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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Roman Lopez

The winter of my dreams (part 2)

It’s been a long summer full of action during which I couldn’t get my head around finishing the 2021 winter writeup. Now It is all different. Now I see the snow falling out of my window with a striking regular cadence. Perfect timing to continue where we left it at… oh yes, the white fluffy stuff!

Val Bedretto, that snowy white hole!

I might have written about Valle Bedretto before. It is some sort of magical place where great snow and people come together. A busy place on a sunny weekend (better avoid it) but a solitary place during the week and on a creative route (or rough weather).

Remember how cold it was back in December? Well, the pattern continues. As much as I love north faces and thin clothes, these temperatures are testing my endurance and resistance to cold! Many days we face -15 C at the valley bottoms.

Chuebodenhorn, never say never!

I feel very strongly about ski partners. The tandem must click and be on the same page when it comes to safety, route planning, attitude, decision-making… today I go touring for the first time with a good trail running friend. It has snowed A TON. Avalanche risk and temperatures clearly point towards south-facing routes; so we go for Chuebodenhorn – a classic in the area. We weren’t the only ones having this idea. We find a perfect track, for which we are thankful. We see people skiing down while we climb up. Several times I am surprised by how poor their technique is. The snow will prove me wrong, soon enough!

Above a certain point, uphill tracks are over and the hard work begins. In a rather masochistic than heroic gesture, I volunteer to track since my friend is feeling the lack of sleep. I am fuelled by steak, an excellent breakfast choice. After some efforts, we reach the summit and the atmosphere is simply magical.

The downhill experience was one to remember… and to forget! I never imaged I’d say this but… there was too much snow! Heavy as cement. Sometimes one leg would lag behind and then the face front landing was guaranteed. Our quads suffered as much as our style. Oh well, we reached the bottom on time to catch the bus. What else could we ask for? Maybe a hot coffee!

Daily business: Cristallina hut

As a norm, I don’t go backcountry skiing on my own. However, one can’t always find partners (in crime) on weekdays. In such rare occasions, I pick popular and easy routes. Bedretto is the perfect place to share the day with ‘strangers’. In the past I would have felt excited about the idea of hiking up to hut for a piece of cake. Nowadays, I bring my homemade cake!

Thanks to venturing into the valley on my own, I also get to experience a great deal of generosity. Several times I’ve relied on the kindness of road and construction workers, and fellow ski tourers alike to give me a ride back to the nearest train station – or even all the way to my doorstep (another perk of living at a crossroads!) Have I mentioned how much I love this country?

Weekend after weekend, we manage to clock-in days on the skis without significant interruptions due to bad weather windows – which are quite common during the winter months. It is not always clear whether the skies will clear out or not. Attitude is everything We try anyways, without being foolish when it comes to risk taking. And most of the times that blind faith in the weather gods turns in our favour.

Tremorgio, the new favorite all-rounder

Poncione di Tremorgio had always been there, waiting to be discovered. It was me that never looked its way! What a nice surprise, what a hidden gem! The route from Ambri TI encompasses all the elements a ski touring route must have: forest, open terrain, a more ‘spicy’ downhill variant, well-conserved snow, a panoramic summit view… and not too many ‘weekend warriors’.

Marteen, our Belgian friend, proposed this summit and also brought along some powder addicts that will become regular members of the powder crew for the rest of the season. It’s the classic United Nations style: Italian, Spanish, Swiss, French… speaking English in group conversations but switching to any of the common languages in one—to-one conversations. Feels quite normal by now – and sometimes confusing too!

For my Spanish taste, the group wanted to start waaaay too early - considering the freezing temps and the ‘directness’ of the route. They usually convince me or we find a swiss compromise. Not this time. I let the boys go ahead and I start 1.5h later. This ‘’chasing game’ gives me wings to try to catch the group before they ski down! We end up meeting at the summit and ski down together hearing screams of joy left & right aaaaall the way. Who would have said, 1800m of vertical with constant steepness, amazing snow and burning legs.

Back at the car, of course the Belgian had sorted beers for the group. I luckily still have warm tea in my thermo. The 2u fiasp that I had preventatively injected before the downhill – remember, when I go down, blood glucose does the opposite.. – give me a last but solid kick, which urges me to have some chocolate. Oh well, there could be worse!

I love how uncomplicated day trips to Ticino are! Typically I prepare an egg-centric breakfast that keeps me going until the ski tour is over. Before leaving the house in the morning, I take a piece of meat or fish from the freezer for my main meal of the day after the ski tour. I find useful to bring along some snacks for the apres-ski socialization or simply in case of hunger. Nuts, dry cheese or salami are my favorites!

Ticino – Wallis traverse over Gallina

Once upon a time… my life was uncomplicated! I ate whatever, whenever, and didn’t even know what macronutrient or blood glucose were. But nothing last forever. And adaptation is key to success – and to survival in the first place! With this attitude, I face packing for multi-day traverses. Same 23L pack I had before bringing along insulin, needles, cake, dry meat… do you ski with your pijis? No, I sleep in my ski clothes haha

Peter and I believe in topographic beauty. We both love planning point-to-point routes, traverses of mountain ranges and crossings from canton to canton. With proper creativity, planning, training, skill and luck, we - now and then - draw beautiful lines. On the maps, snow and our memories.

Starting from All’acqua - aka ‘the end of the road’ at Val Bedretto – the route follows the summer road for a while. The day is very uninviting. Thick fog, which we wrongly assume it will soon remain below our feet. The visibility is so poor that we need to use the in-map GPS location to cut some of the road switchbacks. We head towards Pizzo Gallina, described as a spring tour in the book guide. Now we know why: no one wants to hike up a road for kilometers when you can simply wait till the road is cleared in spring. As said, the fog is never ending, but we believe – scratch that – we know! It will all be worth it!

Finally we see the light at the end of the tunnel (literally). Half an hour later we are complaining about the heat and the sunshine – ah these humans! We climb up on a full south face to the peak, ski down part of the same route, to then traverse towards a col where we will drop in a full N face and into a new canton: Wallis or Valais (yes, bilingual). It was a fun downhill without rushing or surprises. Just friends and good snow.

Our accommodation in Oberwald checks all the low-carb T1D boxes, offering a huge shared kitchen and access to a supermarket. The place is perfect for big groups, but today it’s just us 3 plus a family. Funnily the son speaks about his T1D control as he eats a banana and drinks iced tea. I don’t dare to open my mouth. Not your fight, not today, Natalia.

Marteen volunteers to cook chicken & veggies curry for dinner – how nice of him! I share some of my spinach zucchini omelette with my friends. In fact, I brought food to survive for at least a week!

What works, works: back to Engadin

The fond memories of the first trip to Engadin back in December are still fresh. Conditions are still far better in that region than at home. My friend Christoph is one of those ‘born-to-drive’ people. He doesn’t doubt it for a second, jumps in his van, and drives to St Moritz for some proper frozen sunshine ski experience.

I’ve learnt my lesson. I don’t leave the house without my stove!! Too many live-saving soups this winter already – and it is only February! However, when packign for several days away from home but with access to a kitchen, I prioritize baked goods. Always in my foodbag: homemade bread, a loaf of cake, cookies, keto porridge and bars. The rest I can buy on the road.

There is always a first for everything. Looking back, it is surprising how many cold days my inulin pen held up without freezing. Not at Piz Zuort. The car thermometer announced 22.5 C at the start. It would only get colder from there. The route from Scuol is a perfect fridge. Always N oriented and very narrow with side walls +1500m. It took us 2.5h to reach the first glimpse of sunshine. As usual, the downhill triggered a BG rise, which I aimed to correct once back at the car. Just that no insulin would come out of the needle. Looking closer…. The insulin was FROZEN! Not a big deal (I always carry extra pens) but a clear learning for the future. Insulating the insulin ( how redundant!) is definitely a must-do.

Let’s face it. Even if there are more and more hard-core girls out there than 20 years ago, such ladies are still rare unicorns (not saying I’m one of them!). Meeting Moran definitely seemed very promising from day 1. Moran is one of those nomad workers hunting for snow – and working US hours which helps with the ski timing side of things. It is no coincidence we met thanks to the community '' another bad-ass lady Patricia Neuhauser - aka ' Schnee Orakel' aka 'the snow oracle' - has organically nurtured over the years!

I’ve said it before, mountains are a friendship washing machine. After day 1 at Tschierva with Moran, we knew girls just wanna have fun. She knows Engadin much better than I do, so I followed her judgement when proposing routes. Let’s say we managed to get the adrenaline going and my BG swinging on a regular basis. Great memories!

Days are getting longer, the sun reaches N faces which hadn't been exposed to it for months, the high mountains are calling.... and we must go! Part III coming soon...

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