On the eve of my big adventure, I packed my backpack. That didn’t take me long, as I was able to rent most of the technical gear from the Mammut Alpine School (touring skis, skins, Barryvox avalanche beacon, ski crampons and avalanche airbag). The weather forecast, on the other hand, predicted very cloudy skies and a bit of precipitation.
Meeting point: 9 am at the Mammut Store/Imholz Sport in Andermatt. We had a manageable group size of five. After enjoying a nice cup of coffee, Markus, our guide, handed out the various items of gear we had rented. Then it was time to get serious. Markus started out by covering the fundamentals of ski touring: gliding on your skis to conserve energy while maintaining balance at the same time. Not the easiest task. But after a few hundred meters, I was already starting to get the hang of it. At the summit, we took a short break and enjoyed a magnificent panoramic view of the snowy alpine landscape. A few rays of sunshine even broke through the clouds here and there. Feeling re-energized after our break, we peeled the skins off our skis and got ready for our first powder run towards the Tiefenbach Hotel. Markus told us not to lean back too much, to keep a central stance on the skis and always shift our bodyweight smoothly from one ski to the other. I skied cautiously for the first few meters, then I started speeding up and – doing just what he told me not to – started leaning further and further back. So, I guess it’s no surprise that I crashed. Sure, the fall was soft, but my skis were tangled up and pointing every which way. Once we arrived at the bottom, I’ll admit I felt quite relieved. After a hearty dinner, we began planning for the next day. Markus suggested the 2940 meter Chli Bielehorn, a realistic goal requiring roughly 800 m of elevation gain. Factoring in the avalanche bulletin and topography, we sketched out the ideal route on the map. To wrap up our first evening, Markus showed us how to use various planning tools, like maps and compass as well as several smartphone apps.
The next morning we met at 8 am for breakfast before heading straight out from the hotel with our sights on the Chli Bielehorn. We ascended at a comfortable, steady pace up the slope towards the summit. Markus shared his thoughts with us periodically as he assessed the situation, which taught the whole group a lot about the terrain and its potential hazards. To make sure that what we were learning would really sink in, Markus left the task of breaking trail up to us. Once we reached the summit, we were rewarded with a marvellous 360-degree view.
Skiing through the untracked powder was already easier for me than on the first day, and during the descent I was able to really enjoy making some good turns. After coffee and cake in the late afternoon, there was still plenty of time to learn about the emergency equipment. We learned how to use the Barryvox beacon and the avalanche probe, as well as the right shovelling technique. You really break a sweat by the time you’ve dug out the buried person. At dinner, the guide told us all about his exciting work and day-to-day experiences. He then helped us plan our final tour together as a group. We decided on the 2590 m Schafberg. That night, we went to bed with a positive outlook.
"We learned how to use the Barryvox beacon and the avalanche probe, as well as the right shovelling technique." - Marc Schmid, Mammut Alpine School course participant
On the following morning, there was about 500 m of vertical gain separating us from the next peak we would summit on this training weekend. About halfway along the route, in other words for the final section of the ascent, I was forced to – or rather was allowed to – break track en route to our destination. Such a huge slice of pristine nature right before my eyes. What a privilege to lead the group across this expanse and up towards the summit! Meanwhile, the cloud cover was clear in spots, and we were lucky enough to catch a few rays of sunshine at the top, where yet another breathtaking panoramic view awaited us. After a short break and the obligatory summit photos, it was time to ski right back down to the bottom. After returning our rental equipment, the group parted ways. This trip was the first of what I hope will be many more ski touring adventures.
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