Monday, February 2, 2009

Mt. Titlis Ski Report

English first / 日本語は英語の後

After spending almost a month here at Basel, now this time finally came. I got information on near-by ski areas, purchased a one-year half-price travel card from SBB (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen in German or Swiss Federal Railways in English), and bought a snow-N-rail discount package including a round-trip ticket to Engelberg, a day lift ticket at Mt. Titlis, and a 18% ski-rental discount at Inter Ski Rental.

Engelberg, (i.e., Angel's Town) is the base for getting access to Mt. Titlis and is located 85 miles, (= 136 km) southeast from Basel, which, if I think about going skiing from Seattle, is a way farther than Snoqualmie, yet a bit father than Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain, but much closer than Mt. Baker, (probably even before Bellingham.) Comparing its distance with ski areas close by Tokyo, Engelberg is much closer than any ski areas in Gunma and Tochigi prefectures but probably in the same distance to Karuizawa. Unlike all ski areas in Washington State, Engelberg is accessible by train. An inter-city express departs every hour from Basel. Of course, I got on the very first train at 6:03am, transfered to a mountain railway at Luzern, and arrived at Engelberg at 8:12am.

Amazing was this mountain railway. Waking up at 4:30am, I dozed off in the train, but suddenly felt the train now running up a super-steep slope. While automobiles were driving up on a zigzag road, the train went up straight like a cable car (watch the attached video clip). Again if I compare it with my experience, the gradient is much larger than Hakone Mountain Railway in Japan. I think Kent, my son would really enjoy riding this train when he comes to Switzerland in March.

The Mt. Titlis cable car station is just only a 3-minute "free" bus ride from Engelberg (see photo 1 below), where I rent a ski gear. (To be honest, I mistakenly stopped by a different Inter-Ski rental shop near by the Engelberg station that leases even ski wears and of course has restrooms (probably used for changing cloths). However, this cable car station has nowhere to change cloths except a tiny restroom fully packed with skiers and tourists. That was the reason why I saw many skiers already wore a ski wear and even ski boots in the train. On the other hand, a lot of 2-sfr (= $2) lockers were available to use. Despite that everything is expensive in Switzerland, it is quite reasonable to use a spacious locker at $2 that can even store a pair of skis.

To reach the top of Mt. Titlis (with elevation 10000 ft = 3020m), skiers need to ride the cable car first and thereafter transfer to the 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd gondola (photo 2). Although this series of rides would give a kind of sensational experience to tourists, (and of course to my son if he has a chance of coming here), upon every transfer, I had to wait on a long line for the next gondola, (like the Hakone cable car and rope way in Japan), which took about one hour in total to get to the top.

Finally, I arrived there at 10:40am, (after spending 5+ hours from the university guest house!) The view was just like the heaven as if angels were landing soon. The beautiful and gigantic rocks color-striped in horizon with snow's white and rocks' gray slightly reminded me of the view I saw at Alta in Utah, it was stunningly overwhelming and beautiful as if they were islands floating on the sea of white clouds. Check photos 3 ~ 7.

Now, it's time to ski down. It was my first skiing in this season which was 2+ months later than usual, (i.e. mid November). I saved my money by rending economy skis and boots at 60 sfr (= $60) rather than a premium set at $80. Okay, my excuse is enough. Yes, you can imagine. To accelerate my speed, I just skied straight down, and quickly noticed that skis were bouncing, shaking, and vibrating, which was because I forgot to put my center of mass on the right position of the skis? Or was it because of these cheap and lightweight skis? To be worse, the left ski's tip caught snow too much while its tail was rotating quickly during my first right turn, and I almost fell down at the beginning of my first skiing in Switzerland! Anyway, I recovered my body position quickly and fortunately didn't fall down at all during the day. :-) The actual tip was that, after my first run down to the mid station at 2428m, I switched the left and right ski, which made me much comfortable. Or I got used to the skis.

The snow condition was so-called packed powder or a bit icy. Almost all slopes were non-gloomed runs. Still 90% were smooth surfaces, while the rest were bumpy slopes. Those bumpy slopes were icy but not so steep. All in all I didn't see quite steep slopes on piste. All slopes on piste were guarded by ropes and I saw many signs saying "stay in course, many crevices ahead", which scared me of crossing the rope to off-piste slopes that however seemed easy to ski down because of numerous traces on them. In fact, I constantly saw several skiers skiing down these slopes. Only one concern was that off-piste courses from the top of Mt. Titlis at 3028m to the mid gondola station at 1800m named Starterland seemed like leading to a big plateau on their way, (i.e, Steinberg in the map: where skiers would have to detour to either side of it, or make a fatal jump from the edge of the plateau. Repeatedly saying, the slopes were not so steep like this ( So, if I skied with my B3 and together with Shu-san and Kato-san, my ski school colleagues, I would probably follow their devil's whisper: why not? (And, I would reglet about my decision on my way. :-))

Since I spent 83.40sfr for a Snow'N'Rail package, $65sfr for this rental ski gear, 19.5sfr for lunch, and even .5sfr for using a restroom at the Engelberg station, all of that brought the total to 168.4sfr, (excluding a 150sfr half-price travel card), I really wanted to try all slopes, and within 5 hours I did so except #7 and #10, which were worthlessly easy. The course #1 from Gletscherlift to Stand (a yellow line in the map) was the most difficult and bumpiest course that was however not so difficult as Snoqualmie Alpental's International but probably the same level as the upper slope beside its quad chairs. See photo 8. Then, how about skiers' skill at Mt. Titlis? Well, I believe that best skiers must have all gone for off-piste skiing.

The quality of 19.50sfr lunch was probably the same as Timber Wolf at Snoqualmie West . Noodles, two pieces of warm spam meat, and steamed baby cabbages which must have been taken out from frozen packages. It seems like paying 1000 yen, ($11) for curry and rice at the Naeba ski resort in Japan, which I think may be taken out from instant packages. To be worse, they don't accept a credit card if a customer don't spend more than 20sfr, for which purpose there were a bunch of drinks just before the cashiers, each actually with 5sfr. Since most people don't want to carry cash with them, they end up with picking up one of them, which I think is a way of the restaurant business.

In summary, the view was the most impressive among all ski resorts I visited; there was not so much snow as last year's Crystal Mountain and of course as Mt. Baker; the snow condition on piste was slightly icy like Alpental's Upper International; the scale of Mt. Titlis is definitely larger than all Washington State ski areas but smaller than Whistler BC, maybe the same as Snowbird UT; you should rend premium ski gear (if you need) by bringing your own lunch instead of buying a $19.5 lunch set; and there were much less annoying snowboarders than Washington State!

Finally, although all seats of the train returning to Luzern were taken by skiers, a half of them got off on the way to Luzern, which means that local skiers commute using this lovely mountain railway. When I arrived back at the university guest house, it was 8:20pm.

Please visit:














Photo 1: Mt. Titlis Cable Car Station

Photo 2: Transferring to a gondola

Photo 3: Up beyond the sea of clouds

Photo 4: Now reaching to the top

Photo 5: Looking north from the top

Photo 6: Looking south from the top

Photo 7: Rocks floating on the sea of clouds

Photo 8: The most difficult slope?


Video 1: In the mountain railway train

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