Exploring The Untracked Alps

Men's Journal|January - February 2020

Exploring The Untracked Alps
High up in the Swiss Alps just might be the best backcountry hut-to-hut trip on the planet—and one only diehard skiers know about. Until now.
Christopher Solomon

In the predawn darkness, as we stretch climbing skins over touring skis and shoulder our backpacks, the sky above is punctured by billions of stars. The only spot not filled with pulsating dots is directly in front of us, a giant black blade blotting out the heavens. This is Dammastock, an 11,909-foot peak in the Swiss Alps’ Urner mountains. Not another light intrudes on the entire Chelenalptal Valley. Soon, though, the sun will crack like a runny egg over the high ridge, lighting the way to our next evening’s hut, with its soft beds and cold beer—but not before it illuminates some great spring skiing. Church bells rise from a village far below, as if a valediction.

“Pity about the crowds,” our guide, Tim Connelly, deadpans as he steps into his skis on the second day of our five-day trip.

If you’re a backcountry skier, you no doubt know of the Haute Route, the classic hut-to-hut mountaineering route (or ski traverse) from Chamonix to Verbier. It’s high on the tick list of anybody who Chasesla Neige Sauvage. But in Europe, there are huts everywhere in the high mountains, and because of that, there are plenty of other ski routes to link them together.

A few years ago, Larry Goldie, a mountain guide and co-owner of Washington state’s North Cascades Mountain Guides, came across one he’d never heard of: the Urner Haute Route, a five-day trek through the Urner Alps of central Switzerland. In 2017, Goldie pointed his skis to die Schweiz and returned with tales of stunning views, comfortable huts, and skiing par excellence—all of which have earned the Urner the sobriquet “the skier’s Haute Route.” The tour has another, not-insignificant allure: There are few people here.

“I just love the idea of getting off the beaten path,” says Goldie, who has led clients on the other (crowded) traverse more than a dozen times.

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January - February 2020