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Posts Tagged ‘Glacier’

By August 2011, only seven ski areas in Europe were still offering liftserved skiing (FirstTracksOnline News).

Tignes, France
Les Deux Alpes, France
Zermatt, Switzerland
Saas-Fee, Switzerland
Passo dello Stelvio, Italy
Hintertux, Austria (August and September)
– Mölltaler Gletscher, Austria

euro-summer-ski

I wasn’t in Europe to ski, but I was going to ski in Europe. I had hoped going on our last Summer in Europe back in 1998, but a record heat wave and a freak accident prevented me from doing so.

This time, 13 years later, I was going to cross off the months August and September in my ski streak. Then it occurred to me, wouldn’t be interesting to make a comparison between each ski areas still activate within the same time period. It didn’t start that way, but as time the weeks passed by, it became a goal. The fact that I probably not return to do a summer tour of European glaciers made it even more appealing. Visiting them side-by-side in the same time period at the closing of the Summer season and give me a better ideas of what Europe got to offer to skiers in the late Summer months.

Only Zermatt and Hintertux are open year-round while the others shutdown once the Summer comes to an end: some of them for a few weeks, while Passo dello Stelvio is only open in Summer.

This is a list of different aspect of each summer ski areas. I don’t like to talk about “Best of” lists, but the following is more according to my opinions, thus the reason why I call it “Favorites”. For many of them, the actual summer terrain was greater than what was left at the end of the season. The following only reflected of what was left.

Favorite park : Les Deux Alpes
Favorite terrain : Hintertux
Favorite winter quality snow : Zermatt
Favorite off-the-beaten track : Passo dello Stelvio
Favorite place : Saas-Fee
Favorite place in France : Tignes
Most expensive : Zermatt
Biggest vertical : Hintertux
Highest altitude (summit and base of skiing) : Zermatt
Lowest altitude (summit and base of skiing) : Hinterux
Favorite on mountain food : Hintertux
Favorite beer selection : Hintertux
Favorite view : Zermatt, Tignes and Saas-Fee
Favorite sick road : Passo dello Stelvio
Less favorite steeps (or lack of) : Les Deux Alpes
Favorite steeps : Hintertux
Favorite Day conditions during my visit : Passo dello Stelvio
Favorite place to have fun : Saas-Fee (2nd in parks, good terrain and off-the-beaten track).

The only ski area I didn’t to visit that was still open was Mölltaler Gletscher in Austria. As I mentioned to my wife, I was probably not going to repeat a European Summer Ski Safari as the cost was much more expensive than a trip to South America, but it was fun to do. I would have loved to make to Mölltaler, but I was running out of energy and cash after almost 6 weeks in Europe; 3 of them in the Alps. At 85.7%, it’s a good sample of the mission into what late summer skiing in Europe has to offer.

Click on the specific links or image to access the seven original Ski Mad World posts.

Cham, Genève et Tignes turns August, FR – 11-13 août 2011

13 août 2011: Glacier de la Grande Motte, Tignes

See La Meije and Ski Les Deux Alpes: 20-21 août 2011

Zermatt CH : August 24, 2011 – Classic!!!

Saas-Fee CH : August 25, 2011 – Between Zermatt and Zürich

Passo dello Stelvio / Stilfserjoch IT : August 28, 2011 – Sci estivo

Hintertux, AUT : August 29, 2011 – Austria’s turns

Hintertux, AUT : September 1, 2011 – last turns and days in Europe

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Sunday: Italy (Passo dello Stelvio)
Last week: Switzerland (Zermatt and Saas-Fee)
Prior weeks : France (Tignes and Les Deux Alpes)

Its Monday and I’m starting my final week in Europe, so it must be time for Austrian turns. My almost 6 weeks stay in Europe is coming soon to an end, like many of the summer ski areas (Les Deux Alpes and Saas-Fee) which closed their summer skiing activities the previous day. The next ski season is close-by with snow having fallen this weekend at Passo dello Stelvio and Hintertux. Austria will see a few more Austria glaciers (Kaprun, Stubai and Solden) to re-open for the Fall-pre-season time.

Hintertux is different from the ski resorts I’ve visited in the pass month. The surrounding valleys and mountains are greener and populated with small rural villages which is the totally opposite from a place like Les Deux Alpes. The first thing you noticed at Hintertux is the facilities are modern. It takes 2 gondolas to reach Tuxer Fernerhaus and the lower extend of the snow at 2660 meters and a third gondola (Gletscherbus 3) to get at the slopes and top at 3288 meters. Each stage has a beautiful lodge and cafeteria and / or restaurant. The last stage gondola climbs towards a jagged Gefrorene Wand peak and you don’t really notice the ski terrain until you stepped out of the top station. There you notice the heart of the summer complex of Hintertux, two slopes almost face-to-face of approximately 200 meters each serviced by 2 t-Bars.


View of Olberer terrain


Olberer T-Bars, Gefrorene Wand on the other side.

Of all the summer ski areas I’ve visited, which is 6 out of the 7 of all ski areas open in late August, Hintertux is the lowest in altitude. The snow quality wasn’t the same as I encountered in the higher ski areas in Switzerland, but the terrain was excellent with a number of runs off two different faces. You could also ski down 628 vertical meters to the lodge restaurant at Tuxer Fernerhaus and take the Gletscherbus 3 gondola back up. Hervé was explaining me that generally in summer, they are more lifts on different terrain open (Kaserer 1 + 2 and Lärmstage chair), however this being the end of August; skiing had retreated to the best quality part of the glacier.

The terrain was pretty steep and snow was hard and icy in some spots. The gondola exits on top of the Gefrorene Wand side which is mostly West facing. We started skiing on the Olberer face where the Eastern orientation facing the sun would make it more edgeable in the early morning. There were a bunch of racers at the bottom of both lifts and they were a few courses on the hill. There were even some race kids from Greece. The snow was firm at first, but became soft after a few runs. Of course, they were the exception where there was no snow on top of glacier and you just hard and / or dirty glacier ice.

There was about 3-4 groomed runs on the Olberer side and the remains of an abandoned snowpark. The vast majority of skiers were training and skiing on that side. When the snow was softer, we headed across to ski the Gefrorene slopes.

We skied down to the longer run from the top of the Gefrorene lift down the chalet for our expresso and beverage break. The trail had a few switchbacks and there was a small stretch covered with rocky chocolate chips just before the melted out terrace. As we drank, we looked on at the major construction around the station which included the construction of new lift.


Lower ski run and lift construction seen from Tuxer Fernerhaus terrace at 2660 meters


Tuxer Fernerhaus (2660 m), construction crane and Gletscherbus 3 station

We headed back up and spent now most of our time on the Gefrorene side. Skier’s right along the T-Bar was as steep as I’ve seen for glacier slopes. There are maybe 30 posts on the side of the top trail indicating the different lanes, however that would have been earlier in the summer. Today, the only course on this side was on the other side of the T-Bar closer to the gondola terminal exit. There was still a dusting of fresh snow which covered the very hard and not always perfectly smooth surface, but we found a few good lines. You didn’t need to ski straight down, you could also follow the trail along between the steep lanes and the rock face which connected with the run to the bottom. There was some mellower terrain for the odd tourists that had rarely skied. The skier’s left part of the glacier was mellower (the southern end of both sides), the other being even longer, passed between each face and lifts to continue lower. That part of become pretty pathetic and slushy and dirty as it got later.

At the end of the ski day, we ended back down for an excellent cheap meal and beer at cafeteria at Sommerberg (2100m) at the top of the Gletscherbus 1. First rate facilities and dinning at reasonable price: not what I expected. We had an excellent two-days in the Tyrol and South Tyrol; today was my biggest day of the trip with 24 runs and 5806m vertical skied mostly 200m t-Bars for 4 hours.


Gletscherbus 3 gondola


Gefrorene Wand T-Bars, Olberer on the other side


MadPat skiing Gefrorene – picture isn’t level


Hervé on the Gefrorene Wand side with Olberer in view

After this meal, we took the one last gondola down and headed to the Gaushaus in Tux, a few villages down. Hervé headed back to Germany as I decided to settled down for a few days to ski on September, write some of these TRs and close out my skiing for 2010-11. I had initially hoped to make it further East pass Lienz to ski Mölltaler Gletscher, the only other remaining summer ski areas to make the list complete, however the extra 200km was getting me further from Paris. I knew what to expect at Hintertux for September turns, I wasn’t so sure about Mölltaler as I had difficulty finding information. After 5 weeks, I wisely decided to stay put and rest and my credit card keep a load off bill which was probably already pretty impressive.

A few days later, on September 1, I managed to return and ski before closing out the trip and return to Paris by train via stops in Innsbruck and Munich :
Hintertux, AUT : September 1, 2011 – last turns and days in Europe.


MadPat and Hervé at Sommerberg


Last stage before Hintertux and the valley at 1500 meters

MadPat’s Gallery :
Tag 32 / 29 August: Hintertux

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Ski Log

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Ski log detail of skiing terrain : 24 runs for 5806m vertical skiing

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Day Two skiing on the combo Zermatt-Saas Fee lift ticket which set me back a nice 120 CHF. Zermatt’s neighbouring valley is less touristy, but as scenic. Saas-Fee doesn’t have the attraction power of Zermatt and it isn’t access by train, but you still can’t drive on the town’s streets. No majestic Matterhorn hovering above, but if it lacks in a majestic iconic peak, it makes up in hanging glaciers easily visible from town.


Arriving in Saas-Fee in the late afternoon

I arrived the previous day as it was getting dark; Saas-Fee is definitely quiet place compared to my previous destination. I stayed at the Hotel Garni-Imseng, a laidback hotel with normal zimmers, but you could find in the basement next to the Bakers Museum, the Touristenlager place, a dorm in the basement which had 7 side-by-side 3 stories bunkbeds for a potential capacity of 21 people in one small room, fortunately we were only 5. The other guests were a couple of parkskiers from Geneva and a freerider that skied 2 hours in the early morning then took the bus and train to get to work in Lausanne and back later in the night. I’m not even sure if the owner knew this guy was staying there. The setup was sketchier than in Zermatt, but more genuine, authentic and friendlier from the owner, staff and guess. I guess that too many tourists in Zermatt can have a negative effect on the locals.

I had a full breakfast before heading for the gondola; I wasn’t in the hurry to hit the ice. It was slightly overcast as I rode the lift with a hiker. Lift assisted hiking was really big in my two Swiss destinations, many of the Saas-Fee gondolas were running just for hikers and had nothing to do with skier access to snow. The last part of the ascent was done with the Metro Alpin, an underground funicular, but much older than the one at Tignes.


Saas Fee in the early morning light from the gondola


Saas Fee’s Winter ski runs below glaciers

You couldn’t really see where the skiing was once you leave the terminal building; it didn’t help that it was cloudy. The skiing started as a push across very thin cover flats towards the side of the glacier. The first thing would notice was the cattrack set next to huge crevasses. I was also impressed with the overall steepness of the runs; not much of a runout in Saas-Fee. The runs were short and steep, not really steeper than Zermatt, but didn’t have the runout. The skiing domaine was also more restraint.


The zigzag Metro run that you access once off the Allalin terminal at 3500 meters. The run is on the edge of the glacier and among the crevasses. T-Bars in the background.


The Allalin 2 + 3 T-bars, bottom of Metro pitch with courses and Allalinhorn (4027m).


There were also courses on the FIS run. View of the crevasses and Allalin station (3500m).


Courses on FIS and Allalinhorn


Snowpark

No wonder the Geneva park kids like Saas Fee; the jumps and halfpipe were happening. The only park I witnessed during this late summer treks across the Alps glacier that came close was the Les Deux Alpes park.

The altitude wasn’t as high as the previous day skiing at Zermatt, so the snow softened up earlier. The glacier setup was two parallel T-Bars and a lower one where the bottom snow conditions were somewhat sketchy. There were a number of people training, but not close to the amount or general caliber as in Zermatt. I made runs until we started being immersed in clouds just prior to the last lift at 1pm.


Allalin 2 + 3 lifts and Metro run


FIS run with part of snowpark in the shadow of Allalinhorn


Top part of Summer skiing terrain as seen from top of Allalin 1 lift


Allalin 1 lift, lower part of Summer skiing terrain with Täschhorn (4490m) and Dom (4545m), 3rd highest mountain in the Alps.


Lower T-Bar : Allalin 1 – Lower ski accessed point at approximately 3200 meters.


Upper T-bars and Allalin restaurant & terminal (3500m)


Feegletscher and Täschhorn from the gondola


Storm brewing as the skiing ended

Once back in the valley, early evening showers moved in and continued into the next day. I managed to ride the alpine luge next to the gondola. The next morning the Swiss kids weren’t going out as the hill was closed and I decided to make an early move out towards Zürich. Zürich is a beautiful city. but like Switzerland, it is expensive. I’m moving further East for my next destination.


Saas-Fee


Walliser Rösti and beer after a good day skiing


Road from Saas-Fee to Zürich


and tracks from Saas-Fee to Zürich


Zürich

MadPat’s Galleries :
Tag 27 / 24 August: Zermatt und auf nach Saas Fee
Tag 28 / 25 August: Saas Fee
Tag 29 / 26 August: Saas Fee und Zurich

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Day’s Log

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Detail log of skiable terrain

The Day and terrain stats: 18 runs and 4490m vertical in just under 4 hours.
Verticals :
Allalin 2 + 3 : 249m (3330-3579)
Allalin 1 : 162m (3200-3362)
Top to bottom summer ski terrain: 379m (3200-3579)
Allalin restaurant terminal : 3500m
Metro Alpin Funicular Felskinn-Allalin : 456m (3044-3500)
Alpin Express 2 Gondola Moreina-Felskinn : 372m (2672-3044)
Alpin Express 1 Gondola Saas-Fee-Moreina : 765m (1907-2672)
Saas-Fee to Allalin : 1593m (1907-3500)

Ski Pass

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Zermatt!!! A place steep in mountaineering history and one of the most popular tourist attraction. It is also the terminal of ski mountaineering Zermatt-Chamonix Haute-Route.

The family was leaving Lyon today; wife and kids were taking the TGV train to Paris and flying back to Canada the next day. Earlier that morning, I hoped on my own train in the neighbouring town from my in-laws towards Geneva and Zermatt. It had been 4 weeks since we landed in Paris, the rest of the family were heading back for work and school while I was extended my stay in Europe to get a few more turns.


Train station in France


French countryside


Swiss Alps


Final train ride up to Zermatt

A few hours later I got off the train and walked into a postcard. No artificial Disneyfied pedestrian village with typical faux-Swiss Chalets; this was the real deal with spectacular scenery with the Matterhorn in the background and you’ll understand why there are so many tourists roaming the streets.


The Matterhorn


Zermatt

All good things for tourists, but for myself, Zermatt is first and foremost one of the most extensive summer skiing destination in the World. Skiing starts at 7am, but the gondola ride open at 6:30. I bought a 2-day combo ticket that is also good at Saas Fee in the next valley. The ticket set me back 129 CHF. A single day pass for Zermatt cost for one-day was 80 CHF making it probably one of the most expensive ski passes all season combined on the Planet. Walked in sandals from the hostel to the gondola terminal and hoped on at 7:30. The ride from 1600m edge of town to the 3800m summit station was made via the bottom gondola then followed by two trams.


Tram station


Tram ride above glacier

For some reason, we ended up waiting in a closed trams for what seem a longtime. People were hot in more ways than one. The weather forecast was uncertain as T-Storm were forecast later in the day. The Matterhorn was partially clouded off for part of the day. The temperature at the top terminal at 3883m was 0 celsius, the snow was refrozen and hard. There was a long cat-track starting from the summit terminal building and descending where the majority of the skiing was happening. There was even a tunnel to avoid skiers training Super G or Downhill. Once on the other side of the short tunnel, a multiple of teams had divided the hill in lanes for training. Conditions were hard and fast which was perfect snow conditions from running gates for teams from Ontario kids to the Austrian ski team. These conditions prevailed until 11:30.

In this last week of August, the skiing was serviced by 5 T-bars covering a vertical drop of almost 500 meters. Skiing is possible for an extra 500 meters on the Oberer Theodulgletscher earlier in the season.

The morning skiing wasn’t for the uninitiated: it was like a first year driver on the Autobahn. The terrain accessed by the two 280 meters Zermatt parallel T-Bars started steep only to conclude in a long run off at the end down to 3400 meters. A number of courses were set to the skier’s right and two on the left side of the trail. The gateless skiing was in the middle. At the bottom left side in the run out, there was a few park features. You could access the park via a shorter T-bar that ran 75 meters, but the snowpark was clearly not the focus of the Zermatt skiers. Some skiers were arriving from Cervinia on the Italia of the border via a lift arriving to the Plateau Rosa which you could ski to and from.


T-Bars and the Matterhorn


Coaches and racers with the Tram terminal at 3883m in the background


Lanes with Super G course on the left


Austrian racer

As skiers running the downhill course from higher up, I noticed a T-bar higher not visible from the top of main T-bars. This lift ran along the ridge that also served as the Swiss-Italian border and climbed an extra 160 meters. The top of the T-Bar was approximately at same altitude as the Summit building (3899m). On the plateau in between, a T-Bar assured the liaison. Although the Downhill run was off-limits, there was a gentler run between it and the cat-track from the morning. The excursion was better with snow that was soft and edgeable. It made for a pretty long run with almost 500m vertical: wow! It was impressive.


Ridge T-Bar on the Italian-Swiss border


Saddle between top T-Bar (3899m) and Tram Terminal (3883m). Start of the Super G/Downhill training course on the left


In the other direction : Breithorn (4164m) trek. You can notice path and climbers

Clouds started moving in at noon when most of the racers were gone. I asked if it was okay to run that was previously used to train downhill. The answer was “yes” and it ended up being the run of the day. I keep bumping into this French skier. He initially approached me and asked if I was American. He mentioned that he recognized me by my skiing. We took the T-Bar together a few times. He was instructor from Chamonix in Zermatt on a daytrip. When we talked about age, he says that he mentioned that he was “48” to the ladies. Turns out that he was actually 78 and had been an instructor for the last 60 years. He worked for a number of years in Tahoe and spent one year at Mammoth during their third year of operation in 1960-61. This man was full of stories and was the definition of the classic French skier from the 1960s in the way I would imagine in term of personality. He lived just off Argentière next to the lift.


Traverse towards Plateau Rosa with view of main summer skiing area


Plateau Rosa and lift connection with Breuil-Cervinia (Italy)


Back towards T-Bars base

Ended up milking out the last run of the T-Bar, skied the previous closed lanes due to the various training courses. The flatter bottom of the slopes was pretty mush, but it still fun to ski if you don’t mind that thing of snow.

We downloaded off the mountain together. He shared some of his bottle of cider and sandwich. He didn’t want to have anything to do with my Mars chocolate bar. The ride down was longer as we used the top tram then transferred to the two stage gondola. Not the fastest way down, but still incredibly spectacular.

The French skiers removed his ski boots at the top while I put my sandals. I was waiting for him to put his shoes only to find out that he didn’t have any. He told me he never wore shoes unless he asked for a loan at a bank. :O Telling you, classic. As we walked down the streets of Zermatt, me in my sandals, him barefoot, he offered me a ride down the valley with his car parked lower in the Valley (Zermatt is car-free). I had to decline as I needed to get my stuff back from the Hostal and transfer via Train and bus to Saas Fee. I was really a pleasure to share part of my day with him.

Zermatt is really spectacular. The scenery and the size of the summer liftserved skiing are pretty impressive. Definitely an all-round classic!!!


Close view of the Glacier during the Tram ride


Lower end of the Oberer Theodulgletscher with visible early summer lifts


Gondola download


Zermatt


Matterhorn in the clouds


Beautiful Zermatt

MadPat’s Galleries:
Jour 26 / 23 août: Ambérieu-en-Bugey à Zermatt
Tag 27 / 24 August: Zermatt und auf nach Saas Fee

Monday Mad Addict’s Attic : Zermatt (Trail Map)

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Day Log

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Detail log of skiable terrain

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