Winter is coming!
Every year, from September onwards, we start looking at the snow charts and predictions from @alpenweerman, @wepowder and @bergfex. Last week they were unanimous: winter is coming! This means that we start developing serious itches, and we have always been told: “when it itches, you have to scratch”.
So we made our Freerider ready for winter: four pair of ski’s in the skibox and skiboots in the heated cabinet. All the ski clothing, helmets, airbags and so on in their respective drawers. Ready, steady, GO!
As the Covid-numbers are exploding in Austria, they are in a ‘hard’ lockdown for 20 days. That is a pity because we almost always start our season at the Hintertux Glacier. That is often the area that has the most snow early season and it is the perfect place for our Freerider, we can stay at the lift and without any charge.
So, Austria is not an option, we are looking at La Thuile in Aosta, Italy. The season opening is planned on November 27, that would be perfect for us. We have always had a soft spot for La Thuile: a magical forest with Larch trees and lots of snow when it comes from North-West.
There are several ways to drive to La Thuile from The Netherlands. We decide to go via Belgium, Luxembourg (cheap diesel) , France and Switzerland. The French peage is always a joy to drive, just set the cruise control at 130 km and keep on rolling.
While cruising the French Autoroute, we contact our Italian friend Giovanni (who has a second home in La Thuile) by WhatsApp, to tell him that we are on our way. His answer: the season opening of la Thuile is postponed for a week, bummer.
Amy immediately digs into the snow charts again and we decide to go to Les Diablerets, Switzerland. Glacier 3000 is already open and the forecast predicts a ‘mother-load’ of snow as well.
As it starts snowing fiercely, and Google maps shows a big traffic jam near Lausanne, we decide to spend the night in France, very close to the border of Switzerland. We end up in the village of Labergement-Sainte-Marie. We just park the Sprinter in front of a restaurant and have a great Cheese-fondue dinner.
During our dinner three “Gendarmes” come in and check our Covid-green-passes. They wish us a pleasant dinner and go on to the other clients. We have a good nights sleep in front of the restaurant and the next morning we continue our drive to Les Diablerets.
We cross the border towards Switzerland and start the climb to Les Diablerets. Really beautiful to see the fading autumn colours, and a little higher up, the start of frost and snowfall. The last kilometers we are driving in a white world again and we reach the village of Les Diablerets around noon.
We find the tourist office in the middle of the village and ask where we can stay with our campervan – mobilhome. It turns out they have a large parking next to the centre of the village. When you pay the “kurtaxe” of 2,40 SFR per person you can stay for free! There are even toilets and waste-bins at the far end of the parking, Switzerland at its best!
We decide to drive to the base station of the Glacier 3000 cable car and learn that the ski area is closed due to very bad visibility. We do get up though to take a walk on the “Tissot Peak Walk” bridge on 3000 metres.
On arrival at the top, the visibility is indeed zero. The Peak Walk is supposed to give one of the most dramatic scenery’s of Switzerland, but not today.
It is snowing really hard and powder all around, but being not able to ski it, is very frustrating! But, at the end of the day the website mentions that it will be open for skiing tomorrow, so fingers crossed.
The next morning we wake up early, pretty stoked to finally go powder skiing. But no, we check the website of Glacier 3000 and we read that they are not opening after all, because, again, no visibility. We also learn that Dutch citizens can no longer travel to Switzerland (due to Covid-Omikron) unless they quarantaine for 10 days. We are really lucky to have entered Switzerland before that!
Time for plan B. The forecast does not predict much visibility any time soon, so we decide to cut across Switzerland to Engelberg, as they are open for skiing today. It is a three hour drive and we arrive at the valley station of the Titlis cable car around 12.30. Finally we will be on ski’s for the first time this season.
We go all the way up to the Titlis, this is by the way the “Bollywood” mountain, hence all the people from India visiting it. The Rotair is the last leg to get us there, and it turns around 360 degrees during the ride. This means that no matter where you are standing, you get the full view of the dramatic mountain scenery around you.
If there is no white out, that is. We cannot see much due to fog and snow. On arrival at the top station we have to walk for about 100 metres and it is finally time to click into our ski’s.
Visibility is low and we have to get used to skiing again since our last time was January 2020! After a couple of runs we get the hang of it and we decide to go off-piste to find some freshies.
We stay close to the official slopes as visibility is still very bad and we do not want to wander of too much in the terrain. The base is still relatively thin and lots of “sharks” (rocks) around.
The powder is really fluffy due to the low temperatures, cold smoke blower pow. The first faceshots are in the pocket!
As it starts snowing fiercely (again) and it is getting dark as well, we decide to call it a day. And what a day it was. Conditions were not perfect due to the lack of base and low visibility, we still had a fantastic powderday. Nobody is gonna take that away from us.
We drive to the Ski Lodge in Engelberg and park our Freerider. The Ski Lodge is our favourite spot in Engelberg. A laid back ‘Freeride-atmosphere’ with freeriders from all over the world. We go in for after-ski-drinks and some snacks and decide to stay for dinner as well. Before we go to bed we take a walk around Engelberg. What a beautiful village this is, already in Christmas atmosphere. It is still snowing, this looks promising for tomorrow!
The next morning we wake up and see loads of now on the cars around us, whoop, whoop. Only to learn that the ski slopes are not opening due to high avalanche danger. Bummer, again.
It seems that this maiden powder trip season 21/22 is all about too much snow and closed resorts! We decide to go for several long walks and do some office-work in the Tea Room Engelberg. It is still snowing cats & dogs.
Hopefully they will open tomorrow so we can end on a powder-ski-note.
As most restaurants are closed (Monday and early season) we have a soup-with-bread-meal in our Freerider. We go for another walk and it is still snowing. Just before we fall asleep we read that the ski area will not open tomorrow. The heavy snowfall and wind makes the snow masses unpredictable, and therefore the avalanche danger is at level 4. Bummer, again. We decide to go skinning tomorrow, earn our turns.
Earning our turns!
After waking up, the first checks are always: what is the weather like and are the lifts opening? We learned last night that the ski area would be closed but now we see that that the ski area around Stand might be opening. Titlis will not open for sure due to wind, low visibility and high risk of avalanches.
We drive to the parking area of the gondola and look at the Engelberg website again. The decision to open Stand is postponed for at least another hour. We decide not to wait for that as visibility is very low anyway, so not much to do off-piste around Stand.
We stick to our plan to earn our turns today! We fix the skins and start skinning up the track behind the gondola. Luckily there has already been a snowmobile on tracks so the path is pretty much laid out for us.
We make good progress and just enjoy the tranquility and nature surrounding us. The only downsite are the snow cannons blowing just above the track. The snow underneath is really icy, instead of the soft powder around us. The outside temperature is just below zero so the cannons sometimes just spray ice-water instead of snow.
After 2,5 hours of skinning we find a nice spot where we can start our descend. We remove the skins, drink lots of water and eat some snacks and prepare for the downhill.
Although it is not really cold, the snow is still very good. We love to leave our tracks in the virgin powder, the ultimate reward for our hard work.
"We love to leave our tracks in the virgin powder"
We have a great run through the fields and when we are back at our Sprinter 4×4 we learn that the ski area around Stand opened. So, Engelberg comes through, but for us just a little too late.
Our first powder trip of season 21/22 was a difficult one. Lots of fresh powder, but with resorts having no base (early season) we needed to go up higher. This means glaciers and ‘hostile high alpine territory’. High up means no trees, so no markers when it is snowing and visibility is low.
Lots of fresh powder in combination with wind means high avalanche risk resulting in the closure of ski-area’s. This trip, we experienced it all, and had not much skiing due to the extreme weather conditions.
Was it worth it? Definitely yes! Our last powder trip was in January 2021 (due to Covid -restrictions), so just being in our beloved mountains with loads of fresh powder makes it all worth it!
We had our first faceshots of the season, great nature experiences with just walking and earning our turns, and the fantastic atmosphere of the mountain villages Les Diablerets and Engelberg.