Schneegrubenspitze – Peak “Snow Pit”

Heiner suggested a tour on the Schneegrubenspitze, a peak near Kelchsau in the Austrian Kitzbühler Alps he had skied as a kid. The last few climbs I had been on left me longing for a snowboard descent rather than on skis but I remained apprehensive thinking I would be too slow hiking. Although I had planned to use the skis again, I spontaneously opted to try my very first snowboard tour after seeing a guy with a board returning to his car. With the backpack packed and the board on my back, I grabbed the snowshoes and we started of towards the mountain. I didn’t really know what to expect or what was waiting for me but I was completely excited to give it a shot. The path started off pretty wide allowing us to hike side by side. It was not steep but I noticed that I was considerably slower with the snowshoes than the skis. The path gradually narrowed down to the familiar track made by a single skier, leading us through a quiet forest. We reached the north side of the mountain where a small stream divided it into two sides. There were fewer trees allowing a good view of hilly scenery climbing up on both sides of the valley. A small hut was nestled into the hill on the left side of the stream. We continued on the right side along the tracks up towards a col in the mountain. The trail grew steeper but was still comfortable. The snowshoes were a little too wide to walk normally along the trail and I had to place one foot in front of the other, something like walking on a catwalk I suppose. Sometimes we traversed a steep slope at a flat angle where one track was higher than the other; I had to lift the left leg much higher to avoid getting it caught on the slope. The view and scenery remained amazing. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the deep blue sky: it provided a dreamy contrast to the pristine white snow on the ground. A few skiers were descending on the left side of the stream. It looked like they were struggling in heavy snow. Heiner said the snow would be much better where we planned on descending as it was the north face. We marched on up the mountain in the sun which was really, very hot. Heiner was already down to a t-shirt when I finally took my jacket off. We were closing in on a zigzag trail which led up to the col. After a short break for blister band-aids and some water, we pushed on. There were deep tracks in the snow swerving over the hills and around the trees in symmetrical swooshes. Nearing the end of the hill to the col, we could finally see along the ridge to the summit on the right side. The ridge was long and the peak rested aloft a steep north face. Heiner suggested going to the summit and riding the north face. The whole north face looked overwhelmingly steep; almost vertical. I had only been on a snowboard for nearly 3 months now and basically lacked any ounce of technique. The gradient humbled me but I figured I could always backtrack along the ridge if I chickened out riding from the peak. I put my jacket back on here at the col as it was cooler and a light wind was blowing. We continued towards the ridge along the back side of the face where the sun was stronger and the trail as soft as butter. The traverse along the rather steep hill, just below a small overhanging cornice, had signs of some small wet snow slides which were recent. I plugged along at a snails pace with the snowshoes. It took a great deal of energy to hike this section and was quite relieved to reach the other side of the ridge where the snow conditions were more stable. We had a great view of the summit now and it was not far away. At the top we had fantastic views of the Grossglockner and Gross- and Kleinvenediger (Austria’s highest peaks) off on the horizon. I looked around for a variation to the north face off the summit but the only other real possibility led through an avalanche exposed cauldron-shaped, less steep gully. Since there was no chance of powder there, I decided to go for the north face. We prepared for the descent. With a full backpack hoisted back up onto my shoulders and my feet very securely strapped into my snowboard, rode over to the top of the gully. Heiner went first voluntarily, positioning himself safely behind a rock about half way down the gully. It was my turn and I was pumped! The first few meters were super steep and had several deep tracks packing the snow down. I crossed to the right side where it was still fresh and dropped in. I pointed my board in the general direction of “down” and let go… I picked up speed very quickly. The feeling of fresh powder under my board was amazing and it didn’t seem steep anymore. It was now, just pure pleasure. I shifted my weight back and forth leaving a beautiful trail spraying up behind me. I was on an unparalleled adrenaline high and passed Heiner with a shout of “Yaaaahooooo” continuing on to the top of the next hill where I stopped and looked back. Holy Crap!!!! That was absolutely the best feeling I have ever experienced in my life! Heiner continued on past me then stopping down the next hill to film my proud swings down that next segment. We continued on and on down the mountain along the rolling hills in the fresh snow, it was magnificent. We swished past the trail where we had hiked up and followed it back down to the car. The descent was over in a heartbeat, but 100% worth it! At the end of the trail, we hiked back down to the car with a fulfilled and satisfied feeling. My very first snowboarding tour was an immense success and I was already anxious to take on the next mountain. Amazing.

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