Photos by Carlos Blanchard
Mitch Toelderer shares the inspiration for Whiteroom Productions’ award winning movie ’When The Mountains Were Wild - A freeride journey to the Albanian Alps.’ Mitch’s project was supported by the 2015 Jones Adventure Grant. Full length movie at end of story.
Every Winter has the same seasonal rhythm for me. After a few months off the snow, my season normally starts in early autumn when the first major snowfall has me digging out my splitboard to experience the fresh, white wonderland and my first powder turns. As the snowpack builds, I love to stay at home and stack days riding the side country of my home mountain. Mid-way through the winter the next seasonal phase inspires me to go out touring and ride new local objectives that i’ve had on the radar for a while.
When exploring new terrain, preparations start with a good map of the region. Luckily Klaus found this old Russian map somewhere online and plotted it big.
But it’s the last phase of winter that gets me the most excited. My season hits full stride when I get the burning desire to explore and discover a totally new range or zone, somewhere totally wild that may not have even seen ski tracks before.
It took me several days to scout out the access to this line. I unlocked it by climbing up the backside and caught last light of the day on one of the final days of the trip.
All of the infrastructure in the Central European Alps like roads, ski-lifts, huts and avalanche safety reports makes it really easy and comfortable to access great touring, climbing and freeriding terrain. Some of the ’huts’ feel more like hotels then mere shelter for mountaineers. The price we pay for all this comfort and easy access in the Central European alps is that we have sacrificed pristine mountain wilderness for it.
Halfway to our basecamp we dug out this little shepherd hut to spend a night in and hopefully dry out. We tried to run the stove for two hours to dry our stuff but couldn’t make it work.
Researching for a place to experience rich and unfettered mountain wilderness in Europe meant looking for a place with no ski resorts or winter tourism, a place that would allow us to pack our car and travel back in time, to experience what it was like in the central European alps before mass tourism took over.
Imagine you are climbing and riding all day far away from the rest of the world and all of a sudden you see this unreal sunny finger indicating the perfect spot for the perfect turn. Thanks Carlos and Jakob for capturing this magic moment.
At the same time we were also searching for a place with unique and challenging mountains with good odds for good snow conditions. After detailed research, one range stood out, the “Accursed Mountains” of the North Albanian Alps.
Some of these little farms are inhabited all year, but are cut off from civilization during the winter.
With the wish to keep that project as simple as possible and with minimal impact, the plan was to fill up my van with the crew and gear and drive to Albania. The whole crew was out of Innsbruck, skier/mountaineer Klaus Zwirner, Jakob Schweighofer and Johannes Hoffmann from the Whiteroom Productions, Photographer Carlos Blanchard and myself. We geared up ready for anything winter might throw at us and hit the road. Our plan was simple, go on a journey to a place and time when the mountains were wild….