Off Piste in St Anton
Venturing off-piste, I often seem to hear, is probably the most recklessly dangerous thing I, or anyone else for that matter, can do in a ski resort. And these scaremongers certainly do have the headlines and even some numbers to back them up.
With this in mind I signed down for a day’s off-piste skiing with Piste to Powder Mountain Guides in St Anton; and following a meeting we established that I was probably a level two, or an intermediate, skier. I was then given instructions to get hold of some fat skis (at least 100mm underfoot!), check my insurance and turn up bright and early the next morning fit, strong and ready to go. So I did. And at half past eight I was given a shovel, a probe and a transceiver; was introduced to Thomas, who was to be my guide for the day, as well as the other four members of the group – they were all there for just the week and had definitely already caught the powder bug (I was joining them in the middle of their five day course) – and off we went. Having checked that all our transceivers were working at the top of the Galzig, we headed up the Schindlergrat and over towards Stuben.
On the way we were able to find some fresh lines and, based on only a couple of turns, Thomas was able to very kindly inform me that I ski either like a girl or a gay Frenchman (I can’t quite remember which). He did, however, give me a couple of pointers to help me manlify my skiing. Anyway with this advice duly noted we headed on up the Albona; traversed a large bowl, ensuring that, for safety reasons, we maintained sufficient space between each of us; and found ourselves standing at the top of a great big field of steep and untracked powder. This is what I’d come for. I’d seen it in films and occasionally from chairlifts but, through either laziness or fear, I’d never actually got round to doing it myself. Off we went. With the off-piste skis I floated easily over the snow as I bounced my way down. I can tell you there’s not much more rewarding than looking up at the tracks you’ve made, even if they are completely irregular and occasionally interrupted by a wipe out.
Next it was time for something bigger. Having agreed that we were all happy to walk a fair bit; we were going to climb the Knödel, or the dumpling. This meant a forty minute uphill (obviously) hike in ski boots with our skis clipped on to our backs. The weather had started to come in and the wind was picking up as we walked along a ridge near the top. It all felt pretty intrepid – but entirely safe in the competent hands of Thomas. We made it though and, having congratulated each other for this achievement, we dropped in to the slope on the other side. It was steep, deep and great fun, but absolutely exhausting. Having made it down to the bottom we were very ready for lunch – two Wiener Schnitzel and an Apfelstrudel. The Austrians sure do know how to refuel and I clipped on my skis afterwards feeling full of energy for our final big run of the day. We traversed across from the top of the chairlift and stood at the top of the biggest, steepest powder field I know I’d ever seen. It was awesome – you’ll have to take my word for it – and thankfully my legs were up to it, as we descended a thousand vertical metres of powder. Sadly though that was pretty much that and we had to head back up towards the ironically named “Happy Valley”, while finding bits of powder and the odd jump on the way, and down to the Underground bar, where we exchanged stories with the other groups and enjoyed a well-earned beer. It was a hell of a day full of adrenaline, yet completely safe with a highly skilled guide. I know I’ll be back for more, hopefully as a competent rather than an intermediate skier!
Edward Prest – Ski Total
Piste to Powder offer both private and group off piste guiding in St Anton, Austria. It is possible to join a group either on a per-day basis or for five days. Groups are divided according to the ability of the participants. Book your own Ski Total Chalet Holiday here or call our friendly reservation team on 01483 791 933.