A day of pure powder fun in Switzerland with a guide. Rating: Danger of addiction
The Andermatt+Sedrun+Disentis ski area in Switzerland is one of the finest freeride hotspots in the Western Alps, boasting diverse terrain and almost endless freeride runs. Snow is plentiful: No matter where the wind is coming from, it’s always likely to produce the finest powder snow. My job is highly demanding, and I don't have much time, so I’m hiring an experienced guide who will lead me safely to the best freeride spots.
I meet my guide Urs in Disentis, right next to the valley station of the Disentis-Caischavedra aerial tram. He is a few years younger than I. "Guete Morge," he says, giving me a friendly handshake. As agreed, freeride skis, shovel, probe, ABS backpack, avalanche transceiver and my lift ticket are included - the utmost in freeride service. Next to us, a couple is getting information about guided freeride tours. "Are you looking forward to our tour?" Urs is asking. Joy is written all over my face. "Sure thing," I reply.
We climb into the large-capacity gondola, and after a short change we journey to the top station of the Gendusas-Lai-Alv lift. We have reached the entrance to Val Segnas. After checking our avalanche transceivers, we set out into the off-piste terrain: On the wide slopes down to the valley I enjoy the first turns in the open terrain. With the latest powder ski models, I drift confidently over the snow. I’m glad that I chose skis with a waist size of 110 millimetres which provide optimal floatation. "The Val Segnas offers good conditions in the morning," Urs tells me, "that's why we're here now."
“The first turns were great to limber up,” I grin all over my face. Urs is happy about my energy, he is also motivated. "Let's go to Val Acletta," he challenges me again. The valley, with its gullies and hollows, is exposed to a variety of influences: It takes time and experience to assess the avalanche situation, so I leave that to my guide. To the east of the top station of the Lai Alv-Piz Ault drag lift, we stomp a few metres into the terrain above the lift. Urs gives me another important technical tip: "You’re leaning backward too much!” But my skis compensate a lot. "Off we go!" We’re the only skiers on the slope. The wide valley basin takes us to the east, over flat ground to the lower Val Acletta. Urs stops repeatedly, checks the slope and asks about my legs. I just grin and ride off when he tells me where it is safe. Along a small stream we reach a mogul slope which takes us back to the valley station. This time Urs is grinning because I have a hard time with the freeride skis.
In the late morning we treat ourselves to some incredibly beautiful descents in the pristine powder. At some point I’m getting a little tired. Time for a break in the Andermatt-Gotthard train on the way from Disentis to Andermatt. "In Switzerland they say "Znüni or Zvieri for a snack", Urs explains to me. We unpack our sandwiches, and munch away with relish as we roll along. I would have preferred a fondue in one of the ski huts, but the freerider's heart has to set priorities: the powder slope.
At the valley station in Andermatt we are again among powder freaks with wide skis and avalanche backpacks. They all want just one thing: Deep & Steep and the Gemsstock. This is just the right sport for us. "Beginners learn how to handle avalanche transceivers at the avalanche training centre just below the middle station of the Gemsstockbahn gondola”, Urs explains. "Freeride skiers want to learn from the best." And knowledge is always needed here: The shady, snowy and steep gullies and depressions are a powder heaven, but they require experience.
Directly from Andermatt we ride with the gondola over the Gurschen to the Gemsstock at an elevation of 2,961 metres. I enjoy the view for a moment, but the slope immediately captivates me again. We skip the classic and fast downhill runs like Felsental, Giraffe or Guspis. Urs leads me through less frequented valleys, gullies and couloirs. Now I am really challenged, but it’s really great. Back in Andermatt we catch our breath. "You want to go again?” Urs asks me. I nod. "Absolutely", I laugh. This time we cruise from the Gemsstock via Guspis to the Hospental. The 10-kilometre-long descent through the valley is easy and a well-deserved break for our leg muscles.
The village bus takes us back to Andermatt and I can rest a bit.
“Ready to end the day with some extreme freeriding?” my companion asks me. "Always," I shoot back. "Then we try the giraffe," says Urs with a grin, "this is one of the more challenging descents from the Gemsstock towards Unteralptal. I can see why: the entry couloir is steep, there are no escape routes, local knowledge is necessary - that's why the slope is still pretty much unspoilt. Because of the exposed location we still find good powder in the afternoon. My remaining energy is enough for the epic 8-kilometre run, I am oblivious to everything around me except the slope. When we arrive in the valley we’re covered in snow from head to toe. Fantastic! The day in Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis comes to an end. Almost. My mobile phone rings unexpectedly. My boss? Did I miss something? "Everything is ok, tomorrow’s meeting has been cancelled. Take another day off if you want," the big boss tells me, and I am really lucky: "Want to head out again?” asks Urs. We're on the run again! The couple that we met this morning walks past carrying freeride skis. Looks like freeriding is contagious.
Freeriding in Andermatt+Sedrun+Disentis is just excellent: The guides take care of everything, the only thing you have to do is ski. Descents are available in all levels, ranging from difficult to easy, from steep and challenging to long and easy-going. The mountains boast an abundance of snow, even a few days after the last snowfall there is still untracked terrain. Of course, the region offers top-notch mountain huts, hotels and après-ski locations. What else could you ask for?