Lazy Swiss Sunday – First Ski Tour

pizol_sls-5Some time in 2005 I walked into the Oerlikon outlet store of Baechli Bergsport and picked up a pair a yellow and grey Lowa Evo ski touring boots. They were on sale and I thought, “ski touring, always wanted to do that.” In the winter of 2008 I bought a pair of NAXO N02 touring bindings, a pair of Atomic skis, Black Diamond skins, a BCA avalanche beacon, Black Diamond probe…ready to realize my ski touring dream.

Dreams take time though, they need to develop over a certain period, especially something like touring. I hadn’t been on skis in like three years and I wasn’t in the avalanche dodging mood. My idea was to start out small and build up to some real mountain tours. So on a Lazy Swiss Sunday I decided to head to Pizol and tour around the avalanche (theoretically) free area of the Pizol ski area in Eastern Switzerland. Pizol is one of those all-inclusive winter sport places. You can ski, snowboard, winterwandern, paraglide, snowshoe, ski tour, whatever involves snow, they even do igloo adventure trips. I wanted an easy day so I took the gondola up the first station and then toured up the snowshoe trail to the top of the ski resort. I packed along an assortment of accessories including crampons, snow shovel, avalanche beacon and an ice axe. Not that I needed all of this to tour in a ski resort, but I figured I should load up my Osprey Exposure pack and train my legs. Plus, I felt fly in my mountaineering gear. I generally only use these things for ego-inspired photo shoots, so it was a joy to use my mountain stuff for a utilitarian purpose. Naturally I also packed along my Ricoh GR Digital, that fantastic high-quality compact digital camera that just fits in your pack, no matter what mountain you’re heading up.

pizol_sls-12At Pizol you have the option of heading on from the resort for another 600 vertical meters to the Pizol summit, but as I was alone, I decided to stay out of the backcountry. Avalanches sound like trains, and it’s ill-advised to stand in front of either one. I’ve had the pleasure of having an avalanche come down on me in Colorado, a pleasure as I ‘m still here to talk about it. It’s good to experience some things ONCE, and that once was once enough. At Pizol the weather was fantastic above 1500 meters. Down below in the valley was Das Nebelmeer, German for sea of clouds, that beautiful event where the clouds are pushed below the mountain peaks, and you look out from the sunshine. The light was perfect, beyond perfect, which is impossible, but it was.

pizol_sls-11Ski touring looks fly, but it’s surprising exhausting. I was vacationing in Detroit for Christmas and my Swiss mountain legs hadn’t been exercised in months. So when I skied down the slopes and tried to turn my legs revolted with deep screams of muscle fatigue. I’m a weak, flabby man, a poor example of a mountaineer, but there’s always next weekend. I made it back to the gondola without crashing and decided to head back for a relaxing Sunday night in Winterthur. “Why push it?” The best ski season in February and the best touring in March (so I hear) and I just want to be in touring shape for the days to come.? That’s the point of Lazy Swiss Sundays, to not kill yourself, but to enjoy life. Their are many firsts in this life. Many things to be remembered, and many things to look forward to. A lazy tour in a resort area doesn’t sound exciting when written down, but it was a start, a flickr of adventure for the soul. It was the start of the beginning.



Sometimes you have to get out and prove to yourself that you can do something besides wasting away behind a computer screen Mon.-Fri. On Sunday morning I took an early train to Bad Ragaz, and from there planned on taking the cable car to the top and then head up Pizol. Pizol is the mountain to go to from Zurich for a day of skiing or an easy glacier climb. In September I took my dad there for a short 4 hour hike that turned into a 7 hour ordeal and, as he tells it, almost killed him. That was back when the ski area is a hiking heaven. The cable car takes you from the valley at 546m to the Pizol hut at 2222m and from that elevation one can frolic in the Alpine sun. The cable cars run during the winter, but this being some time inbetween the tourist seasons, well, the mountain transport was abandoned and not in operation. Of course, I had paid 30 CHF for the trip and had no intention of turning back. So I started hiking from the valley. Through roads and wooded trails and then snow, I finally crested a ridge and strapped on my snowshoes for the final approach to the hut at 2222m. There were a few impediments along the walk, mainly the fact that all the wonderful yellow, never-get-lost hiking signs had been taken down for the winter and I lost an hour going the wrong way along trails that lead no where that I wanted to go. From the hut the summit was only another 400 vertical meters. It was 3pm and the skies were grey. Pizol is not a hard assent. It’s the uncrevassed glacier you learn on and most people more or less run up it for kicks. But these were high winds with no sign up letting up. Plus, going for the summit would mean descending the glacier and mountain ridges in the dark, possibly in fresh, unsettled snow. I knew in my soul that I could do it. But while I am a bit crazy, I am by and large not a particularly stupid person. Plus, I have this unwritten pact with my mom; she doesn’t hassle me about not living in the US and more or less supports my ambitions – and for my part, I more or less promised that she’d never have to come visit me in a small cemetery in a quiet Swiss village. I didn’t attempt the summit and instead descended the slopes on snowshoes, soon finding my way to the trails leading down through the woods. Before leaving the alpine level I looked back towards the summit. The skies around Pizol were clear and painted in those fleeting layers of red and magenta mystery that master landscape photographers can barely capture with any true integrity. I could have made a weather-safe ascent, but I also have time till they kick me out of the country, and ignoring the effects of global warming, mountain summits, unlike women, will always be there, and there is no reason to attempt the peak if things seem a bit hairy. It was dark and the forest, while not threatening – did evoke Blair Witch Project chills all along my spine. There was a full moon, and while it looked romantic enough, it was also covered in clouds and the crunchy fall leaves seemed to follow a bit too close to my heals. I spun around once or twice to see if a tree Nome was stalking me with a hatchet. Eventually I came to one of those covered bridges, the kind you see Ichabod Crane walking along before the headless horseman makes a move for his neck. At any moment I expected Johnny Depp to come at me from behind wielding a giant candy cane Scythe. An hour later I was down in the valley and on a train headed to Zurich. There was a Budweiser (the Czech kind) beside me and a chicken-avocado wrap between my teeth. I was reading Wicked, the book about the misunderstood Witch of the West. A little girl in the next train stuck her tongue out as her car passed by. Without hesitation I returned the salutation with my own out stretched collection of pink soft tissue and taste buds. She seemed astonished, and my inner child smiled.

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