Riding a train North through the French and Swiss countryside was a heartening experience. I have long been obsessed with transportation efficiency, and the European rail system is an absolute marvel. The next big squeeze is rapidly approaching, but there are systems and models available to give hope that we will be able to pull it off.
After a long day of travel, I rolled in to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, and dragged my behemoth ski/glider bag through the dark streets looking for the Horner Hotel and Pub. The Horner is known primarily as a BASE-jumpers haunt, and I had it recommended to me by a local speedride contact as the best dirt-bag option. Standing on the porch as I staggered up was a crew of Red Bull athletes known as the Red Bull Air Force, who had come to ‘BASE Paradise’ to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Andy Farrington. Several also had speedwings, and they had plans the next morning to meet up with the local speedride crew.
Early the next morning we all joined forces, and local athletes Toby Zumsteg, Patrick Pearson, and Ueli Kestenholz amongst many others, guided us around the various speedride zones at Schilthorn. The terrain was spectacular and the access fast and easy, but the most impressive part was the skills of the Swiss riders who have grown up in this remarkable playground. It was deeply humbling to hear them speak about the recent ‘dark winter’ of 2009, when they lost 8 friends to this very dangerous sport. The exceedingly rigorous discipline that the survivors had developed was one of the most striking lessons that I absorbed throughout my trip.
After our initial session the huge speedriding posse disbanded – the Swiss to their normal lives and the Red Bull crew to spend their time BASE jumping. A few days later a few of us joined back up, including ski celebrity JT Holmes who was also in time for the bachelor party. Very cool to spend the day riding with an athlete whom I have been watching for many years.
But the majority of my time in the region was spent solo, a frequent enough theme in my chaotic life. As the temps increased, much of the more radical terrain began to unleash in a flurry of wet slabs. Therefore the available time window was limited to the early mornings, before the solar heating made the snow unstable. This proved challenging, as it took some time each morning, flying solo, to warm up my body and my mind to make sense out of the madness of this activity.
Fortunately there was also some lower, significantly mellower terrain, which stayed safe throughout the day. This provided the perfect venue to push out laps in volume and focus on details, and by the end of my trip I was able to connect a bunch of South-Side-Slider skills to a lifetime of ski training.
My typical routine was to finish the day with a valley flight out over the box canyon of Lauterbrunnen, land in the grassy fields below, and pack up just in time to catch a train across the valley. Dropping my wing at the Horner along the way, I had enough time to put in 5 or 6 laps skiing the single remaining line with dry snow underneath the North face of the Eiger. The deep silence there at a lunch rock below one of the largest faces in the Alps is an experience that will continue to resonate for some time in my weary traveling soul.
A short story and some more pictures from La Grave and the Jungfrau Region are posted on Black Diamond’s Ski Journal.