though the name of this event was Alpine Finishing School. This trip and experience transformed me. It made me want to be a better person and skier, dream bigger, and get radder. All of this is possible and the catalyst was the combination of SheJumps and the Selkirk Lodge – maybe we should change the name to “Anne Keller’s Radness Camp,” tagline: “Are YOU keen to fly Jesus at her?!?” Ok, that’s probably more of an unofficial name 🙂 Alpine Finishing School it is! Sign up next year!

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AFS, Days 2-4: Learning Stuff and Dropping Beats!

We woke up on day 2 to clear skies highlighting the incredible terrain surrounding the Selkirk Lodge. It was 6 AM, but Hannah and I rushed outside to take photos and awe at the surrounding peaks.

Hannah posing in front of Justice Mtn!

After breakfast, our weather window had dissipated, but we had plenty of learning to do so we headed up towards Primrose Icefield assessing the snowpack as we climbed. On a NE slope, we dug a pit and talked about the layers of concern within the snowpack. There was a dominant crust layer about 70 cm below the surface and 20 cms of new snow in the past 24 hrs – which seemed like it make for some good skiing. We also did an ECT, which is the test I always gravitate towards since it shows both instabilities and propagation, and we didn’t see any movement.  Safe and fun snow, but bad light, so we skied down to practice building snow anchors.

Anne discussing the pit profile and ECT.

Michelle demonstrated both ice axe and ski anchors. The key was to make sure the anchors were solid, but building them quickly enough to save your friend in the crevasse.  Most of our ice axe anchors failed, but the ski anchors were indestructible.  After digging out, we headed back up to the Primrose Icefield, but the weather cacked out (this is an Anne-ism, the first of many) and Anne decided we should ski Wolverine. We de-skinned and joined Anne at the top of the run. It was steep and long. We were keen to fly Jesus at her (Anne-ism or Canadian-ism – translated – send it!). Dropping in in less than ideal light, I skied fast, emulating the speed of my freeskiing sisters and lost site of the guide’s track that set the boundary, but quickly recovered, skiing big turns to the bottom! “THAT WAS SO FUN!” Everyone skied in to the safe zone professing that sentiment in some way. It felt so good to get an actual run in good snow. I think we were all relieved to know that we were going to ski this week and it was going to be good!

Who’s ready to ski Wolverine! This girl!

Kate watching as Anne drops into Wolverine

Lynsey and Claire skin back up to the lodge amongst pillows and trees

We skinned back up to the lodge for the evening and started practicing our navigation skills. The metal deposit in Canada blew our minds. How did people figure that out? Why hasn’t anyone tried to exploit it? I’m sure I could Google it, but I’m hoping McKenna writes a book that I can read instead.

Map work to come up with a route plan

Navigation was blowing our minds a bit and we needed a refresh, so we called it a day on learning and picked it back up in the morning. This time, it was a full on whiteout and we needed to use our navigational skills to get to Primrose Peak… situational learning. After refining our skills over morning tea and coming up with a route plan, we headed out to Primrose peak with compasses and GPS in hand. I had brought my own GPS and this is the first time I actually figured out how to use it with map and waypoints. It was incredibly empowering and I could tell everyone felt the same. We all spent time leading and helping others navigate until we found the peak. I also wrote this rap to summarize our new skills: “White out conditions won’t turn us around, with a GPS and compass, the peak can be found.” My album comes out next fall…

Primrose is up there somewhere… just kidding, we know EXACTLY where it is.

Speaking of raps, we didn’t summit since skiing in a whiteout would’ve been only somewhat fun and instead headed over to a wind scoop to practice rappelling and ascending. We were all excited to learn this skill. I know that many of us had been in couloirs with mandatory raps where we’d been dependent on others to set up the system for us. We also had a bit of fun installing the ski anchors. When we all had a chance to practice, we skied back to the lodge and worked on some of the knots inside. Again, knowing these skills is incredibly empowering and practice is key. Luckily there are parallels in both climbing and swiftwater rescue.

Hannah is ready to rap… and I’m not talking about spitting rhymes!

A little fun ensued while building anchors.

After spending the majority of Day 3 learning, we woke up to clear weather on Day 4.  I looked out the window and turned to my roommate Emily and said “Can you believe we are still here for 5 more days. This place is awesome.” She agreed. The group tried to get out reasonably early to ski Justice Mountain and practice safe travel on the Justice Glacier. We started off with a run down to the bottom of the glacier, which is a great way to start a day.

Bluebird (ish) BOOYAH!

McKenna and Kate looking down the morning run to the lake named after Kate.

With the huge Intermountain snowpack and local knowledge, crevasses were not considered a large enough problem to warrant roping up on the glacier, but as we were skinning, we stayed 10 meters apart as a precaution. Reaching the saddle, weather moved in again and we were forced to abort the Justice mission, but were still greeted with a few thousand vertical feet of skiing. The top part was my first experience skiing in a whiteout on a glacier – the possibility of crevasses adds a mental aspect to the already challenging task of skiing with no visual perception. Once we were below the Justice cloud, it was fun low angle powder turns until our legs burned at the bottom.

Skinning up amongst blue skies.

HuhWHAAAAT! BC, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.

Sandra dropping in with some better visibility

We headed over to practice skills like self arresting and walking on snow. We also practiced our acting skills (see video). Anne set up a roped crevasse rescue scenario and we watched the 3 guides work expertly as a team to extract “Jane” the bag, who had fallen into the crevasse. The take home messages for me were: when in doubt, back it up; prep the crevasse lip for the fallen person to be hauled out; and a Z drag is the way to go. Since the weather had turned cold and windy, we opted to skin back the lodge and practice some of these skills inside. However, on the way back, the light popped and we were able to get a few skiing shots.

From Alpine Finishing School

Ashley posing in the good light!

Lynsey trying to get the shot in front of Justice

So far, we had short weather windows and unideal light, but the camaraderie of the group and the overall setting kept our spirits high. In addition to learning new skills daily, singing 90s songs, synchronized skiing, dancing randomly, throwing snowballs, and an ever-evolving female freeskier rap kept us laughing and smiling. My best line was, “Want botox, how about a knee to the face, we got fat lips, scars all over the place.” It was just awesome to be around so many like-minded (and scarred) individuals and it was only day 4!

Hannah hadn’t gotten Xtreme enough today, so she decided to take the alternate lodge entrance.

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Alpine Finishing School – Getting There and Day 1

When SheJumps Executive Director Claire Smallwood told me about and invited me to the “Alpine Finishing School” in British Columbia, I felt so incredibly lucky that I actually didn’t believe it. I even asked Claire if she was serious about inviting me – when she said “yes,” I dropped the questioning and tried to maintain my “cool” so as not to blow it! HA! By mid-March, the plans were finalized and details started rolling in from Claire and our volunteer guide, Anne Keller. Anne is only the 6th AMGA certified female ski guide and, just like her dual citizenship, is certified in Canada through the ACMG – 1st female ever! She is also funny, loves classic and hard rock, and is a ripping skier.  We were going to be skiing out of the Selkirk Lodge near Revelstoke – which added to the all-female component of the trip – the lodge is run by sisters, Grania and Reinet, and the heir is Grania’s daughter, an ACMG assistant guide, Kate.

On Friday, April 13th, 4 of us met from various locations in the Seattle airport to fly to Kelowna, BC.  Emily Polar, who had generously offered to photograph the trip free of charge, came in from San Francisco. Ashley Magnusson, who I’ve known for a few years now, came in from Vail, CO. Sandra Lahnsteiner, a freeskier responsible for the all-female ski film “As We Are,” came all the way from Austria! We all shared a love for the mountains that was apparent when our first view of the North Cascades sent us all clamoring for the window.  Arriving in Kelowna, we were short two bags and were forced to stay there for the night instead of heading to Revelstoke immediately as originally planned. Turns out there was a reason for us to stay because the bags showed up with Lynsey Dyer at midnight and, after a little negotiation, we were able to score a free upgrade to a gigantic diesel truck the next morning. We were finally off to Revelstoke… after some forgotten ski boots, some lattes, a tarp to cover our luggage from the rain, and a few impromptu stops to gather large rocks to secure the tarp… luckily, Anne had the brilliant intuition to delay the heli lift a few hours.

Our faithful truck and awesome driver, Ashley.

Meeting up with the rest of the crew at Anne’s house, including Claire, Nat Segal, Hannah Whitney, and McKenna Peterson, our bags exploded and we frantically repacked for the heli to the lodge. We also met Michelle Smallman, who would be joining us as an assistant guide bringing a wealth of knowledge from her years as a heli guide and NOLS instructor. We flew out to the lodge about an hour later, leaving the rainy heli pad for the snowy high alpine near the lodge. It was dumping and I was pumped. Surrounding me was the most snow I had seen this season!

Prepping gear for the heli load

We settled in a bit and then headed outside to practice some avalanche rescue techniques. Testing our beacons, we learned the ins and outs of different kinds of beacons. We also learned a new probing technique and how to team shovel more effectively. We used this technique on the buried sauna.

We spent the evening talking about our experience in the mountains and our goals for the week. The group was impressive – at both skiing and talking! Probably one of the  noticeable results of having 14 women in a room! Everyone’s path to skiing and this lodge was impressive – and everyone’s goals were lofty. I felt like I just found 13 awesome ski buddies and I wanted to instantly invite them on all the trips that have been swirling in my mind for the past few years.

While eating the first of many delicious meals prepared by the multi-talented Claire, we learned about the lodge sanitation and water supply system and the associated chores. Simplistic, but efficient, we “mined” snow from an area filling buckets and tamping the snow to consolidate it. Sandra and I loved this job and her ski coach persona emerged when we did it.  Hearing her yell “TAMP THAT” or “THAT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” in her Austrian accent was both excellent motivation and entertainment. When all was said and done, we were exhausted, but incredibly excited for “school” to really start!

Tamp buddy and European freeskier Sandra settling in

More write ups to come, but the utmost thanks to all the companies that supported the trip: Black Diamond, Patagonia, Beyond Coastal Sunscreen, Arcade, Chums, Taos Mountain Energy Bars, Clif Bar, Ambler, Smith Optics, Discrete Headwear, and Flylow Gear.

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Skiing in the Swiss Alps

I had been “promising” to visit a good friend of mine in Switzerland for a few years now.  She had taken a job with FIFA right after my wedding and I hadn’t seen her since 2008!   Knowing that she doesn’t ski and practically hates winter, I had been holding out to visit outside of ski season – but on a whim I looked at flights and they were just too cheap to pass up – so I bought a flight and let her know I was on my way!  The 10 day trip was short, but perfect because I planned to ski during the week while my friend worked and then visit on the weekends.  Now I just needed someone to ski with so I got to work convincing one of my favorite ski buddies to join the trip. After some research on expediting a passport, Domi was in! And we were off to Central CH!

We arrived in Zurich at 2pm on Saturday and were greeted at the airport by Sophia. She wasn’t looking as Euro as I expected!  That afternoon, we cruised around Zurich, ate some chocolate, and met up with “Ze French Boyz.”

Merkur Chocolates Zurich

Don't say "Sacre Bleu" to these guys.

Sunday morning we were off to Trin, near Chur, to do a hike with Sophia’s friend and co-worker. The hike was near the Rhine River, a portion which is nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of Switzerland.” I think at this point I’ve been to the actual Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyons of Oregon, Peru, and Switzerland. Knowing that we came to Switzerland to ski, Domi and I were a bit worried about the snow, which turned out to be difficult, but we made the best of it. Luckily, we fueled up with Rosti, a Swiss German plate of potatoes, cheese, and other items, before the hike.

mmm, cholesterol. this was better than fondue.

Hiking near the Rhine and the train tracks.

The cliffs of the Ruinaulta

Thoroughly exhausted from trudging through knee deep snow, we traveled back to Zurich and prepped our gear for the next 4 days of skiing – we were off to Andermatt in the AM.
Getting to Andermatt, which is usually a quick train trip from Zurich’s main station, was a bit more challenging for us with all of our gear. Furthermore, there was a “track interruption” due to a landslide. After a bus, train, bus, and train, we made it there around 11 AM, checked into our lodging, and headed over to the Gemmstock Cable Car.

Waiting for the train at the main station

Ski racks on the Swiss trains

Gemmstock Cable Car at Andermatt - giant bowl - like 4 times the size of Kirkwood!

After some advice on the cable car from a local military skier, we headed over to ski the Felsental – one of the classic off-piste Andermatt runs.

1/2 way down the 1st run on the Felsental

After a 2nd lap on the Felsentel, we decided to check out the Guspis, which we later found out ended in a different town! The snow was a bit wind affected, but it was pretty awesome to end up skiing into another village and then taking the train back to Andermatt (included in the lift ticket!).

After skiing the Guspis, heading down into Hospental

Back in Andermatt, we had missed the last cable car, so we laughed about how we did 3 runs in 4 hours over a beer. Granted they were 4,500′ vertical each. Skiing in the Alps was already different from skiing in the US.

The next day, we were excited to spend more time exploring Andermatt. We were feeling the effects of jet lag, so we hit up the piste first and skied a groomer to a T-bar. Then we scoped out “the Giraffe” from an off-piste run near the T-bar. We felt ready to hit Giraffe, which we had read ends in a 500 m couloir. After executing a sketchy traverse over some 100′ cliffs and we were standing on the top of the run. We dropped in and skied some wind affected snow down to the top of multiple chutes. It wasn’t powder, but it was consistent, steep, and aesthetic.

The Giraffe, right above the 500m couloirs (photo by Domi)

Couloir options on the Giraffe.

Avalanche debris at the bottom of the couloir

After skiing the Giraffe, there was a fairly long traverse in a river valley, which we found quite common in the region. Right before the village of Andermatt, I skied into a river while crossing over a snow bridge which was pretty hilarious. I dropped my pole and had to chase it downstream. There was a lot of commotion, but is was 50 degrees, so it turned out to be fine and after a quick stop for lunch and some gear drying at our guesthouse, we headed back out to ski a few more runs and experience some on-mountain apres.

Still some dense pow on the Felsental

Beer at the Umbrella Bar, Andermatt, mid-mountain

That night we met up with a local guide, Dan of Birdos Skis, who just happened to be from the US, at Basecamp Andermatt. Dan was incredibly helpful, lending us all the maps and beta we need to ski the 6000′ vertical North face of the Oberalpstock, near Disentis, the following day.

We headed out of Andermatt on the 7:27 train over Oberalpass and to the ski resort of Disentis. We purchased one way tickets and made our way to the top of the resort. We put skins on and hiked toward the Piz Ault, crossing the rocky ridge via a rebar ladder with 25 of other people – mostly guided parties. Along the way, we met some Swedes and marveled at the proverbial “shit show” in front of us. Making it over the ladder after watching guides carry their clients skis and clients drop helmets down the slope, we were able to sport our skis for a quick run down before the main hike began.

Traffic jam with a view at Piz Ault

Ascending the ladder at Piz Ault

We then had about an hour of skinning to reach the main run. We watched as another guided party made wedge turns down the first part of the run. Wow. I can’t even imagine how long it must have taken them to descend 6,000′! After a snack, we began our descent, which started out with wind affected and tracked snow and then opened up to some perfect powder. High-fiving at the bottom of the middle section, Domi and I agreed that it was the longest powder run we had ever experienced… and she had been heli-skiing in Alaska! And… we still had about 2,000 feet to go!

Domi skinning up the Oberalpstock

Domi tearing up some decent pow on the way down

The bottom of the run was a little dicey with an avalanche debris packed chute, but we made it down and reunited with our new Swedish friends to ski out the river valley down to Bristen.

End of skiing... for now

Grass skiing! Or it smells like manure! Or watch out for that river!

We shared a cab with the Swedes and some stories on the way back to Andermatt. We were lucky to have met them. Jimmy has incredible knowledge as a 17 year guide in Verbier, even penning a book that has been called “the Backcountry Skiing Bible,” and his wife Sara is a former competitor in both the X games and the Freeride World Tour – together they founded the clothing company Elevenate. Watch for them – it is cool, functional, and unique.
That night we met back up with Dan and received our next “assignment,” the Rossbodenstock, a peak that looms over Andermatt which both of us had admired from the lifts a few days before. We headed out Thursday on the 8:27 train to Oberalpass – only 4 Swiss Francs – our cheapest day of skiing so far! The stop at Oberalpass was 2000m and the top of the Rossbodenstock was just over 2800m. From the Rossbodenstock, we could ski back down into Andermatt, elevation 1444m. On the ridge near the peak we noticed the route required some dicey scrambling, which a few guys from the Swiss military had roped up for. We also noticed powder on the more North facing flank of the mountain. So, instead of summitting, we skinned as high as we could and dropped into the shoulder skiing powder all the way to the bottom. Woo hoo!!!!

Domi skinning up the Rossbodenstock

Swiss military in white camo!

Yeah, this looks good... dropping!

Soft snow = airing it out!

Back in Andermatt by noon, we returned the maps to Dan and jumped on the train back to Zurich. We planned on skiing Engelberg the next day and staying at Sophia’s was somewhat on the way.
Engelberg is huge, close to Zurich (1hr train), and bigger and more touristy than Andermatt. The vertical relief is 6000′. It takes 3 lifts for skiers to get to the top – a gondola, a cable car, and a rotating gondola that turns 360 degrees during the trip for a panoramic view. Then you have to climb 4 stories of stairs to get out onto the slopes, past a glacier cave, some restaurants, and jewelry and watch stores. Then you can ski. 1st run, the Steinberg, a steep long run littered with cliffs and crevasses. Some good wind buff snow at the top, a scary and icy traverse, and some powder below with difficult route-finding. Next up, the Laub – a 4,500′ run that remains 35-38 degrees in pitch the entire time. We found some excellent snow and decided to do it again before the end of the day. We skied around the lifts for a while, checked out the igloo bar and then headed back to ski the Laub again before our tired legs called it a day. We made our way back to Zurich to relax and check out some neighborhood bars with Sophia.

Glacier Cave at the top of Engelberg

the Laub - long and wide

Domi on the Laub

Meghan on the Laub (photo by Domi)

Igloo bar - and giant pillows to lay on

We originally had big plans for the 2nd weekend – maybe head to Italy or France, catch a football game, but we decided that we had not seen enough of Zurich and the weather was beautiful on Saturday so we hung out and checked out the local graffiti, markets, Lake Zurich, St. Patrick’s day scene, and finished the night with fondue.

Watch out Soph!

The weather was a lot worse on Sunday, so we headed to FIFA to check out Sophia’s work and then spent a few hours in the employee spa.

Pretending to kick a ball. Can't you tell? Yeah, I played college soccer.

We finished off the day watching football in the pub and eating some delicious raviolis we bought at a local market for approximately $25 (Switzerland is super expensive if you haven’t heard) and packed up for our journey back to the US. Despite the high prices in Switzerland, I can’t wait to ski the Alps again – we didn’t have fresh snow, but we did have amazing weather and some great ski days. I’ve been back in Tahoe for more than a week and my home resort feels small and safe – the Alps made me a better skier and should be added to any expert skier’s bucket list. Next Europe trip – Chamonix, Verbier, and La Grave – so let me know if you’re going!

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