International (Europe/Japan/NZ/Au) 15 year old returns to the Arlberg, took nine years: Off-Piste Skiing St. Anton, Lech, Zurs, Warth

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by dustyfog, Apr 14, 2018.

  1. dustyfog

    dustyfog Putting on skis Skier

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    We arrived the Saturday before Easter, early morning and were off to St. Anton. It was zero visibility but we lucked out as the skies opened up briefly in St. Anton with Sun poking through - skied Galzig, Rendl, and Valluga I all on piste as it was day 1. Next day was blizzard central, whiteout, gale force winds with lift-closures most afternoon and we skied almost every run in Warth, again riding blind with guide leading most patiently (Dad was the slowdown-factor in the equation).
    1. Skier now 15, was 6 when he first came to Lech-Zurs, and this time, was inducted as a member of the storied Ski Club of Arlberg : Short clip capturing the beauty of the occasion. American boy from Manhattan, New York City no less (of steel, glass and concrete towers fame!-) ) earned the respect of the Austrian coaches. It's quite a cheerful, touching club, reputedly oldest ski club in the world from which has spawned many a great ski racer and free-rider.The clip is 2 minutes long:

    1. Now the main clip : it's a family and friends video at the tail end, but this is city kid with a GoPro on his chest skiing Arlberg off-piste : St. Anton's legendary Valluga and many others with incredibly nice, young and old, genuinely friendly, uber-chill mountain guides who really had great chemistry with the young lad. The observations said with typical quiet teutonic understatement to Dad " he has very good snow sense, skis with feel of the snow" , "fast, on his edges and very good balance", "very good skier". Makes a dad get emotional. (note Dad was unable to do much of the off-piste as Day 1 was Fog-whiteout, and day 2 was blizzard gale day! Dad kept getting 'back' and toppling over in powder, intermediate he remains, but enthusiastic energetic one) and then it was bluebird skies...anyway enjoy, it's footage shot by the lad from New York: This clip is 16 minutes long, but recommend watch on big screen or full screen to get a real good feel for the terrain. It was a blast:


    Kid learnt in upstate NY, but really came into his own in the Arlberg in 2009, Dad was a rank beginner on skis, just 2nd season on skis, then. Both are better now so more terrain became accessible. And we skied St. Anton and Warth, a lot, and he skied off-piste terrain all over the area.

    Some comments on the Arlberg:
    • The Flexenbahn is a huge positive, saves a drive, dealing with road conditions, and it is incredibly convenient, we used it, and it's really easy to get to St. Anton from Lech and to return back.
    • Warth is definitely worth skiing, nice runs, and the off-piste is extensive
    • There is a cat-track road sort of at the lower part of the Madloch route into Zug, where instead of veering left to get to the famous two-pack lift Zugerberg hoisting one up to Lech, one can go straight and that track lets you ride right into the main thoroughfare of Lech. This is a huge benefit as in Spring the main run into Lech is a ACL-killer, with soft spring corn and slush and mush.
    • Lunch at the Hirlanda in Zurs and the Montana in Lech are just too good.
    The 2009 video looks so different now! Kids grow up I guess...Life is beautiful.
     
  2. dustyfog

    dustyfog Putting on skis Skier

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    For anyone interested in the Valluga West, this clip is just about that free-ride domain. The exposures at the entrance is simply put, fierce, and the top part once they clear the bridge rocks, is very steep, camera does not really tell the tale. In this clip you can see the 15 yo battling fatigue from the mental tension, and also having just skied off-piste all the way to the Flexenbahn (Cable car to Alpe Rauz, sort of entry to St. Anton, or Stuben)from Ruffikopf, over the Monzabon, and then Mani his incredible guide, took him down the Schindlergrat Rechsl rinne (couloir) in deep powder (guess it was a practice run, some practice run!) . He was in race boots and they were killing his feet, and it is interesting for non-high-altitude regulars to see what the experience is like. Once out of the main couloir of Valluga West, which he carefully navigated, and stopped many times to rest his legs and grabbing oxygen, you can see him his mojo return, and begins to just groove in the endless powder of the Pazieltal Valley. The guide got a great picture of him down-valley, where he was grooving on a rather steep pitch, the way into the valley around a cliff face. And kid makes his own powder tracks wherever he goes. The Avalanche danger was 3.3 or 3.4 and he said, that was one thing on his mind everywhere in the Valluga. And Mani is fantastic in how he was teaching him about keeping distance between them. Manfred the guide was awesome, low key dude who really got along with the lad from NYC.

    This is for anyone who wants to actually get a feel for what the Valluga West is like. For non-pro free-riders, enjoy, it was a joy to watch, and I can assure, that needle in the sky is genuinely frightening, and the traverse they were on, there is absolutely no-falling allowed there, you are not coming back if you fall !
     
  3. fatbob

    fatbob Out on the slopes Skier

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    Controversial statement there. Consensus seems to be they screwed the pooch by opening it before upgrading all the lift infrastructure around Zuers.
     
  4. dustyfog

    dustyfog Putting on skis Skier

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    The comment above seems to require an informed, experiential response, and will add, am sure commenter knows more about this than we do, BUT this is our unreserved, unapologetic hard-core experiential opinion, for anyone interested.

    Note this is a TRIP REPORT about our experiences and our love of skiing, but this segue seems warranted since commenter above opinion is not shared by us in any way, shape or form. No interest in controversy, and clearly the commenter above knows a lot about the area, may even be their home mountain. So the opinion is noted with due respect, and it is one opinion with reference to some sort of 'consensus'. Ok, here comes a consensus from visitors and locals we know well, met anew etc.With the caveat, things can be improved, sure, glad to experience that too if we make it back there, who knows?

    First, we had a blast, a trip of many firsts and we skied St Anton and Warth, which we had not in our first visit, 9 years ago; and almost all off-piste, for the 15 yo anyway, Dad was slugging it out on piste, rarely off as the heavy powder was wreaking havoc with his balance !-), and we were staying in Lech with a whole bunch of friends from Europe. Just look at the grins in those clips, it's unadulterated endorphin highs, life is beautiful sort of thing.

    We know parts of the area well, as well as any visitor, if not better, having been there twice and skiing daily for now 14 ski days, ski lift open to close.

    First, for those who'd like to or are contemplating visiting the Arlberg, it's an awesome place, rather unique, and it is the cradle of modern skiing, and worth visiting once in this life, if you can make it there, do it!

    Now for that infernal and now infamous Flexenbahn link! ogsmile:hug:
    • Because of it St Anton, Stuben and St Christoph are all part of the ski area on skis no less, for those staying in Lech-Zurs-Warth, and for those in St. Anton environs, the latter 3 are part of the ski area on skis. (Think Leissieres chair taking skiers over the hump coming from Tignes, to the other side of Val d'Isere - seems like a good parallel, or the Trois Vallees gondola link, or the link between Alta-Bird via Sugarloaf, or ....). This is a resounding win for skiers, and riders, an endorsement without reservation from us from our experience, our knowledge (limited as it maybe) and what we heard from everyone, all Europeans who were with us and the locals we have known for a decade and the new friends we made, no exceptions.
    • The Flexenbahn is invaluably convenient for guides and instructors to meet their clients w/o driving or taking buses. Not one complained, they were happy as can be about it, relieved actually as they emphatically explained to us.
    • I can assure anyone the cab ride Lech-St Anton or the other way is not a short hop, nor an inexpensive one (over EUR 50 1-way) and some of the bus rides (blue) is free but not that frequent, hourly or so if I recall and the lines can build up. The journey is timed to be 40 minutes, so am sure it's a lot fun standing up close quarters in a bus with skis, backpacks and kids ! The journey can range from 40 minutes to 2 hours! Ride is generally longer in peak winter and spring, as traffic does build up and lots of things can and do happen on those alpine mountain roads. The Flexen Pass (the mountain pass road-link to get to and from the Zurs valley to the St Anton Valley) is not exactly an Indy 500 race track, it's got a whole bunch of switchbacks and in winter conditions, slick as sh-te, careful driving is mandatory, snow tires are mandatory and when it snows just like LCC, the chains have to come on. And of course then there those irritating things called avalanches, so control can happen anytime when you want to ride, good luck with that day. Safety first naturally.
    • Bottom line on the 'Bus' Option : Most people, actually no one I can think of or even likely imagine, who visits a ski area 'wants' to take a long bus ride to get to terrain they would like to ski, they do it because they have to, not because they have any desire to. Sure can imagine often times the lift lines can get crowded, naturally, more people like a place, it gets crowded, sure that's life. Look at Alta-Snowbird, on a powder day, or Jackson Hole, it's pandemonium and mayhem, but does that make them any less appealing, maybe to some, but they are unreal places to ski. Same goes for the entire Arlberg. Keeping people out is not a positive, it's exclusionary and not something I'd endorse in any form, but that's us, others have different opinions on the subject, sure.
    • In terms of heading back to Zurs, I can assure anyone, it's a non-issue, one can ski down from TrittAlp mid-station where the Flexenbahn drops you off. In addition one can download via cable car into Zurs, from the same spot using the TrittKopfbahn I, no need to ski down if one's legs have turned to jelly or quads turned into stone from all the skiing in St Anton. The journey the other way seemed relatively relaxed too, into St Anton, a non-issue, and one can download via the Galzig Gondola if I recall correctly, but that is not something we did, we always skied down, but that is what I recall. Sure in spring, it can get scraped and/or slushy at the base, and crowded on school holidays, so what, that is the point, people take their families on vacation, it's going to get crowded, one has to be a careful not blow a knee or not get run over, but that is par for the course anywhere. LCC, PC, Canyons, WB, Tignes-Val d'Isere, Zermatt, Aspen all have the same issue, what is there to complain about, it's skiing anywhere!
    • Sure, the lift up to the BalmAlp on Kriegerhorn from Zug is a two-pack, slow and all that, and the Madloch is the only way to ski back to Lech from Zurs and it does get icy, or slushy down low, and seriously mogulled up mid-way, that's how it goes, doesn't this sound familiar like Piste M in Val, or the entry Blue into Tignes Val Claret or the Collins exit into Goldener's daughter, Blackcomb ski down to the village (those in the know download as it's a killer!), Lech's primary return next to the Schlegelkopf, is brutal in the spring - all ACL killers and quad busters , all different mountains in different countries, but that return home is the same ! :eek::popcorn:
    • It is worth knowing, when there is enough snow, as was the case this spring, one does not need to take the two-pack, just hang skiers right as you come down from the Madloch-Joch and you will be cruising right into the main thoroughfare of the village of Lech. The Zug two-pack bypass highway. ogwink
    • Warth is a great place to ski, on and off-piste, and so on. The addition of the Auenfeldjet has made that valley accessible on skis now for anyone. And it's a god-send, since weather conditions can be very different in St Anton-Christoph or Zurs or Lech and Warth and the Warth-Schrocken part is the most snow-sure of all the Arlberg ski areas.
    No controversy intended, just sharing our experience in the Arlberg, we were there after 9 years, and the Flexenbahn made it that much sweeter, as did the Auenfeldjet cable car to Warth from Lech and it brought us back just before they shut it down on a gale-blizzard day too ! :ogcool:
     
  5. fatbob

    fatbob Out on the slopes Skier

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    Interesting to read your perspective. I was skiing the area for 5 days over Easter weekend and have to admit didn't end up taking the Flexenbahn (from St A). Mainly this was due to the appalling weather on Sunday which prevented safe skiing from Galzig.

    I have skied the whole area plenty before.

    The main gripes I have heard is that it encourages mass traffic from St A ( which has the most beds of course) which all travels at roughly the same time there and back ( say the 10am to11.30 window). Madloch in particular is a huge bottleneck for these crowds.

    Upshot is the pampered guests in Zuers are upset and this also spreads to Lech.

    Personally I liked the bus - it took very little time if you timed it right at Rauz and acted as a natural limiter on numbers transitting due to bus snobbery.

    I can see Flexenbahn might be a better experience if you are staying in Zuers or Lech and transitting the other way.

    On the Sunday we failed to reach it my friends that did get to Lech had a good time precisely because they had taken the 8.30 post bus and subsequently no St A crowds could get over.

    Final debacle is the Happy Valley issue which prevents knackered punters returning from Rauz having an easy route back to St A. The rank incompetence we saw on Kandahar was scarey if not also amusing.
     


  6. fatbob

    fatbob Out on the slopes Skier

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    Don't get me wrong I continue to love the area but I think due to some planning and political issues average punters seduced by the "largest lift linked area" hype are presently being short changed.

    There are even zero cost things they could do to improve the experience like roping US style singles lines inside the gates for lifts particularly gondolas. Yes Mrs Bogner-Furryhood might want all her distant cousins and brood to hold hands in the gondola but lets not let that prohibit filling up a dozen beforehand.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2018
  7. dustyfog

    dustyfog Putting on skis Skier

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    Understood, just gave visitors perspective. And yes, Saturday before Easter was Whiteout central with fog-mist and everything that makes seeing impossible, though the clouds parted for us on top of Rendl, and Schindlergrat so we got to see the vistas of St Anton environs. Easter Sunday was gales and blizzards, and we did Warth, and there is that one segment in video above where lad is going with guide in deep powder and blowing snow below the Wartherhorn avalanche barriers. First real taste of such deep relatively heavy powder. Got back to Lech on time as Auenfeldjet was closing early (315 or something like that) as winds began to pick up and almost all the lifts high up on Lech were closed like Kriegerhorn and Steinmahder when we got above the Weibermahd.

    It was some trip.
     
  8. fatbob

    fatbob Out on the slopes Skier

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    Yep. I'm interested because the Flexenbahn clearly worked for you & you didn't even notice the problem with Happy Valley so you come away with the response that the Alrberg marketing people are obviously trying to get - this is fantastic you should all try this marvellous and fully lift linked huge area. & it clearly is impressive - only the Peak 2 Peak (also strictly unnecessary as it doesn't actually open up additional skiing) is comparable in N America. The link to Warth is a huge plus for the area (though on the Sunday you went over my friends didn't risk it for fear of the very large cab fare if it does get closed down).

    But it's also interesting to hear of St Anton guests who feel somewhat shortchanged by the hype vs reality and in particular the unrest in Zuers that the great unwashed are spoiling things for their clientele. I think one thing that isn't really appreciated until you see it on the ground is the very much "one way" system of the Weiss Ring which makes the area unlike most other linked systems.
     
  9. James

    James Making fresh tracks Instructor

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    Nice report!
    It's always tough for people who haven't been to an area in Europe to deal with all these tips the names. I remember the first time trying to find lodging in Chamonix and all these other names kept popping up. Even being listed as Chamonix-Mt Blanc was confusing.
    How would you rate it versus your trip to Val d'Isere/Tignes?
     
  10. dustyfog

    dustyfog Putting on skis Skier

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    Almost died laughing, from the sentiment expressed FB, and what takes the cake is that I love the Peak-2-Peak Gondola, having spent 19 ski days in WB, and Blackcomb became a favorite playground, thanks to that Gondola. Never met an instructor or local who doesn't like the convenience but there must be a few. Interesting you deem it .. "..strictly unnecessary.." The thought of downloading or skiing all the way down from Whistler peak, and taking the Blackcomb Gondola up or vice-versa...obviously done for a long time, but before we showed up, and all I can say is Halleleujah ! Glad you approve of the Warth link. Kids love the Peak-2-Peak Gondola. And if you've been to Zermatt in the last 7-8 years, you will see now, one does not have to go all the way down to the base to get from the Klein Matterhorn to Gornergrat etc , one can take a relatively new connector lift and ski over, can do the same in the other direction , I forget the linking lift now, been 5 years since we made our only visit. To wit, the US wave of multi-mountain, multi-day incredibly inexpensive ski passes (assuming one can afford all those trips in time and treasure of course!) is just another way of making the ski area mountains accessible to more people.

    James, that's an easy question to answer on some dimensions and a hard one to answer on others. So here is a quick summary:

    Purely subjective but 15 yo is the one who really shredded it, so his view paramount, and note he was 12 when in Tignes-Val so:
    • Terrain : Arlberg better than Val d'Isere, but not by a whole lot. Daresay, this verdict was influenced by the fact that 15 yo tackled more challenging terrain where he is older, better, and more conscious of the dangers, and Arlberg felt quite a bit more dangerous. Additionally, it was a lot of powder skiing in a multitude of conditions, so the challenge was that much greater, as powder skiing experience is somewhat limited naturally, so the absolutely shredding at speed everywhere off-piste was a trip ! Fear factor and avalanche danger definitely higher when we were in the Arlberg, adds to the adrenaline rush. He did say, he recalled in Tignes, one off-piste where they landed up on the road to Les Brevieres and had to get a bus back with their instructor, left an impression on him
    • One key fact: That infamous Flexenbahn which FB has made me grin often about and the Auenfeldjet lifts made a huge difference, Arlberg = Lech-Zurs-Warth-St. Anton is what we skied, and there is also St. Christoph and Stuben which we never got to ... now in terms of sheer scale and variety of terrain, and with weather conditions having the high potential to be different in the different valleys (think of each town being a different valley, adjacent in some cases, and separated further in others) makes the Arlberg match L'Espace Killy in scale and variety. That made a huge difference. Just Lech-Zurs not comparable, but St. Anton, Warth-Schrocken (we never got to Schrocken) and the other two, now you're talking, it's as big and as interesting as L'Espace Killy.
    • Piste: The neglected bit as this trip like L'Espace Killy, the off-piste dominated, both areas equally good, all well groomed, long runs and on some major runs, massive knee cracking moguls which are usually on the steepest parts of relatively busy Madloch-Zug routes, Kandahar-Galzig and Valfagerjoch in St. Anton ! And Val has its infamous boiler plate Piste M, off of it the Black Rhone-Alpe (recall the times we were on it, there was no making an edge, rock hard bowling alley!), or Le Face which were basically each just steep giant bulletproof slides ... recall that slide-o-rama !
    • Socially : hands down Arlberg, we knew people from our 2009 trip, Klaus drove with his family over an hour from Schruns to Lech to meet his original student who he taught and guided in 2009l and we knew a few other folks in the area. And to top it all, we were there with an entire crew who came along with Dad's friend from London, so lad had company every night of adults, and sometimes teens (girls) all of whom, he got along very relaxed, chill and rather famously with.
    • Youth company on the slopes :
      • Ski Club Arlberg initiation and skiing with some of the best of teens in the Arlberg was cool, they respected the abilities of the kid from NYC, and got along well with him. The Austrian hosts in the club itself, the coach and the youth director made him feel most welcome.
      • One area where L'Espace Killy skiing was a lot of fun and games, was there he was skiing with other 11-14 year olds and he was 12, it was a party-palooza on the mountain, and the kids instructors were cool, and off-piste with funny older guy, who really got them going, they had fun with him.
      • Contrasting, skiing in the Arlberg, it was mostly him, Dad and guide, (other than gates with SCA crew, and one day, a friend came along with us and did some off-piste with him and a guide). Generally it really was mostly him and guides, and it was great to see these relatively young guys (they were all guys) have such good on-mountain, on snow chemistry with him. They appreciated his skiing technique, snow sense and ability to move at a respectable clip even though on snow he was absolutely not used to. It was the skiing which was paramount in the Arlberg, L'Espace Killy it was the skiing too, and it was serious, no question, but having young pals around all day is hard to beat.
    • Hotels : Arlberg stayed at the Hotel Jagdhaus Monzabon in Lech, cannot be more convenient, right next to the Schlegelkopf lift, main Lech upload, and across the street from the Ruffikopf, only direct lift access to Zurs. Hotel had only 13 rooms and was uber comfortable. L'Espace Killy hotel , Hotel Vanoise was great too, skiers hotel in Val Claret with 3 lifts out the back door, but more spartan, less expensive.
    • Food : Arlberg and Tignes-Val on the same level, just delicious and so damn healthy, ate so much, didn't put on a pound ! Montana (Lech) and Hirlanda (Zurs) superb for lunch.
    • Overall: His verdict, Arlberg was better than L'Espace Killy but not by a lot, was his summary opinion.
    • Biggest negative of the Arlberg Trip (not to be repeated, Dad will again be a bit poorer for it though!) : Making the mistake of listening to his boot-fitter (who is a great guy) and hence 15 yo going in his Head B5 ultra-stiff, hefty, uber-tight race boots, killed him off-piste, feet were crushed in pain all the time ! Next time, listening to our friend whose offspring are FIS racers, take 1/2-size bigger boots for touring off-piste !
    For the Dad (bystander in chief): we had more fun in the Arlberg because he tackled some unbelievable terrain with guides who he trusted and they showed great confidence in him (that Valluga ride was no joke, and it was hauntingly beautiful in its pristine solitude that day, avy risk was 3+. Dad avoided, likely fallen off a precipice ogsmile). Our evenings were great, friends every evening made a huge impact. For Dad, uncharacteristically struggled off-piste, think Dad needs to go back to skiing in adult groups. Dad noticed, when skiing with him and the guide, just felt more intimidated and skiing on the heavier powder on days 1 and 2 with sh-te visibility, unfamiliar terrain, and especially blizzards during day 2, messed with the old psyche and had consequences for balance (back-seat driving seemed to rear it's unwelcome self). Think Dad does better in Adult groups, pace is slower, and there are enough people who have trouble and the 'fear' is shared !-) Son and guides always waited for the old man, but even on piste, they were flying, there was no keeping up, just gasping for oxygen and staying upright !
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2018
  11. fatbob

    fatbob Out on the slopes Skier

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    To be fair you were there in a week when the offpiste could be extremely variable - influenced by wind, aspect, altitude, sun and extreme warming or cooling cycles. In 5 days it was rare to get a run where 10 consecutive turns off piste were the same.

    To add to the comparison I would say there is no way the Arlberg holds up against Espace Killy in pure piste groomer skiing. The one way nature of the Weiss Ring and the difficulty of some of the pistes makes it pretty challenging for the blue run cruisey type of tourist. And I'd say they are fairly honours even in terms of off piste opportunity. I prefer Arlberg for access from airport and snowfall and Austrian hospitality but I don't think you can actually say the terrain is totally superior. Certainly the unwary can and do get themselves into difficulties in both places.

    As for WB I did a season there and multiple other trips all pre P2P ( or when you still had to pay an additional premium to use it). Never did we say " you know what would be really good if we could go straight across here". It just never factored in. Yet I bet it does change the way people approach the mountains. Lift cos can do things that fundamentally change how the mountains are skied without opening up a scrap of new access terrain.

    I think the key point for N Americans coming to ski Europe is one I always make. There is lots of skiing accessible on a single lift pass so don't be overly ambitious in trying to hit too many resorts or snobbish about staying in the "best" name village. You can easily do 14 days in places like the 3V, 4V(Verbier, Nendaz etc), Espace Killy, Arlberg, Ski Circus without getting bored or moving your suitcase. For the Arlberg, given the Flexenbahn I now think the very best place to stay is Stuben - it gives you options in 3 directions. But it is a little lower key than the other towns. Lech is if course never a bad bet with guaranteed quality of the upscale hotels and now the access to lots of N facing terrain at Warth.
     
  12. 4ster

    4ster Sucking a little less each day Instructor

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    Thanks for posting R! Great to see D’s progress after all these years. Looking forward to watching the longer videos at some point. Brings back memories of my time spent at the Bundessportheim in St. Christoph. ogsmile
     
  13. dustyfog

    dustyfog Putting on skis Skier

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    Agree with you FB on all latter observations. Mine had recency effect. As I said, for us Arlberg was better but not by much. And on the 1-way nature of the circuit Zurs-Lech, Madloch being the only ski route/red run, is definitely spot on, no place for a rank beginner unless with an instructor and some courage, not to mention strong quads, that also on a good snow base, if thin cover and icy, fuggedahabouit, is wise counsel! That is a weakness, and on that front , for sure L'Espace Killy a lot easier to go in any direction.

    Hey 4ster, never knew you trained at that somewhat legendary Ski Academy in the Arlberg, or visited as an guest instructor. One of our guides was pointing out the slopes on St. Christoph where they do some of their certification and review course. Hope you get a chance to watch your young friend. I recall you taking this old beginner then way out on the edge of Snowmass in bullet-proof snow, think skiers right of run called WFO ! First real off-piste indeed I believe! First taste I think for us. And young lad enjoyed skiing in total whiteout and other gnarly conditions then - the WC Downhill for one and there were so many others. Now if and when we return, maybe you can take him boot-packing up the ridge above to lift rider's left of the John Paul lift !
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2018 at 11:37 AM

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