Perfect Intro To Alpine Ski Touring In Switzerland

snow action team 02.02.2023

The newly renovated SAC Grialetsch hut is surrounded by striking mountain peaks in the backcountry between Davos, the Flüalapass and the Lower Engadine in Switzerland. It’s the perfect starting point for a beginner alpine ski tour on the Piz Grialetsch.

Writer Franz Thomas Balmer & Photographer Martin Bissig checked it out on a 2 day adventure.

Hauling up © Martin Bissig

Sometimes you just have to dare to try something new. If you’ve done any ski touring, you’ve no doubt entertained thoughts of exploring higher altitudes. Alpine ski touring would be the perfect way to take this to a whole new level. It would be a total change of scenery. 

The train has just pulled into Davos. We quickly hop onto the bus taking us into the side valley of Dischma, fleeing the hustle and bustle of Europe’s highest-lying city, located at an altitude of 1,560 meters. Teufi is a pleasant contrast, and when we get off the bus, our local alpine guide, Adrian Rätz, is waiting for us. Hard to believe that we were in the city just a few minutes ago. We quickly check our gear, and then we’re off. After just a few meters, sweat is already streaming down my face. Hardly surprising! Unlike a regular ski tour, our backpacks are weighted down with full glacier equipment: crampons, a climbing belt, a rope and ice picks. We slowly and steadily climb through the deep snow, following a track steeped in history. We have just reached the hamlet of Dürrboden, once an important station on the trade route from Davos via the Scaletta Pass to the Engadine and on to the Valtellina in Italy. Over hundreds of years, this route was used to transport salt from Tyrol and Venice and wine from Valtellina. We take a short break to catch our breath. Our alpine guide gestures with his stick, pointing up. The flanks of Piz Grialetsch are bathed in sunlight. 

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountain peaks. An alpine ski tour in the backcountry of Davos is an unforgettable experience.

Well worth it © Martin Bissig

A small jewel in the middle of nowhere
The route takes us along the valley floor to the confluence of the Furggabach and through the depression in an easterly direction up to the alpine lake of Furggasee to Fuorcla da Grialetsch, at an elevation of 2,536 meters. Suddenly, civilization seems so far away Though we haven’t reached our destination, I feel as though I’m already there. We hear nothing but the meditative click-click of our binding. We are the only ones winding our way up the hilly terrain. I feel a bit like the societal dropout Chris McCandless in the cult classic “Into the Wild.” My thoughts turn to a passage in his book when we trek past rugged rock formations in the middle of nowhere:  “…there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon.” So true. 

We are the only ones winding our way up the hilly terrain.

Suddenly, there it is – the Grialetsch hut © Martin Bissig

Suddenly, there it is, off in the distance: the Grialetsch hut. The new roof with its solar panels is reflecting the spring sun. The SAC hut was fully renovated in 2021; renovations included a wooden addition. The results are easy to see. This new chapter in the hut’s history was also marked by a new hut warden couple. After over 34 years, Hanspeter Reiss passed the torch to Werner and Tanja Schweizer. They greet us warmly on our arrival. The first thing we do is remove our shoes and socks and put them in the sun to dry. Werner brings us a tray of cold cuts, cheese, bread and a glass of his homemade elderberry syrup. Heavenly. From the Grialetsch hut’s patio we overlook the Piz Sarsura Pitschen, which continues to glow in the afternoon sun while the mountains cast their shadow over us. The temperatures drop, and we move inside. We slide our feet into our slippers, which we find on a shelf just inside the entrance, tidily arranged by size. Unbeknownst to us, we are about to travel through time. 

The Swiss call them “huts”, but they are much more .. © Martin Bissig

Unexpected time travel
Time to check our status, or maybe post a story, or upload a new profile photo. Or maybe not. No cell signal. We’re in a dead zone. But actually, it’s not a bad thing. We quickly put our phones back in our pockets, get ourselves a beer and join the other hostel guests. The atmosphere is a bit like it was before the days of social media, when you would chat with fellow travelers at the hostel bar. Simple and uncomplicated. We’re overcome by nostalgia. One person tells us that they’d tried to summit the Piz Grialetsch that day. Unfortunately, snow conditions weren’t good and they returned to the alpine hut. Maybe we’ll have better luck tomorrow. Spring conditions change constantly. We head to bed shortly after our supper. One last look out the window: The mountain peaks are purple in the evening light. 

Not having a cell signal at the Grialetsch hut feels like traveling back in time. Just like in the days before social media. It’s so nice.

We’re the first group to leave the hut the next morning, our headlamps strapped in place. The trail takes us to the Grialetsch Glacier. It suddenly becomes clear that we’re on an alpine tour: Adi, our alpine guide, shows us how to tie a figure-eight knot and ropes us all together. Better safe than sorry. The climb is steep and we move straight towards a small passage right underneath the Piz Grialetsch. We circle around the summit and bear north by 90 degrees, climb up onto a shoulder, and leave our skis there. 

Dawn departure © Martin Bissig

From maximum focus to total summit bliss

We scramble up the steep southern flank of Piz Grialetsch with our ice picks and crampons. Click. Click. Our crampons do their job and we slowly clamber up through the snow, one step at a time. The route takes us along a narrow ridge. We do our best not to look down. My palms feel sweaty. My fingers tightly grasp the ice pick. Inhale. I carefully place one foot before the other. Exhale. Just a few more meters. We made it! We’re on the summit at 3,131 m above sea level. I slowly turn my head. We are surrounded by an icy landscape of glaciers: to our north, the steep Scalettagletscher, to the east the Vadret da Grialetsch and to the south, the Vadret Vallorgia. I can feel my heartbeat. Moments like this make happiness feel almost tangible.

What a view: to our north, the steep Scalettagletscher, to the east the Vadret da Grialetsch and to the south, the Vadret Vallorgia. I can feel my heartbeat.

What goes up comes down! © Martin Bissig

A fabulous descent back to Dürrboden
Our good fortune continues. The conditions on the descent are amazing and for the most part, there are no signs of tracks. We don’t have to be told twice. Off with the skins and down we go. The snow feels better than expected – a layer of powder on top of hard-packed corn snow. A truly fabulous descent back to Dürrboden.

From here we once again need to rely on muscle power. We channel our inner Dario Cologna (four-time Olympic gold Swiss cross-country skier) and hobble back to Teufi on our skis. Not as easy as we thought. The spring sun beats down relentlessly, the sweat is real. We all contemplate how nice it would feel to cool off in the river nearby. After about 40 minutes, we’re back in Teufi. Back where our adventure started the day before. We’re left with memories of summit bliss, our trek through remote landscapes, the unforgettable atmosphere of the alpine hut, and the exhilaration of our final descent. The magic of alpine ski touring.

Check out more of Martin Bissig’s great shots on his website here

Tour Info:

Stage 1: Teufi – SAC Grialetsch hut

– Level of difficulty: L (easy ski tour)

– Vertical meters: 850 m

– Duration: 4 hours

The tour starts in the Dischma side valley at Teufi (1,700 m) and takes you up the cleared road into the valley until you reach the parking lot just after Gulerigen Hus. From there, continue along the alpine trail to Dürrboden, 2,004 m above sea level. Continue along the valley floor to the confluence of Furggabach. Go through the depression in an easterly direction up to the alpine lake of Furggasee to Fuorcla da Grialetsch (2,536 m) and then head southeast across the hilly, rocky terrain until you reach the hut.

Note: In fog, the path through the rock-strewn terrain is hard to find.

Stage 2: SAC Grialetsch hut– Piz Grialetsch – Dürrboden – Teufi

– Level of difficulty: ZS (very difficult ski tour)

– Vertical meters: 600 m

– Duration: 3 hours

From the Grialetsch hut (2,540 m), the route to Chilbiritzenspitze crosses a moraine terrace and heads up to the shoulder (3,020 m) to the south of Piz Grialetsch. Continue along the southern flank for as long as you can on your skis. Ski depot. Continue on foot to the Piz Grialetsch summit (3,130 m). A long, worthwhile descent back to the Dischma. There are several options on the northern face depending on ski conditions.

Note: This route takes you across a glacier, which is why taking glacier gear in addition to your skiing gear is a must.

Getting there

Davos is easily accessible by road or rail from Zurich international airport. Transfer times from Zurich are around two hours by road or two hours 40 minutes by rail.

Required gear

Complete ski touring gear, silk sleeping bag for your overnight stay in the hut, crampons, helmet, ice pick and glacier gear.

Accommodations for the alpine tour

SAC Grialetsch hut

Tel. +41 81 416 34 36, grialetsch.ch

Tip: Reserving a spot in advance is recommended

Restaurant tip after your tour

This alpine ski tour starts and ends at the “Restaurant Teufi” in Dischmatal. Tip: The homemade rösti with cheese, pancetta and fried egg.

Select Ski Hotels 

The “Ski-Hotel” seal includes over 20 accommodations in the Davos Klosters area that work together for skiers and snowboarders. They have attractive deals that include a ski pass. One of their special services includes being able to pick up ski passes at the hotel’s front desk. Perfect for before or after your ski tour.

Other ski touring tips

Davos Klosters, with its side valleys and, in particular, the Flüelapass, a favorite ski touring destination from December to April. Spring is the ideal time for alpine ski tours. Detailed tour descriptions, tips, guides and information on rentals: davos.ch/skitouren or klosters.ch/skitouren

For the latest Swiss travel info check the official site here

Check out more Swiss resorts & the Glacier Express

• Engelberg-Titlis
• Jungfrau Region (Grindelwald / Wengen / MÜrren)
• Villars / Gryon / Les Diablerets / Glacier 3000
• Gstaad
• Verbier / 4-Vallées
• Take a shot at the Murren Inferno race.
• Glacier Express