On Monday I left Itay and headed to Obergurgl, Austria. This little ski town is set at the end of a long, deep valley with soaring snow-smothered mountains rising on two sides. Tuesday was a mostly bluebird day and although there was not much fresh powder left, the groomers were wide and smooth, and I spent the whole day riding around the Hochgurgl/Obergurgl ski area checking it out. This place is impressive. It is the most beautiful ski area I’ve ever seen – in the sense that the mountains here are so perfectly suited for a ski resort. The mountains have a certain straight and broad aspect to them without any bottleneck valleys or useless flat ridges, and everything is covered in snow. Basically the entire slope from one end to the other is skiable, and the pistes could have been made anywhere on the mountain. And it’s nice and steep. This place would be mind-blowing on a big powder day… I hope to return sometime this winter!
This morning I woke up early and drove from San Martino to Arabba, enjoying the awesome Dolomiti views the whole way. Upon arriving in Arabba, I quickly reserved a room here, then immediately went to the ski hill! I had no idea what to expect, and was delighted to hear that the entire Dolomiti Superski area was open, and that I would be able to do the Sella Ronda, a famous and unique ski route that links four ski areas and circumnavigates the entire Sella Group of mountains via 42km of pistes and something like 12 chairlifts and gondolas (I lost track). This is a novel concept to me, and although the terrain is mostly cruising groomers, I enjoyed covering so much ground on my snowboard, and gawking at the incredible Dolomite spires and walls all around. And of course I found a few powder stashes along the way!
Here are some highlights from the route:
Marmolada, 3343m, one of the biggest peaks in the Dolomites.
Chairlift under a couple of the rugged Sassolungo peaks.
Today I scored one of my all-time best powder days! More on that below.
Anyhow, six and a half years after climbing via ferrate routes around Cortina d’ Ampezzo and the Dolomites in the summertime, I have returned… this time for winter! Yesterday I took a tram up to the Refugio d’ Faloria, a plush hut situated on the edge of a huge cliff about 900m (3000 ft.) above the town of Cortina. I spent the night up there, enjoying not only a primo view of Cortina, but also a slopeside location to kick off the ski area’s opening day on Saturday.
Sunrise on Monte Cristallo. Though it was dumping snow all day on Friday, Saturday brought bluebird skies.
After my time in Zermatt, I caught a train to Andermatt, a tiny Swiss town surrounded by very skiable-looking mountains in all directions. This place has been high on my list of bases for the winter, so I wanted to check it out asap.
The last few days I’ve been enjoying my first days on the snowboard this season in Zermatt, Switzerland… and powder days no less! Above is a view from the ski area looking down at the town far down below in the valley.
After our great descent down Mt. St. Helens on Saturday, we drove over to neighboring volcano Mt. Adams, found a great spot to car camp, and slept in for 12 hours. The next day was mostly spent relaxing and fueling up on food next to the campfire, then at 4pm we set off with minimal camping gear in order to position ourselves better for the big 8,000 vertical foot ascent of Adams the next day.
By setting up a basecamp near treeline, we were able to knock off about 5 miles and 2,000 vertical feet from the approach (which was longer than usual due to the unplowed snowpacked road). Here’s a shot of Mt. Adams in the moonlight, 6,000 feet higher than the tent.
Though the mountain looks very steep from afar, we were actually able to skin up most of the way up the Suksdorf Ridge on our skis. We started the hike at 5am under perfect bluebird skies, but by the time we got up towards the top, some high clouds started moving in, adding a bit of anxiety and urgency to our hike.
The grueling 6,000 foot hike really started wearing us down towards the top. Due to icier snow up top, we switched to crampons for the final 1,000 feet and slogged up past a couple false summits until we were finally at the summit! The summit towered above all the clouds and we sat up there and enjoyed the panoramic vista, with Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood off in the distances, both looming above the clouds.
Scott McCurdy skis down Mt. Adams. The hard and bumpy ice-snow below the summit soon gave way to softer, smoother snow, and we were able to carve progressively bigger and smoother turns.
Mt. St. Helens was our first goal on our northwestern volcano tour. After a night of camping in the rain, we started the hike at 5am in the gloomy mist, with little expectations other than perhaps a sopping wet “exercise” day in the fog and rain. After an hour or so of hiking, however, our hopes rose dramatically as the clouds above us started to show signs of clearing.
Sure enough, we popped out above the lower cloud deck and enjoyed a spectacular skin up within a cloud sandwich.
Scott McCurdy skins up a steeper portion toward the top. The 5600 vertical foot ascent was surprisingly easy going, and the summit ridge seemed to arrive quicker than I expected.
[+] Panorama from the summit ridge, looking into the steaming crater, which blew its top almost exactly 30 years prior.
Now the fun part! After relaxing on the summit in the calm weather for a while, we strapped on our skis/snowboard and dropped in, enjoying perfect snow conditions – about 2 inches or so fresh firm powder atop silky smooth spring corn snow. Skier: Scott McCurdy.
The skiable terrain on Helens is vast to say the least. We had untracked lines down a huge face that probably 100 skiers couldn’t even track up. The face emptied into a huge gentle gully which snaked down the mountain in one or two big sweeping curves. ~5000 vertical feet of cruisy wide-open terrain, in perfectly smooth and soft spring snow conditions… my dreams of snowboarding aren’t even this good!
Completely stoked on our surprise score on St. Helens, we headed to our next (and bigger) volcano: Mt. Adams.
The storm cycle has cleared for the time being, and we enjoyed a beautiful bluebird morning up at Teton Pass, scoring three powdery descents before noon. This late in the season, you’ve got to get the powder early on sunny days! Rider: Jason King.