Alpine Splitfest 2015 in Kandersteg
By Andy Pillip
Great People, Nice Tours
The quite foggy tour on Saturday was rideable since our guides knew the terrain – enduring this weather was totally worth it for the nice powder it brought us for our sunny Sunday tour. The friendly boarders on the event made it easy to integrate and savory food made the Splitfest a fun experience. A great event in an awesome location!
Our Arrival on Friday
After a quite exhausting spring tour during the solar eclipse that Friday we’re finally heading towards the latest possible cable car ride up to Splitfest at 7 pm. On the way Melanie, Aick and me dropped my girlfriend in Sarnen, the only city that is obviously trying hard to hide its train station.Still on time the three of us are amazed by the beautiful Swiss landscape, driving along lakes with the impressive, massive mountains of Berner Oberland in the background. Finally we reach the valley of Kandersteg with 20 minutes left, surprised by the small counter on the road, which asks for 29 SFr. to load our car on a train.
After clearing that misunderstanding and shortly letting the GPS guide us to the wrong cable car, we’re at the counter of Sunnbüel valley station, grabbing our couverts and entering the car with other four. Prepared for another 20 minute hike to the Fest, we’re glad to check in right in the station, where the friendly staff hands us our vouchers. They waited with dinner and the tour-briefing for the last group to arrive. We’re starving. The arrival feels nice, a typical cozy mountain restaurant, you’re welcome and part of the conversation the very second you sit down at a table.
My friends recognize some of the guests from other Splitboard events. People are mainly from Switzerland, but for the view French and German guests Jil is giving her welcome speech in English. Nevertheless, the subsequent briefing for the two tours on Saturday is in Swiss German, so I need to translate some details to German for my friends.
There will be an early one at 7 with 1.300 m elevation, and a 10 am one with 600 m.
Finally: dinner; all-you-can-eat Spaghetti buffet with three different kinds of sauce. We’re enjoying ourselves with good beer for 3 € and conversations about Splitboarding and equipment with locals.
The splitfest staff is trying to organize some touring equipment for us from the exhibitors, since most people had their chance to equip themselves in the afternoon. In the end we get some nice light Salomon boards from Simon – who is giving me a crash course on Jass later, a popular card game in Switzerland.
Additionally I’m borrowing some Splitboarding boots, since I’m only having regular snowboard boots and those are quite done.
Foggy but Nice Downhill on Saturday
Alarms go off at 6 am almost perfectly synchronized. Thanks to peoples’ terribly smart phones, I guess. It’s easy to get up if everybody is getting ready anyway. I somehow like this sound of zippers being closed, backpacks being stuffed and jackets being pulled over without any word spoken.
Falling avalanche shovels don’t make such a nice sound, though, and I get up as well. After some coffee and sandwiches we pack our lunch snack (authentic Swiss with Rivella and Ovomaltine), skin-up and start with about 24 others into the fog towards Zackengrad (the spiky ridge).
The guides split us into four groups by experience, so that people have different possibilities to stop and go back down. We’re having three breaks in total and keeping a moderate walking speed, so also I can join to the end after the exhausting tour on Friday.
The last 100 m get a bit steeper, around 30 °, and under the 5 cm of fresh snow that have been falling that morning there’s an icy layer – time to test our crampons! The helpful exhibitors explained their system to everybody borrowing one of their boards on Friday. People help each other out with tips as well in the different kind of crampons available. I’m really happy with my borrowed boots, they are stiff enough so that I can use my board’s edges against the ice and walk up without crampons.
With my own boots this was awfully annoying. At the end (not the top, since there’s an even steeper part and an ice front in the way) the guide is digging some parking lots for us for a stable ground to skin-down.
This is the moment when you get to know your system. Some convert a board for the first time, but nobody seems to have serious troubles. It just takes a while if you do it for the first time. Sight varied between 20 to 100 m and it has constantly been snowing. Certainly no conditions to do a tour that you don’t know, but our guides know the terrain pretty well. Additionally we got the lowest avalanche risk that weekend.
So, now it’s time to experience the riding quality of our boards. With some stops on the way we’re surfing down to the Sunnbüel plateau again. The few snow is surprisingly nice to ride, while sight and the still falling snow don’t allow too high speeds.
We’re back at 2 pm, with enough time left to have the included lunch (a Burger with Raclette Cheese), test equipment on the three lifts on the plateau or take part in the Ortovox Safety Academy, searching and digging for avalanche beacons.
In the avalanche training digging is given more priority now, so one part of the training is organizing your group in V-shape downhill from the target (the main digger topmost in front) and digging towards it, people further down taking away the snow that the main digger is cutting out.After 2 minutes you rotate so that the main digger can recover a bit and the whole digging stays effective.
Just before dinner a guitar player starts singing blues, which creates a really nice atmosphere to finish your day with nice talks and some beers. Melanie is telling us about the later tour that she enjoyed. They started at 10 am and were hiking up some 600 m on the north face of Chli Rinderhorn, the small bull’s horn.
It’s late in March and snow is getting quite heavy towards noon, so they already didn’t have very good conditions to go down anymore.
We’re having a great time discussing with the fellows from Plum in Haute-Savoie (around Chamonix) and a friend from Furberg boards, who lives in Innsbruck now.
Their conversation about Tartiflette, just the best winter food ever, caught my attention. Check it out! For dinner there’s grilled meat and sausage buffet with french fries and different kinds of salad. I missed lunch because of the safety academy, so I’m quite hungry. Later two DJs start the party for the night.
We’re not in mood to party so we’re moving away from the speakers and call it a night after a last round of Dixit. The early tour would be at 7 am up to Rindersattel (the bull’s saddle), but since it will be a really long flat hike, we’re planning on doing a small one on our own a bit later – the one that Melanie did today, but maybe go up twice.
There’s supposed to be some really easy couloirs.
Sunny Powder Ride on Sunday
Again some perfectly synchronized alarms go off at 6 am, yet clearly not as many as the night before. Apparently it was a great party. I’m happy to not leave that early this time and after sleeping another hour we’re awake and decide to have breakfast already.
We’re starting the day easy, talking to people again while taking our time for breakfast. Sight outside is still really bad, so we’re dropping our idea of our own tour and decide to join the small tour at 10 am. Melanie won’t join, but stay and test equipment instead.
Apparently it didn’t stop snowing during the night and there’s 10–15 cm of fresh powder. Even though it’s quite late, the sun had no chance to melt the snow.
After the quick beacon check and the short hike over the plateau our pretty big group is ascending through a thin forest in the fog, and after just 1 hour we can see the first blue spot in the cloud. They said we’d do 600 m, but in the end the clouds open up completely and we end the tour another 500 m higher, at 1961 m, on the north face of Altels.
This quite distinctive mountain is known to have few snow on the higher parts due to strong winds, but up to our spot it’s still ride-able powder.
Ascending the 30 ° face is a bit difficult at times, since the fresh snow often doesn’t provide a stable ground and you slide away. Guides advice us to use crampons again, so a chance also for the newcomers to test their systems.
Turbulence seem to have fun dancing around some people who are having troubles managing their kick turns, leaving their skis and face snow-covered. Everybody else is really warm in the sun. Somehow the group seems way smaller on top when I arrive as the last one.
I saw some riding down already, but maybe more people aborted the ascend, and I didn’t notice.
The ride down is just great! It’s 1 pm but we still have great powder, since the sun couldn’t warm it up through the clouds before. Altels has a really regular face, so we easily ride down 800 m of elevation at once.
At 2.100 m we reach the heavier snow again which is a bit exhausting to ride, so we’re back to the hut at 2 pm. For the first time we’re actually seeing the surroundings of the hut, and the view from the terrace is mind-boggling. I expected an atmosphere of departure, but except for the exhibitors people are still enjoying the view and the sun with some last beers and burgers – so are we.
in the center of the image there’s the quite distinctive north face of Altels.
Alpine Splitfest Video:
More info: www.alpinesplitfest.ch