Firsthand Report: Backcountry Experience in Switzerland 1
By Iwan Fuchs, Guest Columnist

Ski the first tracks in deep powder, which glitter like millions of diamonds in the early rays of the sun. This is the ultimate experience for many skiers and boarders. I had the great opportunity to do so this past April in Engelberg, Switzerland. In this environment safety has absolute priority.

On Sunday, we got ready to go to the top of Mt. Titlis at 10,000 feet above sea level. As you can see in the photos, it was windy but a beautiful day in central Switzerland. In the Italian speaking region of Switzerland they had a snow storm moving in. We had a backcountry event on a 1,000-foot vertical slope with up to a 45% drop. If you ever have the opportunity to go to a destination like this, please consider a backcountry lesson first. The certified backcountry instructor/guide knows the changes wind and snow can have on the natural environment can be unpredictable. Today in Switzerland, we are not just using avalanche transformer (beacon) shovels, but also an ABC avalanche airbag system.

On this morning, we, about 40 pro-skiers, were waiting on top of Mt. Titlis for a test run. You could see in everyone’s goggles they were waiting for this moment to get a free ride down on one of the steepest and longest backcountry areas in the world. If you are an inexperienced skier or rider you should stay on marked slopes. Did you know that a fall can cause a force equivalent to six times one’s bodyweight to be exerted on the slope? This makes it clear, any inexperienced skiers/boarders on a backcountry area are not only a danger to themselves but also to others. That day we all made it safely down the mountain and had a perfect rest on top of Mt. Titlis. We all had a great “heaven” experience and would do it every time we have the opportunity to do so.

If you ever want to get a taste for a backcountry experience on the East Coast go to Whiteface, NY and try their skier’s left on top of the mountain. It’s not always open but when it is it’s a great ride down. It is a narrow path and can be icy in some spots. Other places are in Maine.

Top of Mt. Titlis. Photo provided by Iwan Fuchs.
Photo provided by Iwan Fuchs.
Backcountry area. Photo provided by Iwan Fuchs.
Start of backcountry event. Photo provided by Iwan Fuchs.
Iwan after event… working hard. Photo provided by Iwan Fuchs.
Iwan on his way up. Photo provided by Iwan Fuchs.

The reason for my recent trip was to get better at what I love to do… teach skiing.

I went back to my home country Switzerland for two weeks to attend an event in Engelberg, Switzerland for a 5-day Swiss-Snowsports Instructor Certification update and a two-day ISIA (International Ski Instructor Association) event. This event is one of the top events for ski instructors in the world. Engelberg is one of the top 10 ski resorts in Europe with a 7,000 ft. vertical and, according to Ski Magazine, the second best accessible backcountry skiing in the world. Every two years I have to comply with ISIA rules and attend a two day update. I went for a little longer since I did a management event, as well as, an international event with instructors from all over the world. This gave me the opportunity to ski and talk to other Snowsports School Directors, National Demo Team Members, World Cup Skiers, and Ski Managers.

I completed backcountry, coaching, new technical aspects for skiing and boarding, freestyle, children’s update and Resort Technology Management. The event was conducted in several different languages and was very interesting, since most attendees came from different parts of the world. This event also was a start for my other new adventure towards the Olympic Coach Certification. This will take about two years to complete and would give me a chance to coach National Alpine Ski Teams around the world. I still have a long way to go to complete a certification, but this would be an absolutely interesting asset as a Snowsports School Director, enhancing many goals for the Seven Springs Snowsports School. As many of you know, Seven Springs is one of the best and largest Schools in the Nation.

This trip also gave me the opportunity to go back home and see my family. Engelberg was my home mountain for many years and I enjoyed being home and reenergizing for the upcoming winter season.

About the Author

Iwan Fuchs currently serves as the Snowsports School Director at Seven Springs Resort. He has over 18 years of experience teaching, and has served as a certified Swiss ski instructor in his native Switzerland. He has also been a USSA racing coach.

Reader Comments

June 17, 2009
Thank you Iwan for such a great piece

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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