Skiing is all about trade-offs. How much money to spend on gear? How much time to get to a run? What is the risk/reward ratio on this face of the mountain? Depending on where you are, the type of terrain you’re looking for and the runs you want to pursue, these trade-offs change all the time. One thing that stays constant, however, is efficiency. Whether it’s a daunting new trick or a line that looks like what Black Sabbath sounds like, the most efficient way is usually preferable. Save time, save energy and ski more. Makes sense to me!
For Nikolai Schirmer, one of the best big mountain riders in the world, a constant search for huge lines and deep snow lead him and his crew to the Skyway Monte Bianco. On the Italian side of Monte Blanc lies this marvel of engineering; a gondola system that looks like a mix between a Star Trek ship and a James Bond vilian lair. With gondola cars every 15 minutes and a 4,000 ft descent, skiers can take on 16,000 ft of vert by checking off four distinct lines.
This efficiency is not without risk, and that’s important to note. Nikolai points out that warming temps can easily trigger avalanches of varying sizes across the mountain. With a policy that says, “Go anywhere, but it’s your choice,” skiing around Skyway Monte Bianco is incredibly hazardous and should only be pursued by experienced backcountry skiers. This is no normal resort in North American terms. But this is another trade-off. For locals, it’s all but normal. For the outsider, it seems insane. Buckle up and head out to some of the wildest lift-access terrain in the world with Nikolai Schirmer.
From Nikolai Schirmer –
Located on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the Skyway gives the hungry skier the possibility to ride 16,000 ft or 5,000 m of powder per hour, but the dark side of all this powder is that it happens in extremely dangerous south-facing avalanche terrain. The locals have a tradition of using themselves as live projectiles to clear the wind slabs, and the resulting skiing is everything but safe. Sort of like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, it’s a cultural phenomenon that might seem crazy to an outsider, but to the locals who spend their life there, it makes perfect sense.
The no skiing after 12 rule does not make it safe before 12, of course. Skiing powder at Skyway is just about the most dangerous skiing you can do any time of day, except for maybe the north face of Le Midi. Do not go unless you are prepared to risk your life racing avalanches like the locals.