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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Roman Lopez

The winter of my dreams (part 3)

Updated: May 20, 2022

The transition from winter to spring skiing is never linear; in fact, most of the times it is rather abrupt. One day you are shredding dry powder on steep N faces, and the next one you find yourself climbing up a snowed sunny mountain in t-shirt. I can’t tell what makes the switch flip. With the ‘unofficial’ change of season, come the big dreams too. Dreams of high mountains, of sunsets in a hut, of apre-ski drinks in a sunny terrace surrounded by equally cheerful people.

The very imposing N face of Pizzo Forno

Spring skiing also brings the inevitable thought: ‘soon, all this snow will be gone; I better ski it all right here, right now’. Moreover, I am not really into the traditional spring skiing style: starting early in the dark on super icy snow to end up sweating like a pig under the sun. Then skiing on ‘cream’ if lucky, or watery slush if riding too late. This sort of days come rather in May / June – when I’m usually hitting the trails on running shoes. Until then, there are plenty of those other memorable days with friends, summits, and downhill-oriented tours!

Campo Tencia – top of Ticino

The tour that flipped the switch this year was Campo Tencia – the highest mountain 100% in Ticino territory. A formidable challenge for any ski alpinist. I put emphasis on that second word ‘alpinist’. Whether you approach it from the hut or the canale Giovanelli (the downhill route), it will never be an easy route. To the difficulty one must add the constant exposure and commitment ‘no-matter-what’.

Paolo Monticolo ascending Canale Giovanelli. Picture: Loic Tregan

The first time I climbed Tencia in winter was with Peter from the hut. I must tell you, very few times have I wished so badly for a rope. That was back in 2017. This time we follow the downhill route also upwards – not a piece of cake either! Luckily our strong team of 4 is fully in-tune. The route is so impressive and fun. As we ski the last forest, I get the hunch. Spring is coming…

Loic & Paolo travel back home after some well-deserved bresaola and cheese. Christoph and I still have ambitious plans for Sunday. But first, our improvised dinner. I will only say, one has almost always a choice to eat healthy. Picking the sugary path is easier, cheaper and – let’s be honest – very tasty; that combination of sugar & fat is a rush for our muscles & brains. But I choose normal. Actually, my 4.8% hba1c is above normal. It is EXTRAORDINARY.

Post-Tencia dinners. Mine on the left; My friend's sugar bomb on the right

Go high or go home

You might remember the day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was supposed to apply for a visa at the Russian embassy in Switzerland. A bad-ass Spanish lady had proposed racing up Elbrus on skis as a female team. I’m bad at resisting such offers. However, a blood glucose of > 33.3 mmol/L (>600 mg/dL) frustrated that plan. The point is, ever since, Belen and I owed each other some joyful ski turns.

Type 1 diabetes has not changed my love for moutains at all. However, my nutrition has changed a great deal. From 'whatever crosses my face' to very measured and controlled lowcarb meals. I don't take chances eating out unless I KNOW what is in the dish. It's my health on the table - the chance of pursuing a long happy mountain CV!!

Galenstock traverse Uri -> Wallis

When friends visit me in Switzerland, I feel some sort of responsibility to pull out amazing routes, great snow, and sunshine. As if I could control such factors! Intention is what counts…. said no one 😊 Luckily, the week Belen & Rafa spent in the swiss alps, ended up being quite kind to us.

Planning is always a tricky balance between showing my friends the ‘all-time favourites’ and exploring new summits still the wish list. Galenstock belongs to the latter group. Despite being a very iconic mountain close to home, I had never found the right moment to attempt it. Perhaps because it has a reputation for long queuing in the upper part – which I absolutely hate.

Long story short, we got lucky with this monster tour! +2000m uphill, over 27km in a total elapsed time of 9 hours. Our packs were quite heavy since Galenstock was just the first stage of a 3-day adventure. Double lucky considering no one else summited that day. All that immensity for ourselves. The downhill was rough. Skiing down the Furkapass wasn’t a piece of cake at all. We were drunk with happiness by the time we reached Oberwald – and a bit hungry too! Why changing what works? I had booked at the lovely Forest Lodge.

During the 9h of activity there was a bit of everything: heat, wind, easy terrain, delicate boot packing, leg-burning skiing and Plaisir turns. How do you think my blood glucose did? Fantastic! I needed a total of 12g glucose. Reminder: one gel contains +25g. My friends had several gels each + cakes + chocolate. I had cheese and nuts. My CGM line doesn’t lie. Since 2 more demanding days were coming up I cut basal to 1/3 of my usual. It was a good call to minimize nocturnal hypoglycaemia (which I couldn’t completely avoid).

Galmihorn: heads down, skis up

What sets the alps apart from other mountain ranges is the massive vert possible in a single push. Being able to climb a 4000m mountain starting at below 1000m is quite a remarkable feat. On day 2 of our adventure, we head towards Galmihorn starting from Reckingen – an almost 2500m climb! Our plan is to sleep high up in a tiny hut Oberaarjochhuette smashed against a rock and simultaneously hanging from it. Mountain engineering, I guess.

Half way up to Galmihorn, looking down towards the valley of Goms

The day was tough. Add to the never-ending uphill a very erratic blood glucose. The hypoglycaemia never really ceased despite my many ‘rescue’ attempts. An empty tank or a hormonal swing? Probably both! On a positive note, the hut guardian – a shy young Italian from Bergamo – did his very best to provide lowcarb alternatives. Extra points for a one-man-show restaurant supplied by helicopter!

Wondering how glacier skiing is like? Read the post about my glacier adventures!

At Easter, some look for chocolate eggs; we look for snow balls 😊 Christoph & I set our ‘basecamp’ in Meiringen – a village at low altitude offering many touring opportunities within a 45 min drive. Our holiday started with a ski safari day at Graui Stöckli, near the Sustenpass.

Rosenhorn, that garden of dreams

The clear highlight of the trip ended up being Rosenhorn. A massive day covering 22k +2400m over 7h45min. Such numbers translate into a variety of landscapes: from forest, to morraines, to crevasses, and even a final very aereal ridge. What a day! My glucose couldn’t have been smoother.

Closing jewels in the backyard

First rays of sun on our faces after 3h of uphill at Tödi

Tödi, Glarus to Graubünden traverse

Just when we thought the white dance might be over… a stroke of luck allowed us to tackle the Glarner Monster: Tödi. What makes this summit especially attractive is its +3000m uphill. Massive. Such a vert implies starting at low altitude, which reduces to a handful the number of winter days when the route is both properly snow-covered & safe (avalanches from the side walls are a clear concern).

Peter agaisnt the ice giants. Picture Loic Tregan

Not owning a car makes it hard to get to the start – not to mention at the early time we are supposed to get going! For this reason, Peter & I arrive the evening before by taxi. At 4:30AM, a very late start for such ambitious route, we meet our car-propelled friends Loic & Paolo. From our hotel room we hear people departing from the parking lot from 2am onwards. It is in such moments when I feel eternally grateful to my body for being able to stand all the training that allow us to ‘sleep in’ and still overtake the early birds.

In full truth, it had been a horrible night. I suffered from very incipient hypoglycemia. It was hot but I didn’t know whether to blame the heating or the profuse sweating triggered by the low blood glucose. I was hating myself for waking up Peter with all the alarms. Counting every minute of sleep I was wasting. Add to all this the anticipation from the big day waiting ahead of us. A lovely night to forget!

There is always a first time when a type 1 forgets to bring his/her insulin along. I had forgotten my basal in the office… not a big worry since the day will be tough enough to need just a small dose. I decide to cover for it with single units of ultra-rapid whenever my sensor reads higher than 6.5 mmol/L. I also went for a carbish breakfast covered with 3u fiasp. Do not do this at home unless you know how your body copes with exercise and insulin on board.

The bottom part is an endless forest road; however, when the steepness finally picks up, it does it for real! It is at this point when the first daylights boost the group morale. Just on time to climb through the classic icy avalanche covering the first steep face. My ankle bones hurt and the long traverse into the main valley is pretty unforgiving. The middle section goes by in an uneventful manner: shade, boring terrain, and many meters to come. Almost no conversation. When facing such a monster climb, one must distribute the effort evenly. The altitude and exhaustion will claim their victims during the last third of the uphill, no doubt about that! Each of us probably begs Tödi to let him/her get to the top with a bit of oxygen to spare 😊

Overcoming the entry to the glacier – a chaotic mix of ice seracs – can be a tricky exercise. But today we find a perfect track, requiring no self-navigation whatsoever. Just before reaching the 3000m mark, we overtake our good friends Christoph and Susana. They had started 3h before us! That’s irrelevant; what matters is that Susanna will conquer Tödi for the first time in a single push – well done!

Tödi, top of Glarus with its 3614m

The last 600m of climb call for determination, patience, and a leap of faith. The group splits and each of us picks a pace that feels ‘sustainable’. I feel so full of life. My energy levels remain constant, and the altitude doesn’t bother me too much. I reach the summit in 6h15’ after a last ‘I’m in a hurry’ push. At 3612m the spring sun is strong enough to invite me to sunbathe in t-shirt. The mountaineers around me – covered in layers of feathers – can’t believe their eyes.

I’m so happy for Peter. We had attempted Tödi already twice together. He literally told me this was his last attempt before the start! Today, we have big downhill plans. Mano a mano. Like the two curly friends we are 😊Our route started in the canton of Glarus but will end in canton Graubünden. A wonderful line requiring a proper zoom out when looking at the map. Most of the downhill line follows west faces. This means there is a very tight window when the snow will be ‘pure cream’. Too early: icy. Too late: wet and sticky. We get lucky and enjoy a memorable glorious descent. Luck is on our side today. We even meet 2 locals that give us a ride to Disentis, where we will take the train back home. Although, in a moment of hungry celebration, we decide to share an Italian pizza that I manage to control thanks to skipping the cheese. 2 pizzas in 96 days of skimo. I can deal with that!

Clariden & Gross Schärhorn happy ending

Swiss roads connect or isolate regions depending on the season. With the first snowflakes, many high roads that connect two cantons over a mountain pass close for the winter. These are good news for skiers since these roads turn into some sort of ski slopes; but also bad news, because certain routes became accessible only with long approaches. The solution? Wait for the spring to come and the passes to re-open.

A busy day at Clariden. Here the ski depo 200m below the summit (behind)

On May 30th 2021, Moran and I closed the season with a BANG. Luckily for us, the Klausenpass road had been cleared a few days before. Not so luckily for us, dozens of other skiers had the same mountain in mind: Clariden. I am running a T1D experiment lately: eating fast acting carbs just before sports, combined with a ‘glucose burning’ pace. I have my rice crackers with honey and take off immediately at a decent pace. The route is in the shade, which helps with the pushing. Many skiers ahead of us also motivates me to ‘count the victims’ as we overtake them.

Unfortunately, the glucose sparring is real and, despite the abundant availability, these muscles of mine refuse to use up the glucose – is my GLUT4 hibernating or what?! After +1h uphill and with a glucose well above 200 mg/dL, I decide to correct w 3u ultra-fast acting. To conclude, I wonder what is the point in experimenting if ‘what works, works’. The reason for it is to be a bit more flexible at future race aid stations. Bottom line, only carbs to fix lows – end of the story.

The day ends with two happy girls in flip flops and shorts. Cyclists riding by the pass. Snow in the summits, green fields at the village. Smells like summer! WHAT-A-SKI-SEASON. The countdown for the next one has started!

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