Abfahrt mit Tourenski auf der Bündner Haute Route.

Winter sports

Ski tour: the Bündner Haute Route

Marketing, Zurich Office
© Fotos

Isolated peaks, rustic huts, unspoilt powder snow – ski crossings are the supreme discipline for every ski tourer. Spend four days on the Bündner Haute Route with Bergschule Höhenfieber (Höhenfieber mountaineering school).

Mountain guide Paul is hardcore: ‘We’re expecting a storm to arrive tomorrow at midday, so we’ve got to make sure we reach the hut by then. Up at ten to four, then out the door at quarter to six.’ It’s the first evening of our four-day ski tour through the Engadine with Bergschule Höhenfieber. In the morning, our group – seven Transa employees, a 4-Seasons editor and Paul our mountain guide – takes the lift from Zuoz to Pizzet at 2,465 metres.

With the mighty Piz Kesch to our left, we escape the busy ski resort under our own steam and head toward the secluded mountain realm of Graubünden. In glorious sunshine, we reach the first summit of the tour in no time. The panorama of the 2,821 metre-high Piz Belvair gives us a first glimpse of what we can expect over the next few days: a snow-covered winter wonderland and stunning peaks as far as the eye can see.

  • Ski tour, someone making a kick turn.

    First kick turns on the route to Piz Belvair.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Ski tourers on the first summit of the Bündner Haute Route, Piz Surgonda.

    Piz Surgonda is the first summit of the Bündner Haute Route.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Two people on touring skis enjoying the descent.

    Rapid descent with Piz Kesch in the background.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi

Despite the breathtaking views, nobody wants to spend too much time at the summit, such is the anticipation of those first few turns in the pristine snow. As we alternate between powder and corn snow, the surface softened in places by the sun, we wend our way down, with varying degrees of elegance, to Chamanna d’Es-cha, a rustic mountain hut. Just as hut warden Michael serves up cheese, dried meat and white wine, Paul jumps in with his schedule for the next day. The roles of good cop, bad cop are clearly defined here.

Joking aside, safety is of course the main priority on any tour in the mountains. Our tour may not include the steepest couloirs or the most difficult peaks, but we’re still navigating in high Alpine terrain. Not everyone in our group would attempt the Graubünden Haute Route without a mountain guide, but we’ve been in good hands with Paul from the off. We understand that weather conditions can change in an instant and good time management is a vital part of tour planning. So, after dinner and with barely a peep, we crawl into bed at half past eight.

The early bird catches the worm

In any case, if we’d known what kind of a spectacle awaited us the next day, we’d probably have crawled out of bed half an hour earlier of our own accord. In the light of our headlamps, we put on our climbing harnesses and attach climbing skins to our skis. The dark and early start creates a special type of atmosphere – there’s adventure in the air. Barely a word is exchanged during the first few hours of the ascent, which is moderate at first and then gets steeper. The wind is already picking up, blowing harder and harder around our noses. We pull our storm hoods over our faces and silently move forward, one foot in front of the other.

  • Gruppe einer Skitour kommen bei der Hütte Es-cha an.

    Arrival at Chamanna d’Es-cha.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Es-cha Hütte in der Nacht.

    The Es-cha hut at night.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Eine Gruppe von Personen auf einer Skitour. Sie sitzen am Tisch in einer Hütte, in der Mitte liegt eine Karte ausgebreitet.

    The group is busy planning the next day of the tour.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi

And then, just as we reach a small ridge below Porta d’Es-cha, the sun suddenly rises. The first rays bathe the entire landscape in a majestic light – any fatigue soon fades away. As Tinu, Transa hardware buyer and experienced ski tourer, later says: ‘That magical sunrise in the gathering storm was my personal highlight and something I won’t forget in a hurry!’

Tip: Maintaining your ski skins

There’s nothing worse than having snow build-up on your skins! This happens because the skins are damp, which leads to small snow crystals forming in the cold resulting in a build-up of snow. You should therefore waterproof your skins regularly, either with a spray or by simply rubbing some wax over the skin in the direction of the skin before every tour. Tip: choose a wax product that you can use to wax the ski base and skins.

Following a rapid descent from Porta d’Es-cha, we climb again in the shadow of Piz Kesch to tackle its little brother, Kesch Pitschen. We welcome the fact that the wind has died down a little at the 2,990-metre summit, allowing us the chance to enjoy the panorama. A brisk and powdery descent brings us to the Kesch hut in good time before the storm gathers pace again. We make the most of the conditions for an avalanche awareness update. First theoretically from the comfort of the hut, then in real terms outside in the storm. We reward ourselves with some Bündner Nusstorte (Graubünden nut pie) and finally find out why Zoli’s packed such a massive backpack as sausage, cheese and a decent-sized fruitcake land on the table. But we’re about to have dinner …

  • Skitourengeher bei der Abfahrt über den Porchabella Gletscher

    Descent across the Porchabella Glacier.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Eine Gruppe von Tourenskifahrern auf dem Kesch Pitschen.

    The group reaches Kesch Pitschen.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Keschhütte bei Nacht.

    The modern Kesch hut at night.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Skitour: Abfahrt, der Schnee stiebt, im Hintergrund sieht man Berggipfel.

    Descent in powder snow spray.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi

The more the merrier

The agenda for the third day includes 1,000 metres of elevation. But first a flat descent through the deserted Val Funtauna awaits. Our only company – a few chamois watching on as we skin up in the run-off area of some wet snow avalanches before we tackle the long ascent to the Scalettahorn (3,068 m). Paul has a good feel for the group at this stage, setting a pace that allows everyone to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and solitude. We make a short but crisp descent before proceeding up to Fuorcla Vallorgia at the foot of the rugged Piz Grialetsch. Between us and the Grialetsch hut lie 500 metres of powder snow. Our colourful gang has now become a close-knit team. We manoeuvre side by side on the unspoilt slopes, swap positions and can’t resist the odd powder whoop.

While we had the Kesch hut all to ourselves the previous day, the same could not be said of the Grialetsch hut. Hanspeter, the hut warden, is busy trying to feed all the hungry mouths of his guests. Transa buyer Martina is quick to lend a helping hand with the washing up – as a thank you, we get a schnapps on the house.

White rush

Ascent of 700 metres, 1,750 metres descent, three hours of walking, no breaks. These facts and figures from the last day of the tour are enough to make a freerider’s heart leap with anticipation. On the steep and frozen western flank of Piz Sarsura, we take out our ice picks and crampons one last time. Soon we reach the 3,132-metre-high winter summit – the highest point of our Haute Route. Below us lie the glacier and the snow-covered Val Sarsura. The increasingly bumpy terrain becomes our playground. Short turns, long turns, little jumps – in an almost trance-like state, we slice our skis through the seemingly endless waves of snow. What a finale! ‘Well, did I promise you too much?’ asks Paul, as we undo our bindings at Hauptstrasse 27 near Crastatscha. Rahel laughs: ‘No, but after that short first night, I think you owed us something!’

  • Auf Skitour: Aufstieg zum Piz Sarsura

    Ascent toward Piz Sarsura.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Bündner Haute Route: zwei Skitourer auf der Abfahrt nach Susch

    The last descent takes us to Susch.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
Go straight to the route plan here.

The Bündern Haute Route – the agenda

Flying up and down through unspoilt powder snow – the ‘Haute Route Graubünden’ boasts secluded trails through the Engadine.

Requirements: You’re well-versed in ski touring and deep snow. You can master steeper passages, both uphill and downhill. You can do kick turns with ease and your physical fitness can handle four hours of ascent and elevation gains of up to 1,200 metres. You’re comfortable at a pace of around 300 metres of elevation gain per hour. Crampon experience is not a prerequisite for this tour.

Day 1: Journey to Zuoz and from the ski resort continue on to Piz Belvair (2,821 m), then leave for Chamanna d’Es-cha.

Day 2: From Kesch Pitschen (2,990 m) via Porta d’Es-cha and descend toward the Kesch hut.

Day 3: Through secluded valleys toward Scalettahorn (3,068 m) and continue on to the Grialetsch hut.

Day 4: Final leg of the tour toward Piz Sarsura (3132 m) and descent into Lower Engadine, followed by journey home in the afternoon.

Overnight accommodation: Official SAC huts including Chamanna d’Es-cha, Keschhütte and Grialetschhütte. Overnight stay in bed with duvets. Price CHF 895 p.p. (3 nights’ bed, 3 x half board, touring tea, 10% shopping voucher at Transa). Four to eight guests per mountain guide. Additional costs: journey by cable car to Piz Belvair costs approx. CHF 22, plus personal beverages, snacks for four days and rental equipment if applicable (please contact Höhenfieber directly or stop by one of our branches).

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