Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Finding your feet, losing your fear

First ski trip of the season. A chance to loosen skiing legs and reacquaint ourselves with the sensation of gliding and grinding our way across beautiful landscapes. We based ourselves at Ustaoset (1000m), a couple of hours east of Bergen and stayed in a friend's apartment. This early in the season a lot of the trails were still unprepared and the weather promised to be cold with plenty of snow and a biting wind. Alighting at Ustaoset train station on Friday night we left the soporific train carriage behind and stepped into a winter wonderland and -15C. Blimey, that blew some cobwebs out. A short walk to the apartment and we were soon sitting down to some great food and looking forward to get out for a quick after dinner whizz around the resort.

The first few glides across the car park behind the hotel were nervous but surprisingly we all seemed to find our skiing feet quite quickly. This may have had something to do with the fact that we were skiing by head-torch light in the dark and unable to see some of the gradients we threw ourselves down. We were also insulated from any sensation of speed, ensconced in our hoods, hats and goggles, ducking out of the way of the cutting wind and driving powder snow. Feet found we retired to the apartment, sat in front of the fire, ate more food and headed to the bunk beds early.

The plan on Saturday was to head out to a nearby hytte out in the surrounding mountains but soon after passing the outer marker of the resort in a blur of wind driven snow and low cloud the visibility closed in to around forty metres and venturing further into the murk would have proven folly. We had reached our decision point. Instead we spent an enjoyable day around the resort brushing up on our skills and taking breaks for food in the comfort of the apartment. Somehow over the summer, despite having not been on skis, I have lost my fear of descending and gained the ability to turn - both useful skills when skiing I'm sure you'll agree. The post-dinner late evening ski session was sponsored by Johnny Walker and the apres-ski shenanigans lasted long into the night.

Sunday arrived far too early for some but the weather was slightly brighter so we decided to try again for the hytte we failed to reach yesterday. There was still a fresh breeze and some snow falling. As we left the resort behind and the power lines vanished the terrain became tougher. After an hour we came across a climb of soft snow masking big rocks below. I foolishly decided to take my skis off and try to hike up it but instantly sunk to my hips. Trying to put skis on that are three feet above your feet is hard and to add to my difficulties ice then built up in my bindings leaving me swearing and flopping around in an ever deepening pit of snow. I eventually managed the extricate myself and we were able to resume our day.

Cresting the climb we were greeted by views across the slowly freezing lake to the south of the train tracks. The wind was vicious, stripping body heat from anywhere left unprotected. The conditions and the fumbling caused by wearing two pairs of mitts meant my camera stayed in it's bag much more than normal. Visibility was improved over yesterday but the light was flat and that just meant we could see nothing but whiteness for longer. The undulating trail and variable snow conditions made for an interesting traverse around the mountain and when we discovered a collection of remote summer hyttes we decided it would be a good place to shelter from the wind for lunch and drink some hot chocolate and coffee.

Pulling off warm insulating jackets and leaving our sheltered spot for the head-on freezing wind was not desirable but totally necessary. In silent single file we retracted into our hoods and retraced our steps, trying to maintain a good clip to keep warm. Soon we were at the top of the difficult climb we had faced earlier. Now our problem was how to get down. The snow was too deep and soft for snow-plowing so we opted for a zig-zagging attack, trying not to smash into the boulders hidden just below. We all took tumbles but thankfully no one was hurt. Back inside the outer marker and we eventually picked up prepared trails again and dropped into the more sheltered lower elevations. The descent into the resort was amazing; smooth, empty and effortless. We made excited plans about coming here again in January and headed back to the apartment. We rewarded ourselves with a huge meal and caught the evening train back to the city. Sleep. Sleep was all I cared about now.


Hendrik M said...

Very exciting weekend you had, Joe! And lots of snow. Its actually snowing at the moment in Tampere, and the weather forecast promises -16°C during the weekend, nice!

What skis, bindings and shoes do you use? and if you go winter hiking, do you use your skis? I'd be interested about that heaps, so feel free to write a post about it ;)

Fraser said...

Sounds amazing, quite fancy trying some ski mountaineering next winter, maybe in the Cairngorms...

kate said...

ace! this post is particularly good when read whilst in a lovely down bag ;)

Thunder In The Night said...

Hendrik - snow expected even down here in Bergen. Fingers crossed.

My skis are waxless Madshus Glittertind with NNN BC Magnum manual bindings. My boots are Crispi BC with a Gore Tex liner. They came with the skis but I'd like to find something lighter next year. Not used the skis in conjunction with backpacking yet but we are looking into trying to do this soon!

Fraser - it wasn't really a ski mountaineering trip this time, more of a re-acquaintance with some basic cross country skills. I love skis for getting around in the winter though.

Kate - glad you enjoyed it.

bettymountaingirl said...

Still sounds like a wickedly fun time :)

Thunder In The Night said...

Bettymountaingirl - it was!