Category Archives: Rant

Autumn Reflections of a Mountain Guide

Autumn rock climbing

Autumn rock climbing

Summer blends to autumn, now ripening to winter, and I gaze as the colors fall to the swelling white blanket outside, soft and inviting. As a full time guide, seasonal change gives me time to reflect on what my job, my life, entails. I sit in front of my screen now, remembering the ridges, the weather and people I encountered. My dreams, my fears, the anxious and joyous moments I’ve experienced whilst moving about these hills, burdened and enlightened with the task at bringing my clients safely up, over, and back down. What’s it like to live the life of a mountain guide? “You have such a perfect job,” or the tired cliché “You have lovely office.”


New snow in Verbier October 2013

I get up, can’t sleep. Davos still has the avalanche risk at 3, two weeks after the snow storm, yet those signs of risk have not presented themselves to me these past three days as I slide in and out of valley after valley, mountain top to mountain top. Shall I stick to my plan for today? After 25 years of skiing together, Janet and Will follow flawlessly through risky terrain, waiting, traversing, skiing and climbing at just the right tempo to make our passage as safe as it possibly can be. After 25 years together, we know each other better than most of my friends. Indeed, we are very close friends, having shared so many extremely intense moments together, hours pushing ourselves up hill, arriving back down well after dark, cold, wet and tired, ready for the long drive back home to the warmth of our beds.

Ski touring Verbier March 2013

Ski touring Verbier March 2013

What’s it like to be a guide, to live this life. Sitting here reflecting, looking at my bank account and calculating my financial responsibilities. Who am I? Father, son, brother, guide, lover, friend, counselor, spiritual comrade… The conversations we have about life, while disappearing into the hills, naked before that spark, that power we all feel which binds us living beings together. I open my inner thoughts of fear of failing, of falling, of dying, of succeeding. Who am I. I am Hans and right now I am your friend and guide ready to share another fine experience in these hills. Who knows what the future will bring. Risk? Life?

Mountaineering September 2013

Mountaineering September 2013

We left the bivouac at 4:00 this morning. What a sunset that was! And the three of us, alone at altitude, surrounded by the 4000ers, cooking our supper by candle and head light. I slept so well, so open to today’s adventure, route. I slept so well, so cosy under my pile of (slightly) rat infested blankets, feeling me, just me, not concerned with whether or not I would succeed or fail on this new (for me) alpine route. And here I am now, happy. Yet we see how the rock on the leeward side is coated with rime ice, making foot placement slippery to say the least. Happy I am, yet my fingers are so cold, I don’t dare wear gloves for not feeling the holds. Happy I am, yet the rock is SO crumbly and loose, chunks falling 800 meters to the slopes below. The route description said nothing of this! Happy I am, to feel me, cosy inside, as I imagine the sun coming soon out of the mist to warm us. My two clients on my rope have such different levels of experience, one so slow and awkward, the other so competent and helpful to the other. Happy I am, repressing my urge to reach the summit quickly, but rather stay here and now, feeling each hold, sunny side warm, cold side still so cold and frozen.

What I’ve discovered about my life as a guide, my daily struggles to reach the top, is so much like life itself. Yes, it is my dream job, though I never for a moment, growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, where riding horses all day and catching a wave on the weekends, could have imagined I would someday be a Swiss Mountain Guide, sharing adventure every day with the most lovely people on this Earth.

And for that I am thankful.

An eggshell coating on these Alps

It rained to 2400 meters last week, after a solid dump of over 50cm. This has created a superb base everywhere, even to higher elevations and shady aspects where mild temperatures melted the surface snow. Tele Verbier has opened more terrain for those into lift access: the Jumbo up to Col des Gentiannes and Savoleyres

Along with real fun powder skiing, the ice has come into fine shape. For those of you who have not tried this fun form of adventure, you are missing another way of touching nature and feeling the contact one has with our mother earth! Sign me up!

International Snow Science Workshop- Davos

I have just returned from the 2009 ISSW in Davos, filling my head with all sorts of theory and some excellent practical information on avalanche forecasting. This forum is held every year, bringing experts in the field of snow science together to talk about snow and avalanches and show the results of the experiments they have carried out. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet many of the people who have made it their life understanding the ways avalanche danger is created in the snow pack, and how we can better predict whether or not a slope is too risky to ski.

For me, a very interesting evolution is happening. We (at least for those of us in the field) are moving towards a system that is more practical, and less science and theory. When I first got into snow science and the study of avalanches, we learned all about snow crystals. Not that that is not important. But now our focus is on assessing the level of risk involved with skiing a certain slope. For me, it’s much more important to be able to assess that level of risk, and to be able to describe how I attained that assessment, than to know what type of crystals buried in the snow pack.

Werner Munter has given us some good tools over the years to help us determine that level of risk. His 3X3 Analysis, Reduction Method Synthesis, and now a Nivocheck for professionals, will hopefully help in halving the number avalanche fatalities each winter.

Summer has left Verbier

The colors of Autumn are coming back. The grasses and Larch on the slopes of Savoleyres and Attelas are turning golden brown. The peaks are holding thier snowy coatings as Verbier sheds the long summer days.

Its been a long time since I updated this little blog on Verbier. Too much fun away, no time to restore a lost blog, and only a few photos has delayed any updates this summer.
Though the weather was generally good, timing was key in changeable forecasts to make any peaks. We climbed some fun peaks and scrambled up some fine pure rock routes. The glaciers continued their retreat, though the cooler and wetter weather meant that they were not as dry as in the past few years.