The White Rush: Searching For Snow Traces In The Dolomites

Words by Hannah Finkel. Photos by Franz Walter.

The mountains have always been there. And they always will, even when we’re gone. The reason that drives us on our skis in the snow-capped mountains has always been the same.

It feels like gliding weightlessly over an untouched mantle of snow. Glittering ice crystals swirl up in the clear mountain air by a pair of skis and obscure the view for a moment. The joy of skiing in front of the imperiously dominant mountain range of Pale di San Martino, in the heart of the World Heritage Dolomites, are caused by skiing in white gold. This is a summary of an extraordinary journey on skis back to the beginning of alpine skiing in San Martino di Castrozza.

The wind is pulling violently at my heavy, ankle-length skirt. Ice crystals are attaching to my knitted Janker, instead of being repelled as usual at my GORE-tex jacket. Only my warm functional underwear made from a thick wool fleece mixture prevents me from freezing. Nevertheless, I’m cold, very cold. White rush? No way. Instead, we are waiting for further instructions from the photographer. I’m looking over to my partner, who’s playing the male part in our wayward project à la Normanno Tavernaro. According to his countenance, he seems to feel the same in his knickerbockers and the old pullover jacket. The tension is growing because the very first line has to be taken…

What was it, that people had driven in the snow-capped mountains nearly 100 years ago? That question had brought us to the idea of this unconventional self-experiment. So we chose the small alpine capital of San Martino di Castrozza at the foot of the Pale di San Martino in the Dolomites of Trento for our role play and place of our research.

In the lobby of the Romantik Hotel Regina in central San Martino we meet Narci Simion, an old-established, local mountain guide. The interior of the hotel exudes an elegant atmosphere. In every corner there are items from a bygone era: Antique furniture, heavy curtains, bulky pillows and blankets, old-fashioned toys, slide, stuffed animals and even rocking horses in all variations. It is hard to avert one’s gaze from this special and somehow crazy decoration. Tradition as far as the eye can reach and the perfect source of inspiration for our project.

Narci, the mountain guide, immediately begins to tell: About the long tourist tradition in the region, the first ski instructors in San Martino di Castrozza, like the co-founder Normanno Tavernaro. In December 1932 Tavernaro was one of the first locals, who successfully completed the ski instructor training in Clavière in Piedmont chaired by the Norwegian Kjelberg. Narci describes the challenging tests, the prospective ski instructors had to pass in those days: The audit committee tested the candidate’s impeccable demonstration of the telemark and stem turn, the Cristiania technique and the parallel skiing technique as well as cross-country skiing. Also ski gymnastics, first aid, topography and meteorology were part of the exams in those days. Finally 24 of primarily 82 candidates were able to complete the sophisticated education successfully. And even before Normanno Taverno could keep the ski instructor diploma in his hands, he was already founding the first ski school in San Martino di Castrozza to spread the fascination of skiing together with other Maestri di sci.

In the following days we immerse in the fascination of skiing during the 1930s with the help of ancient, original ski requisites. Consciously we were turning our backs on the ski areas and lifts. Far away from the bustle, we set out with our wooden skis, leather boots and ancient wool dresses on an exciting search at the foot of Pale di San Martino. Our equipment consists of two pairs of wooden skis with rusted steel bindings by Kandahar, traditional poles with leather handles and straps, also two pairs of leather boots and original ski dresses of the 1930s: The lady is wearing a heavy skirt, because a woman in pants didn’t behove in those days. In addition a hand-knitted cardigan from heavy wool, a voluminous scarf and a pair of thick woolen gloves as well as cuffs against cold fingers and toes. For skiing the man is wearing a heavy knickerbocker pants made of tight corduroy, a leger ski pullover and above a durable, old pullover jacket, mittens and knitted knee socks. On the head a traditional hat with earflaps. Finally we pack a thermos with hot tea and warm functional underwear in the ancient backpack for the case of emergency.

The majestic and elegant mountains rise imperiously around me. My eyes are wandering across the peaks. It won’t be long and the Pale di San Martino blushes like young lovers in the dusk. The spectacular phenomenon is called alpenglow, in Ladin “Enrosadira”. With our wooden skis we were ski touring from the shoulder of Cima Rosetta in the heart of the Pala mountain group towards Altipiano delle Pale. Altipiano is a stony plateau located at 2700 m, whose impressive mountain atmosphere exerts a mysterious attraction to us. Immediately we agree: Up there we will find the perfect setting for our action and search of traces.

I’m taking my wooden poles and push two times forward to pick up speed. Carefully I start turning in my old, loose leather boots on my two metres wooden skis. Wobbly I’m shifting the weight to manoeuvre the skis out of direction in this loose cable bindings – There’s no sign of elegance. Anyway, I have trouble to control my balance and the speed. My fellow companion doesn’t fare better. Probably a bit too boisterous he is trying to perform the turns with the help of a curious jump technique. Again and again he’s fighting his way back out of the snow afterwards. The biting cold is suddenly blown away. Every single successful turn is motivating us incredibly. Proudly we surmise that our peculiar „ski-and-crash-technique“ – starting in downhill mode and for stopping let yourself fall down into the snow – bears analogy to a stem turn or the Cristiania technique. We begin to enjoy the game. Our joyful chants echoed in the fascinating mountain landscape. Tireless we are fighting ourselves up the snow-covered moderate slopes just to benefit once again from the joyful downhill.

As the rocks and snow fields around the peaks were already lighten in yellow and red colours by the low sun, I stop for a moment: Since decades countless people were marvel at this impressive spectacle in this mysterious mountain scenery. This mountain landscape will survive us, because it was here when we came. And it will be here when we are gone. Really, we’re just a blink in time finding our own lines to happiness. Or let’s say: The white rush.

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The battle for the crown of the Arc’teryx King of Dolomites is on! This Feb 16-19, international photographers, skiers and snowboarders will gather for the fifth time in San Martino di Castrozza on the hunt for the best freeride shot. Surrounded by the majestic scenery of the Pale di San Martino, this freeride paradise is the perfect backdrop for the unique contest. New for 2017 is an Open Qualifying Stage in Moena (ITA).

To find out more and register, visit kingofdolomites.com

#kingofdolomites, #kod2017

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