Storming peaks in the snow

Storming peaks in the snow - Powerplay

Hearing the snow crunch under your skis. Feeling the wind as it blows over the next ridge. Seeing the summit get closer and closer. And already looking forward to the ride back down. Ski touring is a fascinating pastime for Markus von Glasenapp and Nicolas Fojtu, creators of the "Ski & Snowboard Touring Atlas of Switzerland", probably the most comprehensive reference work of its kind.

"Our book contains enough touring suggestions to last a lifetime," says Markus von Glasenapp. He chose the tours, areas and peaks, Nicolas Fojtu took the pictures. More than 1,000 routes on 400 summits in the 30 best ski and snowboard touring regions in the Swiss Alps found their way into the atlas. These naturally include routes in Graubünden. The best way to get to the starting points is by RhB. A selection of routes is featured here in Contura – many more are exclusively available for download on the RhB website under RhB Touring Tips.

Piz Bial – 3,061 metres above sea level
The tour on the Piz Bial starts in Preda. In winter, the Abula Pass above the sleepy village is closed to traffic. This is where the world comes to an end – the perfect starting point for an unusual and somewhat more difficult tour. The climb starts off through Val Mulix, which has one of the loveliest Swiss pine forests in Graubünden. Admittedly, the tour drags a little here, but the view of the north flank of Piz Bial serves as motivation. Then the going gets tougher: shortly before the top, there’s a steep, narrow gully and 200m in altitude to be overcome. The summit can then be approached relatively easily from the east. Once at the top, thanks to its exposed situation, Piz Bial has some truly stunning views to offer. After the long climb comes a well-earned reward – time to head back down again! The descent is fast and steep – directly below the peak comes a gully with a 42 to 44-degree incline, which eventually leads back to the route taken for the ascent. If you still haven’t had enough after this tour, you can climb from Preda to Igl Compass. Or if you fancy something different, there’s the six-kilometre sledging run – the longest illuminated run in Europe. It goes from Preda to Bergün alongside the famous Albula Viaduct.

Accommodation: Hotel Preda Kulm, www.preda-kulm.ch
Sonnenhof Preda, www.preda-sonnenhof.ch

Piz Cotschen – 3,031 metres above sea level
We start off in Guarda, the village made famous by children’s book "A Bell for Ursli", whose author, Selina Chönz, lived here. She used this gem of an Engadin village as the setting for her work. RhB stops just below Guarda. You can then take a post bus to the village. The route actually starts off on the snow-cleared road towards Bos-cha before heading off across country. The climb up the steep, south-facing 30 to 34-degree slopes can be tackled in a good two-and-a-half hours. Or you can begin in Ardez, from where the tour via the Chamanna Cler hut takes a little longer. Below the secondary summit it temporarily gets steeper and care must be taken. From the secondary summit, you walk on foot to the main summit. If the rocky approach is covered in snow, this last leg also requires some practice. Descend directly via the southern slope; the alternative ultra-steep eastern flank should only be attempted in absolutely safe conditions. If there’s enough snow, you can see your tracks all the way to Ardez.


Accommodation: Hotel Piz Buin, Guarda, www.pizbuin.ch
Hotel Alvetern, Ardez, www.alvetern.ch
Chamanna Cler mountain hut (bring your own food), www.ski-ardez.ch

Chörbschhorn – 2,651 metres above sea level
The Chörbschhorn is the classic tour in Davos. Although this spa town has become a modern ski resort, it’s still possible to find peace and tranquillity away from the slopes. The Chörbschhorn is a good option especially when northern slopes are not yet safe enough or if you feel like enjoying a spot of sunshine in deepest winter. There are two ways to get to the top of the Chörbschhorn: the ascent from the Schatzalp skiing area takes around two hours. It’s a varied route with a difference in altitude of just 300 metres. The climb from Davos Frauenkirch takes three-and-a-half hours across steeper territory (up to 34-degree incline). But you can stop off for coffee and cake at the Stafelalp before tackling the tough part. The descent over Erber Berg is a pleasant affair: after the summit slope it takes a bit of effort to cross the flatter terrain. However, the forest aisle towards the end of the descent is a bumpier ride and very steep in parts.

Accommodation: various hotels in Davos, www.davos.ch

Ski touring – how it works
Fancy having a go? Sadly, you can’t just strap on your skis and do it. "Anyone who wants to go touring first has to understand the role played by the weather, the terrain, snow conditions and our own actions," says Markus von Glasenapp. "Once you’ve mastered these basics, it’s like talking a new language." And doing so can be crucial to your survival. The mountains are full of dangers such as avalanches, falls, exhaustion and blocked paths. Another absolutely crucial factor: you must learn to treat nature, the other members of the tour group, other ski-tourers and yourself with respect. Markus von Glasenapp recommends attending a two or three-day training course: "Let a professional teach you the basics in avalanche and weather awareness, as well as how to plan your own tours." Two valuable tips up front: never ever set out alone, and it’s better to turn back if your instinct tells you to. As well as acquiring this must-have knowledge, good planning and the right equipment are further essentials. Before setting out, the group should gain as accurate a picture as possible of the current situation. Topographical maps, the weather report and the avalanche bulletins of the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research are good sources of information. Once underway, you should constantly revise your plans, admit to your mistakes, look for alternatives and, if in doubt, turn around. In addition, every member of the group should have similar equipment – someone on snowshoes will be quite a bit slower on fresh snow than someone on touring skis, for example. Every last detail needs to be thought out, "simply forgetting your sun cream can be enough to scupper the tour – let alone realising you’ve forgotten your pick just below the crest," says Markus von Glasenapp. And the group’s members should have a similar level of ability – or at least equip themselves so that everyone can progress at more or less the same pace. On top of this, Markus von Glasenapp recommends tours of more than one day: "Staying overnight gives you a better idea of the local conditions. And you get to spend the nicest time of day in the mountains: sunrise and sunset."