Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

mid-March in Lech

Mostly unintended.

I didn’t bring my equipment, as I planned on staying in Frankfurt, but upon reading the forecast, I bought a train ticket, sucked up the steep prices in Lech, and took a 9.5 hour trip down to the Arlberg.

My rental setup was on this year’s equipment, with a colorful and well-maintained Burton Custom 158, and a smelly pair of Ozone boots. The boots were not really suited for my riding style, though, they were comfortable, but too soft and didn’t really agree with my feet. The bindings, Burton Missions, were the toe-cap type, which I’ve never used before, and they were just okay. Somehow a lot of snow piled up around the toe area, at least more so than my normal bindings. The board, though, was great, the right length and flex compared to my current 161 tank.

I met up with my buddy Michael, who made it up from Feldkirch to ride a couple hours Monday afternoon with me, and then had to leave to go to Innsbruck. Too bad it was so short, but hopefully next year!

Riding buddies since 2004.

I caught what is probably going to be the last big snowfall of the season. After snowing around 15 – 20 cm the first day, It dumped nearly 60 cm overnight Monday into Tuesday, mostly starting around 5 AM, and by the time I was up on the slopes, it was deep and mostly untracked. A German lady I rode up with summed it up nicely, as she simply looked at me and said, ” WOW”, which translates in any language. So began a day of above the knee powder, where you feel the snow gently pushing against your clothing, and get the occasional elusive face shot. The visibility, as expected for a place above treeline, was quite bad.

It snowed a bit.

What a view.

The sun came out the next day, which made for more powder runs, and it stayed good until the early afternoon, when the rapidly rising temperatures turned things into mashed potatoes. But I also took a few of the off-piste runs, but still had to stay cautious given that I was riding alone and it’s all too easy to lose your way around here or otherwise end up in trouble. This place is sweet on a day like this, but it’s better to ride with a buddy, or better yet, a local who knows his way around.

Endless fields of goodness!

Valluga and Roggspitze

The downsides to the place: there are several areas of traverses that are difficult on a snowboard. Somehow, even when I point it, I still can’t manage enough speed, so inevitably I end up walking. And as I pointed out, the powder days are amazing, but the visibility can be terrible.

And as for the town, it exudes luxury and money, and is probably the most prestigious resort in the Alps, along with St. Moritz. The food and accommodation will break your budget, but it’s an undeniably gorgeous location to blow your cash. I stuck to the less expensive options, i.e. pasta and pizza, stayed in a reasonably priced pension a short walk uphill from the church, in the Anger part of town. And I avoided the whole apres-ski scene, which is a unique, cheesy only-in-Europe experience.

One last word about the trip back: late leaving Langen, late leaving Bregenz, late leaving Lindau, broken down train in Stuttgart. Five transfers, blech.

Taos weekend

I finally got to Taos mid-season, where everything was open. I chose a fine day to experience it. Last time I was there, the ridges were mostly closed, and it was still early season. Since then, a lot has happened, which has curtailed my snowboarding days by a lot.

At least on this day, it was sunny, the conditions were quite good, the snow was fine, and the winds relatively calm, so I spent most of the day hiking the ridges. The lifts take you to a top elevation of 11819 feet (3603 m), and to access the hard stuff, and a lot of the goods, you need to hike the ridges, accessed from the upper terminus of the top lift. One extends to the right towards the ‘front side’, mostly shorter stuff that involves hiking up about 30-40 feet vertical and about 5-10 minutes, the other ridge goes left towards Kachina Peak, which is the top of the resort, at 12481 feet (3805 m). After doing a few runs on the front side stuff, I decided around 12:30 to hike to Kachina Peak. This hike is a good 45 minutes, and involves the 662 foot vertical difference, and a few ups and downs, so it’s more like 800+ feet up in the process, and more than a mile of hiking. At elevation.

West view from the beginning of the hike

After plenty of huffing and puffing from this sea level dweller, passing a few people, and being passed by others, I made it to the top. I was tired and feeling like a swamp dweller by the time I got there. The views are magnificent, encompassing a wide swath of New Mexico and Colorado, from the Jemez Mountains to the San Juans and Sangre de Cristos.

Yours truly at the peak.

The view from 12500'

Luckily I was rewarded by a fantastic powder descent, and a well-deserved beer at the Bavarian at the bottom. Normally I don’t imbibe on the slopes, but I made an exception for this occasion.

A nice 18 oz. Oktoberfest beer waiting for me.

A note on the origins of the trail names at Taos Ski Valley: you’ll notice from the trail map a mix of German and Spanish names, reflecting the roots of the founder Ernie Blake, and the state of New Mexico. So a couple of the names stand out, Stauffenberg and Tresckow, who were among the people who died in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

About to drop in!

To cap it off, I witnessed a very nice sunset as I crossed into Colorado.