Last month my family was struck by tragedy. My uncle Bruno was killed by an avalanche in the French Alps while on a ski tour. He was a hardened and very experienced alpinist, but a powerful snowslide left him and his five skiing companions no chance. Bruno was passionate about the outdoors, especially the mountains in winter. Ever since his retirement, he spent all the cold months in Guillestre in the French Alps, where he devoted himself to ski touring. He was a warm and joyful man, who will be missed deeply by our whole family. The following article is dedicated to him.

I cannot ski, this is a fact. I cannot ski for the life of me. My last attempt was in 2010, when a Scottish friend of mine convinced me to join him on a ski tour near Vienna. He knew I was a hopeless skier, but I suspect getting a lift to the mountains in my car was worth more to him than my life. I did enjoy the climb (it’s just like walking with incredibly long and unpractical shoes, really), but going back down turned into a disaster, as expected. I ended up spending more time in the snow than on it, usually digging deep around the point of impact of my fall in order to find my sticks…

So despite the fact that love the mountains and use every opportunity I have to spend time on and around them, the first two winters since moving to Munich I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. I would often look at the snow-capped peaks in the distance with a clenched fist raised in the air, wondering when all that white stuff covering them would melt so that I could head back out there. Damn you winter! This all changed when my friend (and alpine mentor) Sebastian decided one day in January to bring me a pair of snow shoes that had been abandoned in his garage for years. He told me they were magical. “Put them on, and you will be able to walk on snow. Now stop sulking”. And just like that winter became my best friend again… I still remember how excited I felt when I took my first steps in the snow during my first hike. “I am actually finally doing it, this is awesome!” I thought to myself. Then I tripped on a rock and lost my sticks…

I ended up going on four different snowshoe hikes this winter. All four of them were wonderful. I realise they were probably a walk in the park compared to what my uncle Bruno used to do, but I believe he would have appreciated the alpine scenery non the less. There’s nothing else like it!

These are for you uncle.

“The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

1. Simetsberg (Bavaria, Germany, 1840m)

Simetsberg Snowshoe Hike7AM. The mist hovering around me turns red, as the sun slowly rises. It was obviously a cold night.

Simetsberg Snowshoe HikeMe!

Simetsberg Snowshoe HikeOnce over the tree line, the side of the mountain offers perfect skiing conditions for tour-goes.

Simetsberg Snowshoe Hike

Simetsberg Snowshoe HikeThe Gipfelkreuz, marking the summit of Simetsberg, 1840m above sea level.

Simetsberg Snowshoe HikeLooking east, the Walchensee.

Simetsberg Snowshoe HikeBreathtaking panoramic view of the Karwendel Range.

2. S’Kuppal (Tirol, Austria, 1691m)

S'Kuppal Snowshoe HikeThis time I am joined by my friend Björn, who is also discovering the joys of snowshoeing for the first time…

S'Kuppal Snowshoe HikeThe recent snow falls and cold temperatures mean we can enjoy nice fresh powder.

S'Kuppal Snowshoe HikeAn older skitourer leads the way in front of us. No one has gone up this way since the last snow falls, he is the first to trace the route.

S'Kuppal Snowshoe HikeHe seems to know where he is going, so Björn and I follow him to the summit

S'Kuppal Snowshoe Hike

S'Kuppal Snowshoe HikeEnjoying a well-deserved lunch break at the summit (1691m). The fresh snow turned this fairly easy tour into quite a strenuous one. In some places we sank up to our belts and really struggled to carry on.

S'Kuppal Snowshoe HikeThe summit offers great views of the Rofan Range.

3. Stuhlkopf (Tirol, Austria, 2050m)

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeOn a Monday in March Sebastian comes to see me in my office and asks if I want to join him on a tour the next day. I’m lucky enough to be able to take time off on a short notice, so I say yes. On the road by 7AM, we head south towards the Rißtal, a valley in Austria which bizarrely enough is only accessible through Germany. We park after the village of Hinterriß and start the hike in a side valley, following the Torbach (Tor Creek).

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeAfter 2km along the stream things get serious when we reach the end of the valley. It’s time to take some layers off and start climbing the side of the steep mountain on our left. Sebastian leads the way.

Tortalalm Snowshoe Hike

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikePatterns made by balls of snow rolling down the slope.

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeSebastian had hoped that we would be the first to take this route after the latest snow falls, but others have beaten us to it.

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeThe top of the saddle (2050m) is our aim for today. The round marks left in the snow by previous skiers look beautiful and soothing.

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeMy thighs are burning so much that I almost forget to check the scenery behind me… The view is spectacular!

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeMade it! The views of the Karwendel mountains on the other side of the saddle are breathtaking.

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeTime to relax and catch some sun. We are almost as white as the snow surrounding us…

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeThat’s a lot of snow…

Tortalalm Snowshoe HikeOf course the way down is a lot faster and a lot more fun for Sebastian. But running as fast as you can down the slope is also quite fun with snow shoes, especially in fresh powder.

4. Zäunlkopf (Tirol, Austria, 1746m)

Zäunlkopf Snowshoe HikeFor my last snowshoe tour I am joined by my friend Will (or more precisely, I join him, since he is providing the car this time). We choose a tour with supposedly great views but a very low risk of avalanche, since the overall risk is quite high in the Tyrolean Alps on that particular day.

Zäunlkopf Snowshoe HikeWe are certainly not disappointed. The scenery is spectacular!

Zäunlkopf Snowshoe HikeGetting close to the summit.

Zäunlkopf Snowshoe HikeAt the top of Zäunlkopf (1746m), Will thanks the gods for the beautiful landscape and the great weather (which allows him, in true British fashion, to wear nothing but a sleeveless top).

Zäunlkopf Snowshoe HikePanorama of the Karwendel mountains.

Zäunlkopf Snowshoe HikeWill enjoying a downhill snowshoe sprint. Check out the complete set of photos here.

In loving memory of my uncle Bruno Girard
In loving memory of my uncle Bruno Girard