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What a Difference a Year Makes

November 18th, 2013

The Dolfin arch of Rodellar, Spain. I tried a route right on arch. Beautiful hiking all over the place as well.

What a difference a year makes. Last November Jasmin and I were on a ‘working’ vacation. Now don’t get me wrong, free climbing El Cap was a dream come true for us, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was the hardest thing I have ever done in terms of athletic endeavors. I have done big days in the mountains on skis, rock and ice, but the sheer labor involved in free climbing a big wall for five days with diminishing sleep and a taxed body is a huge mental and physical struggle. I think combining that trip after a summer of desperately rebuilding the family business after storm damage, followed by an ankle joint infection requiring surgery, and then six weeks later destroying my knee led to one of the hardest years of my life. I had great friends and family through it all, and money was never a stress so there is a lot to be thankful for because at the end of it all was the muy tranquilo Spanish climbing vacation that Jasmin and I so desperately needed.

After a spring and summer of rehab, which is every bit mental as it is physical, I feel like I am finally firing on all climbing cylinders again. September saw me get oh-so-tantalizingly close to my sport climbing five-year project. Even though I didn’t send it, I did better than I ever had before, on my hardest route ever, which to me means that I was back from injury better than ever. The new and improved Evan, I hope!

Yours truly having fun while following the outrageous steeps.

Yours truly having fun while following the outrageous steeps.

So with that mentality Jas and I left for seven weeks of clipping bolts in Spain, specifically Rodellar and Terradets, two well-known destinations in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Tons of tufas drip and dangle from the overhanging walls, teasing us desperately toward the top of 30-40m endurance climbs. If steep, fun sport climbing, with five star hikes on your days not climbing is your thing, then it’s time to head to Spain.

Chris and Heather following us up the famous Riglos climb "Fiesta de los Biceps"

Chris and Heather following us up the famous Riglos climb “Fiesta de los Biceps.”

Overall, the quiet Spanish towns are friendly and chill, which was a huge contrast to spending two days in Barcelona. I know we are not city people, but the homelessness and unemployment of Spain didn’t hit until we got to the city. 25 percent unemployment is high, and crazy enough is the fact that youth unemployment is 50 percent! A quick trip to the city made me thankful for all we have; jobs, homes, friends, family and health. At home I feel as though there is so much opportunity and support for me to pursue my passions.

Riglos, Spain. Home of the wildest sport multipitch climbs any where I know of. Long approach too ;)

Riglos, Spain. Home of the wildest sport multipitch climbs any where I know of. Long approach too ;)

So we continue to climb until we can’t hold on any more on some of the best rock we have ever touched. Staring off and wandering through the beautiful country side, enjoying local artisan breads, cheeses and produce. The simple life of eating, sleeping and climbing is being extra appreciated right now with the final countdown of just a few weeks to 17 hour work days and bottomless powder. Now and in the busy winter to come I will surely be loving exactly where I am and what I am doing and who I am doing it with! Except of course for the four days that I have to sit in a classroom to re-certify my first aid!

 

Just another ancient Spanish town on a cliff above some amazing canyons.  Alquezar, Spain

Just another ancient Spanish town on a cliff above some amazing canyons. Alquezar, Spain

 

 

 

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Active Lifestyle, adventure, International, Osprey Athletes, Outdoor Activities, Travel , , , , , , ,

Mountain Biking the Tour de Mont Blanc

October 23rd, 2013

 

The start (and end) of the Tour de Mont Blanc: Chamonix.

The start (and end) of the Tour de Mont Blanc: Chamonix.

I don’t like to admit to hastily-made plans or half-baked ideas, but this attempt of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) was verging on that. I had done some previous research into the route, even including some first-hand accounts from friends who had done the trip before. It had been a jam-packed summer, and with a single day of rest between departing on the TMB and 18 days straight of bike guiding for Big Mountain Bike Adventures in the Swiss Alps, I hadn’t afforded myself much time to prepare mentally or physically for the task ahead. All I had was the commitment from a friend, Trevor Mitzel, to join me for the adventure, and a couple maps, which I hadn’t actually opened and looked at yet. I was winging it a bit, I know, but I was confident in our abilities to make it up as we went.

We arrived into Chamonix in the evening, the clouds boiling around Mont Blanc high above town. It was dismal looking weather, but a forecast promised nothing but blue skies and warm temperatures for the following week. Getting our gear and bikes dialed, we decided on our route, and even reserved a couple places to stay along the way. Things were starting to come together. All that was left was to saddle up and head out on the 160km loop that promised over 8000m of ascent along the way.

Day 1 – Chamonix to Les Chapieux

The weather man was right, and the morning sun highlights the upper reaches of Mont Blanc as we pack our bags and scurry around the village picking up essential trail food items (sausages, cheese, chocolate and bread). Spirits are high as we connect to gravel paths that take us down the valley, and towards Les Houches. Our lack of planning is made apparent when we arrive at the bottom of the lift station to find the lift running and open for bikes. We gladly use this bump up to ridgetop, happy with our unexpected elevation assist. Our smugness is quickly and efficiently wiped away for the rest of the day though, starting with a crucial juncture missed, sending us deep into the valley and resulting in an extra hour’s climb back up the road. Once the proper route is established we get a few kilometres respite before beginning a 1600 metre climb up the Col de Bonhomme, the ascent mostly consisting of steep dirt road or rocky hike-a-bike.

It's not all riding!

It’s not all riding!

The sun does little to warm us on the Col, and we are presented with another soul-crushing surprise, more climbing to the Col de Croix de Bonhomme, which is a seemingly endless series of ridges away. Finally achieving this last col, and feeling the effects of a large day on the bikes, we wobble our way down the descent to the Auberge de la Nova, a secluded refuge tucked in a remote valley far below. Dinner is hearty and delicious, and we retire early, slightly wary of the next day, and a little unsure of what we have gotten ourselves into.

Day 2 – Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

It’s amazing what a night’s rest will do. We awake stoked to tackle the day ahead, albeit stiff and sore. The climb up to the Col des Seigne (2,516m) is an arduous one, but mostly all climbable on the bike, which makes it enjoyable, in a masochistic kind of way. The views help too, with the sun rising on the broad valley where we had spent the night, and the Mt Blanc massif coming into sight as we crest the col. We had begun a tally to weigh the pros and cons of attempting this route on a bike, and where the hikers probably had won on Day 1, we were definitely winning today. The col marks the border between France and Italy, and the descent into Italy is welcomed. Italians seem to take less pride in their waterbar construction (years of riding in the Alps has made me a de-facto waterbar expert) and we have to negotiate numerous logs placed in awkward positions on the trail. Not enough to ruin the experience, but the flow of the trail is altered slightly. Descending into the valley is spectacular though, with big alpine walls on both sides, and glaciers yawning up above. As quickly as the TMB gives though, it takes away, and we steel ourselves for another climb, this one extending a mere 400m above the main valley. It is a deceiving 400m, as our legs feel like it is at least double. The reward is there though, with a ripping fast trail that descends to the top of the Courmayeur ski resort, and finally into the picturesque town below the ski runs.

Beauty views along the trail.

Beauty views along the trail.

My Kona Process and Osprey Manta 36 on the France/Italy border.

My Kona Process and Osprey Manta 36 on the Col de Seigne, the France/Italy border.

Day 3 – Courmayeur to La Fouly

The bikers definitely lose to the hikers on the climb out of Courmayeur. It is a rocky, steep affair all the way to the Rifugio Bertone, pushing/carrying our bikes the whole way. Once at the Refugio, a split in the trail requires a decision. One, a beautiful looking traverse around the corner, and on the map it looks like a fine, lower level option. The other route continues with the hike-a-bike, but promises some ridge-top singletrack and a peak to climb with the bikes. Being gluttons for punishment, we forgo the smooth-looking traverse and shoulder the bikes for more climbing. The climb pays off with unbelievable views and great trail once we get higher, but the ratio of riding to hiking is skewed the wrong way, and we regret our decision. We make our way off the ridge eventually and downclimb to the Col Sapin, and from there ride a fun trail that takes us back to the main route, the smooth, buffed trail we stupidly avoided. Oh well, next time. We soldier on up the stunningly beautiful and easily accessed (judging by the number of cars out for a Sunday drive) Val Ferret. Another giant climb is hiked up (we are really losing to the hikers today) and we look down into Switzerland from the Grand Col du Ferret (2537m). This is when we start winning again, with a sinuous descent that drops over 1000m down to the sleepy town of La Fouly. We check into a somewhat questionable auberge, but are treated to an amazing steak dinner, washed down with beer and wine.

Climbing high above Courmayeur with Mt Blanc in the background.

Climbing high above Courmayeur with Mt Blanc in the background.

Day 4 – La Fouly to Trient

With the skies still a perfect azure blue, the morning is a relaxing mix of singletrack and exploratory roads through quiet Swiss villages. We really start to feel like we’re on a bit of a bike holiday, rather than a sufferfest. The inevitable climbing begins eventually though, and we work our way out of the valley towards Champex Lac. Lunch is spent at a café by the lake, and we easily turn it into a two-hour stop, enjoying ourselves and soaking up the perfect September weather. The food sits a little heavy an hour later though, as we approach the base of the Bovine, a 700m wall of a climb. Appropriately named too, as all the cows had just been escorted out of the alpine for the winter, and the trail was left ravaged by cow shit and swarms of flies. We escape the Swiss agricultural tour eventually, and rip a long fast descent all the way into Trient.

Epic descent into La Fouly.

Epic descent into La Fouly.

Day 5 – Trient to Chamonix

While we probably could have squeezed more riding into Day 4 and pushed on to Chamonix, we did not feel the need to, given the amazing weather. Where else would we rather be? Day 5 is a bonus, and we mean to treat it as such, maybe go do a little exploring. With that in mind we stray from the normal TMB route, and even from the recommended variation route, and head out on a little ride. The little ride ends up turning into a gnarly hike-a-bike complete with bolted chains for safety, getting completely lost in the woods, and eventually finding some very rarely traveled-on singletrack. Despite our momentary lapse in route-finding, we have a great morning of riding, connecting long-forgotten trail that eventually takes us down to le Buet, at the north end of the Chamonix Valley. We now embark on the only planned part of our TMB adventure, a booze cruise hitting key pubs all the way into the town of Chamonix, where we continue to celebrate an amazing mountain bike trip.

A leisurely lunch in Champex Lac.

A leisurely lunch in Champex Lac.

The final climb to Chamonix, and our booze cruise.

The final climb to Chamonix, and our booze cruise.

 Story and photos by Osprey Athlete Joe Schwartz

 

 

 

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Climbing with Eric

October 2nd, 2013

Mountaineering in the Alps, Frace.

Eric Larson lives in Telluride, Colorado. But not very much. During the few winter months he works snow safety for Telluride Ski Resort. Then he ski guides in the Alps, guides expeditions on Denali and then guides mountaineering in the Alps. We see each other somewhere every year.

This year Eric and I overlapped in Chamonix. For a month, we guided trip after trip together. We had a blast working together. The best thing about Eric is that he’s always ready to go. We climbed every free day, then drank a few Stella Artois.

Eric leading the first pitch of the Contamine Route on Pointe Lachenal.

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Eric following the money pitch on the Contamine Route, a 160-foot 5,10b.

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Eric rapping the Contamine Route to the Vallee Blanche Glacier. This is classic Chamonix; we climb a beautiful six-pitch crack on orange granite at 12,000 feet. Then we get swished back to the city. It may sound soft, but if you like to climb…

Mountaineering in the Alps, Frace.

The next day we climbed a 400-meter mixed route on the Triangle du Tacul. The route is called the Via Gabarrou-Marquis. Since every inch of the Triangle du Tacul has a route, we should probably call it the Larson-Stock-Artois route.

mtn.alps.stock-541

Eric leading money pitch on the Via Gabarrou-Marquis. Payback after I got the money pitch on the Contamine the day before.

mtn.alps.stock-550

Eric crossing the bergschrund on the Tois Sommets route on the Tacul. The Tacul is a low summit of Mont Blanc and is the first peak of the Trois Sommets route. This is the second most popular route on Mont Blanc, despite the major serac-fall hazard.

rock.france.stock-142

Then we drank Stella.

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High in Bolivia

August 16th, 2013

In 1999 I guided in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real mountains for two months. I’ve wanted to go back ever since. This year I was lucky to return with Glenn, Paul and James. We’ve  been on many trips together including Denali, Marcus Baker, Bona, Mount Logan, Ecuador, Iliamna VolcanoArctic Refuge and the Central Talkeenta Mountains. Our motivation for Bolivia was to get Glenn above 20,000 feet. See more photos here: www.stockalpine.com/posts/bolivia.html.

We based our trip out of La Paz, the world’s highest capital city. La Paz sits in a valley ranging from 10,500 feet to 13,500 feet. The wealthy live at warmer, lower elevations. The poorer live in El Alto, which sprawls across the altiplano above La Paz.

Paul on our three-day acclimatizing trek. Some valleys had hundreds of llamas milling about.

Descending from our first summit, the dramatic Pequeno Alpamayo (17,600′).

Huayna Potosi is 6,088 meters. The problem is that it equates to 26 feet short of Glenn’s coveted 20,000 feet. We still had fun climbing the knife-edge summit ridge of Huayna Potosi (19,974′).

Glenn feeling the hard turf of a yareta plant while hiking into Nevado Sajama. Many yareta are over 3,000 years old.

A VERY stoked Glenn gasping around the crater rim to the summit of Parinacota. Eight hundred and twenty seven feet over 20,000! Tick! Congrats Glenn!

Joe, Glenn, James and Paul on the 20,827-foot summit of Parinacota. Thanks for a great trip guys! I can’t wait until our next adventure!

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I Hate Road Trips

June 20th, 2013

Das Rad Haus owner Christine ripping on Xanadu in Leavenworth

I hate road trips. Especially trips to awesome new zones to go bike riding. They are a blur of teases: quick, sneaky peeks into great scenes that you previously didn’t even know existed. One short day of checking the area out, maybe a few if you’re lucky, and you are on to the next spot, fantasizing about pulling up stakes, quitting your job and moving to your new-found riding center of the universe. And if the road trip is anything like the one I just got back from, the next little haven you pull into will have the same effect, making you wonder just what life would be like if you never left this freshly-discovered Shangri-La of bicycling.

My girlfriend Rachel and I left from our home in Vancouver on a trip into Washington with four bikes and one goal: ride a lot. The plan was to minimize the driving by staying in one small corner of Washington State, and riding our road bikes and mountain bikes everyday in a new area. The loop we planned took us through the North Cascades National Park, through Winthrop, down the arid and beautiful Okanogan and Columbia River valleys, up over to Leavenworth, detouring over Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie, and finally back up to Bellingham to end off the six day excursion. No one day did we drive more than two hours, and every day we got in a scenic road ride and a sweet mountain bike ride (or two). In other words, six days of being teased and tantalized by some amazing areas in this part of the state.

The Loop

The path of most resistance.

Our schedule was simple: Wake up in our new locale, go for a morning road ride, eat breakfast, go for a mountain bike ride, eat a late lunch and head off to our next destination, usually making plans for the next time we found ourselves passing through that area again.

The roads in America are great, often much better than in Canada. Where we have a decrepit, pot-holed forestry road, Americans have a smooth winding strip of asphalt through some amazing country. We took advantage of this fact on the uber-scenic North Cascades drive, and on some memorable road rides through miles of orchards and vineyards in Chelan and Leavenworth, and along quiet country highways along the Methow and Snoqualmie Rivers.

Tuscany?

Nope, the rolling hills and smooth pavement of Lake Chelan.

Rachel is relatively new to mountain biking, and I have had mixed success with introducing her to the joys of riding. One decent pedal in Squamish is quickly overshadowed by a horror-fest of technical roots and rocks on the Shore, or a crazed B-Liner running her off a berm on his personal race to Strava glory. Washington gave up the goods for her, with a variety of trails that were a lot of fun for the both of us. Highlights included the Sun Mountain trails in Winthrop, the amazing variety of the Duthie Hill Bike Park near Seattle, the long climb but epic descent of Fruend Canyon in Leavenworth and the flowy goodness of Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham. I got out on a couple shreds as well, on a super cool ridgeline DH off of Chelan Butte, and a sweet rip down Xanadu in Leavenworth with some locals.

The towns beguiled us with their charms as well. Winthrop has gone with the Western theme, but pulled it off in fine style. As we walked up the main street taking in the views, Rachel noted: “Even the gas station is adorable!” Can’t argue with that. We had a quick peek into the potential of the Methow Valley, but barely scratched the surface. The fellows at Methow Cycle and Sport (a fine Kona dealer) alluded to many more singletrack epics up in the surrounding hills above Mazama and Winthrop. But, like any road trip, we shelved those ideas for later, and carried on.

Taking in the views on Echo Ridge, Chelan.

With my F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) disorder going into overdrive from all the epic spots we were merely sampling, I almost blew a gasket once we arrived in Leavenworth. Two weeks, let alone our two days (actually only one night and a day) would not be enough to experience everything this town has to offer, once you look past the kitschy Bavarian theme that pervades every element of the main drag, including the McDonalds sign. It would take me at least a few days just to get through the menu at South, an amazing Mexican restaurant in town. Trails abound here, leading out of every corner of this alpen town. Rivers cascade out of the tight mountain valleys, climbable rock spires reach for the sky, and friendly locals (like the ones at Kona dealer Das Rad Haus) point visitors in the direction of the singletrack goods (while probably saving a few secret nuggets for themselves).

Ridge Ride

Taking in the views from the top of Xanadu

Fantasizing about our new lives in Leavenworth, we carried on our way, spoiling ourselves for a couple nights at the fancy Salish Lodge and Spa near Snoqualmie (thanks Groupon Getaway deal!) and riding the very unique and super fun Duthie Hill Bike Park, which is located just minutes from the Lodge. Coming to terms with the realization that we could not live in the Lodge full-time, we drove up to Bellingham to end off the trip with some fun exploration of the Galbraith Mountain trails, with a side trip to Boundary Bay Brewery for some eats, and Trader Joe’s to stock up on some cheap cheese and Two Buck Chuck.

So, like I mentioned, I hate road trips. Especially when they are as awesome as this one was.

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Forcing Nature at the Whistler Bike Park

May 23rd, 2013

I usually try to avoid the opening weekend of the Whistler Bike Park. Some reasons for my refusal to participate in this annual event are paltry, being that there are just a few muddy trails open, huge lines and the fact that other Sea to Sky venues are in mint shape this time of year, including, well, everywhere else.

All of that aside, I went this year. I think the Whistler Corp would like to hear that it was because of their barrage of marketing prior to the lifts firing up. Not really, although I did enjoy the first Force of Nature Video released before opening, featuring their motley bunch of bike athletes. The video shows riders carving perfect corners and lofting sculpted lips in what looks like epic mid-season conditions. Pretty convincing stuff, but the deciding factor for me was some good ‘ol fashioned arm-twisting by a group of buddies. A deal was struck where we worked out a balance of park and pedal, in a few Sea to Sky locations, over this Canadian long weekend.

It was a good decision. The bike park was all-time. The trail crew put in their due diligence, preparing almost every lower mountain trail in time for the gates to drop. The dirt was tacky and the riding was heroic. We had a casual start to the day, nothing like the kids who waited in line from 3 a.m. in order to secure first chair. The casual start was no hindrance though, as we were greeted by mellow lift lines that grew progressively larger over the afternoon. The wait in line was welcome though, as I could rest my cramping hands and catch up with friends. “How was your winter?” and “Epic conditions, eh?” were refrains echoing through the queue.

I had my own “Force of Nature” Friday night after a questionable chicken burrito wreaked havoc on my guts for the next 36 hours. I almost pulled the plug and hightailed back to Vancouver to recuperate, but the weekend was heading into high gear, so I decided hang around to see if things would improve.

The next day dawned wet and rainy, and my guts were still churning something fierce, so we abandoned the “official” opening day of the Park for a pedal in Squamish. A lush rainforest met us there, along with some fun new trails that magically sprung up over the winter, not unlike the mass proliferation of green undergrowth that appears with the spring rain.

The weekend was a blur of riding, eating and sleeping. My food poisoning waned, so with renewed energy I sampled more bike park, usually riding the lifts in the morning until the lift line got too oppressive, and then trading bikes for a pedal in the Whistler Valley or Pemberton. An amazing way to spend this Victoria Day long weekend!

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Life & Bikes in Kabul

May 17th, 2013

Six years ago, Shannon Galpin walked away from her career as an athletic trainer and used her own limited funds to launch Mountain2Mountain and “be the change” she wished to see in the world. Today, Shannon and the M2M team, are just returning from their latest trip to Afghanistan where they launched the Streets of Afghanistan project and rode bicycles through Kabul to raise awareness of cultural barriers and empower women and girls in conflict regions.

As big supporters of Shannon and the M2M work she does, we’re happy to stay in touch with her and get period updates throughout her travels. That said, we’re also excited to share what she has to show and tell from those very journeys, the latest of which center around the Streets of Afghanistan project. Here’s the latest from Shannon both in words and in pictures. Enjoy!

“Yesterday we had the finale show of the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition at the Sound Central music festival — its up for four days throughout the incredible  four-day alternative music festival.  Yesterday was the women’s only day to kick off the festival, where young Afghan school girls attended the festival for slam poetry, a fashion show, Afghan rap duo, Afghan singer songwriter, Ariana Delwari, and White City — fronted by my long time friend, advisor, and founder of Sound Central, Travis Beard.  We brought three members of the cycling team to watch the concert and to help with the M2M Bike School.

All in all a full day. Streets exhibition set up and finale show at Sound Central Festival, M2M bike school and rock concert, finished with filming at Darul Aman Palace. Whitney, the co-director of Afghan cycles is leaving today, and then our crew is just a duo until we leave.  Whitney has been amazing, and creates a sense of community, friendship, and openness wherever we go, she interacts with the Afghans we meet with grace, humor, and authenticity that I have rarely seen.  Her infectious laugh combined with everyone’s exhaustion at the end of the long days makes for a slap-happy crew.

Exhaustion is starting to take hold, but perhaps that will just make the plane ride home go quicker as we sleep our way home.”

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Active Lifestyle, adventure, Advocacy, Bikes Around the World, International, Non-profits, Osprey Athletes, Osprey Life, Pedaling Change, photos , , , , , , , , ,

Adventure Cycling Association’s Best Tour Video: Northern Europe by Bike

April 3rd, 2013

Just a little over one year ago, Adventure Cycling Association teamed up with Blanche van der Meer and her WorldCycle Videos group on Vimeo and launched their first-ever Bicycle Travel Video Contest. The premise of the competition was simple: “to celebrate the booming trend in bike touring and travel documentaries.” The result, thanks to some fantastic volunteer judges, is several fantastic videos that capture the essence of cycling. There were three winning videos, including the above, which was considered the Best Long Distance Tour Video. Watch Northern Europe by Bike by Stefan Böhm of Germany and enjoy! All submitted films were also considered for the Bike Travel Spirit Award, and this film took the prize. Here’s what Adventure Cycling Association had to say about the film:

Only two and a half minutes long, it’s a powerful piece of work. According to one of our judges, it is a “creative, entertaining video that demonstrates you don’t need fancy graphics, effects, or a soundtrack to tell a good story. Unlike many other videos that were submitted, he included the locations, which we liked. He documents the good, the bad, and the ugly of bicycle touring, while including the bizarre and noteworthy encounters he experienced along his journey. Shooting and editing were great too.”

Stay tuned for the following two winning films, which we’ll publish in the coming two weeks!

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Accelerate Ethiopia Kicks Off: An Interview With Majka Burhardt

February 12th, 2013

Photo: imagine1day

This month, fourteen committed runners will join elite athletes Scott Jurek, Gebre Gebremariam and Werknesh Kidane for the first ever trail race in the cradle of humanity, culminating a week of shared contribution to the eye health and educational strength of Ethiopia.

Osprey athlete, climber and writer, Majka Burhardt is producing the project, called Accelerate Ethiopia. The expedition sparked as an idea for a fundraising running event to benefit the Himalayan Cataract Project, an leader in providing high-quality, low-cost eye care optimized for the developing world. Majka pulled in another nonprofit, imagine1day, which is a charity educating the next generation of leaders in Ethiopia—and together they created Accelerate Ethiopia.

As Majka prepares to leave on her journey to Ethiopia we caught up with her for a few questions…

Read more…

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Beauty and the Beast

January 25th, 2013

The spray of liquid magma burst into the night sky. Mt Etna was erupting, as she does once roughly every two months, and we were skiing under the orange glow of her latest paroxysm.

In early February 2012, a promising Italian snow forecast had us chasing a storm to Sicily, an island on the Mediterranean Sea. While much of the U.S. languished in a dry early winter, Europe was being blasted by heavy snowfall and Italy was deep in the weather pattern. With a lofty goal of ski exploration on Sicily’s notorious active volcano, Etna, our team thought it best to aim for winter-like conditions.

With the promise of powder, we booked tickets and landed two short days later in the coastal Sicilian city of Catania. Geographically, Sicily is the soccer ball to Italy’s boot. Assembled at the airport, we had a vague plan of action. On assignment for Salomon Freeski TV, filmmakers Nick Waggoner and Zac Ramras, photographer Grant Gunderson, and Salomon freeskiers Elyse Saugstad and I loaded into a white minivan and drove out of the city and up towards the volcano.

Reigning above numerous fragile, cozy old towns, Mt Etna basks in a sea breeze that wafts over its small, scattered cones, jagged igneous black-rock ridges, and wide, fluted flanks. Steep, rocky lines run down parts of her face along with miles of more benign terrain to descend. Topping out at almost 11,000 feet, Etna’s high position provides unobstructed views of the coastline, which blend seamlessly into the olive groves and vineyards dotting the landscape.

The quaint Sicilian town of Nicolosi was our home for the next 10 days. From the lower vantage point we admired the mountain, scoped our dream lines, and we waited. Each morning we were greeted with unpredictable weather and the repercussions of an eruption that included turbulent cloud cover, and low visibility for skiing on her relatively blank, high-alpine expanse. Café-bound, we sipped our espressos, snacked on arranchinas (popular rice cones & balls served hot with a variety of inner ingredients) and waited for sunshine and clear windows to explore the vast terrain and the best ski lines on the active volcano.


We quickly realized we had to accept Mt Etna at her best and her worst. She threw out strong winds, thick fog, serpent-like clouds, and serious eruptions. She rumbled, coughed, spit, and spewed volcanic bits, with lava flow and liquid magma sliding down her slopes. We inhaled and skied ash debris but also enjoyed a few short sunny, clear stretches with a steady refresh of white snow from the constant storm cycle.

With slow access via an ancient gondola, creaky chairlifts, and struggling pomas, we got a gradual boost up 740 meters of hillside. Passionate locals joined us in gondola line each morning with their short carving skis and big smiles. Pouring out of the cabins, we warmed-up with the Sicilians on a few of the groomed options at one of Etna’s two ski resorts.

After sampling the mellow in-bounds terrain, our team headed into the backcountry. Though there is easy access to ski tour and explore the many additional acres of more challenging off-resort offerings, there is absolute solitude. We had any line we chose all to ourselves.

As we ventured across Etna’s broad landscape, we crossed high ridgelines that protected hidden valleys of rocky couloirs, mini-volcano cones, and small amphitheatres with mini-golf-like terrain. Dropping off one sastrugi-ridden ridge to the West, we skied wind-buffed corridors and then toured back up and skied corn back to the resort. Checking out the Volcano cones, we set a hard edge on each icy turn on the windward slopes and then skied packed powder on the leeward. Skiing into the craters was almost always soft as the sun reflected heat into the white belly of their inner bowls. We got a taste of everything.


One evening as the setting sun cast luminous colors over the horizon and the volcano erupted behind us, Nick turned to us and asked, “Should we hike up and get some ski shots next to the lava?”

Elyse and I looked at each other, then looked at Nick, and said, “No, thanks.”

Though there were many cultural highlights, we were there to ski. When the visibility was poor up high, due to Etna’s unusually deep snowpack during our visit, we were able to find good alternative options. We ducked into heavily wooded hillsides off the winding road up to the resort. From a skier perspective, the forests needed some pruning, but we found tight alleyways and fun, smooth powder skiing under the protected canopy of the towering trees.

The tempestuous visit was a beautiful and healthy reminder that nature is very, very close. Etna was in charge and we were on her agenda. After ten days of patience, waiting, and unusual skiing adventures on Etna’s flanks, our U.S. team “Magma” was provided with a couple of lessons: don’t book a ticket to Etna for a storm, and Sicily is beautiful but Etna can be a tricky beast.

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