Vertical white mountain peaks glistened in the winter sun in the cloudless blue skies.The Arlberg Mountain beckoned us back again for a spring skiing extravaganza! There was tons of snow to be found and the perfect weather guaranteed another fantastic trip. My son and I stayed at the charming Körbersee Hotel right on the frozen lake of the same name located on the north-western edge of the “Lechtaler” Alps in Vorarlberg, Austria. The resort has recently been voted the best ski resort in the world and for us it certainly is. We were graced with optimal conditions and for free riding it doesn’t get any better.
Another day, another adventure. We were ready for day two of our Arlberg Freeriding trip. Our route took us around the Karhorn from Warth to Lech, then down the “Klemm” from the Zuger Hochlicht to Schröcken. It was a new and amazing experience for both of us with all kinds of conditions from freshly thawed corn snow in the first run to powder and steep bowls in the second. We skied until we had our fill, then headed back to the hotel for a well earned sauna and supper. https://www.warth-schroecken.at/…/der-beste-freeride-run-am…
Our Arlberg Freeride adventure continued the following day as we awoke once again to good weather conditions. The trail we chose was known for a priest who reportedly was the very first person to ski from Warth to Lech in 1894 after he read about skis in the newspaper. He ordered a pair from Scandinavia and apparently wanted to use the skis as a mode of transportation so he could “ski better and faster in the alpine terrain” and could more easily attend to his flock. Or maybe he just wanted them simply for the joy of skiing? Whatever his motivation was, we knew ours was to revel in another epic day. The snow had perfectly softened to a carpet by the early sun as we glided down into Lech. We took a break for the requisite beer in the Balmalp restaurant/bar that is “the peak of enjoyment at 2,100m.” and really is the quintessential example of Austrian après skiing. Instead of calling it a day, we just had to take one more run down to Schröcken and found some untouched powder bowls in the process. Three perfect spring skiing days like never before! Skiing in the Arlberg does not get any better. pfarrer-mueller-freeride
The cry of an unfamiliar bird awoke me. Looking out of the motor home I realized that we were not in Austria anymore. My son Stefan and I had flown half way across the world to the remote territory in the Northwest of Canada in the wilds of the Yukon. The view outside was stunning as we had parked at the edge of a seemingly endless frozen body of water called Lake Atlin with snowy mountains on the horizon as far as the eye could see. The bird turned out to be a large bald eagle with its recognizable dark brown body and a white head and it was majestic. We were lucky to catch some spectacular footage up close of this formidable bird of prey at the beginning of our third movie of our Canadian sojourn.
My son Stefan and I had decided to take a special adventure trip together to celebrate my 60th and his 25th birthday organised by Furtenbach Adventures. Our original destination was heli-skiing in Japan but it was canceled unexpectledly and instead we chose the other side of the planet. The itinerary was a very different type of trip, rather than hotels we travelled in large motor homes with two people per vehicle with the advantage being that we had the option to go where the weather and the snow were most optimal.
We flew into Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon and began our journey there. Our small caravan consisted of three motor homes with five participants and our Austrian guide Harald. After our group stocked up with supplies we drove south on the scenic Alaskan Highway into British Columbia. We had changed from our original destination, the Haines Pass and were lucky that the weather was much better in Atlin, and that the local Atlin Heli Sports was able to accommodate us. After arriving Harry gave us a thorough avalanche preparation course including how to trigger the reusable airbags. The charismatic owner André Gutenberg and his lovely wife and daughters as well as his team took great care of us. The following day we cooked out and spent the night on the lakeshore. As my son was taking photos around 11:30 pm he noticed a green sliver on the displayed picture on the camera. We hadn’t detected it with our eyes yet but it was the beginning of the Aurora Borealis and we watched the sky turn into a green spectacle for 20 minutes. It was quite a sight to see.
We awoke with anticipation to our first day of helicopter skiing and all kinds of activity at the “ranch.” André informed us that he had obtained the rights to a mountain area that had not been skied for many years and that he was going to check it out with some other guides. We were to follow behind. Of course we were really excited about that, especially that he would consider our skiing skills good enough to follow his team. Our group consisted of three others from Germany including Jo from Swabia, and Tobi and Michael from Bavaria. They were all great guys and we became good friends. The mountains were a good distance away and our guides flew with the helicopter while we were transported to the mountains with an old de Havilland Beaver. The sturdy plane was 62 years old but flew like a youngster, piloted by the always happy Chris.
Our trusty transport landed on the lake near two big oil barrels that contained gasoline for the helicopter. A few minutes later the heli arrived and took us to our first landing site near the top of a mountain. We had received strict loading entry and exit procedures that required us to huddle with one knee near the aircraft on the ground so to avoid any possible contact with the overhead blade. First the skis and airbags were loaded into a side metal box of the heli followed by our group with four in the back, the lightest in the middle, and the guide on the left side. Due to Stefan being so light were we able to fit 7 people into this helicopter. The entire landing process took less than a minute before the pilot lifted off again. Unfortunately for us on the first day the weather and visibility was not all that great. The remote location was incredible but the snow conditions were challenging, nevertheless we were elated. Our group followed the tracks of the guide group, sometimes veering off a bit to get fresh powder. Whenever we got to the bottom of a run the heli was there in no time, and we flew off to begin anew. The weather improved as we also descended further into the valley and below the tree line. Meal time proved challenging as well. Lunch was served next to the heli at the bottom of the run but getting there we had to master the increasingly difficult terrain ending in complete slush. I had borrowed a pair of skis and they were not as wide as what the others had and I definitely paid the price for it that day. After a wonderful lunch of hearty soup and sandwiches we had a few more higher runs then headed on home. We were surprised by a wonderful steak dinner that Mira, André’s wife, cooked for us.
The next morning the process was repeated but his time Stefan flew with the guides. This day I borrowed some really fat Kästle skis that were perfect for the terrain and was then able to thoroughly enjoy the entire day. We flew to two distinctly different areas and had a blast with the snow quality improving due to the lower temperatures. On the third day in Atlin we went snowmobiling with our guide who lead us to the Hinterland and prepared a wonderful barbecue with delicious Moose burgers. The only casualty that day was Stefan’s drone which he had the bad luck of flying it into a tree as he was filming. Fortunately two sets of rotors fixed the little critter that provided us with so much amazing footage.
The following day it was time to say good bye and head back north, then southwest to Carcross – originally called Caribou Crossing – from there over the White and Chilkoot Pass across the Canada – US border to Skagway. Our route was an amazingly beautiful drive that followed the famed Klondike Trail that so many hopeful prospectors traveled in the last years of the 19th century to pan for gold. The town of Skagway still pays tribute to that time and in the summer visitors can take the Yukon Route Railway up to the White Pass.
We made camp at a quiet park near the Skagway town hall and had a nice dinner in town with lots of locally brewed beer. The following day we took a one hour ferry boat to Haines across the sound. It was a beautiful sunny day and we saw the destination of our next ski adventure beckoning us from the distance. In Haines we checked in with SEABA, our next heli company that had a sprawling lodge on a hill overlooking the ocean that was not far from downtown. In the lodge we met a rowdy group of bartenders from Lake Tahoe, California who were spending ten days in Haines. Stefan immediately connected with these guys since he had grown up in Southern California.
We had to wait two more days before the weather was acceptable for flying, so we explored the town and its surroundings and ventured out to the Chilkoot State Park. The next day we drove up the Haines Pass, where another heli outfit was located. This had orginally been the place where we had planned to ski first but decided against and it turned out to be a good choice we had made. A Red Bull film crew and a professional snowboarder had been holed up there for a week due to bad weather. Despite the weather we drove further on and took a 2 hour ski tour in heavy winds and fog, at least we got to use our muscles a bit.
Friday came around and there was an excitement in the air at the lodge. The guides met at 7 am and the cook had prepared us a fantastic breakfast. We prepared and loaded up our skis, airbags into the shuttle vans and took off promptly at 8:30 to the close by airport. Each one of us was given a climbing harness and a radio, and we were weighed with and without all of our gear. We were assigned a cheerful guide named Austin and took off into the clear skies with breathtaking scenery below us. It was the most unbelievable day. The mountains were much steeper than Atlin, in fact Haines is a place were many professional extreme skiers come to film incredible descents.
Our fifth run was called the Pineapple Express and was named after a weather phenomenon. Just looking down the steep 50 degree descent sent shivers down my spine. Our guide took out his climbing rope and secured a second guide so he could test the stability of the snow. All checked out so the first group skied down one by one. Then it was our turn. Stefan dropped in and lay down fast powder lines. Two thirds down the slope there was a snow hill sticking out, which he attempted to use for a jump. Unfortunately it was an icy mound, he landed badly and ended up somersaulting several times without his bindings opening up. Both of his legs were severely shaken around in his boots, that gave him a contusion in both calves. He ended up doing one more run but then had to quit because of severe pain. Even though he was able to walk just fine when out of his ski boots unfortunately he could not ski again. We did 8 flights and runs that day and it was definitely the most epic ski day of my life. To top off the day despite Stefan’s injury we did enjoy a fine seafood feast of Alaskan king crab.
Saturday brought some great weather to begin with but we had to stop after four runs because of clouds moving in. The following day Jo and Michael attempted to go out but ended up with only two runs and a lot of waiting at the airport. To our surprise the company then gave us a gift of another four runs the following morning. Our guide was on a snowboard and we finished skiing with some wonderful powder. Our last evening our group came together for our farewell barbeque on the beach and we made a strong fire and grilled some awesome ribeye steaks with baked potatoes professionally prepared courtesy of Harry. The setting sun bid farewell to this incredible scenery with its glaciers down to the ocean and steep mountains reaching to the skies.
Our drive back into Canada via the Haines Pass to Haines Junction and then onto Whitehorse was uneventful and we returned our RVs. The next morning we left for Vancouver while the others headed back to Europe. We spent a nice evening in one of Canada’s finest cities and flew back home the following day. It was an adventure of a lifetime.
The blue snow glowed under the full moon as the dark slopes loomed silently against the skyline. At its towering feet the Körbersee Lake lay covered in its winter mantle and the March night was magical high in the Austrian alps. Franz, myself, and our son had come for some days of spring skiing to meet up with a lively group of friends we try to meet every year somewhere in Europe. And this year the snow gods smiled upon our lucky crew and bestowed some fresh powder and sun drenched days. To make things even better the primo weather made for some incredible photographic opportunities that our group indulged in.
The Körbersee Hotel is a small oasis in the Warth/Schröcken ski resort with access to Lech am Arlberg only a few hills away with the speedy Auenfeldjet gondola. What makes the lodgings unique is that access to the hotel is either by foot via a hiking trail from Schröcken or Warth or one can ski in, cross country or downhill. This small gem lies in a small valley with an unsurpassed view and an easy cross country trail around the lake with even more advanced trails into the mountains. We will be back next year for sure!
What makes this film especially unique it is our first time to use a drone for spectacular aerial views of these magnificent mountains, especially the Juppenspitze and the Mohnenfluh.
The light spot at the end of the tunnel grew larger as we completed the last 7 Miles from France into Italy. The Mont Blanc tunnel from Chamonix to Courmayeur saved us from a long drive around the highest mountains of the Alps. The sunset view over the Aosta valley was breathtaking, but we had only deep powder in mind. My son Stefan joined me to ski some of the most scenic areas in Europe, including France’s largest glacier, the Mer de Glace, the sea of ice. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mer_de_Glace
Courmayeur is a quaint town at the end of the Aosta valley, a family oriented ski resort. But it is also a magnet for free riders from around the world. We were not disappointed! More than two feet of powder had just fallen the night before we got there and all we had to do was follow the guys with the long fat skis and avalanche packs to the top of the ski area, where two tiny metal gondolas brought you up to the edge of the sky, like sardines packed for their final delivery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courmayeur
Huge bowls on either side beckoned with steep descents, we chose left at first, then right on our second trip to the top. Well equipped with our own avalanche gear, transceiver, shovel, probe and airbag we dove into the deep powder and the ravines, Stefan always charging ahead. At the end of the day two tired but happy snow warriors ended up at the restaurant where we came out of the forest, only to find a suckling pig roasting on an open fire. A couple of beers and some pork made us the happiest people alive!
On the second day we continued our quest to find unchartered territory. It had gotten warmer and we had to work harder. A long descent at the boundary of the resort with the snow getting stickier by the minute at the bottom was our last hurrah for the day.
The grand finale on day three was the guided tour through the Vallée Blanche from the Punta Helbronner down to Chamonix, on the Mer de Glace. Two cable cars with revolving cabins take you up to a spectacular 11,358 ft, with views across the glacier to the Aiguille du Midi, a sharp needle close to the highest mountain of the Alps, the Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco, its peak shared by France and Italy. The “White Mountain” stands 1272 ft taller than Mount Whitney, the highest mountain of the continental USA, at 15,777 ft. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointe_Helbronner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Blanc
Our charming and seasoned mountain guide Mario Ogliengo provided our small international group with transceivers and climbing harnesses. These are especially important, because they provide the means for rescuers to pull you out of a crevasse if necessary. Crevasses are an ever present danger on glaciers, one can never be too careful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvjUUgJgxJ4
The 20 km (13 mi) long tour provided us with amazing scenery, a bit of powder, and a day of feeling transported to another world. Dive with us into the abyss of rock and ice.
Spring was in the air and that means time for some springtime skiing. For this years trip we ventured to a rather unknown ski area, the “freeride paradise” of the Monte Rosa. The Monte Rosa is a huge mountain between Switzerland and Italy with its highest peak, the Dufourspitze, being the second highest peak of the Alps, at 4,634 metres (15,203 ft). The Monterosa ski area covers three valleys with the highest cable car reaching Punta Indren at 3275m. We discovered quickly, that this area is a meeting point for freeriders from around the world. The sparse forest at the bottom and the huge bowls at the top lure daredevils and film teams when the conditions are right. And right they were! After a foggy start we glimpsed a bit of the mountain on our first day, the following day we woke to heavy snowfall and a fresh base of almost two feet of the lightest powder you can imagine. The top of the mountain remained closed for two days while the hoards of freeriders raced through the forest like ghost warriors in the Lord of the Rings. http://www.monterosa-ski.com/?lang=en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Rosa
My son Stefan and I rented fat long free ride skis and joined in the chase, and what an experience that was! The forests on the northern side of the Alps are much thicker than in the Monterosa, and they are protected so normally skiing through them is forbidden. In the Monterosa there is plenty of space to make fast turns between the trees one just has to watch out for the numerous buried rocks that love to strip you of your gear and turn you into a gasping snow diver.
The third day found us exploring the Champoluc area with some beautiful deep powder bowls while we all hoped for the sun to come out. The sun came out the following morning and there was a special electricity in town as the sounds of a helicopter and explosions echoed from the top of the mountain. We all waited and hoped for the top of the mountain to open up for we had reserved a local guide in anticipation of a last day of glorious skiing. At promptly 8:45 we met our local guide Jimmy at the bottom of the hill. He was a very charismatic guy, known to almost everybody in town, and we immediately took a liking to him. He proved to be an excellent guide and we followed him without reservations for our first amazing run down the mountain. After our initial warmup we discovered that the top of the mountain had opened up and we headed there to begin a day of indescribable freeriding in the amazing landscape.
Sheer dark granite faces lined the winding road as our small car climbed the steep incline up the narrow route that led us to our skiing destination in Northwestern Italy in the remote Gressony Valley of Gressoney-Saint-Jean. My husband, our son, and I had made our way from Austria via Switzerland over the San Bernardino Pass and we had made a small detour around the picturesque Lago Maggiore. The lake is known for its beautiful gardens and the camellias had just burst with vibrant shades of pink and spring was definitely in the air. We stopped for lunch in the quaint town of Cannero Riviera that was decorated throughout with yellow and orange ribbons and lemons. The town was beginning a weekend Citrus Fruits Festival to welcome the coming of spring by celebrating the acidic fruits of the region such as lemons, mandarins, oranges, and grapefruit. We enjoyed a special menu for the day with house pasta specialities and topped it off with a delicious lemon tiramisu. http://activitieslakemaggiore.com/whats-up/citrus-fruits-festival-2014/
As we entered the the Valle di Gressoney-Saint-Jean we were greeted by the characteristic gray stone houses nestled in the valley floor that had been settled by the industrious trading people known as the Walser from nearby Switzerland. The Walser people are of Germanic origin in custom and costume and speak a distinctive “titsch” dialect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walser. Within the valley a mixture of French, German and Italian is spoken called Valdôtain and the signage and food reflects the melding of the three cultures. Gressoney-Saint-Jean is a charming small town nestled along a sparkling river with the snowy high peaks of the Monte Rosa (4634m) referred to as “His Highness” that hold the snowy treasures we had come to experience. The Monterosa ski resort attracts international skiers beckoning them with over 180km of skiable area complete with the highly sought after free ride and glade skiing terrain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aosta_Valley.
A few highlights of the town that I found of interest was the regional fauna museum, the AlpenfaunamuseumBeck-Peccos that displayed an eccentric but interesting collection from the region and an anomalous hunting and horn collection. Another historical tour was of the stately castle that overlooks the valley, the Castel Savoia built by Queen Margherita of Savoy and King Umbetto I of Italy in 1899. The royal couple were avid hunters and nature seekers and made their holidays in the valley and it was to become a fashionable destination for the high society.
The food of Gressoney-Saint-Jean is simply magnificent. We wined and dined ourselves through some of the best restaurants in the town such as The Nordkapphttps://it-it.facebook.com/pages/Nordkapp/156303271136763 and My Hostariahttps://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Hostaria/601500593295445 reveled in the robust bounty of the region. The food combines the Italian, French, and German cuisine into flavorful dishes fit for a king. We enjoyed antipasti appetizers with local salamis of beef and chamois and local cheeses such as Fontina, Toma and Seras complete with rustic beads. A speciality dish is Valpelline which is a type of breaded soup with cabbage and cheese, polenta of all varieties, and tender local beef steaks and beef cheeks.
One wine we enjoyed with our evening meals was a local Donnas made from the Nebbiolo grape. The highlight of our culinary Aosta adventure was in celebration of my son’s twenty fourth birthday. We booked a table at Punta Jolanda at the top of the mountain and it just happened to coincide with the highly anticipated heavy snowfall. And snow it did. We were met at the base of the mountain in a blizzard of snow with an enormous snowcat that transported us up to the top of the mountain in an unusual mode that was noisy but fun despite the almost white out conditions. The restaurant was a cozy enclave with a commanding view of the valley below that unfortunately we could not see but admired nevertheless. We enjoyed a delicious meal, began with a fruity prosecco and our main course was an enormous 2 kg of florentine beef paired with a lovely rich Piedmont Barolo. We topped our meal off with lovely desserts of fruit, mousse, and crème brûlée. A wonderful meal, in a wonderful place, for a wonderful son. Life does not get better.
Lech am Arlberg is arguably the most prestigious ski resort in the Alps. On one hand it is the Eldorado of deep powder snow, on the other a quiet winter Mecca where the royals and the super rich mingle undisturbed by paparazzi. To me it is a magical place where in the past I’ve rented an old hut without hot water and showers with twenty-five of my best friends every year, where I taught skiing as a student during holidays and semester breaks that enabled me to ski for 3 months every winter and I got paid doing it, where I’ve had countless deep powder free riding memories, where I came to every Christmas with my family when we lived in California, where I experienced the most amazing hospitality I’ve ever had on this planet, where I’ve got to know every single hotel owner in the many different places we stayed at, and where I still take friends from around the world because it is so special.
The ski area is connected with the neighboring towns of Warth and Zürs. A short ski bus ride away is the Alpe Rauz, from there a chairlift takes skiers into the area of St. Anton am Arlberg, which is in the neighboring state of Tyrol. A total of 94 cable cars and ski lifts create 340 km of groomed pistes and 200 km of deep powder runs. Modern skiing began here in the early 1900s with Hannes Schneider teaching his Arlberg technique.
The White Ring is the longest ski race in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The race starts in Lech on top of the Rüfikopf and follows the ski run down to Zürs, the participants then take the lift up to the beginning of the Madloch, the infamous 5 km ski run down to Zug. A chair lift takes the entrants up the Kriegerhorn and the race course finishes back in Lech at the bottom of the Schlegelkopf.
Bregenz is the capital of the most western Austrian state of Vorarlberg. It lies on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, a lake shared also by Germany and Switzerland. The lake functions as a heater in the winter, so often there is little snow in Bregenz during that season. Sometimes, however, Bregenz is inundated with lots of “white gold”, and then the local mountain, the Pfänder (1064 m) is dressed up in an amazing white outfit and becomes a playground for the local people, skiing, ski touring, sledding, snow shoeing and hiking being the sports of choice.
There is a 3.5 km ski run down the mountain, the “Schlauch” (hose in English), where a downhill race was run for many years. As a kid my dream was to ski the Schlauch in “Schuss” position, with my poles tucked in for speed. Unfortunately I was not a very good skier back then, but when I found myself on top of the run one sunny morning – after returning to Bregenz decades later – I decided it was now or never.
The Berghaus Diavolezza is a mountain hotel at 3000 m, an outpost of the St. Moritz ski area. It offers both simple and luxurious accommodations, and a breathtaking view of the Piz Palü, a 3901 m high mountain, which is often the destination of ski touring guests at the hotel. The main town of St. Moritz is reachable by the famous “Rhätische Bahn“, which has UNESCO World Heritage status for the track between Thusis and Tirano, with one stop located at the bottom of the Diavolezza cable car. St. Moritz is one of the most glamorous ski resorts in the Alps, with the Corvatsch mountain (3303 m) being the highest peak reachable by cable car in the area. A spectacular 10km glacier run guides the adventurous skier from the top of the Diavolezza to Morteratsch, where the train takes you either down to St. Moritz or up the valley towards the Bernina pass. The area is located on the Southern side of the Alps and this year it received enormous amounts of snow. Sahara sand was blown across the Mediterranean by strong winds and created colorful patches on slopes with southern exposure. A beautiful train ride back to Chur completed our four day stay at the top of the world.
Bödele-Schwarzenberg (700-1,460m) is a small ski area complete with nostalgic alpine ski huts in the Vorarlberg state of Austria. It’s a wonderful place for a day’s ski excursion for both downhill, cross country skiing, ski touring, or snowshoeing. Its location is at the beginning of the charming Bregenzerwald Valley which is world famous for its award winning alpine cheese, characteristic wooden farm houses, distinctive dialect, and strong cultural farming traditions. Its setting is nothing short of breathtaking. The resort looks down into the Rhine Valley and one can view the Swiss, German, and Austrian lands that lay below. The alpine village of Schwarzenberg is located not too far from the ski area. It is famous for its cheese and schnaps festival. But its real claim to fame is its long autumn tradition of the farmers in full regional dress bringing down their cow herds from the cheese making alm huts and parading them through the old streets. The cows are brightly adorned with bells and flower wreaths and the cow that has given the most milk during the summer is especially decorated and is given much applause by the appreciative tourists that line the streets. This cultural tradition is representative of the Austrian mountain life and a highlight for any tourist. In addition, the city of Dornbirn with its numerous cultural offerings can be found within a short drive from the mountain as well.