Friday, December 23, 2011

Glacier Snowboarding

Me on the Zugspitze

Today we set out to conquer the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, with our snowboards.  We have had blizzard like conditions for the past few days here, and we've opted to snowboard at the Garmisch Classic ski area the past few days instead of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak.   We were told that visibility can be bad on the Zugspitze in current conditions, but we are heading out for Austria tomorrow and we didn't want to leave Germany without hitting the Zugspitze.  The Zugspitze is Germany's only glacier and at it's highest point you are 2962 meters above sea level, so we were all excited about being able to say we had been snowboarding on a glacier.

Well, the first clue we were in trouble should have been when we pulled into the parking lot around noon, and there were hardly any cars at all there.  We gathered our gear and hopped on the aerial tramway for about a 10 minute ride up to the top of the Zugspitze.  As we started getting closer to the top, the howling wind and ice falling on the roof of the tram clued me in that we might be in for some less than perfect conditions.  Even better, when we got off the tram there were flashing yellow lights and a sign that said when the lights were flashing to be warned that there was a higher chance of an avalanche off piste.  Avalanche.....lovely.  I tried to shrug the flashing yellow lights off, and think to myself they're just being overly cautious.

When we got off the tramway we were quickly directed to another tram that went down to the glacier ski area, I honestly thought maybe just maybe it will be better when we get off the next tram.....WRONG!  When we stepped outside after taking the second tram the best way I can describe it is the North Pole.  Imagine blowing hard snow and not being able to see hardly anything.  You could barely tell where the sky ended and the ground began.  There were a few skiers that were coming in from the slopes, and I think my jaw about dropped when I saw one taking off a tracking device belt as part of  his gear.  My mind flashed back to the avalanche warning I had just seen.  I couldn't help, but think we had lost our minds.

Looking around, I knew there was no way I could physically snowboard or even ski in such insane conditions.  My husband, our family snowboarding expert, thought differently.....or maybe he just wanted to.  You see, the guy I married was a ski / snowboard instructor and snowboard racer in college.  After almost 17 years of marriage, he still hasn't grown up when it comes to boarding.  He's actually quite impressive on a snowboard, and I've watched him carve circles around kids half his age.  I'm not just giving him credit, because he's my husband either.  He's actually really a great snowboarder, and we have a running joke that he could have been a professional if I hadn't trashed his dreams by making him settle down and get married.

I saw that kid in the candy store look in his eyes up on the mountain, and how he was itching to strap on his board and I knew the man was going to try to board the "North Pole".  My teenage son was just as anxious to get a run in as well, and tried to make his way to a lift.  He only got a few feet on his board before he dropped chest deep into a drift,  and my husband had to go help pull him out.  I thought to myself "ok, now we can leave".  Nope, not my crazy family.  My husband still wanted to try to see if visibility would be better at a lower altitude, so he decided that he and my son would test it first to see if we could all four go down as a family.  I also have a 13 year old daughter that is a chip right off her father's block when it comes to snowboarding.  Still, in today's conditions we thought the best idea would be for the guys to test the slope first.  By the way, I say slope, but you couldn't tell where the "slope" really was other than a few marker posts in the snow.  I tried one last time to convince my husband to not take the risk, and call it a day before he and my son took off.

Minutes turned to an hour, as my daughter and I waited.  My daughter entertained herself by digging a huge hole in the snow and making a shelter using snow and her snowboard.  I on the other hand was worried to death the later it got.  I saw some skiers come up that had rescue shovels as part of their gear, and all I could think was that other than boards all my guys had was each other.  Despite the polar like conditions, I stayed outside looking into the sea of white for any glimpse of them, all the while praying that they would make it back safely.  I started to wonder at what point would I need to ask for help finding them.  I had seen a map of the run, and I knew in normal conditions it should only take a few minutes.  After well over an hour and neither of them in sight, I was afraid that one of them had been injured or worse that they had gone off piste accidentally in the blinding conditions. 

Finally, they appeared out of the cloud of white, and I felt a huge relief.  They came back both in one piece,  exhausted, but in one piece.  It seems they dropped into several drifts unexpectedly, and had to dig their way out each time.   They even had to unstrap and carry the boards at some points, because they could not tell where the sides of the slope were, and my husband was worried that they would find out the hard way by dropping several feet.  He would never admit it, but I'm pretty sure he wishes he had listened to me when I suggested we leave and not attempt what seemed like the impossible.  Then again, knowing him he's happy to have this new snowboarding accomplishment under his belt.  I on the other hand, am glad that I didn't try the impossible.  Search and Rescue would probably still be trying to dig me and my board out right now.

So, today's lesson is don't go snowboarding when the yellow avalanche lights are flashing, and if you do make sure you have a shovel and you're wearing a tracking device.

Our view when we got off the tram.

My husband and son before they started their journey.

My guys in a sea of white.

My daughter and her snow chair.

Chapel on the Zugspitze

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