Skiing for the soul
How many kilograms does freedom weigh? The philosopher in me sighed. We were standing in an airport check-in queue. Just within reach of three weeks of independence and vast open spaces. But the lady at the desk was delaying us – and making us feel bad about loading the plane so much. She rolled her eyes at every additional kilo of bulky luggage that clocked up on the scales. "Do we absolutely need all this?" we asked ourselves in silence. Björn und Max answered in their own unique way. A shake of his blond mane of hair, an exchange of wide grins, and they joked with the lady in the crisp navy uniform. "We're making a film over there. Hey, do you want to be in it?" Her bureaucratic attitude melted like Alpine snow in the midday sun in the face of the charm offensive by the two lads who have made Innsbruck their adopted home.
36 hours later: Temuco, South Chile.
We meet up with André und Bondi. André is an old friend who spends several months of each year in South America. He knows the landscape around here as well as Max knows the Nordkette of his native Innsbruck. Bondi is the name he gives his bus. This 14-ton veteran of the Argentinian public transport fleet was just what we needed for our soul trip through the Chile-Argentina border area. Plenty of space for sleeping bags and sleeping mats. A shower unit. A small kitchen. And it had thousands of kilometres of experience with gravel roads, the odd hijacking and other peculiarities of the Patagonian infrastructure.
André drove us off directly to the Chilean version of the famous pampas. A landscape of brown prairies and scraggy hills. Wide open vistas for greedy eyes. And off in the distant haze, the first mountains. Bondi carried us along the rough road steadily but surely in the direction of Pucón. We told André about our ideas on how to make both our trip and the film something special. How we wanted to capture images with a visceral impact. To tell of a land where nature is the victor. A land where on average there are only two people to every square kilometre - in some places even fewer. For the last two hours we had not laid eyes on a single soul.
Our guide was active in the freeriding scene. He well knew that the most thrilling ski and snowboarding films are generally shot in Canada or Alaska. That's where, due to its unique composition, snow can even hold to slopes of greater than 50°. Where a helicopter can take you in minutes to the most exposed peaks, the steepest runs and the deepest drops. As often as your thigh muscles and your sponsor's money allows.
Andre threw me a skeptical glance. "You want to go skiing in the Argentinian spring and shoot a film about it? In the middle of unpredictable weather, ferocious winds, and little or no chance of powder snow?”
Silence. We looked back at him. For a long minute. Not backing down. Finally he nodded. The right corner of his mouth slid up in a grin. His eyes betrayed a gleam. He understood all right.
"Yeah. Why do ski films always have to chase after what's steeper, higher and more sensational? There's more to the winter mountains than how much adrenaline shoots through your system...”
My attention was drawn by the huge shape of Villarrica - our first goal. This 2,840 metre volcano forms part of a magnificent national park which spans the border area between Argentina and Chile. It loomed there, smoking a thick pipe of peace. The volcano is still very much active.
Off-piste skiing "by fair means" – ascend and descend using your own power
"The idea is to have a different story to tell than the usual one. I mean, we all love the sun and days of powder snow, endless steep runs and comfortable ski-lifts. But is that really the way forward for us and for the sport? Free ski mountaineering: for us it means freedom and fairness. Fair to the environment and nature. A freedom that reflects our own needs and goals. To be open to adversity, to terrible weather. To meet the inner challenge when it is not possible to make the ascent today. And maybe not tomorrow either. And if the sky clears the day after tomorrow, then you have to make the ascent using your own strength alone! The only weapons are your skis, skins and ski poles."
Just seven days later I was cursing my idealism. Villarrica was plainly brushing us off. An apparent headwind of 120km/h wind was too much for us. But if the weather isn't going to budge then you have to make a move yourself. We got out of there. André and Bondi brought us to the Parque Nacional Lanín. It's named after the Volcán Lanín, a 3,700-metre high volcano. We looked forward to a two-day ascent and friendlier weather.
As we climbed upwards, some of the images captured in my viewfinder over the past few days flashed through my mind again. A gurgling river, crystal clear water. A piece of driftwood that seemed to have been left high and dry on a rock for decades. A small cabin by the river bank. A place for a fire. And behind: wide open space. Silence. Fresh air. Nobody around to worry about taming the river, banking it in. No local residents to appeal to the authorities about inadequate flood protection.
The wind ripped these images from my mind. It was as though even the weather forecast was being blasted away by the wind. "How far more is it to the refugio?" I shouted across to Max. It was amazing how he was able to keep up our pace on his splitboard under these conditions, even taking the lead from us again and again. That's how free ski mountaineering works for snowboarders too. Particularly if they are among the top ten of the Freeride World Tour 2010. Max can sniff certain things out about a terrain. Even if he has never been there. The words "Not far now to the hut" somehow reach my ice-cold ears.
The night in the refuge was better than expected. Hot soup and a thick down sleeping bag proved to be a recipe for a sound sleep. And the next morning all our worries had literally blown over. A cold clear sky, altitude of 1,400 metres, and a freeze-dried landscape tempted us out of our goose down bags early. The long-awaited descent was one of the best that Björn, Max and I have ever experienced on any mountain - despite the hard-packed snow. An almost endless line of descent, unbelievable views, and a ride from one world to another – from a winter volcano to the steppes. Ride on.
Free ski mountaineering equipment – So the soul feels comfortable on every trip
Albonaska 3-layer Powertex® His and Hers jacket
Never change a winning team. The Albonaska already attracted much admiration on the free ski scene last season. That's why we left it as it is, and only splashed out on fresh new colours. All else remains the same, just as developed in conjunction with our free ski mountaineering team. Designed with full protection against wind, water and cold. With a precise fit, freedom of movement and small size when packed.
Bare Rock Polarlite His and Hers hooded jacket
There are things you don't lend to anybody for fear of never seeing them again. The Bare Rock jacket is one of them. Polarlite Dynastretch lends it a comfortable warmth and flexibility for body movements. Your Mp3 player will fit snugly in the breast pocket, and the thumb holes of Dryton Microstretch will keep your hands warm and free of snow at all times.
Skeena 3-layer Powertex® His and Hers pants
There's a simple rule for clothing which free ski mountaineering sportspersons hold to: jacket and pants the same. The casual-cut triple layer Powertex SKEENA team pants will shield you from wind, wet and cold even in this severe winter. They also provide ample breathability and freedom of movement. They are fully adjustable to individual needs thanks to the belt loops, removable suspenders, and long zipped side ventilation slits. The bottom hem length can also be adjusted.
Magna 2.0 Primaloft His and Hers vest
To be worn under an outer layer when it's cold, or over a mid-layer when it gets warmer. The Magna vest's hybrid features make it a practical solution for all who don't want to have to decide between a warm thermal vest or a breathable vest for the ascent. The Magna offers both: SALEWA Stormwall along the sides and the middle area of the back, and Primaloft One at the front and at the sides at the back.
His and Hers seamless long sleeved T-shirt
First layer, second skin. This long-sleeved top designed to have no annoying and chafing seams ensures fast wicking away of moisture and a comfortable body temperature for strenuous winter activities, whether uphill or downhill.
His and Hers seamless pants
The same design principles apply below the waist. These seamless pants feature a high polypropylene content in various structuring for excellent body temperature control. The close-fitting tailoring and sporty fit means that even after hours of movement they are still exactly where the wearer wants them.
Zibu 2x beanie
Double stitching holds better. Double knitting too. A warm beanie in a cool and casual long style.
Free ski mountaineering needs courage. So does this beanie. Cheeky colours and a chunky knit. Casually long. Hang on Sloopy!
Trivor Stormwall gloves for him
When it turns cold and dry, that's when you need Trivor. SALEWA Stormwall makes these gloves windproof and particularly breathable. Yet the Primaloft Sport padding keeps them comfortably warm. Tough goatskin inserts, palm reinforcements, and protection on the outside of the fingers all ensure that your hands are well protected even when the gloves are worn at high altitudes while using equipment.
Elbrus Powertex gloves for her
Women's hands are narrower and more delicate than men's. The Elbrus is designed specifically for the female anatomy. Tough goatskin on the palms and fingertips give protection to delicate hands even in tough situations, while Powertex makes the Elbrus windproof, waterproof and breathable.
FSM warm socks
The name says it best. And that's why these socks are a favourite with female free skiers. The high wool content (40%) keeps the feet warm even on cold days. Padding at shins and instep and throughout the sole provides both necessary protection and comfort for long ascents and descents.
FSM Balance socks
Two technologies in one sock. The 20% wool content provides ample warmth, while Primaloft allows a comfortable micro-climate to be maintained – often much-needed by male free skiers.
Pure 25 SL
Can a 25 litre rucksack weigh less than 1000 grams? Yes it can. The 960 g weight of the Pure 25 Superlight is barely noticeable, and yet it's a veritable powerhouse among professional alpine rucksacks: purist in design, durable and capable. It has attachments for an ice tool, ice pick and ski poles; both side and diagonal ski attachments; an extra compartment for avalanche shovel and probe, and removable hip fins with gear loops. Comfort when carrying loads is also guaranteed by the contact-fit-system.
If you are drawn to the mountains in winter, your rucksack should not hold you back. The Apogee's 32 litre capacity provides ample storage space for a long day up in the white world. Whether you venture out exploring as a free ski mountaineer, or as a snowboarder with a splitboard, or with snowshoes, the Apogee will easily carry your skis, snowboard and snowshoes as well as your ice pick, ski poles, and your helmet in the special netting provided.
Lightning 320 Carbon PRO
Actually this is one item you don't really want to have to use. But when you do need it, safety, speed and reliability are the top priorities. The Lightning 320 has a high level of stiffness despite the low 345 gram weight. This is due to the 13 mm diameter tubing. In an emergency it can be very speedily and reliably deployed and folded up again. Full carbon fibre construction gives it great breaking resistance, and it does not conduct heat like aluminium or steel. That means it doesn't freeze over as easily.