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Avalanche Training w. Brendon

The construction progress on your apartment is continuing as planned, and you were able to visit your apartment. It was still very much a work-in-progress but so far so good. On the weekend you double booked a visit from Brendon and an avalanche safety course. He came along for the weekend-stay in a Swiss alps mountain hut and everyone had a laugh.

Apartment Visit

It seems the winter weather wasn't too harsh and construction went ahead as planned for your apartment. This means you were allowed to visit on one Tuesday afternoon and look at the marvellous concrete walls. How lovely!

The whole block was very much still a construction site. There were cranes swinging loads back and forth outside, and men hard at work inside carrying miscellaneous tools and building materials. Although muddy, it was somehow quite orderly.

Inspecting the second bedroom The bathroom, much a work-in-progress
Inspecting the second bedroom, and the bathroom: much a work-in-progress

You were escorted by your contact, Katja, through an opaque wind-shield tarpaulin into the lobby. It was a big hall with a very high roof; you could imagine it looking amazing once finished and furnished. You went up the stairwell, which was lit by a cascade of temporary lamps on extension cords, to the third floor and into your apartment.

The logia The entrance lobby
The logia and the entrance lobby

Honestly, it took a short time to acclimatise yourself in the space which would be your apartment. Most walls had been installed but it was still pretty much just a dusty cement corridor, so it took some imagination. Where wall panels were missing a torrent of tubes - electrical, plumbing or otherwise - was visible, each leading to a yet to be installed outlet of some kind. The bathroom was a zinc-plated skeleton of reinforcement struts, with the toilet cistern wedged between and some outlet piped coming through the floor.

The lounge was enormous! It looked bigger than you imagined, which was a nice surprise, but the kitchen looked kinda small in comparison. Similarly the logia and bedroom-side balcony spaces were really big. The ceiling seemed really high but about 14cm depth would be taken by insulation, heating systems and wood flooring.

The short version: good so far; looking forward to moving in.

Uri Avalanche Training

You've wanted to do an avalanche safety course for a while now. According to your calendar you had a free weekend coming up, so on Monday morning you spontaneously booked it. Monday afternoon you got an email from Brendon, reminding you he was coming as planned... You turned the page on the calendar over to March and there he was. Bugger! A few skype messages later he decided to spend the weekend doing the course with you, since the night in a Swiss alpine hut sounded appealing.

Your group swelled to sever people by midweek, and come Saturday everyone was on their way to Sisikon in Canton Uri. After two trains, a postbus and a really minimalistic gondola, you were deep in snow and ready to go. Your fears of no snow were immediately absconded by the blanked white hills and chilly winds. There wasn't a patch of green in sight, and not a single tree left uncovered by snow. Beautiful! Brendon seemed happy.

Gearing up Brendon geared up
Gearing up, and Brendon geared up

The guide took you all to Lidernenhütte for some theory before starting anything outdoors. The group settled in one cosy little room and watched some cheesy, but useful, animations of snow characteristics. The short version was: "Careful beyond 30°, check the snow and weather reports, use safety equipment". Easy enough, but would still probably take some practice.

Outside the first exercise was spotting the landscape for dangers. Spontaneous outbreaks, windswept snow surfaces, dips and channels on the slopes, and *thump" sounds were all noted and explained while everyone stood still getting cold. Everyone was happy to get moving again and try out the LWS device (avalanche safety thingy). You took turns paired with Brendon to burry one and use the other to search for it. The instructor warned that anyone who buries their device before turning it one buys everyone a round that night. That night's schnapps was sponsored by Grég - hehe!

The group assembling for further instructions Bloody tourists
The group assembling for further instructions, and bloody tourists

The guide also explained shovelling technique, and how to effectively use a probe to poke those trapped under the snow. It seemed odd to be told how to use a spade but he had some good points about digging deep fast and working as a team. During the flurry of shovels through snow almost everyone copped a heap of cold enthusiasm in the face.

Following an entré of more snow theory, back inside you all dug into a heartily warm hütten dinner. The group was chatty and amused by everything so far, especially the ongoing rounds of Uno and wine being dealt. The hut friendly and everyone got enough to eat - even Brendon. You didn't quite fit in the bed - your head sticking through the ladder - so that night you slept diagonally.

Frantic shovelling practice More bloody tourists
Frantic shovelling practice, and more bloody tourists

The next day started with a typical mountain breakfast and more avalanche theory. It wasn't too long before everyone was outside on skis and snowshoes, although Meike only briefly - her binding was set for walking, and when she hit an unexpected deep bit her ski tips dug in and she landed with a wallop face first into the snow. The group toured up into the hills through a misty valley past some snowed-in animal stalls. The guide took the chance to talk about mapping and incline calculation; it was actually ingenious using two ski poles to check if the slope was above 30°.

Further on up the mountain the cloud cover remained thick. Visual navigation was pretty much ruled out, so we relied on our guide to lay down a path. We ascended a quite steep slope which curved back towards the exercise place from the day before, stopping a few times for more exercises. One exercise was team shovelling again. After the team gouged out a good section of mountain the guide used the cut to show different snow layers. The several meters of snow cover was separated into layers by icy veins, which you could see and feel. There was one especially distinct red/brown layer; the guide explained it was Sahara dust which blew in during mid Winter and settled in areas of central Switzerland. Quite cool to be able to read the Winter snow history. He then used his ski to cut a chunk free and pat it into submission, eventually sliding apart at the layer junctions.

Ready to ski down Descending in the wonky gondola
Ready to ski down, and descending in the wonky gondola

Up to the skies finally cleared and everyone had a snack while the guide disappeared. Upon return he briefed us about the tragic accident which befell his backpack, which of course needed rescuing. "And... GO!" he shouted. Kirsten shouted tasks while you and Meike ran off, search device and probe in hand. Meike found the spot fast, and you hit something soft about a meter and a half down - it was the backpack! Seconds later you were hit with a flurry of snow scoops from the digging team, which nocked you off your skis and started heaping up on top. Six minutes later the rescue team had recovered the bag and Rega rescue (played by the gude) was on the scene. Good job team.

After a few more exercises you all suited up for the descent. It was down the steep slope into the bowl area from the day before. The snow was light and easy to manoeuvre through. It was just a shame it was all over too fast to readjust to powder skiing technique. Brendon lost his snowshoe three times on the way down but seemed to have fun regardless. Home time.