Ski Mountaineering at SME
by Linda Peer
words "controversial" and "mountain ski guide"
are rarely seen together, but Reudi Beglinger and SME have been
the source of more debate and controversy on the Telemark Talk
Forum than one would think possible. It is a tribute to the kind
of operation that Reudi runs that his happy customers would be
so passionate in his defense, and passionate they have been.
The SME detractors' main complaint seems to be that Reudi runs
a sort of "ski mountaineering bootcamp", where climbing,
vertical, and summit quests take precedence over the skiing.
It has been said that Reudi will guide "the A group"
right by a major powder field of dreams and push on to a wind
scoured summit, despite, what some say, is the majority of the
groups own wishes. Reudi fans deny this and reports of a great,
memory-of-a- lifetime experience at SME are common on the Forum.
By all accounts from both camps, SME is a
first class, hike-for-turns backcountry lodge with some of the
finest guides in the world. It is probably not for the faint
of heart, the out of shape, or those looking for a more laid-back
If you have followed the debates on the Forum,
you may be curious what kind of week an average but fit, enthusiastic
and strong skier might have at SME. We think Linda Peer's account
below will give you a good look at the Selkirk Mountain Experience
from this perspective. The 16 great photos accompanying Linda's
story were contributed by Mark
Renson and Keith Eagan, taken on separate trips to SME.
Selkirk Mountain Experience, owned and operated
by Ruedi Beglinger, a Swiss Mountain Guide, is advertised like
this: ...caters to adventurers who enjoy the mountain world.
...one of the worlds finest ski-touring and ski mountaineering
companies. ...vast, pristine glaciers and countless alpine peaks...
endless slopes of bottomless powder... Doesnt that
sound appealing? It did to me, and so in March of 1999 I departed
from New York, and after a few days of practice skiing
at Lake Louise, I found myself on a bus on my way to Revelstoke,
British Columbia, the starting point for a week at SME. Along
the way there were avalanche debris next to the road, and at
some points there were avalanche covers over the road. The sides
of the valley seem closed in as we gained altitude. We stopped
at the filling station at Rogers Pass in the silent darkness,
under a misty moon, with snow falling, and snow banks up to the
windows of the bus. It was a beautiful and eerie precursor to
a week of gorgeous snow.
The bed & breakfast inn and loading the heli for the trip
out to the SME lodge. Photos by Keith Eagan
Day 1: Early
breakfast at the bed-and-breakfast, then the weigh-in for flight
and off to the helicopter. Up a valley, then another, over a
ridge and the hut appeared below. I was in the second group to
go up, and got to speak to some guys from Lake Tahoe who were
leaving. They had broken the record for vertical at Reudis,
climbing and skiing over 60,000 vertical feet in a week, with
two days of over 11,000 vertical feet. Next they were going off
to Nepal to climb Pumori. I wondered what they did for relaxation.
When our group was finally assembled we were
20 people, 8 women and 12 men, including 6 couples. Three people
lived in Alaska, two with an air strip for in their back yard.
One young couple had lived and skied in Verbier, France, and
two guys had lived in Crested Butte, CO. Three of the group currently
live in Boulder, CO. These were serious skiers. There was talk
about peaks people had climbed on every continent, crevasse rescue,
avalanches (one guy had been buried up to his neck), kayaking,
climbing, mountain and road biking, and so on. The group was
great: we skied hard, and joked and laughed at meals.
Photo by Keith Eagan..
Ruedi gave a short talk about general arrangements
and rules. He seemed diffident and a little shy. I was soon to
discover that he seemed completely different outside in the mountains.
Before 11:00 AM we had packed a lunch and we skied out for a
transceiver drill with Danielle Zimmermann, Ruedis assistant
and another Swiss Mountain Guide. Then Ruedi divided us into
two groups based on his initial assessment of our skiing and
climbing strength and we set off for our first day of climbing
Since I was one of the older people there,
and probably the smallest as well as the newest skier, I was
not surprised to find myself in the slow group, lead
by Danielle.There were lots of women in my group, and we soon
renamed it The Diva Tour. In the end, I climbed and skied over
5000 feet a day, and the fast group climbed about 6000 feet a
day, so there was not that much difference. After lunch the groups
were slightly reorganized. Most of the reorganization after that
consisted of people dropping out of the fast group and joining
the Diva Tour.
Day 2: We were
awake at 5:30 or so and on the snow, breakfasted and lunch packed,
at 7:00. I loved the early start. Up Diamond icefall we went,
past huge blocks of pale blue ice, and across the glacier to
the peak of Tumbledown Mt. We would see heli skiers ski it from
near the top later in the week, because the edge of Ruedis
concession of 80 square kilometers bisects it. No one else is
allowed to run a commercial operation within his concession,
although other guides with clients can pass through it - if they
can get there. It snowed most of the day. Mountains and cornices
disappeared and appeared through mist, cloud and snow. We had
beautiful powder skiing, and I experienced powder flying over
my head for the first time. About 2 PM snow fell from a blue
sky, and then it cleared.
Photo by Mark Renson..
We stopped early, and at about 2:30 we were
at the base of the hill the hut is on, ready to climb up. I was
standing at the top of the hill thinking of taking a short run
down to the uptrack again when Ruedi, leading the fast group,
came by and asked what I was doing. When I said I was thinking
of skiing down he said, You cannot do that. However
he set me up with a couple of the fast guys who wanted to ski
some more and he showed us where we could go. I skied happily
down, forgetting that I was going to have to climb up with these
brutes. I panted after them up a track that was marginally too
steep for me to stick to with my slightly too narrow skins. They
were both about six feet tall, and when they clambered up over
a small tree (Just grab the tree and climb up they
said) I thought I was never going to be able to reach a branch
to pull myself up. Skiing can be great upper body work. We arrived
back at the hut definitely ready for the post-ski snack, always
delicious and always something savory and something sweet. that
evening I think it was quesadillas and an almond torte. Next
came sauna and shower, a bag of water heated on the
sauna and hung in a shower stall. After time for a little equipment
tuning, reading, conversation or whatever a delicious dinner
followed. When the sun set the nearly full moon rose, a bunch
of us went out to admire it. We all went early to bed.
Day 3: Ruedi leads us.
Skiing down Ruedi emphasized keeping your
body facing down hill. Both he and Carolyn, who works for him
and was skiing with us that week, said that parallel turns are
more appropriate and easier than telemark turns for the terrain
and snow conditions in the Selkirks. Ruedi especially felt that
AT, also called randonee, gear is better than telemark gear for
breaking trail: it naturally lifts the tip of your ski. I took
their advice, and started doing parallel turns on my tele gear,
which worked very well.
Both Ruedi and Danielle talked often about
ski mountaineering technique and I learned a tremendous amount
during the week. Everything from techniques for traversing steep
slopes to keeping my goggles from fogging to what kind of boot
liners keep your feet warmest. Ruedi is an expert at something
I want to know about, and I had every intention of doing exactly
what he said. Besides, I was trusting him and Danielle with my
It snowed and blew all day, but every time
we were ready to ski it cleared. We had a windy lunch next to
a cornice overhanging a rock face, and on a later run took our
climbing skins off our skis in fierce wind on top a cornice.
We all sat very low or lay down as we waited for the last of
the group to arrive and de-skin.
Right: Aaron Dewar by Keith Eagan
Day 4: I begin to get an inkling of what
ski mountaineering means.
By now we were climbing about 1000 ft/hr in
the morning and 800 ft/hr in the afternoon.
The Diva Tour was doing about 5000 vertical feet a day, and the
fast group was doing about 6000, but the fast group the week
before had done over 11000 vertical feet some days! On the first
day I had said to Ruedi that they must have been very fast. He
said they were not that much faster than us, but they could climb
very steadily, for as much as three hours at a time. At the time
I did not realize that he meant not only without a real break,
but also generally without stopping to drink, pee, take off clothes,
solve equipment problems, fix a hot spot in a boot, take a picture,
or anything else. If you were not one of the fastest in the group
and you paused for anything you were liable to be left behind,
and you might not have time to eat or drink at the next real
rest stop or meal break. SME is not a place where anyone will
coddle you. As Ruedi says when you make a mistake or forget something
and make an excuse, The mountain does not care. Several
people in the fast group, and even some in the Diva Tour, mentioned
to me that there had been a day when they were last and never
got a chance to eat because the group was ready to leave whenever
they got to a stopping place. I started carrying food in an outside
pocket. I learned to get my skins on and off my skis much faster,
and started wearing my sunglasses around my neck. Ruedi does
not tell you what you are going to do next. When he stops you
dont know if it will be for 1 minute or 15 minutes until
you see what he does. If he takes off his jacket you may want
to take something off too. If he takes out lunch it will be a
longer stop and you eat. If he takes his skins off his skis you
do the same. However, even in the slow group you get to climb
cornices, stand on top of peaks, ski below icefalls, next to
crevasses and over glaciers, traverse 45 and 50 degree slopes,
and ski in wonderful powder and down steep slopes, in all kinds
of weather and in an unbelievably beautiful alpine landscape.
And you learn, fast.
Day 5: Danielle leads us on
The high point of the day was Danielle checking
out the cornice on Forbidden Peak to see if we could climb it.
Yes, we made the summit, and did a 1500 foot descent from there.
Photo by Mark Renson..
In mountaineering it is important to summit and
so in general we did. On the way up we
traversed a 45 to 50 degree pitch above a cliff. I was quite
afraid, until someone pointed out that if you fell you would
not go anywhere. The snow was deep and soft, and I realized that
a skier is not like a ball but like a jack: you have all these
things sticking out, like poles, skis, elbows, knees, and head.
We also summited Centrale Peak and then skied down Needle Ice
Fall and back to the hut. I had discovered that I felt exactly
the same if I went in with everyone else or if I skied more,
so I usually skied more. I went back out for a short run with
a couple of the guys. Finally we went in for the usual delicious
Day 6: Overnight trip to Moloch hut by way
of Mt. Fang (up 3000 ft.).
We hiked to Moloch hut, which is small and
rustic, via Mt. Fang, before lunch. There we dumped our extra
gear and food and ate lunch in the sun by the hut. After lunch
we did Zwillings W. peak (about 1800 more feet). We passed the
most interesting area of wind sculpted snow we saw during the
week: a long, curving, many stories high wall of snow which mimicked
the shape of the edge of the mountain.
At the end of the day I was the only person
who wanted to continue to ski. Danielle gave me a radio phone
and told me I could ski down to the glacier, on a route people
had taken the day before. This was one of the most beautiful
skis of my stay, in the warm, late afternoon sunlight. I skied
down sweet, rolling powder pitches to the glacier, below an ice
fall and at the head of a very steep glacial valley. That afternoon
we heard and then saw point avalanches rumbling down the sides
of that valley. As I climbed back up I looked at pale blue glacial
ice, soft, rolling banks of snow, wind created snow shapes and
textures, our ski tracks, distant rocky and snowy mountains capped
by fantastic looking cornices, and the deep blue ski. The landscape
was completely silent except for the occasional sound of wind
or rumble of snow. Daniel said it would take me 20 minutes to
hike up to the hut, but it took more than twice that long. I
could hardly walk ten steps without stopping to look at something.
And I finally got my parallel turns under control!
We had a great party in the hut that night.
The Diva Tour was always fun and witty, but we outdid ourselves.
Danielle cooked with our help, and we told jokes and stories,
drank wine and beer, and laughed for hours. Finally we went up
to sleep in two rooms in the loft, on beds on the floor or in
Day 7: Back from the hut.
In the morning we climbed the highest peak
in the area, Mt. Graham (9840 ft.) Then we went back and got
our stuff and skied back to the main hut. This particular trip
contained one of the scariest traverses for me. We skied a track
set the day before by the fast group up a steep slope with a
long drop to the glacier below. The uptrack went around a nose
that seemed to stick out into space, and at that point it got
steep enough so many people had a hard time sticking to it with
their skins. They slid back and had to pull themselves up using
their poles. I was last in line, and when I got to the nose I
slipped back time after time. Fortunately the light was flat,
and I could not see the drop below very clearly, but I also could
not figure out how to move forward. Finally I called for help,
and Daniel gave me a hand from above. In about two steps the
track flattened enough so that I was fine. On the same day the
fast group climbed to a peak using their feet and
hands, and later they side slipped on skis off a serac and onto
a traverse with lots of exposure in the form of the 300 ft. high
face of an ice fall below. That evening we had an especially
good (and that is saying something) good-bye dinner.
Some of the surrounding mountains. Photo by Keith
Ruedi chose an extraordinary place for SME.
It is wildly beautiful. It snows often all winter, so the snow
does not have a chance to form layers and the snowpack is very
stable, meaning that there are not many avalanches. He and his
assistant know their territory intimately, and see the development
of the snow pack, so you can ski places you would not dare to
ski without such expert and informed guidance. Did I enjoy myself?
Yes, I loved it! I have no pictures of people doing turns because
when we skied down I was busy. You can easily imagine what it
was like, but if you want to know you have to go.
Post script: Looking at the Nepal web site
in May, I saw that the Tahoe group had summited Pumori. They
had been training at SME.
Upper right: Keith Eagan, the rest
by Mark Renson....
Powder field of dreams? Photo by Keith Eagan..
Mark Renson Photo...
Selkirk Mountain Experience
Canada VOE 250
Ski mountaineering weeks run from Saturday
to Saturday all winter and early spring. SME rents alpine touring
skis and boots, telemark skis and boots, and some snowboard equipment,
but not in all sizes.