Meet my mountain man: How ski guides can help you get more out of your snow expedition
Saturday 16 January 2010
Klaus Jehle is no ordinary ski instructor. In St Anton, he has near mythical status. Regular clients book him by name and guard him jealously. In fact, people arrange their holidays around Jehle 's availability. He's so good that he teaches the course that already very good instructors have to pass to qualify for the top level of Austrian ski instructors. If this were football, he would be coaching Sir Alex Ferguson to coach. And he makes fantastic honey.
Jehle is also a ski guide, and one of the best in the Alps. At €60 a day he is also one of the best value, so I could come back for more.
St Anton provides first-class skiing and has a legendary après-ski location: the MooserWirt, a place where the price of beer is high and the music is loud. By 4pm it's jammed. I showed a group of likely-looking Norwegians and Swedes (you know the type: rucksacks, helmets, the latest kit) where I had skied with Jehle. They seemed impressed. Of course, they had skied the off-piste area next to the Zammermoos lift and had cut some virgin trails from the Valluga lift. But we had skied two ridges beyond the extremities of the piste map.
Guides are adept at finding the best snow and the least crowded areas. They provide tips along the way to improve your skiing, and take you away from the up, down, up, down of the resort, opening up a whole new range of mountain experiences. "I need to make sure everyone skis quickly," Jehle announces as he plunges down 200m of challenging terrain in high-speed turns. He is making sure that the newcomers today can keep up. On the days I skied with Jehle, his other clients were all perfectly capable of finding the sort of off piste that any reasonable recreational skier can spot from the chair lift. What they were paying for was someone who would take them beyond this, to find the most radical un-skied terrain going. Crucial to this was doing it in safety.
After checking the snow, Jehle skips past the "Avalanche Danger" signs. At times, his instructions were to follow precisely in his tracks. At other times we were told to allow a gap between skiers. "More people to dig," he explains. Better one person is buried so the rest can dig them out.
Later comes a different order: "Fifty metres!" he shouts. A much bigger gap than usual. I pass the message on and look anxiously at the slope. Is this a slope he knows can slip? Not much time to think, Jehle is 50m away and I need to make sure I don't lose him.
At other times Jehle's instructions were simply to pick a line and let rip. We skied through trees, across huge open fields of powder, along forest tracks – and all with that wonderfully remote sensation that comes from skiing without a chair lift anywhere to be seen.
Guides need to know their patch inside out: they should know the angle of every slope relative to the sun, the history of that winter's snowfall and the direction of the prevailing winds. All this is crucial in finding clients the best spots to match their skiing. There is nothing wrong with cruising down prepared pistes for a week, but a day with a top guide can help you to get a lot more out of your skiing holiday.
So if you've got the legs to keep up and you can find him, give Jehle a call. I guarantee that you will remember this as one of your top five ski days ever – and all for less than a round of drinks in the Mooserwirt.
To book Klaus Jehle as your ski instructor, contact Ski School Arlberg (00 43 5446 3411; skischool-arlberg.com ). To ski off piste you must have proper equipment, including an avalanche beeper, shovel and probe. St Anton tourist office (00 43 5446 22690; stantonamarlberg.com )
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