When I was just starting out climbing in 2012 I spent one evening down the wall in the company of an interesting chap who told me he worked six months a year contracting, and the other six months on ski-mountaineering trips. This struck me as a perfect use of a life, despite at that time having neither skiied nor mountaineered before. Fast forwards five years and my mountaineering skils are starting to develop but my skiing abilities remain terrible, so when I heard that some of my friends were arranging their first Alpine Ambitions for Women I jumped at the chance to participate.
Taking place over a March weekend in Romsdal, the course had a choice of programs: an avalanche awareness workshop, a mixed climbing workshop, and a two-day beginner program covering randonee skiing, moving safely on steep ground, and planning safe trips. The thing I needed the most help with was the skiing, so I signed up for the beginner course.
Marte testing out the snowpack
I arrived on the Friday night, just in time to spend the evening hanging out with the other ladies, watching climbing films and eating pizza. The next morning we divided into our groups, and Marte and I were introduced to our friendly instructor Urpu. We spent Saturday morning looking at maps and websites and discussing how to plan backcountry skiing routes to avoid avalanche terrain. Then we headed out to Vengedalen where, clad in borrowed boots and skis, we skinned up to the bottom of a friendly little gully. We’d been checking out the snowpack a bit on the way, but here we took out the shovels and started digging out our 1m snow columns to investigate the weak layers. Next it was time for ice-axe arrest practise; I’ve done this before but it’s always good to refresh the skills. We did all possible ways around, including the scariest one, head-first and face up, as well as trying out how to stop without an axe at all.
Practicing our ice-axe arrests - photo by Urpu Hapuoja
After lunch we headed up the gulley, it was maybe 100m of scottish grade II so I felt pretty comfortable here. Marte hadn’t been on that sort of ground before, but she did super well on the upper pitch.
Easy gulley climbing - photo by Urpu Hapuoja
At the top we caught up with the group of four plus the other instructor Bjørg, who were on day two of the same beginners course. We bashed back round to the skis, then they swooshed away back to the cars as I alternated between snowplough and faceplant. That evening we had more festivities back at the hostel, with prizes for the best instagram photos (I won a headtorch!) and a talk from Ragnhild Amundsen.
Topping out at sunset
Sunday morning we looked at the maps and forecasts and decided to ski up to a local peak, Grøntinden. The conditions from the carpark to the treeline were a bit icy, but after that the snow got much better. We skinned up to a high boulder on the shoulder of the mountain, where we switched from skis to crampons, but we were aware that we were very short on time by this point - Marte and I had to be back at the hostel for 4pm to be able to get lifts and trains home again. We did a short burst uphill for the experience, but we didn’t have time to get all the way to the top. We stomped back down to the skis, and I was back to my bambi-on-ice impression again. Fortunately Urpu was on-hand to patiently help me remember how to do parallel turns, and it wasn’t long before I too was swooshing down the snow. Until we came to the forest again, that is, and then I mostly tried to sidestep and not go headfirst into a tree. Despite my epic slowness we made it back to the car roughly on schedule, and scooted back to the hotel to repack and sadly, give back my skis. It was just a first step for me, but I can definitely see myself getting more into this rando malarkey.
Skinning uphill - much easier than skiing downhill - photo by Urpu Hapuoja