Balancing on the fine line between (time of your) life and (fear of) death, freeride adventures and avalanche safety at the Kitzsteinhorn glacier
Words by Anna Langer, photos by Mirja Geh / O’Neill
Looking down from the very top of a mountain is one of the most amazing things in the world, and can yet also be one of the most scariest. Heaven and hell, life and death – on the ridge of a peak you’re balancing on the fine line between the two sides of the coin. Of course that’s not what you should be thinking about while balancing, so I quickly pull my thoughts back the narrow steps in the snow before me.
Hiking up form the Kristallbahn chairlift on top of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier in Kaprun the peril of death is quite manageable of course. Especially following the lead of the two experienced guides O’Neill and K2 hunted down to lead their first of three girls camps through the snow this year. So equipped with some new goggles from the generous goodie bags, a little fresh up on freeride safety and latest avalanche report for the Salzburg area, I follow their hairpin trail up to the top, where you’re rewarded with a truly breathtaking view over the mountains of Salzburg and Tyrol.
Heaven and hell, life and death – on the ridge of a peak you’re balancing on the fine line between the two sides of the coin.
While we wait for the last of our seven skiers and eight snowboarders to arrive, I down some clear spring water from the tab of our mountain hostel and drink in the view from 3200 meters of the lake of Zell am See all the way down in the valley, until I realize that wasn’t such a great idea. Because despite my deeply rooted love for the mountains, especially the big, massive, cliffy peaks, I’m afraid of heights. And fussing around anywhere steep without a board strapped to my feet makes my a bit queasy. So I carefully step in and wait out the rest of the time sitting down, ready to rumble should it be needed. And as soon as we’re all ready to go, digging the first turn into slightly crusty but still soft snow, I’m suddenly a hundred percent sure of what I’m doing again and crystal clear about why I make myself do it.
The second hike to the other peak off the same lift feels smoother already, although there’s a little wind coming up. Carrying the board under your arm makes it feel like a sail but with the snow becoming grainier the higher we get, it’s much more sensible to climb up, using your board as an anchor in front of you. When conditions roughen up like this, especially half way up, the fine line you’re balancing gets even thinner. So to make sure you maintain your balance, it’s vital to stay calm and just concentrate. Because before vertigo started clouding your judgement, you trusted yourself that you were able to do this – otherwise you would have stayed down (at least that’s what you should have done and always should do if you’re not feeling the hike / the line / whatever. Applies to all sports and other situations too, actually). I can see that one of our snowboarders is starting to regret her judgement and show her the board-climbing-trick, which combined with the reassurements of the fellow shredders, she’s over herself and up the peak in no time.
Before vertigo started clouding your judgement, you trusted yourself that you were able to do this – otherwise you would have stayed down
Just as it’s vital (in the truest sense of the word) to discern and honestly judge every situation according to your skills, momentary constitution and energy level, it’s also crucial to leave your comfort zone every once in a while. Never overstepping your limits, but steadily pushing them in a comfortable way. And not just so you can experience the overwhelming high that’s reserved to the epic lines you earned yourself with your own muscle power, but also to grow and develop yourself psychologically and spiritually. When you can trust yourself to precisely judge and evaluate your daily limits, there are (almost) no limitations at all to what you can do. And where you can go.
Respecting their limits before the lunch break, half of the group opts for an easier variation of the next run, right of the Kessellift, without alpine climb. Not as wise and still in high spirits, I’m still all in with the other brave hearts, who soon start wish for some spiritual help as we carefully traverse through cragged rocks and steep cliffs in front of a 200 meter drop. And once again I’m right back on the thin line between the two sides of the coin, scared to fall but stoked to ride, weak knees and collywobbles but reassured of my own strength and powers. Just how I like it.
Scared to fall but stoked to ride
And so, a bit wiser after that last run, I stick to lifts and slopes for the rest of the day and am happily accompanied by more who are saving some energy for the second day. With another bluebird sky and blazing sunshine it’s the perfect set up for some shots by Mirja Geh, who manages to capture each and every one of us live in action. But despite dream weather, breath taking views, memories for a lifetime and photos to share them, charging down in a flock of shred-stoked girls that take over the whole slope has got to be the best feeling of all.
Do you know that feeling? Tell us on Facebook! And if you don’t – make sure you head down to the next girls camp you can manage (for example the O’Neill Girls Freeride Pro Camp from February 21st-23rd, 2014 at the Neuhornbachhaus – the beginner camp is already booked out!) and find yourself some like minded girls to go shred with – they are out there! Loads of them. You might just not have seen them yet because they leave nothing but a spray behind them, but you’ve sure seen their lines in fresh pow…