Although the winter in the Alps does not really seems to start and most ski resorts do not have any snow below 2000 metres, Amy and I were looking towards December 12 with optimism : ‘they' predicted one snowfall after another: this should be ok! The closer we got to the date the scarier we became…. all the predictions were literally vanishing like frost under the morning sun. Should this wePowder Season Kickoff be the one where we all would be crowding on an icy mountain top?
Just a couple of days before the kickoff it was announced that we would be going to the south of the Austrian Otztal: Obergurgl and Hochgurgl. I immediately send a message to Amy and within 10 minutes she had booked the last ‘affordable' room in Solden. Thursday morning we were ready to leave for Obergurgl with 9 pairs of ski's in the skibox on ‘Tonka'. We had a prosperous journey and after 10 hours of Autobahn we ‘landed' in Solden. After the check in we went to a little village Zwieselstein where we would meet up with over 45 Dutch Freeriders.
We were just in time to order dinner and after a ‘schnitzel' and a small drink the groups were formed and we were told to meet each other at 8.45 at the Festkoglbahn lift station.
Next morning 6.30: the alarm rings and I hit the shower. After a monumental breakf(e)ast we get into Tonka and drive to Obergurgl. After dispatching the test ski's we are ready for liftoff! Our guide Jelle takes it slow the first 10 minutes to get everybody warmed up on the groomers (which were in prime condition) but we already start taking some off-piste shortcuts. It immediately becomes clear that the base is pretty good and the snow still pretty fluffy, would there still be an opportunity to ride powder these three days?
We take a couple of lifts to get to the highest point of Obergurgl and after a traverse we reach an untouched, pristine powder meadow. We glide in without high expectations but the conditions turn out to be great and the first powturns are a fact, holy moly! All morning we rip everything within reach of the lifts, the other groups do the same but luckily the resort is large enough so we do not get in each other's way….
When the morning progresses it gets more difficult to find first tracks: not surprisingly when the ‘Dutch Grasshoppers Alliance' swept through every field within reach of the lifts…. So from now on we had to work up a sweat to get our freshies! After a 25 minutes bootpack we reach a fantastic, wide and not to steep couloir that is still in pretty good shape. Thanks to some rocks the access is a bit tricky but beyond that a nice wide Autobahn towards the valley. Once out of the couloir an magnificent and pristine meadow of pow is waiting for us! This is big lines skiing in optima forma and when we meet each other at the ski-out we are all grinning from ear to ear, is this real?
Dutch Grashoppers Alliance Gathering
The closing of the day is again at the restaurant in Zwieselstein where we all meet. Everybody, literally everybody walks around with a big smile on their faces and most of us are surprised that the conditions are this good while most parts of the Alps are still green, rocky or wet cement…. After a well-deserved meal and a small drink we have a recap with our guide Jelle and discuss the plans for the next day: Hochgurgl it is. He also asks if we are up for some touring on Sunday because the pow runs out really fast with 45 Grasshoppers in town… We are all in favour and this means that some people have to rent touring equipment and for Amy and me that we have to get skins, a nice job for Saturday afternoon.
After the ‘morning ritual' we are ready to board the gondola at 8.45, today our target will be Hochgurgl. Soon it becomes clear that some other groups swept through yesterday because there is no ‘easy' fresh pow to be found… We have to hike but Jelle still manages to find us some good snow. After a delicious lunch where we meet some other wePowder groups we decide to go back to Obergurgl because there are more possibilities here. Jelle finds us some good pow but it is obvious that we have to work harder to get it! After a long traverse and bootpack we reach a steep couloir in which we descend one by one. The snow is hard and crusty but it still gives a kick to do a steep couloir, the ultimate reward is the pow meadow underneath the couloir: super powder and it seems that there is no finish, it just goes on and on, heaven!
Toothpicks and skins
After this great day most of us still have a little task ahead: renting a tour setup and in our case: skins! After visiting almost every shop in the entire Otztal we finally get hold of the correct skins in Langenfeld: our skis were just too long and wide for the skins that the shops were stocking. We were already after shop hours but a called in employee did a great job cutting our skins. So, Amy and I were ready to rock and roll! The next day (Sunday) we meet up at 8.45 and everybody in our group had their touring equipment although some were not too happy with only 85 underneath (toothpicks) where they are used to 110 or more….
After taking almost all the lifts in Obergurgl to reach the top again we ski into a deserted valley where most of us start mounting the skins in a strange manor. It shows that most of us have little or no experience with ‘skinning'. Jelle is very helpful and explains the whole process and after some time everybody is ready to start walking. After a while you get used to a certain rhythm and then it is really great to experience the nature and silence around you. The further you walk away from the resort, the more peaceful it gets… magnificent!
At a certain moment it starts getting steeper and at this point Jelle starts explaining the ‘Spitzenkehren' technique. We all have to master this and also skiing down with the skins underneath, this is for some of us somewhat of a task…. good for some hilarious moments! We have our packed lunch on the mountain and after 45 more minutes of skinning we start the descend: epic!
Who could have imagined this. Three days of great pow in a winter that does not seem to start in the Alps…. Three days of enjoying the very good organisation of Epique´s Gijs-Jan. Three days enjoying the beautiful weather. Three days of riding great lines and finding a second love in touring thanks to our guide Jelle. But most of all: enjoying the fantastic atmosphere of all people who made this trip with wePowder!