Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland’s Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Gear Up for a Multi-Day Hut-to-Hut Adventure
Before embarking on a multi-day hut-to-hut ski adventure, proper gear is essential. You'll need equipment that's lightweight yet warm and durable to handle days on the slopes far from civilization.
Your pack should contain backcountry ski or splitboard gear. Unlike resort skis, backcountry skis are lighter and designed for climbing uphill efficiently. Splitboards separate into halves for the ascent then lock together for the downhill. Boots need to be comfortable yet supportive for long days trekking and riding. Skins that adhere to your skis or splitboard are a must for grip on ascents. Poles that collapse down small are ideal.
In terms of clothing, focus on layering breathable, moisture-wicking materials. A base layer pulls sweat away from your skin while an insulating midlayer retains warmth. A shell jacket blocks wind and snow. Look for gear specially designed for high output winter sports versus casual winter wear.
Avalanche safety equipment like a beacon, probe and shovel are mandatory in the backcountry. Know how to use these tools properly in case of emergency. A helmet offers protection on descents. First aid and repair kits prepare you for minor injuries and gear issues far from help.
Your pack also needs ample food and water. Huts provide dinner and breakfast but you'll need high protein snacks like jerky, nuts and energy bars for all-day fuel. Hydration is difficult at high altitudes so drink often. Bring a thermos for hot drinks.
Plan your layers so you can adjust for highly variable mountain weather. Temperatures shift drastically from intense sun to fast moving storms. Having an extra warm layer, gloves and goggles prevents misery if caught off guard.
Those who've done these trips emphasize traveling light. Base weight around 15 pounds or less. You'll be exhausted hauling more uphill all day. Customize your gear list to your specific trip length and location.
Chat with guides at outfitters like VBT Bicycling Vacations and Trek Travel. Read magazines like Backcountry and Powder for the latest gear innovations. View gear lists from top athletes like Nat Geo Adventurer Mike Libecki. Test products at your local outdoor shop before purchasing.
What else is in this post?
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Gear Up for a Multi-Day Hut-to-Hut Adventure
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Traverse Glacier Terrain and Untouched Powder Stashes
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Fuel Up on Hearty Mountain Fare at Rustic Alpine Hut Accommodations
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Navigate Stunning Scenery from the Alps to the Jura Mountains
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Experience the Cultural Charm of Quaint Mountain Villages
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Master Kick-and-Glide Techniques on Long Backcountry Descents
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Maximize Vertical in a Single Day with Skins and a Splitboard
- Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Get Your Turns In Without Competing with Crowds
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Traverse Glacier Terrain and Untouched Powder Stashes
A multi-day hut-to-hut ski adventure allows you to access pristine terrain far from crowded resorts. Traversing across glaciers and through untouched powder stashes is a singular experience only possible by venturing into the backcountry. The effort required to reach such spots heightens the reward of having vast mountain vistas and bottomless powder all to yourself.
Glaciers offer rare opportunities to ski terrain carved out over eons by the slow, implacable force of moving ice. The crevasses, seracs and exposed icefalls you encounter traversing a glacier on skis make for an otherworldly adventure. The Mer de Glace in Chamonix provides a glacier run accessible via the Montenvers cog railway and a short hike, but a multi-day trip allows endless possibilities to discover more remote and pristine realms of glacial ice.
Nothing compares to the feeling of sliding through powder so feather-light and bottomless you don't just glide but float across the surface, sending up plumes of crystallized snow with each effortless turn. Hut-to-hut trips lead you to north-facing slopes and hidden powder stashes rarely touched except by the lucky few. Without having to share the bounty with hordes of other skiers, a single run can satisfy your soul for days.
The Alps brim with legendary descents only possible by starting from remote huts situated at altitude. The 10-mile Mont Fort Couloir in Verbier accesses 3,000 feet of consistent 40-degree pitch along a winding path through seracs and ice cliffs. The 20-mile Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt crosses into Switzerland over the glaciated Vallee Blanche before climbing to the Rothorn Hut overlooking the Matterhorn. From the Britannia Hut outside Alta Badia, Italy, advanced skiers can experience a 5,000-vertical-foot run down the Face de Lavina Bianca.
Yet a hut-based multi-day trip opens up not just famed test piece descents but also lesser known stashes hidden in folds of the mountains. Local guides know their ranges inside and out and can lead you to secret runs rarely skied except by those doing hut-to-hut traverses. You might score first descents of north faces that required an overnight stay at altitude to access while the snow stayed light and dry.
Splitboard adventurer Arc'teryx athlete Angel Collinson emphasizes the joy of having "an unlimited open playing field to roam around on and discover new zones." The freedom to wander leads to "finding these hidden gems of untouched snow pockets." Freeskier Dash Longe, who has pioneered first descents across the Alps, similarly relishes "exploring the unknown and seeing what's over the next ridge."
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Fuel Up on Hearty Mountain Fare at Rustic Alpine Hut Accommodations
After long days traversing alpine terrain on skis, filling up on hearty mountain fare in the rustic confines of a backcountry hut is a cherished experience. Huts provide a cozy refuge to recharge both body and spirit after demanding days of mountain travel. Sitting down to a meal of traditional alpine dishes also offers cultural immersion into mountain life.
Huts pride themselves on providing sustaining alpine cuisine to fuel energetic guests. A typical dinner features warm, comforting fare like cheese fondue, rich stews and soups, schnitzel, spätzle and rösti. Hearty breads, cured meats and cheeses, fresh garden salads, and desserts like strudel or Black Forest cake round out meals. Huts embrace farm-to-table principles by sourcing from local dairies, ranches, bakeries and orchards.
Dining often takes place at long communal tables that embody the spirit of conviviality central to the hut experience. Swapping stories with fellow trekkers from around the world expands perspectives between sips of hot tea or regional wine. The chance conversations struck over a shared meal become indelible memories.
In the morning, fuel up with a fortifying breakfast buffet before hitting the slopes again. Look forward to mueslis, fresh-baked breads, cheeses, cured meats, yogurt, granola, and eggs prepared to order. Pack snacks like trail mix, protein bars, chocolate and fruit for on-the-go energy during long days outside.
The intimate scale and rustic architecture of huts enhance the experience of communing with nature. Huts harmonize with their surroundings through materials like weathered timber and stone. The dorm-style bunk rooms have just enough modest comfort for restful sleep. Unplug from digital distractions since most huts lack outlets or WiFi. Instead reconnect with companions and the stunning mountain panoramas right outside.
Maximize time in these special places by arriving before dusk and staying multiple nights. Help hut keepers with chores like chopping wood or fetching water. Purchase hut mementos like patches and t-shirts as souvenirs of your stay. Extend evenings swapping stories around wood-burning stoves before turning in early to the sound of silence.
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Navigate Stunning Scenery from the Alps to the Jura Mountains
Traversing Switzerland from the Alps to the Jura Mountains offers a masterclass in the country's geographical diversity. This stunning swath of terrain takes in spired granite peaks, glacier-carved valleys, dense pine forests and rolling vineyard hills. Moving through such varied landscapes immerses you in the cultural soul of each region as well.
Starting out in the Pennine or Bernese Alps, you'll ski out from dramatic summits like the Matterhorn or Eiger down steep couloirs choked with bottomless powder. Spread below are glacial valleys decorated with quaint villages of flower-adorned chalets and onion-domed chapels. Cowbells chime in the distance as dairy cows graze verdant mountain pastures in summer. Gorge on Swiss staples like fondue, rosti and melt-in-your mouth chocolate to fuel your mountain adventures.
As you traverse northwest, dense pine forests replace sheer rockfaces. Weaving through the trees on narrow singletrack rewards with frequent glimpses of snowcapped giants like the Jungfrau. Check into whimsically painted mountain inns for the night as thick, cozy duvets and schnapps chase off the chill.
Your journey concludes amidst the vine-striped hills of the Swiss Jura. Here trails wind through sepia-toned villages that exude old world charm. Savor buttery Mont d'Or cheese and fruited meringues at cafes in medieval town squares. Drink in gorgeous views of Lac Léman from your vineyard chalet as the peaks you've traversed glow pink in the distance.
"The cultural differences moving across Switzerland blew my mind," says Splitboarder Magazine editor Stan Leary. "I went from staying in fire-warmed 300 year old inns speaking French to ultramodern design hotels where everyone chatters in Swiss-German."
Photographer Wendee Nicole revels in "morsels of magic along the way like stumbling into a tiny chapel in some hidden valley that still had 15th century frescoes." She urges taking time to linger when some "slice of heaven" catches your eye.
Climber and guidebook author Lisa Thompson notes, "If getting deep into nature matters most, stay high up in the Alps as long as you can stand the cold. But for culture buffs who like their outdoor time with a nice Riesling on the side, the Jura offers the perfect blend."
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Experience the Cultural Charm of Quaint Mountain Villages
A multi-day hut-to-hut ski adventure doubles as an immersion into traditional alpine culture. Traversing remote mountain valleys dotted with historic villages offers an authentic glimpse of Swiss heritage. Despite the passage of centuries, time-honored traditions endure thanks to preservation efforts and pride in custom. Experiencing the cultural charm of these quaint settlements represents a highlight.
Arriving on skis or by snowshoe into a remote hamlet feels akin to stepping into an outdoor folk museum. Ornately carved and painted façades distinguish chalets that have sheltered generations of mountain folk. Onion-domed Baroque chapels testify to abiding Catholic faith despite the remoteness. The ring of cowbells and sight of fluffy cattle grazing verdant pastures continues just as it has for hundreds of years.
Cultural traditions live on through everyday practices. Savoring a hearty breakfast of crusty bread, yogurt, cheese and sausage connects to the region's agricultural roots. Watching village children walk hand-in-hand to the neighborhood schoolhouse as their ancestors did stirs nostalgia. Stopping into a cozy mountain cafe for hot cocoa with a dollop of fresh cream and then browsing handicraft shops offers modern-day immersion.
Language represents the most vital facet of Swiss heritage. Hearing the distinctive burr of Romansh, lilt of Swiss French or guttural tones of Swiss German imparts cultural pride. Multilingualism defines Swiss identity, with many speaking their own regional dialect plus High German and English. Greetings of "Allegra!" and "Grüezi!" beyond city centers acknowledge you as a friend versus tourist.
Ask questions with smiles, not pointing fingers. Express genuine interest in traditions when welcomed into homes or community gatherings. Help out chopping firewood for an elderly resident or leading the village kids in a snowball fight to unlock hearts. Share your own tales of home to find common ground.
Angel Collinson fondly recalls, "I'll never forget this tiny town of about 40 people way up in the mountains where they still milk cows and make cheese by hand like it was centuries ago." She was touched by "how proudly they shared their local Oberland culture with us strangers."
Stan Leary says his most moving experience was stumbling into a tiny chapel: "There was an elderly woman inside quietly praying in Romansh while ancient frescoes of saints looked on. She just smiled, squeezed my hand and said a blessing when I left. That spirit of timelessness was magic."
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Master Kick-and-Glide Techniques on Long Backcountry Descents
Mastering kick-and-glide techniques opens up long, awe-inspiring descents in the backcountry previously inaccessible without lifts. Building endurance to skin or splitboard uphill for thousands of vertical feet brings you to peaks and powder stashes far from any resort. The greater distances covered and longer durations required test your pacing and skills. But the payoff of riding back down through miles of untouched terrain makes the effort worthwhile.
Unlike riding at a resort, you have to first earn your turns in the backcountry. That means strapping on skins underneath your skis or separating your splitboard to begin the ascent. Proper kick-and-glide technique maximizes efficiency so you conserve energy over a sustained climb. Time your kicks with each stride to gain purchase and momentum going uphill. Then let your skis smoothly glide across the snow to rest until the next stride. Using your poles to push off also helps propel you upward.
Gauge an even pace you can sustain for hours based on the day’s vertical and conditions. Start slowly and avoid overexerting early on steep pitches. Lean into kick turns on switchbacks to keep skinning without removing skis. Pace your breathing, snack intake and rest breaks to stay energized. Advanced skiers employ sidestepping and herringbone techniques to handle super steep stretches. If you start to bonk or conditions deteriorate, know when to call it to ski another day.
Coming down after a long climb feels infinitely more gratifying. You’ve put in the work to now earn turns others only dream of experiencing themselves. Expert big mountain skiers like Angel Collinson and Hadley Hammer prefer letting gravity pull them downhill versus pointing their skis straight. This requires nimble reactions and adaptability to handle the variable terrain.
“Let the mountain tell you how it wants to be skied,” urges Explorer John Harlin. “Every gradient and condition asks you to adjust in the moment.” Achieving flow state through thousands of vertical feet seared into muscle memory results in a sublime experience.
The key is staying loose and light on your feet no matter the pitch or conditions. Bouncing flexed knees and ankles helps absorb chop and variances. Subtle weight shifts guide where your edges carve. Keeping your upper body quietly aligned rather than hunched over enhances balance for instant reactions. Uphill endurance primes your legs to sustain long cruisers punctuated with bursts of adrenaline surfing pillow lines and linking zipperline turns down steeps.
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Maximize Vertical in a Single Day with Skins and a Splitboard
For experienced riders, maximizing vertical in a single day means pushing past old limitations. With lightweight splitboards, sticky skins and strategic route planning, you can now ascend and descend staggering amounts of terrain that once seemed unfathomable. Top athletes regularly log over 15,000 vertical feet in a day, but even hitting your personal best of 10,000 or 5,000 unlocks new vistas and adventures.
Terrain that’s easily accessible yet steep helps stack vertical quickly. “I look for peaks I can ride right to the summit of like Fuji or Shasta,” says Jeremy Jones of Teton Gravity Research. “No need to hike with a splitboard.” Long, consistent pitches avoid tiring undulations. Use maps to plot zigzagging routes that optimize ascent and descent lines.
Hitting big numbers requires starting early when temperatures are cool and snow stable. “Right at dawn, skins stick best and you avoid later mush or slush,” explains snow scientist Laura Lukes. She recommends watching sunrise alpenglow from the summit and then riding down while snow conditions stay ideal.
Pacing yourself is crucial for mega vertical days. “I take it super easy skinning the first 1,000 feet while muscles warm up,” says snowboarder Ryland Bell. He maintains a steady tempo mid-mountain then digs deep pushing to the top. “You have to keep gas in the tank for the descent.”
Splitboarder Stan Leary avoids going anaerobic. “If I can’t breathe easy, I’m climbing too hard and will bonk before the top. Find that zen skinning rhythm.” He says staying hydrated and fueled is also key. “I cram down energy bars and gels regularly, not just when I feel hungry.”
Athletes emphasize being ready to adapt when conditions chang, like encountering firm snow suddenly. “Swap your steep skinning line for one less direct but more climbable,” recommends mountaineer Angel Collinson. She says listening to your body prevents overexertion. “If your legs burn below a certain ridge, stop there rather than implode going higher.”
Ride the Powder Highway: Carving Through Switzerland's Epic Backcountry on a Multi-Day Ski Tour - Get Your Turns In Without Competing with Crowds
After spending days traversing remote glaciers and valleys to reach untouched stashes, the last thing you want is to share your hard-earned powder turns with hordes of other skiers. Seeking out more solitary ski experiences is the solution, an endeavor made possible by going hut-to-hut. Avoiding crowded resorts and maturity areas allows you to get your turns in without competing with crowds all vying for the same fresh lines.
“Even if a zone near a hut looks cool, I’ll keep skinning farther to find my own private powder paradise,” says ski mountaineer Hadley Hammer. Her motto is “earn your turns first, claim your space second.” She suggests heading to leeward ridges where snow builds up sheltered from wind. North faces hold lighter powder longer as well.
Angel Collinson opts for terrain features like chutes, couloirs and drop-ins outside patrolled areas and off-piste runs. “It requires more work hiking to these stashes, but then it’s just you and the mountain.” She says learning to accurately assess avalanche risks is essential before venturing into such spots. Always obey area closures and check with local experts on conditions.
Tempted by first tracks? “Be the one who bootpacks up before anyone else to claim that line,” urges skier Scotty Veenis. Setting your alarm early to start skinning in the dark guarantees you’re first to the fresh snow. He says pausing to appreciate a quiet sunrise from the summit rewards the effort. “Those dawn patrol runs stay with you forever.”
Another tactic is to keep skinning or hiking farther along a ridge instead of stopping where others congregate. “Don’t just dive into the first powder field you see,” advises ski guide Dash Longe. He likes continuing to higher elevations where only the motivated venture. “You can rack up multiple untouched runs up there while crowds stick to lower pitches.”
Storm cycles also impact crowds. Schussing powder the day after a big dump means fighting for every turn. But Stan Leary says, “If you can, wait two or three days after the storm when most people think the goods are skied out.” Patient riders still find great albeit tracked snow without the frenzy. Lapping a sheltered area that avoided wind scouring also uncovers stashes preserved underneath.
Lastly, if you want freshies without foes, avoid peak weekend times. “Sneak in a Monday or Friday trip when all the 9-to-5ers are stuck at work,” suggests ski instructor Kent Osborne. Holidays like Christmas or school breaks also see hordes hitting the slopes. Plan your hut-to-hut adventure during quieter times like January or May for a more solitary experience.