Meet the Sky
The sport is immensely popular in Slovenia although it might sound like an exotic and highly specialized activity for experts only. It can be a dangerous activity and require a great deal of skill and experience but as with most other things, there is a wide range of possibilities. For an experienced skier it can mean a step forward, a lover of the great outdoors can simply start a new activity and someone who loves trekking as well as skiing can combine both activities. But for everyone, a whole new world opens up and eventually it has little to do with 'normal' skiing. Some people will argue that skiing on the powder next to maintained trails and even heli-skiing have little to do with real ski mountaineering, the philosophy of which is to make it uphill as well as downhill on your own. This style of skiing emerged in the western Alps between the two world wars, when a hinged, cable platform binding allowed a stiff mountaineering boot to be used. The free pivot of the foot allowed striding while it was possible to lock the heels for descent. This design eventually evolved int o lighter and more sophisticated bindings that incorporated adjustable release mechanisms like alpine bindings, to prevent torn knee ligaments and broken bones. Equipment You can go ski mountaineering with normal alpine skis, bindings, boots and poles, however you will have to carry the stuff on your shoulders. On the other hand, if you opt for special ski mountaineering equipment, things will be much easier. This equipment includes bindings that allow the heel to be freed for uphill travel and secured firmly for downhill skiing, special climbing skins (made of nylon or mohair, originally made of sealskin) that provide traction for uphill skiing (or rather walking), special boots (a hybrid of a plastic climbing boot and an alpine ski boot) and adjustable ski poles. If you plan on climbing on hard snow, don't forget ice climbing crampons, an ice-axe and a rope. The special equipment is rather expensive to buy, so if you intend it to be a one-off experience then renting is probably a better option. Iglusport in Ljubljana (tel. 01 422 8100) and Promontana in Bled (04 578 0662) can help get you started. Renting skis will cost you around EUR 10 a day. Tours Davo Karnicar, the first man to ski from Mt. Everest (in 2000) will probably tell you that it is possible to ski from virtually any mountain, not in all directions, of course. Ski mountaineering is not limited to spring but it largely depends on snow and safety conditions, especially the danger of avalanches, which poses the greatest threat. However, it is not our aim to scare you, as there are so many possibilities. Ask an expert where you should head for your first outing and you will very probably hear "Visevnik". It is a mountain above the Pokljuka plateau and one of the easiest mountains over 2000 metres high (2050) to access. Lesser mountains include Ratitovec, Blegos or Porezen (near Zelezniki) and Dovska baba in the Karavanke mountains, while the experts will head for Komna and Rodica (above Bohinj), Kredarica (just below Triglav), Kotovo sedlo (access from the Tamar Valley), Mojstrovka (near Vrsic), Za Cmirom (access from the Vrata Valley), Turski zleb (in Logarska dolina) and Kanjevec (near the Seven Lakes), which, at about 2500 metres, is the highest skiable mountain peak. However, this is by no means a complete list as it is possible to ski from many other mountains, including Triglav and the very popular Jalovski ozebnik, which would fall into the category of ski mountaineering. It is worth mentioning that the difficulty is usually assessed on the basis of two criteria: the access and the skiing itself. You can check out the www.turni-klub-gora.si website for photographs. Safety first It is a well-known fact that in winter, a mountain is only friendly when observed from the bottom up. Otherwise, it can be a dangerous place, especially for an inexperienced mountaineer. The biggest danger comes from avalanches, so your survival kit should include a special avalanche-rescue transceiver, which can prove to be a life-saver in case of an accident. Extra care should also be taken to protect yourself from the sun, which in the spring is particularly strong. In this instance, good sunglasses are not only for comfort and looking 'cool' but also to protect you from snow-blindness. Together with a high SPF sunscreen they are an absolutely vital piece of equipment. First aid, spare clothes, food, drink and a mobile phone should go without saying. Inexperienced skiers are advised to hire a guide, which costs EUR 50 - 100 per day. Besides safety, the guide will provide you with tons of useful stuff and experience for the future. You can contact the Association of Mountain Guides on: 01 361 1147 or 041 777 186 (mobile).