What can these boards do?

Offtrack skis are basically part of Thomas Ulrich’s own feet at this point. The Swiss adventurer has logged thousands of kilometers on them, mostly in the Arctic, at the North Pole, in Greenland, really anywhere there is endless snow and ice. Skate skis come out of the gear closet somewhat rarely. However, they’re part of the mix on this winter day in the Bernese Highlands, known locally as the Berner Oberland. Thomas wants to let a group of kids explore the full range of what these narrow skis can do. The little Nordic skiers are eager to show him what they find fun about this type of skiing, while Thomas plans to take them away from the prepared tracks to where he most enjoys seeking out challenges.

The Swiss municipality of Gadmen sits in an alpine valley that exudes a special magic in winter. The Susten Pass above it is closed then, so traffic is limited to a few locals and some outdoor enthusiasts. The cross country trails themselves are full of variety, and just beyond them begins what even in Switzerland can still be described as wilderness. The Wendenstöcke mountains are part of this fantastic landscape. These imposing walls of stone resemble the Dolomites and are home to numerous extremely difficult climbing routes. Thomas Ulrich spent countless hours on these rock faces, gaining the hard-won knowledge that allowed him in later years to carry out some of the most demanding expeditions imaginable.

“Were you really at the North Pole with these skis?”, asks Lars, a Swiss youngster who’s a huge fan of Norwegian skiers, as he points in disbelief at a pair of green skis Thomas is taking out of his car. It’s shift change now, as the skate skis disappear into the trunk and out come the adventure skis. Ulrich spent the previous two hours with Lars, Emma, and Tim, checking out every centimeter of the tracks, staging impromptu competitions, especially downhill races. Thomas, who raced in his younger years, isn’t easy to shake on the descents, but is clearly breathing hard on the uphills. “I haven’t done this in a while. Definitely a mistake!”, he says after a round of skate skiing. Any time he’s prepping for a long expedition he’ll include Nordic skiing in his training regimen. Though he admits with a laugh that his technique may possibly have some room for improvement. It’s just the opposite on Offtrack skis, where he feels right at home and can keep pace with nearly anyone. “These skis are just a part of me,” he says. “I can’t even count the number of days I’ve logged on them all over the world.”

Thomas has various Offtrack models with him and quickly sorts out who starts with which ski - wide ones, narrow ones, longer or shorter. Then they head out cross-country, in whatever direction they please, through the underbrush, up the slope, or along the creek, anything goes. Emma is excited, with comfortable boots, and her skis light and maneuverable, totally different from the heavy gear used for Alpine skiing. And thanks to the Offtrack Crown traction base, skiers can cruise anywhere they like, uphill or downhill. If needed, skins can be mounted for even more climbing grip. Thomas immediately goes into a short overview of the history of skiing for the kids. During a break he explains to them that this type of skiing, the most logical means of moving through snow, is the origin of the entire sport. In fact, even the polar explorer Nansen - whose trails Ulrich has followed to the ends of the earth and back - used similar skis in his day. And now comes Telemark skiing! “The true art form of skiing”, he proclaims as he easily carves an elegant turn through the snow. Everyone is eager to try to do the same, but not everyone is successful their first time. Lars invents a slight variation of the Telemark turn, the “fall-mark”, in which it is important that the entire body has full contact with the ground. 😊

Before finishing, they definitely have to give ski jumping a try, in all its various forms. Tim discovers another advantage of Offtrack skis: compared to “normal” Nordic skis, these seem to better withstand a lot of jumping. He’s already turned a few pairs of his favorite Nordic skis into splinters because he just couldn’t resist the jumping hill near the Nordic trails. At the end of the day, adventurers large and small warm themselves by the fire along the creek as they satisfy their massive hungers. Thomas points up to the rock face, explaining the various climbing routes and individual peaks. Stories of Nordic races, unsuccessful jumps, and even of polar bears are shared. The group has come to the same conclusion: just being in motion outdoors is what’s most important.

Photos: David Birri