There’s time for things to change for the better, of course, but by now, normally, most people would have already booked this winters ski trip and would be counting down the days. Despite the best guarantees that deposits will be refunded people are understandably very nervous of committing. I thought I’d share with you my experience of the very last day of skiing, back in March, the day the plug was pulled. It happened to be Friday the 13th, an ominous portent as it turned out. The last day on the mountain made me think of other great ski tours. Here are my picks.
The Schwarztor ski tour
I was up bright and early that day and we were heading to Klein Matterhorn at 3883M, the highest lift in Europe. We were about to embark on The Schwarztor ski tour. The Schwarztor Tour is a short ski ascent and traverse followed by an enormous freeride descent over varied terrain. The tour passes through heavily crevassed glaciers that can be avalanche prone. While not a difficult tour, the risks must be taken seriously.
Things weren’t looking too good when we had to hold out at Trocknersteg due to the Klein lift being temporarily closed due to the weather conditions. However, our Mountain guide was the man in the know and the age old adage “it’s not what you know it’s who you know” saved the day as he organised a lift up to Klein on the back of the Pisters skidoo. A welcome solution and thrilling ride that only added to our little adventure.
Our goal was the Schwarztor itself, a narrow pass at 3700 meters that’s nestled on the Swiss Italian border and your entry to the Schwärzegletscher. A gentle traverse, followed by a short climb, leads from the Kleine Matterhorn station to the pass itself. Once you’ve reached the Schwarztor, it’s time to pull on your skins.
The glacier descent demands careful navigation among crevasses and seracs for hundreds of meters. While the skiing is never steep, it is critical to find the right line to get through the glacier safely. Once you are off the glacier you’ll enjoy more normal ski terrain before entering the narrow Gorner Gorge for an interesting re-entry into Zermatt. The Gorge is a classic Alpine exit with a fast track down technical terrain. In total, the descent is about 2 killometres and thanks to the differing terrain serves as a great intro to Alpine skiing.
That morning our mountain guide had pre-warned us that this weekend the resort would likely lockdown. We should enjoy our day and make the most of tomorrow, the last ski day of Season 2019/20. As it turned out we returned to town that afternoon to rumours that the resort was about to close a day early. No sooner had I returned my skis to the ski room and started to frantically call friends to arrange one last ski day on the Saturday it was confirmed that it was all over. The lifts would be closing that afternoon and that would be that for 2019/20
A very sad day indeed and a lot of uncertainty on what we were about to head into. The one saving grace, the last ski day was the best last ski day of the season, ever. Waking up that morning I could never have guessed that that would be the last day.
The Haute Route Chamonix-Zermatt ski tour
The ‘haute route’ or high-level route is a six day traverse across the mountains and glaciers between Chamonix and Zermatt. This spectacular journey traverses glaciers and high passes through the very heart of the alps, taking in such peaks as the Rosa Blanche and Pigne d’Arolla. There are constantly changing views of Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Grand Combin and Monte Rosa.
This is ski touring at its best, high in the mountains, from hut to hut, with long climbs and stunning descents, only once dropping to valley level.
Starting in the heart of the Mont Blanc massif and ending up in the shadow of one of the most famous mountains in the Alps, the Matterhorn, it is a journey that every ski tourer should undertake at least once in their lives.
The haute route was first crossed on foot by an English party, at the end of the nineteenth century, before being gradually linked together on skis in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
The most famous of all the ski touring trips in the world, an extraordinary trip through the heart of the Alpine glaciers. Zermatt is about 70 km from Chamonix, as the crow flies, but the actual route travelled is much further than this.
The Bernese Oberland ski tour
The Bernese Oberland is particularly famous for its huge remote glaciers and accessible high peaks, so it’s understandably one of the best-loved routes. This is the highest massif in the Alps and is often compared to the greater ranges, but all made easily accessible by the historic railway that runs through the Eiger’s North face.
In this 6-day itinerary, you visit the most impressive parts of the range. The starting point is Interlaken, the capital of the Jungfrau region. As you traverse across the massif your itinerary takes you on a magnificent route both over high glaciated passes and sharp summits and gives some of the best descents in the region. At the end of the week, you tackle the famous 2000m descent down the Lotschental valley to the westernmost extent of the range.
The accommodation is in good quality mountain huts with half-board throughout. The food in the huts is of a very high standard, you will eat well keeping your energy high, ready for each day on the hill.
The Gran Paradiso ski tour
This five day tour is a traverse of the Gran Paradiso National Park, finishing with an ascent of the Gran Paradiso, the only 4000 meter peak in Italy not bordering another country. An excellent ski touring peak, this tour offers steep, wild, and complex mountain terrain accessed from a series of relatively comfortable huts.
The Gran Paradiso national park, created from the private game reserve of Victor Emmanuel II and donated by his grandson, Victor Emmanuel III in 1920, is Italy’s oldest national park. There is a multitude of wildlife, including large herds of ibex and chamois.
The skiing and mountaineering are great, with a multitude of options and itineraries to suit experienced ski alpinists. Previous ski touring experience and solid technique both ascending and descending are prerequisite. The gear used on the trip cannot be changed along the way, so some practice days with the specific equipment is recommended highly. Good physical fitness and familiarity with hut to hut touring also add to the margin for enjoyment.
Silvretta ski tour
The Silvretta mountain range is a ski touring paradise that runs along most of the border between Austria and Switzerland. The Silvretta has a lot going for it. Lifts out of the Austrian village of Ischgl bring you quickly to the edge of the backcountry. Straightforward travel with light packs takes you up and across passes and to the tops of relatively easy ski mountaineering summits over 3,000 m. Moderate ski descents, normally with great snow, are extra-enjoyable because of the terrific scenery and lastly the backcountry huts are more like luxurious mountain lodges – some of the best in the Alps featuring excellent Austrian cuisine, beer on tap, sunny terraces, showers, comfortable beds, and even a climbing wall and ice tower!
The Silvretta Range has something to suit every skier. The traverse is perfect for a group with mixed abilities and ambitions. Intermediate-level skiers and those on their first hut-to-hut ski traverse are sure to have a great time. None of the days require a huge effort, but each day can be expanded to add in more skiing if some or all of the group wishes.
There’s also a much more exacting traverse. This traverse is for very fit and experienced backcountry skiers. The traverse is longer, covers a greater distance, and includes three more huts and several more peaks.
Danny Frith is Director at SkiBoutique. SkiBoutique is a luxury ski chalet agency based in Switzerland.