Backcountry Murren, Switzerland
McKenna Peterson and I stood on the train, heaving. Our ski bags and roller duffels were precariously stacked in the narrow corridor between trains. The Swiss may be known for incredible scheduling and timeliness, but this six-minute hustle between trains was brutal.
Stop, throw our gear out of the train, sprint down stairs and underneath multiple tracks, then lug our bags back up to the platform and start the whole process over again.
We collapsed on each train sweaty and disheveled as commuters finishing their work days traveled home. Man, I love skiing, but I really hope I didn’t forget any gear.
Marmot Spire pants? Check. Marmot Freeride Jacket? Check. Smith I/Os? Check? Smith Holt? Check. Dalbello Scorpions? Check. K2 Talkbacks? Check. I have all the major things.
McKenna and I are heading to Murren, Switzerland, a tiny little village nestled into a high cliffside in the Eiger-Oberland region of the Alps. We’re meeting Jeff and Amie Angerbretson to film a segment of next year’s K2 movie and all-ladies project Pretty Faces. We’re stoked. An all-ladies trip in the land of cheese, chocolate, and massive mountains? Yes, please!
The next morning we stood atop the tram plaza on the Schilthorn. The cliffs loomed epically, creating a fantastic backdrop that lures BASE jumpers, speed fliers, and paragliders from around the world. The Jungrau, Eiger, and Monch rose dramatically from the sea of clouds lingering in the valley below.
“You’ll have to watch where you ski here. You can’t just follow tracks, or you might be sorry,” our host Alan Ramsay explained as McKenna and Amie eyed an inviting bowl below. “The speed fliers ski where you probably don’t want to go. Like that bowl—you can’t get there without wings.”
“No way,” McKenna retorted, scanning the high cliffs for an entry. A ladder from the summer via ferrata hangs precariously half way down the cliff. “We could climb down?”
Our first run on the Schilthorn was also our inaugural test of K2’s 2014 women’s skis. McKenna took the Remedy 102s for a spin, Amie was on the Remedy 117s, and I was on the newest touring ski, the Talkback. Each ski showed its strength throughout our descents. The Remedy 117 floated effortlessly through the soft, high alpine powder in the first bowl, the Remedy 102s cruised through the choppy, wetter mid-mountain snow, and the Talkbacks responded quickly and efficiently on the wind-buffed and sun-baked snow. Spring skiing in Switzerland meant that we would encounter a little bit of everything as we made our way back to the village and the Gondol Bar.
Spring skiing in Switzerland also means an array of weather patterns, but our guide Hannis, a 65-year-old Wengen legend, had the unpredictable weather dialed. As the spring storms lined up and we lost visibility up high, we scouted lines from below, had impromptu dance parties to Salt N Pepa in the village, and hung out with the few locals who had stayed in for the beginning of the off-season.
Finally, the storm moved out and left mounds of soft, fluffy snow up high. We steadily followed Hannis up a short bootpack and across a deceivingly steep, exposed ridge. McKenna and I stood atop the couloir we’d been scouting all week. It was far steeper than we’d realized. It disappeared underneath a steep rollover, and all you could see was Euros gathering on the piste below.
My heart hammered in my chest, and I high-fived McKenna before she dropped in.
“Make sure she drops farther to the left,” Jeff radioed in. “She’s probably going to kick out a pocket, and she’s above a ton of exposure right now.” Edging to the left, McKenna dropped in, immediately took out a pocket the width of the entire couloir, and expertly skied to the side and braced herself. She watched the sluff run to the end of the couloir before making her final move, and gracefully skied the disintegrating sugar to the bottom.
“Alright Pip, enter where McKenna did, then cut right and ski the ridge above McKenna’s track,” Jeff directed.
“Wait, isn’t all the exposure to the right?”
“It’ll make sense when you get there.” I took a deep breath, put all my trust in Jeff’s judgment, and kicked off. My sluff chased me quickly down the hill. I battled to stay in front of it, let it pass me, then kept going. I rolled over the convexity and saw the ridgeline to my right. I wanted to pause, to follow McKenna’s tracks, but knowing that the shot was on the ridge, I sacked up and went for it. One turn, two turns, three turns and I was out, but so was another pocket, and as the slide reached my skis I caught one tip, bobbled on one ski, and regained my balance as I cut out of its path.
A crowd of about 100 people had gathered on the slope below us while we had been bootpacking. “That was awesome!” one guy exclaimed as I skied up. “I’ve been trying to get my friends to go there all year, but no one will hike with me!”
Welp, maybe you should find some girls to ski with.
Need more big-mountain ski? Read about Elyse Saugstad’s TGR Co-Lab Edit.