In and around the land of the frozen flames

Normaali
AnnaPakkanen_Stubai

Dream views in Stubai.

So much has happened again and I have had real difficulties in finding time to go through my latest trip. But finally some time was found and the feeling for words too. I got a humble wish to write this blog in English, so my travel buddies abroad could read my stories. I apologize for all the spelling mistakes, Finnish idioms that loose their point when translated into English and everything else that might seem out of place. I made a promise and when I do, I intend to keep them. So here goes, a blog in English, enjoy!

Thursday 28.1., Take your skis and fly to +16 c

The first words into the notebook were written a mile high in an Airbus A320 at around seven in the morning, after a glass of celebratory bubbly. Just enough to arouse my creativity, hah! Wake up was at 03:20 in Rovaniemi for the 05:45 early bird flight. We were traveling to Munich to catch the bus to Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy. It had been snowing for days in a row in Rovaniemi and I was standing in the snowy forest nearby my house the night before departure and thinking what the heck I was about to do. Leaving the winter wonderland to go somewhere where there is +14 c, + 16 c forecasted, to go skiing. And paying for it. The start of the season in the Alps had, once again, been very dry and warm and our destination, the city of Bolzano (or Bozen as the German speaking majority prefers) in northern Italy, didn’t even have snow visible in the surroundings (as I figured out by stalking web cams). This surely did raised a slight concern about our plan. And the fact that we would be traveling to our destination thought the snowy Austria, did not seem to help.

But at the same time, I was not too concerned. Our dear host, a friend of my travel buddy Pirkko, Lukas, was working for the local weather service doing the avalanche forecasts. So he would know the snow, and being from South Tyrol, would know the area too. He would have ideas on what to do. One phrase though got stuck in my mind, causing a slight concern about the places he would be taking us, us not that experienced skiers. He asked “so you are experienced skiers in every terrain and at every snow condition?” My travel mate Pirkko had bought her first touring skis this season and I had just the amount of experience to know what can be expected in the Alps. And to know I could not answer yes to his question.

Lots of thoughts went through my mind. Skiing is the stress of finding the perfect snow, seems like you should always be elsewhere than where you are. But how often is it the snow that makes a moment perfect? Come to think of it, not that often. It helps, an awful lot, but the right company can make the crappiest snow the best fun ever. And in the end, you will learn a lot more from it. How much can you learn from skiing perfect snow? I was boosting myself, I knew I was, but it was working!

Our plan was to stay about a week in South Tyrol and then maybe stay the rest of the holiday, 3-4 days, in Austria. Stubaital and Zillertal were in our minds, but we didn’t have any accommodation and the valleys seemed to be fully booked for the beginning holiday season. But we weren’t too concerned, we would figure something out.

When we arrived to Bozen, all my previous concerns disappeared. The first glass of Prosecco cost only 2,80 €, how bad can this be after all? The snow was still not visible but it didn’t seem to be a problem, there still seemed to be endless possibilities on what to do. Bozen was in the middle of everything, you could go climbing to lake Garda, ski in numerous skiing resorts, do night skiing, ski touring, stay a night in a private mountain hut, I could go on forever. These guys, Lukas and his friends and relatives, were so hospitable, from the very beginning, it was difficult to understand. We just tried to be thankful and hoped to be able to pay it all back on day. And that day would come sooner than we thought..

Friday 29.1., Val di Fiemme/Obereggen ski resort

On this trip, making notes proved to be difficult, as there was not much time to lie about. I tried to use the car trips for making notes, but at the same time trying not to get too sick when writing on curvy mountain roads. But I managed to create some strange looking writing, just enough to keep me up to date on places, directions and names. Having no map to check it all up proved a laborious task. I was used to plan all my trips myself and now I was just a passenger enjoying the ride.

The plan was to head pretty close, about 45 min drive to Val di Fiemme/Obereggen ski resort. It was a bluebird day, the forecast said 100 % sunny. Our guide was Pippo, Lukas’s funny brother who had joined us from Zurich. The resort proved to be a chill place with wide, well maintained and relatively easy pistes. The majestic and sharp Dolomites stood all around us. Pippo taught us the basics of easy skiing. First you start with a few laps, the it’s time for coffee, preferable cappuccino. Then a bit of skiing until white wine. Some more skiing until it’s lunch time. Then maybe the longest skiing stretch until the lifts close at 16:30, when it’s time for the after ski beer at the bottom station. And some German disturbingly cheerful music. What a strenuous task skiing can be! But what really amazed me was that there was no tourist, just locals, maybe some Germans, but nothing was in English nor intended for the big masses. This meant that the prices were low and the quality was high, at least when it came to food. The three of us had three cappuccinos and three glasses of wine for only 17 € altogether (we broke the first rule of easy skiing and combined the first two stops). And lunch, quality local food in big portions with drinks, all for three persons only 37 €. I had been accustomed to Chamonix prices, so this was astonishing. And very happy after a day like this! The only thing that made me less happy was the pollution, which was visible here too. The most popular route from the north to south went through Bozen. In the Austrian side, near Innsbruck the air was often so polluted they were forced to lower speed limits on major roads. And in the Italian side, the great plains in the south with their industries pumped bad quality air towards the mountains. It was so sad to see it here too. But as the valleys were not as closed here as in Chamonix, the problem was not as bad, winds and weather changes cleared the air quickly.

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Hello winter, care to join?

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Easy skiing, stop number 1 + 2

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A small peak we climbed from the lifts, to notice the worrying air in the distance.

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The must editorial ski picture.

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Th coolest Dolomite view of the trip on skis.

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Aperol spritz!!

Saturday 30.1. Weissenbach/Zinsnöck peak ski touring

It was valley fog in the morning and planning for the destination was ongoing even in the car, on our way. When timing your start, you had to always take the traffic jams into consideration, especially in the weekends, which was a completely foreign aspect to me. In Rovaniemi, we have a traffic jam if five cars are in a row.. But after lots of phone calls, the car was heading towards the Austrian border and we would be spending the two following nights outside of the city.

Our destination was a small village just next to the alpine crest, on the other side was the Zillertal valley. We put our skis on in Weissenbach and started the ascent up to the mountains. For the fist hour or so it was sunny, but then the fog and clouds overtook us. The climbing felt heavy at times, I knew I was going close to my limit with my exercise-induced asthma, at least what came to speed. I was slow.. But I managed to get up to the 2429 meter high Zinsnöck peak after some 1100 meters of climbing. And somehow managed to ski down too even though the skiing was somewhat reckless from my part, didn’t feel I had it under control at all. But survived, enjoyed myself and had yet great experiences to come.

It was almost six o’clock in the evening, it was already dark, we (me, Pippo, Fabian, Lukas and Pirkko) were sitting in a mountain hut. We were drinking heifelimos, the local after ski drink, wheat beer with lemonade, and waiting for the traditional Tyrolean food to arrive. The electricity went off and Lukas kept on playing traditional folk songs with the accordion in candle light. We still had the next mountain hut to ski down to for a drink, before skiing back to the car. It was a moment not to forget. Right there, right then, I could feel it all, the joy and happiness of being in the mountains. It was most certainly not the kind of stuff you’d experience on a regular package holiday! And the prices again, two heifelimos, the main course, dessert and a schnapps, 18,40 €/pers. Too good to be true.

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Hello hello! Fabian, Pippo, Pirkko, me and Lukas. Image: Lukas Rastner

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Fabian and his funny stories.

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Not far from the top.

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Zinsnöck peak, 2429 meters.

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Hello again! Image: Lukas Rastner

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Lukas doing a snow profile. And discover less comforting layers.

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Testing the skis bending capabilities. And a bit hugging trees. Image: Lukas Rastner

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Lukas focusing. Image: Fabian Oberbichler

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Drinks at hut number two.

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Rock rock what a day! Image: Lukas Rastner

Sunday 31.1. day off, Gais and Stefans hut

The day was dedicated to chilling. Lukas took us to see his home village Gais (hey guys, from Gais, hahaa, silly joke Lukas had probably never heard of). He had arranged a visit to his uncles private castle. We even got the keys to the schnapps cellar, where we got to taste, pardon my language, the most disgusting drink I have ever tasted. I can almost taste it again, yuck. But it was nice to see and try to image the life in a place like that. And to imagine that the boys had been playing around in the castle as children. After some chilling it was time to head higher up, to about 1400 meters and spend the night at Stefans hut.

The hut was in a beautiful spot in the upper part of the highest field in the area. Stefan had built a Finnish sauna up there, with a proper Harvia stove. The most important program for the evening was the sauna. The sauna culture in South Tyrol is somewhat peculiar. Even in the public saunas there is music and different kind of shows every hour, some even quite spectacular. We got a show of our own too at in the darkening night of the mountain hut. It was a special show, a trip to Finland and then back to South Tyrol. There was sauna scents, traditional Finnish folk music, and Stefan doing a strange towel regime after each time he threw water on the stones. And the small sauna was full of people, me, Pippo, Lucas, Pirkko, Stefans two sons and Stefan, all butt naked of course. The scents changed according to music as it shifted form Finland back towards the mountains. And afterwards, the washing was done outside, by pouring cold water from a watering can. Must say that even some of the tough Finns might turn up one’s nose on that. And at the same time, must doff the hat for these cheerful mountain people, who needed heated water here! And there was a second, and maybe third round too of the sauna, including some strange scenes where naked men massaged soothing honey-propolis-melissa-peppermint-oils on each other. Thorough bathing I’d say. But the men certainly had an intoxicating scent oozing from them once the rituals were over and they returned to the hut. The sauna most certainly is the thing here. And card games. And sing-alongs with Stefan yodeling. What a night, once again.

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All the men seem to wink their eyes in South-Tyrol, even in paintings.

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View from the castle tower.

Monday 1.2. Stefans hut, Kronplatz ski resort

The wake up song was sung at six in the morning. People had to go to work and we needed to go skiing with Pirkko. What a tough task we had. I went outside to admire the view, the weather had cleared after the day before. I could see a row of frozen stone flames in the peach coloured horizon, the amazing Dolomites. The sun was about to rise and I felt so happy, just then in that place and in that view. When I went back in to the cabin, Stefan had made the best breakfast ever and everyone was singing happy birthday to me. It was my birthday, almost forgot! The breakfast was so abundant that there was even cappuccino, with hand whipped milk foam. This was one of the best things in South Tyrolean food, it took the best parts from German/Austrian food culture and combined it with the delicacies of Italy. After the breakfast, it was time to head down to the valley and put us on a train that would take us 10 meters from the Kronplatz ski lift. Pretty convenient!

Kronplatz was a relatively crowded resort, holiday season had just begun, lots of families and children, but we managed to find almost empty, and probably the best, black slopes I have ever skied. With the Dolomiti Superski lift ticket you could have continued the journey no nearby Alta Badia and Sella Ronda. But there seemed to be lots ski ski here too, so that had to be left for another journey (plus we didn’t understand to spend the extra euros to upgrade our regular lift ticket to the Superski version). It was warm and sunny so the snow was easy and soft, but somewhat heavy towards the end of the day. We skied the whole day, until five, when the lifts had already closed just in the last minute to get our shoes from the storage. Sore, but happy legs continued the train journey back to Bozen.

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My birthday morning view, the frozen stone peaks in the horizon.

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Stupid pose number one, Kronplatz.

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Stupid pose number two, Kronplatz.

 

Tuesday 2.2. Strudelkopf/The Drei Zinnen and Jochtal night skiing

This day started with a wake up at 06:30 and a start at 07:30 towards the east and Pusta-valley and then towards a smaller valley in the south, towards Prags/Braies. The intention was to do a small “peak” to see the most famous Dolomite peaks, the Drei Zinnen. Lukas was working at the same time, estimating the (nonexistent) snowpack. The three peaks were once on the border of Austria and Italy, but now on the border on South-Tyrol autonomous area and Italy. The people of South-Tyrol do not consider themselves to be Italian, they cross the border of South Tyrol to go Italy. It is a bit difficult to understand from a distance, but Italians are neighbors to them, the kinds you are supposed to make jokes about.

Before ten in the morning you were allowed to drive up to about 1900 m, after that the cars were to be left lover down. We got to the higher parking lot and started our stroll. The walk, yes walk, there was very little snow, up to the peak was relatively easy, but once again, when it got steeper and the pace was kept high, my lungs couldn’t cope, couldn’t get in as much air as I wanted. Felt stupid, again… But apparently I must learn a better breathing technique and a certain pace for myself. The peak, Strudelkopf (strudel head) was at 2309 meters and the views on the way, the peaceful valley, and from the top, were amazing. The tree massive peaks stood in front of us and looked majestic, even thought they were still quite far. Their overhanging north faces had witnessed a lot of climbing history. We couldn’t stay for long, Lukas had to hurry down to get to Innichen where he had an avalanche forecast presentation for local school pupils. Quick pictures and back to the car.

During Lukas’s presentation, we hung around the small, sweet, village of Innichen or San Candido in Italian. Then we made a quick stop at a herbs farm, had some schnapps, saw some very peculiar earth formations, and a few other places before the evenings main event: night skiing.

We arrived a bit late, sometime after seven to Jochtal ski resorts bottom station to note that hundreds of others were already touring up the dark slope with headlamps. Most were with skis, some with snowshoes and some just walking. Lots of friends had gathered and this seemed to be a major event. There are few resorts in the area that allow one day a week for the skit tourers, they can ski up, eat and drink at the top station restaurant and ski down. The slopes will be groomed later during the night. Our company was me, Stefan, Fabian, Lukas, Pirkko and one guy with the lightest ski touring equipment you can have. It all started with a schnapps and it was offered every 15-20 minutes. I could maybe take one or two rounds until my far too frequently beating heart and not working lungs couldn’t take it any more. How can they go on with the schnapps? I was slow once again, but my dear bodyguard Stefan, wouldn’t leave me. Came my pace the whole way. The top was foggy, couldn’t see a thing but you could hear the loud music. There was a massive party going on. Apparently German students go there to party. We had climbed about 600-700 meters, for me it took 1:10 hours. A quick heifelimo in the bar, then down for a pizza. At this point my legs were quite wrecked, 4-6 headlamp turns amidst small moguls and ice and I had to rest. We still had the drive back to Bozen and we finally went to bed at around 01:30, after 17,5 hours of adventuring. We were almost walking zombies but what a day it had been! It was the best way to end our stay in South Tyrol. Could not even start to think about how to thank for all of it. Made me humble.

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The majestic Drei Zinnen. Image: Lukas Rastner

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Strolling back.

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Peaceful valley with cross country skiing tracks.

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Innichen village.

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Speck!!

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Undressing at the disco!

Wednesday 3.2. Bozen shopping, train to Innsbruck/Thaur

We decided to leave the fun of South-Tyrol to see if we could find any snow across the border, in Austria. A friend of mine, Eino, had finally left Finland for his season in Innsbruck, so I contacted him if there would be any spare place for us to crash in their house. And it seemed to be ok, so off we went. And to start the idiotic days with the Finns, there was one more guy coming from Finland, so to make a joke at him, we had a task of pretending to be random homeless Norwegian chicks who needed a roof over their heads. The joke was a success and somehow concluded the atmosphere of the house; you could not find a single serious moment there. The Finns landlord offered a nice welcoming drink for everyone downstairs telling all about the coming carnival in the village of Thaur we were staying in. Again, warm welcomes. These people are friendly.

Thursday 4.2. Alpbachtal

There had been some snow, and more was coming all the time, so boy did we have a good timing. The base snow pack was not too thick, but it all was starting to look quite good. We headed for Alpbachtal, which is the next valley east from Zillertal and the resort is a relatively small one, the top at about 1900 meters, but there was some great forest skiing to be found. Higher up the new snow was not that thick, it seemed very difficult to try to relax when you kept on hitting old hard snow underneath. But after some seeking, we found a perfect open line of untouched snow in the valley end. I suddenly found myself trying to keep up with the boys, Olli, Risto, Antti and Teemu and after some turns, found the flow with my skis. And I almost could keep them in my sight when cruising down. The idiotic grin was there again. I had found some powder! And as the powder fever took over, we had to humble ourselves and hike back up as an untouched field lured us in a wrong direction. But those are the funny things you remember, when the utter joy turns into silent moaning “I will never do this again”, only to see it happening again minutes later.

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The Finnish gang Risto, Olli, Antti Teemu, Tuikku and Pirkko, only Eino missing.

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Risto aka Prinssi (=prince, from being a prince Harry look alike) soon ready to charge.

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Boys just and just visible and all this just for me!

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There’s a price you pay for powder…

Friday 5.2. Hochfügen, Zillertal

The good snow continued, now with a bit of sun too. We headed to Zillertal, into the beginning of the valley to a resort called Hochfügen. Not a massive one, but here you could already see some fat skis, worrying. Would there be lines to ski? The funny thing was that it was already day eight of our ten day journey and these were the first fat skis we had seen! But there was nothing to worry, there was lines to ski, even though we weren’t the first in line. The best things about smaller resorts. And the snow was soft and fluffy and possibly twice as deep as the day before. No worries about what was under, just charge trough. But it took me ages to get down, I stopped here and there trying to get it all in, trying to live that moment as fully as possible. I tend to become slow when something powerful happens, if I have a strong feeling of happiness. And I just need to take it all in then and there. Luckily the boys hadn’t gone too far, they waited for me at the bottom. That day it was just me and the boys, Pirkko wasn’t feeling too good so she explored the valley by train. And not to feel completely useless and a drag-along, I helped the little kids, the boys I skied with, who fooled around in snow and lost their skis. I acted professional (haha!) and probed one ski out the bottomless snow. I got my laugh and the boys continued their way down a small gorge. As the days went by, I started to get very cautious. On this trip, I had not injured a single part of my body (woohoo!), but I was worried about my shoulder. It was waiting for surgery and if something would happen to it, the insurance would not cover it as it was an unfinished medical process.. But there it was again, a fun day on skis, and I was unbroken.

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What a playground!

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Olli speculating where his ski could be. After a phrase, ”let me show you how it’s done”

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More playground!

Saturday 6.2. Stubaier Gletscher

The final skiing day was at hand and we were heading towards the high glacier resort of Stubaital. Spirits were high as there was loads of new snow, great views and sun. Pirkko’s cough wasn’t getting any better so we had to be careful, especially high up, the highest lift went up to 3150 meters. The resort was a varied one, lots of fun lines to be found and I, and even Pirkko, had the courage to try a bit steeper routes too. Fluffy nice snow, glaciers and sun, what a place! In the afternoon the sun got a bit hidden behind a thin layer of clouds, but I wasn’t too concerned. My legs were starting to be so tired I had to rest here and there, so leaving a line for the next time didn’t make me too bothered.

When driving back in late evening, just before nine, I had one of those strong moments I often have in the end of a great trip. It was dark, the mountain road was curvy, Tuikku was driving, we were listening to good music, everyone was quiet and all of a sudden there are two massive red deer strolling calmly across the road. Our speed was moderate, so we could just admire their peaceful walk, maybe they were wondering why skiers come this late down from the mountain. We had a wonderful day and the most fun after ski I have had in a long time (far away from subdued Chamonix after ski), the best way to end a ten day journey. I almost had shivers down my spine, I had had many strong moments like this during this trip. The trip was a success, to say the least. The only shadow the perfect day had, was an unlucky incident which lead to us having less gear to go home with. As we were having the time of our lives, two pairs of skis was stolen, and one pair belonged to Pirkko. There was waiting for the police and all sorts of ordeal, but the hilarious thing was that in the end, when we had already arrived to Finland, there was a message from the boys saying that the skis had miraculously found their way to the local police station. Can not be, but it was. Hahaa!

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The last proper powder turns of the trip. A happy, but tired skier.

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Lifts closed, need to get down to the after ski, whee, where? Tuck found us the route.

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Many wise gathered together. Olli, Eino, Tuikku, Antti, Teemu, me and Pirkko.

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The after ski, and blue mountains, what a finish.

Sunday 7.2. Back home

Traveling home, we had only a few days to get ourselves sorted, because South Tyrol had announced that they had booked tickets to Rovaniemi for the next Wednesday! That would be only in three days after our return!

What a trip and what a time after it. Laughing with the cheerful mountain people in Lapland. More like this. These memories last a lifetime. Must jump more often into the unknown. Go on trips and let everything just take its course. The greatest things can happen.

Wishing brave jumps,

Anna

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