Short Bus 2010
A Short Bus Long on Adventure. Trip Report by Kiel LaFrance.
What began as an incredible ski trip ended up being an even more incredible one. The Short Bus Euro Trip was more than a ski vacation, it was a journey, spanning three countries and countless peaks and interspersed with delicious food and great times that I will remember forever. I left with an altered perspective on ski touring and ski mountaineering that often makes me wonder why I'm not back in Europe at this very moment earning my turns.
Day 0: The trip began in Chamonix, France at the Hotel Gustavia, a wonderful establishment across from the train station with a rowdy and entertaining bar scene. Here, I met my group, 7 of us plus 2 guides. All were from the Seattle area except me (New York City). After some introductions and some Q&A with our guides, Martin Volken and Adam George, we set out for dinner and drinks and prepared for the coming days ahead.
Day 1: The first day began with a short drive to Courmayeur, Italy, where we utilized the lifts to access the Valle Blanche and La Toula areas around Courmayeur/Chamonix. A strong wind greeted us upon our arrival to the 3,642m Punta Helbronner. The views were breathtaking, especially for someone like myself who had never skied in Europe before. Everywhere you looked were gorgeous and intimidating snow covered peaks begging to be climbed and skied. After some coffee, we ventured out and navigated some tricky stairs down a cliff, but were soon rewarded with tons of fresh snow. A large storm had hit the area literally the day before our arrival and had blessed us with 2m of freshies. We hooted and hollered like little kids on the never-ending ski descent down, getting our first taste of the European skiing life and the sheer size of the mountains of the Alps. Once we were back on the summit, we skinned out a short distance and began our descent into the Vallee Blanche area, a 2,000 vertical meter tour that deposited us at the Montenvers rail terminal, which then transported us back to the Chamonix village. Over a group dinner at a small and delicious French restaurant, we recounted our day and prepared the details for the next day's transfer to Switzerland.
Day 2: The transfer to Switzerland brought us through Martigny, a beautiful town wrapped in knee-high grape trees which stretched along on any available South facing slope. The trees literally encroached on to the road, taking advantage of every inch available in order to quench the country's thirst. After a ride up one of the narrowest and curviest roads I've ever travelled on, we arrived at the [too cool to mention] ski area, a poma lift mecca. Our accommodation, the Hotel [too cool to mention], could be seen off in the distance perched on a pristine and snowy hill. Because no road was available in the winter to transport us there for our 2 night stay, it was up to us to take as little as possible on the lifts, traverse through the ski area, and then skin up to the hotel (an adventure in its own right). After arriving at the hotel on a gorgeous, bluebird day, we set out for a quick ski tour around the area. We meandered over and around gentle snowy hills before gaining some elevation, but were soon forced to turn around because of avalanche danger. Of course, we were all a little disappointed, but a little disappointment is much better than a ruined trip. Plus, the 4 course meal we had back at the hotel and our plans for the next day were well worth the trek up there.
Day 3: The next day started early, earlier than sunrise to be exact. After a quick breakfast and before the sun had even risen over the rocky peaks surrounding us, we ventured out North towards Amarosa Peak at 3,031m. Our 3 hour ski tour took us over beautiful snowfields and unlimited ski descents, some gentle and some very difficult. We meandered single file through the wilderness, not another soul in the area until we were very close to the summit. After reaching the top of Amarosa, which afforded views of the Breithorn and an avalanche that took the life of a guide just earlier that day, we refueled our stomachs with local meats, breads and cheeses and began our descent down. We made our own tracks on the untouched slopes, stopping every now and then to regroup and plan our next descent. We continued this all day, skinning our way above the crests and then skiing further down, tracing the contours of the mountains and valleys, choosing our lines wisely, and enjoying the Swiss sun. It was a very physical and incredible day but also a sobering one. We were reminded that the mountains will give but can also take. On a better note, however, it was my first time summiting a peak on skis, and Martin and Adam could not have picked a better route for it. Another 4 course meal that night and tons of good stories capped off a perfect day in Switzerland.
Day 4: Our 4th day of skiing was a welcome change, giving us time to rest our calves from the long ascents and instead burn our quads at one of Switzerland's finest resorts. After skiing down to the van just as the sun peaked over the horizon, we set off for Zermatt where we skied inbounds all day and raced down 6,000 vertical feet of groomers all while the Matterhorn loomed above us. After travelling from one side of the resort to the other, we stopped over in Cervinia, Italy for lunch, and I had the most amazing spaghetti alla carbonara. After our lunch break, we enjoyed Zermatt for what it is, an endless span of mountains interconnected by the most up-to-date lifts, including escalators (yes, I said escalators), watch ads at every lift station, and one beautiful woman in a bikini doing a photo shoot. It was Europe at its finest, and we could have easily stayed there for a week and never ski the same run twice. But it's the Short Bus Adventure Week, and the short bus was calling, so after the lifts closed, we packed into our respective vehicles and made the quick transfer to Saas Fee, a gorgeous car-free town lined with shops and restaurants one valley over from Zermatt. We arrived as the sun was setting, filed into the Hotel Burgener right in the center of the village and set off for dinner.
Day 5: After passing out with some good old Swiss-German rosti in our stomachs, we set out the next morning before the lifts were officially running (due to Martin's wonderful Swiss-German) and took a short snowmobile ride and 2 trams up the mountain to the Metro Alpin, the highest subway in the world. We were dropped off halfway up this historic landmark, and after shuttling through a large metal tube, we were deposited on to one of the most beautiful snow fields I've ever seen. After collecting my jaw from the snow, we put on our skins and started towards the Fluchthorn at 3,795m. Under bluebird skies, we passed glaciers, snowfields and gentle hills, and after about 3 hours, we reached the summit with a little help from our crampons. We were soon accompanied by a few other ski groups, and when the summit became a little too crowded for our tastes, we skied down for what seemed like forever, arcing turn after turn over the terrain. After a short skin, we arrived at the Britannia Hut by Saas Fee, had some warm food, and then skied down the resort side, about 1,200 vertical meters, back to town.
Day 6: Our final day was amazing, but tinged with a bit of melancholy. I couldn't stop thinking that this was our last day together. I wasn't prepared for that thought, so I put it out of my mind as best I could as we began our skin up to the Allalinhorn at 4,027m. It was a beautiful day. In fact, we'd been blessed with the best weather all week, warm temps and not a cloud in the sky, and our last day was no different. Although one of our shorter skins because we used the lifts as best we could to gain vertical, it was one of the more technical since we had to rope up and make the final few hundred meters with our crampons. The narrow peak was adorned with a large cross, and after taking a ton of pictures, both of the beautiful view and of all my new friends, we descended down a few meters to a sheltered spot and had a snack. We then climbed back down to our skis and made our final 6,000 vertical foot descent down the Saas Fee ski area, stopping along the way to gawk at the glaciers and ice walls strewn along the ski runs. But after a few beers and some quick packing, I was the only one left in Saas Fee, milking my stay in Switzerland for an extra two days while others went on their separate ways back home, and for a few lucky ones, to Chamonix and to Italy.
It's really hard to end this trip report because, truthfully, it hasn't ever really ended for me. I relive it every night in my dreams and every morning when I look at my skis by the window. It was a trip of a lifetime, and without the guys from Pro Guiding and their infinite knowledge of the area, it would never have been so memorable. You'll see me again next year guys, and the year after that, and the year after that, and . . .