With five major resorts and vast expanses of rugged backcountry peaks in between, the St.Anton am Arlberg region of Austria is a freerider’s paradise. Snowboard guide Bas Elhorst of Black Sheep Snowboard School has been shredding around the Arlberg for nearly two decades and knows every summit, couloir and tree glade like the local topo maps were tattooed on the inside of his eyelids.
Beyond stoked to begin working with Bas as a new Jones ambassador guide. Not only can Bas take you to the Arlberg’s trophy lines, he can help you become a ripping rider in every snowboard discipline - piste, powder, backcountry or freestyle.
Looking ahead to an inspiring winter in the Arlberg, here’s a trip report from one of Bas’ best days of splitboarding last season. Bas and two partners laid tracks down one of the rowdiest faces in his backyard - the Black Wall.
Left - The Black Wall and it’s imposing couloirs. Right - Looking down the Black Wall from the top.
The winter of 2017 was a very tricky season for riding backcountry in the Arlberg. We had a mediocre winter with an inconsistent snowpack so we had to be very patient and get creative to find good snow in this busy range.
The season started off really strong with 80cm of snow in November. Then we had some big Föhnstorms that brought wind speeds up to 120 km/h and deposited sketchy wind slabs. December was cold and extremely dry which made the snowpack even scarier and unpredictable with a layer of ice and surface hoar found on many aspects. We call such bad layers an “Alt-Schnee” problem and it has the potential to last all season. Thankfully the Arlberg tends to heal such bad layers quicker then other regions of the Alps as the mountains aren’t quite as high altitude and we get thicker layers of snow. Last year this was the case as we got some great powder storms in January that stabilized the snowpack and filled in some of the steeper lines.
By the middle of February the snowpack had stabilized enough to start looking at bigger lines. Weather and conditions lined up to attempt one of the more iconic faces in our region, the Black Wall.
The Black Wall is a special face. There are plenty of other north east facing 40-45 degree slopes around St.Anton, but none other hold lines quite like the Black Wall. The wall is home to two of the longest couloirs in the Arlberg with walls to surf so big you’ll think your surfing Nazareth. One of the couloirs bends around in a big S and the second, steeper line drops straight down. There’s also a few couloirs that dead end on big cliffs, so you better know which one you are standing above before you drop in.
Our tour to the Black Wall took around 6 hours and started with a few chairlifts. After leaving the resort boundaries we toured for an hour and then rode down a fun short line that was the perfect warm up. This brought us to a scenic spot in an glacial bowl with great powder snow. From there we skinned for another hour and a half through flowing terrain with steep walls on all sides. Eventually we had to ditch the skins and start bootpacking up a steep north facing couloir that takes you up onto the ridge of the Black Wall. Climbing the exposed ridge is the last challenge before topping out and looking down the line.
We found amazing conditions in the couloir - deep, stable blower pow. This is what our dreams are made of! Riding wild lines, with good friends, when the conditions line up just right. Here’s to a winter of many more days like these in 2018.
Connect with Bas at BlackSheepSnowboardSchool.com