A company trip to the Stubai Glacier yields a butt-puckering rappel, fresh backcountry turns and a thorough introduction to the word “scroggin.”
Early December in Austria and the grass is growing in the valleys. As the 2015/16 ski season struggles to a start, it’s high time for the staff at the Distillery, Downdays’ parent company, to get out of our office chairs and into the mountains.
Morning views on the Stubai Glacier.
We arrive at the Mutterberg gondola station early on a Monday morning from Switzerland, Munich and Innsbruck—a gathering of the vibes at the Stubai Glacier for the Distillery’s pre-Christmas company excursion. Snow levels are at low tide, but Innsbruck-area backcountry guru, Distillery Senior Project Manager and “Scroggmeister” Sebastian Huber has picked out an unusual sidecountry variant for us to experience: a 70-meter rappel down the Jakobsleiter to access fresh tracks on the southwest slope of the Stubaier Wildspitze.
The boys on the skin track.
After a warm-up run on-piste in the early-morning light, we attach skins for the quick tour to the western saddle of the Wildspitze, where the Jacobsleiter plunges steeply off the back side. This route was bolted two years ago by Bezi Frein of heliskiromania.com [updated], and Basti sets up the rappel with his ski-tour blogger friend Lukas Ruetz while the rest of the crew tentatively dons their harnesses.
Jonee drops in.
Then the fun part begins—descending one by one down the scraggly, nearly vertical rock slope, with the choice of rappelling ourselves or being belayed by Basti’s trusty hand. I choose to rappel, which I’m comfortable with in a normal setting—but it’s quite a different experience with a full ski kit strapped to your back, moonwalking on wobbly legs in ski boots down a cliff face. My gloved fingers are clenched into senseless claws around the rope by the time I arrive, vibrating with adrenaline, back on solid ground. The appeal of more serious alpinism suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Not your everyday backcountry experience.
Once we’re assembled at the bottom of the Jakobsleiter, a short but sweet ski pitch awaits us above the spectacular backdrop of the Windachtal, with the Weißkugel and Wildspitz looming in the distance. The snow quality is better than expected, and Downdays editor-in-chief Mark von Roy and Distillery Director Nico Zacek milk the photo opportunity, laying down clean turns on a pristine ridge. But beware of that early-season ambition—Nico clips a hidden rock on his third turn, giving us all that pointed reminder to heed the conditions and Basti’s simple advice: “Ski cautiously.”
After a few hours of adrenaline and camaraderie, during which the word “scroggin” has firmly entrenched itself into our vocabulary, it’s a quick Scrogg back to the pistes, where we boldly decide to skin the last 100 meters back up the piste. Basti solidly loses his bet with Nico that he can beat him to the top, even after giving Nico a healthy head start, and finally the briefly-considered touring-equipment run through the slushy afternoon Stubai Zoo terrain park is foregone in favor of beers at the Jochdohle, lounging in the too-warm December sun at 3,150 meters elevation.
Big shoutout to Stubai Glacier for the help with the tickets, Basti and Lukas for the scrogg-tastic guiding, and Machete Burrito Cartel—the best Mexican restaurant in Innsbruck—for the fantastic private dinner that evening. Scrogg on!
The crew with the Jakobsleiter in the background.