UKC

/ "breakable crust" is not the ultimate difficulty

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Xharlie on 05 Mar 2018

Believe it or not, "breakable crust" is not the most difficult set of snow conditions on which to ski. I learned this, on Saturday. In fact, the most difficult skiing situation imaginable is to be experienced at around 16h15, in fine weather on a Saturday at the end of a week of Dutch holidays and, in German, is called the "Talabfahrt".

My God! We were at Hochzillertal (Kaltenbach, Zillertal) and, after teasing our wise and experienced German friends for their cowardly decision to take the gondola back down to the town, we stupidly decided to brave the valley descent. We had done it at the beginning of the day, a few times, and it had been glorious: moderately steep, with a bit of shape to it to make it interesting and with enough distance to get your heart beating before the end if you didn't stop to rest.

We had time to do it twice, actually, but quickly abandoned that idea. Just trying it once carried a high risk of injury. A second go would have required a bit of alacrity on the first descent and lead to certain death. Or brutal dismemberment and possible murder by us of one of the completely incompetent newbies who were all crowded onto a route beyond their abilities.

Snow-boarders were crashing left and right (and centre, often on top of above-mentioned newbies); very young kids were plough-stopping around the mountains of kicked up snow on the piste; middle-aged overweight muppets were making wide zig-zags from piste edge to piste edge, taking up the full width of the route; youngsters on snow-blades were bouncing down and having a lark but doing so with no heed to anyone else who might be in their way; one third of the width was just a smooth sheet of ice and the rest was shaped like an egg-box with wildly variable hardness. It was crazy.

We made it to the bottom, in one piece, without inflicting harm on anyone else, but it was in no way fun and it was certainly the most difficult thing we did in the week we were in the valley.

How is one supposed to ski in such chaos?

20
teh_mark on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

> very young kids were plough-stopping around the mountains of kicked up snow on the piste; middle-aged overweight muppets were making wide zig-zags from piste edge to piste edge, taking up the full width of the route; youngsters on snow-blades were bouncing down and having a lark but doing so with no heed to anyone else who might be in their way; one third of the width was just a smooth sheet of ice and the rest was shaped like an egg-box with wildly variable hardness. It was crazy.

Bit elitist, non? If you found yourself out of your depth on terrain you didn't like I'm sure you'd take to skiing conservatively without giving a shit about what the competents above you thought. If you don't like playing with other people on pistes, don't ski on pistes.

1
Xharlie on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to teh_mark:

Fair enough. I have often been "out of my depth" when skiing -- it is necessary to push yourself in order to learn to handle better situations.

I don't think that that was the case here, however. I think that these people were only on this route because it was the route down and the last lift was past. These were people who were not just "out of their depth", they were people who should simply not have been there.

If you are not in control enough to take a glance behind you on a crowded piste to check if you're turning in front of someone, you're in the wrong place. If you're so off-balance that you can't turn to miss a kid who's crashed in front of you, you're in the wrong place. If your choice is a near-horizontal straight line to the other side of the piste or wiping out and thus you cannot adjust to miss traffic, you're in the wrong place.

Being out of your depth is all fine and well but a certain level of ability should be expected of people skiing in crowds.

17
Rigid Raider - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

Sounds like a typical end of day last run on the most frequented trade routes of any Alpine resort. Your experienced friends were indeed wise to go down in the lift, the further you go down the mountain the worse will be the snow condition and the crowds.

Doug on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

Sounds a bit like the typical end of the day dash back to the car  park at a resort I sometimes skied when I lived near the Vosges - although the resort was quite large there was frequently only one piste down the final few hundred metres which was a fairly narrow piste through the trees. It would often get very chopped up during the day, and had a tendency to get very icy at the end of the day. But almost everyone used it so there was a mix of all abilities including frightened beginners & care free teenagers skiing too fast. So total chaos.

summo on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

If you are as good on your feet as you imply, then you'll have had no problem reading the ground ahead, by angle and colour adapting your technique as you go. Giving you ample time to avoid those using the whole slope, falling boarders or kids playing. As they say, let the better skier take the avoiding action.

 

summo on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

>  people skiing in crowds.

Many don't go to the alps just to ski... it's the social, the booze and the fact it's not cold. Skiing in the afternoon is what folk do when the hangover has worn off and before the urge for another drink kicks in. Combine that with a March temp. range and you get the slopes you describe. 

Postmanpat on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

 

> How is one supposed to ski in such chaos?

>

 Er, listen to your wise German friends....

 

Martin W on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

> If you are not in control enough to take a glance behind you on a crowded piste to check if you're turning in front of someone, you're in the wrong place.

The FIS rules for conduct on the piste require the skier or snowboarder coming from behind to choose their route in such a way as not to endanger skiers or snowboarders ahead.  They also require them to adapt their speed and manner of skiing or snowboarding to their personal ability and to the prevailing conditions of terrain, snow and weather as well as to the density of traffic.

The only circumstances in which the FIS rules require a skier or snowboarder to look up the slope before making a manoeuvre are when joining a piste, starting to descend after having stopped, or moving upwards.

I actually agree that resorts where the only run back to the village is a tricky red, or a blue run with poor snow conditions, can be lethal at the end of a busy day.  But that doesn't mean that more competent skiers shouldn't exercise proper control and respect for other users of the slopes.  Being more competent should mean being better able to control ones speed and direction than the unfortunates who've been caught out by inexperience, inadequate information on the slopes, or lazy resort management.

 

Chris the Tall - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Postmanpat:

Take a lift downhill ? Only in extreme circumstances, such as a complete lack of snow, broken equipment or broken limbs.

Don't know the resort in question but I've never found a run so busy that I'd take a lift to avoid skiing - but I might go off piste or find a bar to sit in for the rush to die down. 

Then again human slalom can be quite good fun, as long as you don't hit the gates.

 

2
summo on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Martin W:

>  inadequate information on the slopes, or lazy resort management.

I think many places take a flexible approach to grading the easier slopes, so they make the resort appeal to as broad a range of people as possible. 

John W - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

 ...in German, is called the "Talabfahrt".

Well, here's another useful German expression to remember at that time of day - "die Ameisen vermeiden" ("avoid the ants").

"How is one supposed to ski in such chaos?"

Well, the solutions are varied, but common sense:

- leave earlier,

- leave later and wait until the ski patrol chuck you out

- learn to ski (very) defensively,

- ski at the very edge of the piste (where you're likely to find the best snow anyway), or if you're good enough

- ski outside the edge of the piste, where you should be reasonably safe from beginners.

 

Post edited at 17:28
Postmanpat on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Chris the Tall:

> Take a lift downhill ? Only in extreme circumstances, such as a complete lack of snow, broken equipment or broken limbs.

>

  Well, some of he best skiers I know, who are quite happy to leap off cliffs and cornices and generally risk life and limb in multiple imaginative ways will still take the lift down from the Grands Montets to Argentiere to avoid the death trap which is the Pierre a Ric.

 

 

Pete Houghton - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

Here in Chamonix, it is now getting to the stage where it is a good idea to take the lift down from the Plan de l'Aiguille or from Lognan, if you are in time.

"How is one supposed to ski in such chaos?"

You take the lift down, and come back early the next morning.

blurty - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Pete Houghton:

Or kick back, have a Vin Chaud, let the crowds disperse and ski down ahead of the lifties, clearing the hill

Pete Houghton - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to blurty:

Absolutely. Some of my nicest runs on the Grands Montets over the last few months have been taking the last lift up or skinning up (or simply finishing a ski tour quite late...), waiting for everyone to wander off, then skiing down in the bright pink evening alpenglow. Once, I even had an end-of-day piste basher run a single line down the Bochard piste. Heaven!

Chris the Tall - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Postmanpat:

>   Well, some of he best skiers I know, who are quite happy to leap off cliffs and cornices and generally risk life and limb in multiple imaginative ways will still take the lift down from the Grands Montets to Argentiere to avoid the death trap which is the Pierre a Ric.

Oddly enough that is the very run I was thinking about as the worst I've experienced at the end of a day, but I still enjoyed it.

And I got in a round of drinks before the rest of the party arrived.

Including the guide.

Xharlie on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to summo:

> If you are as good on your feet as you imply, then you'll have had no problem reading the ground ahead, by angle and colour adapting your technique as you go. Giving you ample time to avoid those using the whole slope, falling boarders or kids playing. As they say, let the better skier take the avoiding action.

Well, that's what we did. But make no two ways about it: we were doing all the "avoiding action" -- both for people below us (which is expected) and for those coming from above who were NOT following the FIS rules mentioned in this thread.

Rules don't help if you're the only ones following them.

Pete Houghton - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Chris the Tall:

> Oddly enough that is the very run I was thinking about as the worst I've experienced at the end of a day, but I still enjoyed it.

The Pierre a Ric is a great piste, one of the best in the Chamonix valley for sure, whether freshly groomed and -10 degrees at 0900 or lumped out in slush at 1730, just as long as no-one else is on it. As soon as there are more people on it than there are corners (five), it's a shitshow, because even when it is crowded you'll always get people trying to ski it as though it's empty.

Xharlie on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Pete Houghton:

> You take the lift down, and come back early the next morning.

After the day (it was our last day, so the lift was not an option, naturally) we were all thinking that the ultimate ski resort would offer a seven-day-pass of mornings-only. That would be so great. Up on the first lift and down at noon: best snow, fewest ants and plenty of time for a nap and a walk in the afternoon or a game of pickup-hockey if frozen lakes are available.

HeMa on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

It is, as far as snow conditions go. 

 

Then again trying to avoid getting run over by a 15 stone mildly drunk british lad on blades was not that amusing. And for that I have nowadays resorted to being both on control and a lot faster than the n00bs. Or preferably know How to avoid the whole situation (kind of like avy awareness, know What to do, but even better is to know How not get into one on the first place).

kevin stephens - on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to HeMa:

I've often downloaded from Grand Montets rather than join the wacky races on Pierre-a-Ric, which could otherwise ruin an otherwise great day's skiing

TobyA on 05 Mar 2018
In reply to kevin stephens:

None of the above stories make skiing in the European Alps sound as much fun as I had always presumed it would be!

Xharlie - go ski touring instead, and find all sorts of new knackering endings to your day. ;) Trying to hitchhike down Glen Nevis in the rain (skis don't make you too popular to pick up); having to ski about three kms across a large lake to get back to the road and going back and forth numerous times over whether to try and skate it with no skins or classic style it, skins on; falling in numerous tree wells or hooking ski tips in birch brush in bottomless gloop; deciding the snow had got so bad you'd carry your skis instead then immediately falling through the snow pack into a plunge pool of a mini waterfall below; etc etc. All would probably make needing to avoid a few out of control newbies while you are on the way to the bar seem easy!

rocksol - on 06 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

Skiing is a mountain pastime sometimes requiring experience of conditions I think this would have been relatively predictable if familiar with aspect temp etc. Witness 2 very good skiers dead in couloir chapeau in Cham. Anyone with any mountain sense should have known it would be bone hard neve top to bottom (except over the cliff at the toe!)

Being responsible for a wife and 2 daughters although they are expert skiers, I always weigh up freezing level, time of day, aspect, avalanche conditions etc before venturing onto a slope I,m not familiar with. Well serviced skis with sharp edges also help massively 

I don't like skiing on ice, but for me breakable crust nails it every time, though you don,t face "the long slide" should you go over.

Ciro - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

> Well, that's what we did. But make no two ways about it: we were doing all the "avoiding action" -- both for people below us (which is expected) and for those coming from above who were NOT following the FIS rules mentioned in this thread.

> Rules don't help if you're the only ones following them.

Best to avoid the scenario at all costs until you're quick enough whilst going through heavy traffic to outpace the guys who are all over the shop. Beyond a certain speed you'll tend to find the guys who are coming through behind you are on top of things, even if it occasionally scares the bejesus out of you.

Tricadam on 11 Mar 2018
In reply to Chris the Tall:

> Oddly enough that is the very run I was thinking about as the worst I've experienced at the end of a day, but I still enjoyed it.

> And I got in a round of drinks before the rest of the party arrived.

> Including the guide.

I enjoyed that run myself a few times last year. Avoiding other snow users was reminiscent of skiing around our native rocks and heather. Throw in some wee moguls at an amenable slope angle on a piste that is never narrow. All very entertaining. 

Dogwatch - on 11 Mar 2018
In reply to Xharlie:

 

> If you are not in control enough to take a glance behind you on a crowded piste to check if you're turning in front of someone, you're in the wrong place. If you're so off-balance that you can't turn to miss a kid who's crashed in front of you, you're in the wrong place. If your choice is a near-horizontal straight line to the other side of the piste or wiping out and thus you cannot adjust to miss traffic, you're in the wrong place.

If you choose to ski a crowded run but can't deal with the crowd, you are also in the wrong place. It was your choice to be there.

 


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