Urner Haute Route Ski Tour
This high level traverse passes through the geographic center of the Swiss Alps in an area known for deep snow. We begin in Andermatt and finish in Engelberg, stopping in 4 huts along the way. The skiing and terrain are maginificent and the tour is definitely a step up in difficulty from the Haute Route.
We move south to north, allowing us to ski up more sun affected slopes and descend more shaded north slopes, increasing powder potential. Andermatt is located just down valley from three of the great passes of the Swiss Alps: the Oberlap to the east, St. Gotthard to the south, and Furka to the west. Andermatt is a pretty small place known for excellent off-piste and free-ride terrain and nearby Realp is a less known ski touring mecca.
Like all of our European ski tours, nights are spent in cozy huts with bedding and blankets and all of the meals are prepared by the hut keeper. In the middle of the tour we stay in a hotel that remains open to skiers in the winter, but is inaccessible by car as all the roads are buried in snow.
Urner Haute Route Itinerary
Day 1: Realp to Albert Heim Hut (2542M - 8340’)
From Andermatt we take a short train ride up valley to the small village of Realp, starting point for both the Urner traverse and the Tour Soleil. A brief walk through this pretty town gets us to the trailhead where we we head off-piste and climb to the Galenstock Hotel (closed in winter) and then more steeply to the Albert Heim Hut. The first day is modest enough that we generally have time to venture further up valley and ski the Chli Bielenhorn (2940M - 9646’) or tour higher to the Obere Bielenlücke (3248M - 10656’).
Day 1 stats: Gain = +1042M - 3419’, Loss = -38M - 128’ Distance = 5.1km - 3.2 miles
Day 2: Albert Heim to Chelenalp Hut (2350M - 7710’)
We leave early and descend to reach the start of the skin up Lochberg (3074 M - 10085’). In most conditions we will ascend to the Winterlücke (2852M - 9357’) and then put our skis on our backs and use crampons to ascend the final 200+ meters to the summit. Alternately we can access the summit via the Lochberglücke (2814M - 9232’) and then skin up the small glacier on the north side. There are a variety of good options from the summit of the Lochberg, all requiring decent stability, for the nearly 1300 meter (4265') descent to the Goscheneralp dam. We then ski up valley 6 km - 3.75 miles to the lovely Chelenalp Hut.
Day 2 stats: Gain = +1300M - 4265’, Loss -1486 M - 4875’, Distance = 12km - 7.5 miles
Day 3: Chelan Alp to Steingletscher Hotel (1865 M - 6119’)
This is a great day. We begin climbing directly from the hut and eventually gain the Sustenlimi at 3078 M - 10098' gateway to the massive Steingletscher. It is possible to ski directly from the Sustenlimi or continue to climb to the summit of the Sustenhorn (3502M - 11489’). From either we descend this big glacier for over 1600 meters (5250’) all the way to the Hotel Steingletscher. The descent is quite moderate, but the remote setting and surroundings mark it as one of the great decscents in this part of the alps.
Day 3 stats: Gain +1152 M - 3780’, Loss 1637 M - 5371’ Distance: 11.6 km - 7.2 miles
Day 4: Hotel Steingletscher to Sustli Hut (2257M - 7405')
Today we climb Ober Valley and eventually pass beneath the Fünffingerstock (2994M - 9823’) pass through the Obertal Pass (2970M - 9744’) and descend the Chli Sustli glacier to 1907M (6256’) before climbing 325 meters (1066’) to the Sustli Hut at 2257 M / 7405’. This is a complex bit of terrain and if for some reason it does not work out it is possible to take a heli-bump back up the Sustenlimi and then ski out to the road, but if we have made it this far it generally works out.
Day 4 stats: Gain = 1432M - 4698’, Loss = 1040M - 3412’, Distance = 5.85km - 3.6 miles
Day 5: Sustli Hut to Engelberg-Furenalp (1083M - 3553')
On the final day all of our hard work pays off and finishes with a lot more down than up. We leave the hut and traverse up to the Stössensattel (2760 M - 9055’) and then wrap around a glacier to the ridge on Grassen (2946 M - 9665’) before the long and wild descent into the final valley that leads to Engelberg. Mostly north facing, the final leg of our tour drops us over 1837 M - 6000+’) into a large valley leading to Engelberg. Our tour ends at a small ski area called Fürenalp where we catch a short lift into Engelberg.
Day 5 stats: Gain = 663 M - 2175’, Loss = 1837 M - 6026’, Distance = 9.3 km - 5.75 miles
Day 6: We add in an extra day to build some flexibility into the schedule. This day may be taken along the route, at the beginning in Andermatt, or at the end on Engelberg. After a good snow we have been staggered buy the quality of the skiing off the Titlis (3239 M / 10627’) both on piste and off-piste. Engelberg is home to some of the most famous free ride terrain in the Alps with classics such as the Galtiberg, the Laub, the Steintal, and others. How long can your legs last? The skiing is so good you will want to ski from first to last chair.
Urner Haute Route Ski Tour QualificationsSki Ability: The Urner is definitely a step up in terrain from tours such as the Haute Route, Ortler, or Silvretta. If you have skied with us before we can chat and make sure the tour is a good fit for you. The terrain here is a bit tighter and at times steeper than what we experience on some of our other tours. The tour is not extreme in any way, but does require the right combination of a snowpack that we have some confidence in, a relatively strong group, and a flexible attitude if it starts dumping. The good news is that if we get pushed off the tour by heavy snow, there are many places we can visit and take advantage of the snow.
You should feel comfortable skiing with a backpack, skiing a wide variety of snow ranging from powder to breakable crust to corn, and climbing and descending 3500-4500' each day on skis for 5 days. You should have previous experience outside of a ski area. If you can ski all the black diamond terrain at your local ski area and be efficient and remain in control you should be fine. We will use boot crampons, ice axes, harnesses, and ski crampons along the way so some level of familiarity with these items is a must.
Ski Skills AssessmentIt can be difficult to determine where different people are in terms of ski ability without skiing with them in advance of a program. As we don't always have the opportunity to ski together in advance of all trips we have provided the following list so that potential customers can evaluate their ski skills and choose the most appropriate program.
Advanced Ski Skills
- Able to ski fall line in most snow conditions (powder to wind affected snow).
- Able to make parallel or stem-christie turns on 35° groomed or firm snow.
- Able to side-slip on firm slopes up to 40°.
- Able to ski moguls in soft snow.
- Able to do kick turns facing in or facing out on 30° slopes.
- Able to skate on level terrain.
- Able to ski fall-line in tight radius turns in good conditions.
- Able to ski black diamond runs at ski areas efficiently and in most snow conditions.
Physical Condition Evaluation for SkiingSki touring requires a certain basic level of physical fitness to minimize risk and be enjoyable. In addition to a solid base of aerobic conditioning you need to have the basic core strength to ski in a variety of conditions while carrying a ski pack. The best training you can do for ski touring is ski touring. It is best not to go into any extended trip without finding the time to get in a few days of touring in advance to make sure that your feet are conditioned to your boots. Some of the days on this tour require a minimum of 4500 feet of climbing to get from hut to hut. Call us if you have concerns about your fitness.
How do the huts work?In most of the huts we are given dormitory style lodging. Different people have different opinions of hut living. Most nights we are in bed by 9 p.m. and most mornings we are up by 6 am. Most people staying in huts sign up for the dinner and the breakfast option (included in your trip). Dinners are things like pasta, meat, potatoes, a desert, bread, and soup. Breakfast is generally a very simple affair consisting of bread and jam, coffee or tea, and cheese and is designed to get large numbers of people fed and out the door. You purchase water in the huts and it can be surprisingly expensive. In general expect to spend about $5 USD for a liter of water. You can often buy boiled water (made from melted snow or collected rainwater) for about half this. For most huts the supplies are flown by helicopter and thus cost seems to correlate to weight as much as anything.
LuggageWe are planning to start in Andermatt and end in Engelberg. As such we will shuttle a reasonable amount of luggage for you via taxi from our hotel in Andermatt to Engelberg. Don't bring the kitchen sink as space in the luggage transfer is limited, but we can easily get a duffle bag around for you. Ideally your empty ski bag can be folded and placed in the duffel bag. Your guide will assist with this. Secure storage is available at both ends, but other skiers have access to the ski room, so we recommend using a zip-tie or small lock to "keep honest people honest." We do not advise bringing laptops or other fragile valuables as luggage is usually left in a ski room. When Olivia and I travel to Europe we generally take a large wheeled duffle bag (Patagonia Freightliner Max Bag), and a wheeled ski bag. Wheels are the way to go as the trains and train stations in Switzerland are set up well to roll things around. The lighter you go the happier you will be, so pack very carefully.
Insurance ConsiderationsThere are several different types of insurance to consider. Travel insurance can protect all of your non-refundable trip expenses (i.e. guide fees, airline reservations, etc) and in some cases might also provide some rescue insurance. NMS does not carry rescue insurance for its guests. We do carry commercial liability insurance, but you are responsible for the cost of your evacuation if injured.
There is huge variability between insurance policies and providers, and even within policies depending on your residence and citizenship. All of the information provided in this document is only meant to help you start to educate yourself about insurance. It is your responsibility to select the products that provide the amount of coverage that you are comfortable with.
Once you have purchased travel insurance please pass this information on to the NMS office. Also make sure to CARRY YOUR PROOF OF INSURANCE DURING THE TRIP.
Travel InsuranceIn addition to providing you with protection should you have to cancel your trip unexpectedly, some travel insurance policies can cover many other aspects of your trip itself. Examples of possible additional coverage include search & rescue for accidents, medical expenses while traveling, and allowances for lost or delayed luggage.
We are a provider of Travelex travel insurance. The following link will take you to the page on our website which deals with this Travelex insurance information »
Our Location Number is 47-0108. You can purchase insurance from another company but we picked Travelex because they seem most well represented by other mountaineering and ski companies. We have also had customers successfully receive compensation for trips interrupted by family emergencies. This sort of insurance has eased the process for both our customers and ourselves as it seems reasonably priced, and takes much of the financial risk out of the equation for you and for us. In order to be eligible, this insurance needs to be purchased within 21 days of the day we receive your application & deposit. The main site for this insurance is: www.travelex-insurance.com
Please make sure to speak with a representative of Travelex to ensure you select the correct coverage. Some of the policies have exclusions for backcountry skiing or mountaineering so you need to make sure these activities are covered. As we understand it the Travel Select Plan with the added adventure pak is probably what most of our customers will need.
Rescue InsuranceIf you don't buy travel insurance that includes rescue insurance you may need to consider adding some other policy to cover this. The list below is by no means comprehensive but should give you a starting point for looking into this. In Europe the cost of rescue is payable on the spot (unlike the US), and can be very expensive.
REGA provides very good rescue services: www.rega.ch. You can become a patron of REGA online. This service will only cover non-Swiss citizens during the time that they are on Swiss soil. If you are in Switzerland and need to be rescued this should be the most seamless service.
Members of the American Alpine Club (AAC) are automatically enrolled in Global Rescue (GR). The cost for an AAC membership is $75 per year or $125 per year for couples. Follow this link to learn more about Global Rescue. This seems like a good way to go as they have evidently dropped a requirement that Global Rescue be called first in the event of an accident and they raised the payout from $5000 to $10000. We recommend joining the American Alpine Club simply to get this additional insurance. Be sure to bring your card with you on the trip as you will need it if you need to be evacuated or assisted.
Austrian Alpine Club: This provides a good rescue insurance option. Most American's that go this route purchase their insurance through the UK branch of the Austrian Alpine Club. Cost for 2013 was £43.50 for those born between 1953 and 1987, £33.50 for those born before 1953, and lower amounts for people born from 1994 onward. There is also a family membership. Last we checked this covered you in Austria for the year enrolled as well as worldwide up to 6000 meters.
We generally advise folks to cary Travelex for their primary cancellation or trip interruption insurance and then back this up with one of the Alpine Club memberships. Please note that while we work hard to provide good advice here and in our pre-trip information it is ultimately your responsibility to obtain insurance, understand the policy, and decide for yourself how much insurance you need. As we have gotten older and are now parents we have noticed that we prefer to carry more insurance than we used to.