Let's start with a disclaimer. This is possibly the worst-documented trip report you'll see. Read on only if you're bored or severely snow-deprived.
I decide to take Wednesday off and go up to the mountain. I wouldn't normally do a TR for this; I'd sooner do one for taking my kids to school (more of a "special event" than skiing Madesimo. I probably ski twice as many days as I take the kids to school. I'm not a bad daddy, just work very early).
Part 1: Bad Kharma
I'm pretty into weather-tracking. If I take a day off, I want to be sure it's perfect. I check, about 20 times the day before. Pure sunshine in the forecast. But my hill closes the tram to the top if there's even a hint of wind on a weekday ("eh, no one's around..."). So I'm stressing about the wind forecasts. 10 knots, 13 knots. Is that too much?
Then my wife calls and says she needs the car. Maybe I should bail, but I've already taken the day off. Ultimately, my sister in law comes through, offering me her ride (not the actual car, though same model and color).
OK, it's not a Subie. But the roads are dry, so what the hell. One small complication. Milan has closed the city center during peak hours to cars without the latest pollution control. So I can't just get the Micra and park it near my house for the morning departure. I'll have to ride my bike to my SIL's house before the restriction sets in, get the car, and leave from there. So my ski day starts on a bike at 5:30 am.
Part 2: Bad Juju
At about 900 meters I see a leaf blowing fast across the road. Flags aren't flapping hard in the town at 1000 meters, but as I start maneuvering the Micra through the turns up to 1500 meters, the trees on the switchbacks are swaying. Not a good sign. I get to my condo, dress, stretch, etc. Call the mountain. "Mmmm, it's pretty windy up there. We'll try to open." I'm thinking about bailing and going back to Milan; I could be in the office by 10:30/11.
My friend Giuliano, an old mountain goat who lives up in Madesimo and skis about 100 days a year, is reassuring. "Of course they'll open, don't worry. There's no real wind." We wait, take a warmup run, have a coffee.
But as we ride the chair up to the tram dock, I see worry on my old friend's face (what's he got to worry about? He skied yesterday, he'll ski tomorrow, and the next day. He's retired). A worker at the tram says, "I don't think we'll be opening today." Just the nightmare I've been nursing. Winds are around 80 kilometers near the top. I'm fucked.
A little background. Our mountain, sans tram, isn't much. With the tram, there's a little world of easily accessible offpiste, about 1000 meters of vertical, topping out at 3000. On a weekday, I can get 10 or 11 rides up, easy. If they open. They're not going to open. If they don't open in the morning, they won't open at all. In fact, they'll send the tram lifties home to avoid paying them.
Giuliano and I take a couple runs while I ponder my options. I can head back to Milan and work a partial day, licking my wounds and planning for the next time. I can stay and ski the lower mountain. It's a sunny day, and I have to admit, the snow is chalky and fine. But I'll get bored with that in a hurry. As we ride up the chair again I look over at the shoulder of the peak that fronts our back bowl. There are some tracks there, some snowboarders have hiked up and there's a skin track too. I've never skied that peak, though I've thought about it. It's nice and sunny there. Maybe...
Part 3: Scrambled Eggs With a Touch of Mojo
So I go back to my condo. Start throwing stuff around. Beacon, probe, where the fuck is my shovel? Liners for my touring boots are somewhere around here. If I'm gonna tour, I'll need some calories. Cook up all the eggs in the fridge (the trip might've been worth it for the scrambled eggs alone). Pack some water. Don't have a camera (why would I bring a camera to ski my home hill, without my kids?).
Am I really going to do this? Snow is stable. Avalanche danger 1 on scale of 5. I check with locals, with mountain management about this little peak. It's a pretty clear shot, there are tracks to follow and the whole thing is within site of the ski area, really. It's very much side country. Away we go.
Did I mention that it was a sunny day? At least here on the south-facing side of things. The photo below is looking toward Groppera peak, the main peak at the ski area. I have a phone, and the phone has a camera, which annoyingly has been set on self-portrait; it's so bright that I can't see the controls to change it back to normal mode, so I'm taking all the photos backwards.
It's a crappy camera too (my wife got the phone as a premium from the supermarket; I confiscated it after realizing that my pricey Nokia, with a 4 megapixel camera, was impossible to use in the mountains due to a horribly designed mirror screen). Today with any phone, in this sun, I can't see whether I'm shooting, shooting backwards, saving, sending. Maybe I sent photos to my boss or something. Good thing I didn't call in sick.
Do I look like I know what I'm doing? One good thing about taking the occasional photo is it gives you an excuse to stop skinning. I'm covered in sweat halfway up.
I know following tracks isn't a sound policy, but I know where these tracks go. Though I've never skied this area, I've seen it all from the tram. There are four chutes over the ridge, two of which are a little blind from the top (I'll do those another day). I'm going to ski both of the ones I can see top to bottom.
A word on equipment. My good touring setup is in my basement Milan, waiting for a touring day with a guide somewhere. Here in Madesimo, where I almost never tour, I've got my old Rossignol B2s mounted with Diamir bindings and a pair of Solomon e2 Ellipse boots (kind of a hybrid, with rubber soles and walk settings) that I've modified for stiffness. I've got a nice new pair of skins, though.
I'm a lousy tourer. I'm fit enough, but my kick turns are crap. This is good practice for me, though. Someone's set a good skin track; my plan is to kick turn where he did. And my turns get a bit better as the day goes on. Oh, yeah, I'm also using binding crampons, as the snow is hard and the second part of the ascent is pretty steep. Not killer steep or killer hard, but still.
It's hard work, though it's a beautiful day. I keep thinking of the "Go There" thing you ESA types were rattling on about. Go there. Go there. I'm trying to go here (is that a mountain goat up there or is my mind playing tricks on me?):
It doesn't get more Side Country than this. That's a resort piste over there just beyond the trees. And, annoyingly, I can hear the radio blasting from the refuge about 600 meters down. Wish they wouldn't do that.
After the standard apologies for the crapitude of the photo, and the standard "it's much steeper than it looks," this is the first of two chutes I skied on the first lap Wednesday. The tracks are both mine, I skied this chute twice. Snow was really nice in there. You ever get in a chute that has your name on it? I just felt good in here, knew I could let go and ski it well.
This is the end of my first run. You can see the route down looking up to the right, the little funnel hugging the rock. Fun.
One of the nice things about side country is you can just stop at a refuge to fuel up, no need to carry a lot of food. OK, if you're keeping score, this is a photo from a different trip report (there's much more snow now). But it's same refuge. A little sausage, a little sun, then back up for another lap.
I check my watch and figure I've got to hump it. I need to be back home in Milan by 7 as my wife is going to the movies with her friends (someone has to stay with Pricklies Jr. and Jr. Jr.). And I've got to drop the pink machine off at my sister in law's AND bike back home. But hey, I'm a pro now, I can just straightline the first part of the climb, will save me oodles of time, right?
Three near-cardiac arrests and two water breaks later, I get a message on my phone. Cinema cancelled, I have all the time I need. Too bad I barely have enough energy to ski now.
But ski I do. First chute, same as the first lap. Second part I do a new one. Nice and steep, snow a bit harder than I'd like, but well worth the hike. Course, I don't have a photo of it for some reason. Instead I shot this, I suppose to show that there'd been some avy activity in the area.
All in all, seems like a worthwhile undertaking at this point. Just to get cold, and to ascertain that, no, I can't ski for shit on this tour setup, I do a lift-served run, and then head home.
Part 4: Bad Vugum
Traffic light back toward Milan. But then I realize I can't bring the fume-belching Micra into the city center until after 9 (my Subie would have been fine, of course). It hasn't rained (and therefore, snowed) in Lombardy for weeks and as a result the pollution levels are high in the city, putting pollution-reduction measures into effect (certain categories of engines can't circulate in city during the day).
This all means I have to leave the Micra outside the concentric circle of the center -- in an area for which it doesn't have a parking sticker, risking a ticket -- walk back to my sister in law's, get my bike and ride home. I'm still dressed in my ski clothes. Then I've got to get up at dawn, move the car so it won't get a ticket and get it back in my sister in law's neighborhood before the traffic restrictions apply. And get to the office by 7.
Was it worth it?