The morning of the 29th of December, 2006, wasn’t a typical morning for this undernourished mountain range called The Alps… It was snowing so much that most cars could not go up to Engelberg, which is at about 3,000 feet above sea level. I was driving in the Engelberg Valley when I was confronted with some extreme skiers from Sweden and Norway in a coffee shop on the road to the base station. They missed the early train going up to Engelberg. I know I should not have taken my coffee break at this station but skiers like myself like this little typical Swiss chalet coffee house with an international taste of the global ski scene. We all had the same idea of ripping the first track in the fresh powder but I had just a little problem… I had a family waiting for me from Notting Hill, England, who I previously had for two days. We talked about the different life styles regarding skiing and the Canadian house, which is a house with a bunch of skiers from all around the world. We call it the Canadian house because a wealthy Canadian owns it. It’s located between the two big central Switzerland ski resorts of Engelberg and Andermatt. Andermatt also is in the International Ski industry news since an Egyptian business man Samih Sawiris plans to turn the little town Andermatt into a luxury ski and golf resort. Nevertheless I was a sportsman and took the guys up to the base station; of course I was a little upset that they could take the first cable car up to the Mt. Titlis and/or the Jochstock.
The Salomon base station (the official International Salomon test center) was not very busy on this morning due to the heavy snow we received overnight, which was still coming down. Many of the skiers are ski instructors and tourists who stayed in town. Normally on such a day we have about 10,000 to 15,000 visitors. I guess we have about 3,000 skiers. The first ride up to the mountain is delayed by about 15 minutes due to high winds. It was now 8:50 a.m. I guess I still had some time to believe I was going to be the first up there. Well, I had to meet my clients at 9:10 at the base station. They arrived with the local town bus no. 1. William the 19 year old son of the family was the first one coming from the bus followed by his two sisters and friend. William was an excellent skier and was willing to try a fresh set of lines. He hadn’t skied fresh powder and to make things trickier for me it also is in an unknown territory for him with rocks and glacier lines under the white cover. Rebellious as he was, I thought I could take the exciting run with him.
As a private client we had the privilege to use the VIP entrance to the cable cars. We took off at about 9:20 a.m. in mind we would reach the Jochstock, 8,500 feet above sea level, as two of the first skiers of the day. Many skiers take the route up to Mt. Titlis and ski the powder lines from there. I chose a little easier route from Jochpass down to Truebsee, which was about a 30 minute ride up. We took the first cable car to Gerschnialp and then up to Stand. The Truebsee-Hopper chairlift was our next lift across the Truebsee (Trueb Lake) to the Alpstuebli chairlift. From there we went up to the Jochpass, which gave us easy access to the Graustock area. The Graustock area has some nice freeride lines along its peaks. The Jochstock has some great lines as well as the Enstlenalp. All those runs are much longer and in most cases are only for better freeriders. The fact that he never hit a powder line was a little scary for me but no sweat. On top of all that, he was a little overconfident with his skills. First rule I told him is to respect the mountain but never be afraid of it.
The entire Graustock area is a bowl with some level one to three runs. As we stood on top of the first run I looked at him and gave the OK to drop into the run after me. It was about a 35 percent drop with a number of rocks but no jumps. As I arrived at the last part of the bowl I saw him halfway down the mountain. His turns were more like hop-turns then riding some nice fresh powder snow. I was surprised how fast he learned. His weight was still too centered but overall he made it with only a few divers.
As we started for our last part of the run he was so happy that I started to think about what it means to be a freerider. What does it really mean to ride some fresh lines in “unknown” terrain? For me it’s like going back in time when mountain regions did not have groomers and the mass tourism. Skiing was still a romantic relation between you and the mountain. It also represented a nostalgic correlation between skiers and nature.
William was ready to take the last part of the run. I gave him some last minute corrections but told him to have fun doing it. We skied about seven hours nonstop in various snow conditions. It was fun to see how people can get a sense for skiing in such a short time. Of course there are still some challenges waiting for us. I thought it was time to walk away when we were still without any major injuries.
We finished up at about 4:30 p.m. at the Chalet. The Chalet is an after ski (aprés ski) bar at the base station in Engelberg. William left for the Hotel. I believe he was a little tired from skiing all the fresh lines. He learned that powder skiing has more resistance than regular skiing. I went into the Chalet and saw William’s parents. I guess they had the same idea as I and the rest of the ski school. It just happened that a band was playing with players from Canada and the US. William’s parents made a trip to Lucerne because the mother twisted her knee at our first day skiing. I had the parents and the two older skiers on their first day.
I also met the other guys from Sweden and Norway again. They told me that they skied the top of Jochstock down to the other side of the mountain… well we have a 45 percent drop if not more… for a kick. They also emptied the coffee schnapps (a typical Swiss coffee with schnapps) the same way they skied… speedy. After a long day it was also my time to go home and tell my family about my day and to fix my skies. I hit some nice rocks on my fun day.
Regarding the snow situation in the Alps it’s not so good. We are still hoping for the big snow.
Iwan F. Fuchs is a certified Swiss ski instructor and the former Ski and Snowboard School Director of Hidden Valley Resort. He has over 17 years of experience teaching, and has also served as a USSA racing coach.