Hello and Gruezi - the Swiss word for hello - from 10,000 feet above sea level at Mt. Titlis, Switzerland. Ski and board around Engelberg and you don’t even think it’s the end of winter. Most people get ready for their summer vacation trips or plan a trip to the southern hemisphere to go skiing. I have the luxury to stay where I live and work and still hit the slopes like it’s the middle of winter, 12 months a year.
The slopes are still in great shape and the people are still coming to enjoy the beautiful weather at 10,000 feet with 300 days of sunshine a year. Of course the big crowd isn’t coming anymore but you still will find a few “lost” tourists on the slopes. The weather these days can go either way. On a side note, during the spring and early summer time the occurrence of avalanches is increasingly higher. Also, if you want to go backcountry skiing, do it only with a ski guide.
It was the last weekend for the regular 05/06 winter ski season at Engelberg, Switzerland. I was ready for the last few runs of the season at the lower part of the mountain, such as the Jochpass, Truebsee, and the valley run, and of course the after ski parties as well. There is something in the air for the last weekend. I went into the Valley Station to go up to Gerschnialp at 1,262 meters with a cable car. From the Gerschnialp you could stay in your six-person gondola or switch to a 20-person gondola all the way up to 1,800 meters at Truebsee. I went after the beautiful ride to the Truebsee to the next one - the Ice Flyer. The Ice Flyer is a 50-person gondola and brings you all the way up to Stand at 2,428 meters. If you believe you are finished, you are in for a surprise. The Rotair gondola is the first and only one of its kind and it will bring you to the top of Mt. Titlis at 3,028 meters where snow and fun is all year round. Below the Rotair gondola you can enjoy the glacier and its beautiful panorama of the surrounding mountains. Switzerland has the most 4,000 meter tops in Europe. The entire ride from the Valley to the top takes about 50 minutes at the fastest.
The trip up to the top of Mt. Titlis isn’t only long, but it will provide you with a beautiful panorama. It also gives you some time to talk with other skiers and if you’re lucky with me… smile. Since I wear my ski school uniform I always find myself explaining the entire map of our resort, which makes me really start to ask myself if we need to change our trail map. Anyway, you can see for miles and miles. Today the sun is incredibly nice, warm and bright and so are the people.
Life is different at a 12 month resort than at a ski resort with a four month ski season. First, you don’t care if you miss a great day. Second, you know you will hit one. On an average base you ski about 50-80 days as a part time ski instructor and about 100-250 days as a full time instructor. In other words, you live your life well.
Engelberg, the resort, is in a sack surrounded by its famous Mt. Titlis, Jochstock, and Hahnen, among a few others. That also explains why many winter tourists from all over the world discovered the region extremely late. Although many ski experts and ski movie producers used the mountain for a long time. Ski magazine published an article ranking Engelberg the second best accessible backcountry ski resort in the world. The resort is made of small family-run businesses, so you won’t find more thsn one big chain hotel in town. Engelberg also hosts a world champion ski jump for the FIS and many European alpine cup races. For those of us who like a change, we can also use one of the longest cross country tracks in Europe; the longest is in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
In all my skiing time as an instructor I never enjoyed skiing more than with my little buddy and friend Johann. As parents you always want the best for your little ones but is that what we do when we teach them? I guess I never thought about teaching parents. Was there a reason? I believe working under the umbrella of PSIA and now working again under the Swiss Snowsports system I started to see differences between the two teaching systems. Switzerland was and still is the only country with a national children’s teaching manual, now in its fourth edition. The Austrian and German ski instructor organizations are in the blueprint stage of introducing their first children’s manual to their ski instructors. I guess I might contact PSIA soon… smile.
I guess I need to come back to my real story. Engelberg has not only some of the most difficult slopes to ski around the world, it is also one of the child-friendliest resorts I know. Engelberg has parks for kids who are beginners and intermediates with about seven magic carpets and four t-bars. The entire ski area for the children is about the size of the main face at Seven Springs, just to give you an idea.
I also believe many of you have some questions regarding snowmaking! Snowmaking is an essential part of all ski resorts in Europe, no questions asked. Environmental questions are still open by Swiss authorities and therefore snowmaking capacity is limited to a quota per resort.
Wrapping up my article, I want to give my son Johann a big thank you for being soooo patient with me during my photo shoots.
Iwan F. Fuchs is a certified Swiss ski instructor and the former Ski and Snowboard School Director of Hidden Valley Resort. He has 17 years of experience teaching, and has also served as a USSA racing coach.