Freeriding The Arlberg, Again! Körbersee, 3-2019

The Arlberg Mountain is beckoning us again for a spring skiing extravaganza, tons of snow and perfect weather virtually guarantee another fantastic trip to the Körbersee at the north-western edged of this wonderful place, voted best ski resort in the world recently. And freeriding it was, exclusively!

Another day, another adventure. Day two of our Arlberg Freeriding trip. Around the Karhorn from Warth to Lech, then down the “Klemm” from the Zuger Hochlicht to Schröcken, a new and amazing experience for both of us. Freshly thawed corn snow in the first run, powder and steep bowls in the second. https://www.warth-schroecken.at/…/der-beste-freeride-run-am…

Our Arlberg Freeride adventure ended with yet another epic day. We followed the trail of a priest who was the very first person to ski from Warth to Lech in 1894 after he read about skis in the newspaper and ordered a pair in Scandinavia.
pfarrer-mueller-freeride
The snow was perfectly softened to a carpet by the early sun as we glided down to Lech. A beer in the Balmalp later we decided to take another run down to Schröcken, finding some other powder bowls in the process. Three perfect spring skiing days like never before!

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A Winter Visit To The Navajo Reservation, USA, 1-2019

A white whisper of snow dusted the sandstone buttes of the Lukachukai mountains that are sacred to our people the Dineh´. Franz and I had come out to the Navajo Reservation for a whirlwind tour to visit family out on the “Rez” with our son and his Austrian girlfriend, who was a first time visitor to the US. We wanted to share with her the beauty of our homelands but were pressed for time due to our guys having to be back in California to give a talk. Can the Southwest be done in 7 days in January? Yep! Enjoyable? You bet! It can be as long as it’s not the worst winter on record and if one focuses on one main destination per day it can be quite doable. The day before we had flown in from San Diego to Albuquerque, New Mexico and we overnighted with family in Placitas. When in the vicinity a must stop is at the iconic Range Cafe in nearby Bernalillo for some local eats and live blues music. 7 days is not a whole lotta time out in the great expanse of the American Southwest. That and a weather front had just dumped substantial snowfall on the route out to Arizona that included several high passes and remote roads. This was of concern as well as the government shutdown which affected the clearing of the highways and had caused the closure of many national parks and monuments. 

https://www.rangecafe.com/menus/

https://www.newmexico.org/nmmagazine/articles/post/native-basket-array-grants/

As luck would have it the dawn brought sunny skies and clear roads and the Navajo Nation had stepped up to ensure that the highways out on the Rez were maintained. The stars had aligned in our favor. Our route from Placitas via I-40 to Grants, New Mexico included a side tour via Route 66 to check out a Native Basket Array installation at the Fire and Ice Park. The project highlighted the work of local artists who had repurposed satellite dishes and painted them in traditional designs to create unconventional pieces of public art. While there a quick peek in at the New Mexico Mining Museum is well worth the time taken and holds a collection of related artifacts from the area and some tribal art.

Route 40 winds near the ancient El Malpais National Monument where the landscape morphs into unusual basalt formations with dormant volcanic spires and hardened lava flows. The otherworldly terrain was formed from 115,000 to as recently as 2,000 years ago and the local tribes the Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna Pueblo people have inhabited this region for over 10,000 years. One’s imagination can easily take hold out here in the vast spaces of this arid region. And mine did just that as my sister recounted a story that told of large lizards that inhabit the remote lava tubes of this eerie landscape and are said to be voracious eaters that keep the locals and animals away. The 60’s sci fi film Journey to the Center of the Earth came to mind. Creepy! This of course intrigued our guys and Franz set out on foot to check out an underground flume they had spotted on Google Earth and Stefan followed him with a drone recording his progress. I am happy to report that he encountered no flesh eating lizards but perhaps they were hibernating in the winter months only to emerge come spring with ravenous appetites… but regardless of the lack of large reptiles the footage they caught was pretty spectacular! 

The frozen waters of Wheatfields Lake lay silent with only a whisper of falling snow. If one is lucky majestic eagles can be seen perched along the pines lining the shore. The Diné/Biitah Scenic Road winds right past Wheatfields Park at 7300 feet which is known for its trout fishing then steadily climbs the Chuska Mountains until descending into the Lukachukai Valley with the mountains (9466 ft.) in the distance. We spent an evening at the homestead and planned the next day to take in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, just one of the many treasures on Navajo tribal lands.

After a lovely family evening our small group took off to visit a special place in Canyon de Chelly that involves rugged muddy roads and takes effort to get to especially in winter. The view from the point is quite spectacular and mother nature does not get any more beautiful than this. The canyon itself covers 84,000 acres and is about 45 miles long with sandstone faces up to 800 feet tall. Carved into the Defiance Plateau by the Chinle Wash this magnificent gorge is considered sacred to both the Navajo and the Hopi and has been inhabited for over 5000 years and still is today. Prehistoric cliff dwellings and rock art dot the canyon walls with the grande dame spire of them all, Spider Rock (830 ft) presiding over the canyon. Spider Rock, or Na’ashje’ii, is sacred to the Navajo and many stories are associated with her, such as how she taught the Navajo how to weave as well as her ensnaring naughty children in her web that has kept many little kids in check over the years.

http://navajopeople.org/blog/navajo-creation-story-the-third-yellow-world/

We woke to snowfall the following day which kept us from exploring further afield instead we hiked closer to home then cozied up to a warm fire
and played a rousing game of Scrabble. To my dismay one of our native German speakers won the game with a whopping 84 points for the word “question!” Ouch! Our trip out to Lukachukai was way too short but we had to get out to California and opted to drive back with a few stops along the way. With our first time visitor in tow we headed to our next destination via Round Rock and Kayenta to Monument Valley, about a 2 hour drive away. One simply cannot visit Navajo Country for the first time without stopping at the Monument Valley Tribal Park. The rugged buttes, jagged pinnacles, and flat mesas that grace the valley and beyond did not disappoint as they shimmered in the stillness of the January day. Its breathtaking beauty always inspires awe no matter how many times I’ve visited. Traveling the Southwest during the winter is a gamble weather wise, but if the conditions are right one can experience the season when tourism slows to a trickle and can walk about the parks and the visitor centers minus the crowds. It felt as if we had the whole majestic place to ourselves.

https://navajonationparks.org/tribal-parks/monument-valley/

Content that our photographers got their shots we hit the road once again with our next stop, the amazing sandstone wonders of Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. To tour the slot canyons of Antelope Canyon it is necessary to book a guided tour as it is a big tourist destination even in January. We had made our appointment at 3:00 pm with Ken’s Tour at the Lower Antelope Canyon to catch the best possible winter sun rays and there was no way we were going to miss our allotted time.

Our route lead us 2 1/2 hours through the chaparral terrain (6312) of Shonto, Arizona. As we descended from the high plains the placid waters of Lake Powell came into view. It’s hard to miss the second largest man made lake in the US that covers 190 miles in this arid region. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that the conditions had cooperated and we would make our tour. And it was simply amazing! It was even better than I had anticipated and far surpassed our expectations. Stunning, spiritual, spectacular, sensational and all the superlatives combined, it was that and more. We also had the best Navajo guide possible who was not only friendly but a wealth of knowledge regarding the geology and history of the “Corkscrew” Canyon. And to top it off he was a photographer who could offer advice as to angles and spots to shoot from and for this amateur photographer his tips were most welcome. It turned out visiting in the off season was a good choice as we had heard that during the high season the experience can be trying to say the least. Highly recommend a winter visit!

https://www.antelopecanyon.com

Admiring the clouds tinged with pink that reflected off the calm surface of Lake Powell we shivered in the evening light. In earlier times in summer we had camped along its shores and water skied though its red sandstone canyons. And it had been wonderful. But that is only one side of Lake Powell. As our photographers busied themselves capturing their footage I pondered the other side of the reservoir that lay before us. That is the controversial history of the flooding of Glen Canyon and the building of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1956. The mega project was conceived by the US Bureau of Reclamation so that the Upper Basin states could fulfill their obligations under the 1922 Colorado River Compact to deliver a fixed amount of Colorado River water to the Lower Basin states. The plan was ardently contested but the government prevailed and the project went forward resulting in far reaching environmental damage to over 80 side canyons, streams and natural arches, not to mention the loss of habitat to its thriving wildlife. Recreational boating introduced invasive species into the water system and the dam dramatically altered the Colorado River itself. The impact on Native American communities meant that culturally significant places and an unknown number of archeological sites have been lost due to flooding. And it never seems to stop as the disputes over water rights in the arid Southwest continues with the growing demands of urban settlement putting pressure on an already overtaxed river system. As I gazed over the life giving waters of the Colorado mulling over these complicated issues I wished that I could have seen what these ancient lands had looked like before man and his machines had made their mark. These thoughts and memories finally gave way to the more pressing issue of hunger. I put aside my thoughts and was thankful for the joy of my traveling companions. In high spirits we enjoyed the local eats and drinks at a nearby restaurant and reveled in our shared our experience.  

https://visitpagelakepowell.com

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Advent in Arbon, Switzerland, 12-2018

The December morning sun peeked out behind the rain clouds with a promise of sunshine making for a perfect day to head out to the historic town of Arbon, Switzerland. The Medieval town is nestled on the shores of Lake Constance and on the Saturday before the first Advent it welcomes in the season with a traditional Christmas Market. For one day only the inner city is decorated with festive stalls offering only hand made quality products such as delicious chocolates, roasted almonds, Glühwein, artwork, and plenty of cheese specialities that can be had as the famous cheese region of Appenzell is only a stone’s throw away. A peaceful afternoon well spent on the shores that were inhabited a mere 6,5000 years ago…
https://www.myswitzerland.com/en/arbon.html

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The Ulm Christmas Market, Ulm, Germany, 12-2017

Towering Gothic spires of the Ulm Minister reached 530 feet into the sky and a nativity scene featuring live animals decorated the entrance to the impressive church dating to 1377. I had convinced Franz to join me on this very cold day to embrace the upcoming holidays along with one million other tourists that visit the famous 2017 Ulmer Weihnachtsmarkt in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The festive Christmas Market was bustling with visitors imbibing both the spirit of the season and the mulled Glühwein spirits as well as enjoying the wooden stalls displaying their wares as they had for many Christmases of yore.

https://tourismus.ulm.de/web/de/feste-und-veranstaltungen/fuer-kunst-und-kulturliebhaber/weihnachtsmarkt.php

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Heli-Skiing Adventure in the Yukon and Alaska, Canada & USA, 4-2017


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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush

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.

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Freeriding The Arlberg, Körbersee, Austria, 3-2017

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.

http://www.koerbersee.at

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Ice – Land Wirtatobel, Bregenz, Austria 2-2017


The melting water had frozen into long gleaming daggers that decorated the steep rock faces along the icicle trail of the Wirtatobel ravine. The night before the temperatures had plunged and we had to be extra careful navigating the sidewalks let alone an icy mountain path. January had been the coldest month in Austria in over thirty years and Franz and I had been on the look out for an exceptionally cold day to photograph a flow of water that we drive past to go cross country skiing in our local mountains. After capturing our shot we made our leave and a little side road beckoned us. And what a sight we saw. We were enchanted to find the ravine adorned with elegant icicles on both sides of the crevasse and the gleaming formations captivated us as we walked in silence enjoying the splendor of a Sunday morning hike up the magical gorge.

http://www.langen.at/Wandern_und_Freizeit/Wanderwege_ab_Wirtatobel

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Kristmas in Kempten, Allgäu, Germany, 12-2016

Joy to the world
It’s Christmas time
Let earth receive its blessings!
Christmas was in the air with the scents of freshly baked gingerbread, spiced cider, and sizzling sausages as I strolled the Christmas market of the 2000 year old city of Kempten, Germany. Seasonal decorations adorned the shops and walkways and there were plenty of visitors enjoying the festive mood despite the low December temperatures. But anticipating the cold we were bundled up for an afternoon of exploring the inner city of the capital of the oldest “urban settlement” in Germany.
 
Kempten is located in Southwest Germany in the Allgäu region of Schwabia along the Iller River. It is about an hour’s drive away from Bregenz. And it has a glorious history boasting both Celtic and Roman roots and was first mentioned by the Greek geographer Strabon in 50 BC by its former name Cambodunum. Around 700 AD the monastery Kempten Abbey was built by the influential Benedictine monks Magnus von Füssen and Theodor from the Abbey of Saint Gall in nearby Switzerland. It was the first in the region and grew to be the most influential in the Frankish Kingdom. The church unfortunately suffered from invasion by the Magyars and the Thirty Years War and had to be rebuilt in 1652  becoming the new St. Lorenz Basilica. The highlights in the city include the Archaeological Park Cambodunum and the interactive underground chapel called the Erasmuskapelle.
 
The Christmas market served up all of the usual holiday fare such as Flammkuchen, a sort of Alsatian Pizza and many varieties of sausages. Even better for us they had a gourmet section as well where the local cooking school served up gourmet goodies such as duck with red cabbage laced with chocolate. We toasted yuletide greetings with glasses of sparkling Prosecco and had a dessert of Kaiserschmarren, which is a sweet pancake like dish served with plum compote and topped with powdered sugar. Super yummy! What a lovely way to wait for Christmas Day.

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