Alpine

Interview with alpine touring enthusiast Lukas Ruetz

The 27-year-old ski tour expert Lukas Ruetz from the Sellrain valley in Tyrol has enjoyed an excellent reputation in Alpine sports circles for many years now. In his blog and on social media he regularly supplies his followers with news about exciting tours and the latest snow conditions, and is also happy to share his knowledge on avalanche awareness and ski touring styles in a live setting by giving talks.

In this interview he tells us about special moments on the mountains, his favourite touring companion, how he got back on his feet, and skis, only a short time after suffering a torn cruciate ligament, and which tours are on his to-do list in the coming season:

Lukas, when did you start skiing, and ski touring in particular?

Typically for a “child of the Alps” I started skiing shortly after I learned to walk. The ski touring began when I was 15. My father was a very ambitious ski tourer and mountaineer, so I was practically destined for it. My first ever ski tour was with my father: we just climbed a few hundred metres up a forest track to a meadow. But we did it with piste boots and a Naxo frame binding. Laughable from today’s perspective. It was really hard work, but a lot of fun all the same.

Which of your experiences on the mountain do you count as highlights?

There are quite a few. To start with there are successes like speed crossings of long tours like the Orient Express and the numerous first ski descents I’ve done in my home region. Then there’s the winter ascent of Aconcagua, which I did solo, up from base camp and back down in one go, unfortunately not on skis because there wasn’t enough snow. And the first ever ski descent of the north face of Tres Gemelos (5,220 m) in Argentina. On the other hand there are the less spectacular moments on normal touring days: stunning sunrises, unbelievably good snow conditions or quite simply a fantastic day on the mountain with friends.

Have you ever had a particularly challenging situation on the mountain, and how did you overcome it?

When my friend Markus tore his ankle ligaments on the summit of the Ortler and we still had a descent of several hours to make back to Sulden. It went all right, but really we should have called mountain rescue.

Rising early for a ski tour – not a problem for you?

No, I don’t have a problem with crawling out of bed dog-tired in the small hours. There are tour days when the alarm goes off between midnight and 1 a.m. and in those moments the same thought always occurs: “You’re completely out of your mind!” But when the sky slowly lightens and I’m on the summit in the early morning it is always worthwhile. These tours aren’t so much the extreme ones on my doorstep, but longer ones that take a while to drive to. My touring friends and I prefer to sleep in our own beds if at all possible rather than spending the night elsewhere which requires a lot more organisation and taking a lot of stuff with you.

How many ski tours and metres in altitude can you chalk up in an average season?

On average I manage 140 ski tours with an altitude difference of +/- 200,000 metres per season. From October to June I’m virtually permanently out on the mountains and sometimes all the year round depending on how good the snowfall is.

How did last winter go for you?

Because of the coronavirus restrictions and the ban on sports in Tyrol, last winter was unusual. And to cap it all I tore one of my cruciate ligaments, so from mid-September to the end of June I “only” managed 107 ski tours with a total altitude difference of 120,000 metres.

What happened exactly and what are you doing to get fit for your next adventures?

The ligament was operated on in early July and I started spending as much time as I could in the mountains quite soon after the operation. Initially that meant walking up, then taking the lift down. Three weeks later I was able to climb 1,500 metres again without difficulty and because it snowed heavily on the glaciers in early August I was on my touring skis again on the glacier four weeks after the operation, although I only did the ascent and took the gondola back down. Now, though, I’m allowed to climb back down as well, thankfully. In my opinion this is the best way to train the muscles in the summer for skiing and ski touring.

When is your next tour? And do you have particular goals on your to-do list for next winter?

The next tour will probably be in September or October. Either near a glacier ski area again or in my home region, depending on when and how much it snows.

For the coming winter I have three special and new ski crossings at the top of my list, one of which connects ten 3,000-metre-plus summits. That will probably be the toughest project, with an altitude difference of 6,000 metres in one go. Another one is a crossing over Tyrol’s biggest glaciers over a distance of 45 kilometres. This crossing is scheduled for July because it’s really something special still to be able to go on a ski tour like this in the northern hemisphere in July. The third crossing connects the three highest summits of my local range, skiing down the north face of each one.

Who is your favourite touring partner?

No question: my dog Aria :)

Does Aria enjoy the tours as much as you?

She doesn’t like exposed and very steep slopes. So when she’s with me I adapt the tour to suit her capabilities. In the past she was fit enough to cope with almost everything. Now she’s ten, and in the winter she’s allowed to sit on the rucksack on the way down so that she only has to do the ascent. But she still loves to come along and is always put out when I pack my gear and she has to stay at home.

How do you prepare before setting out on a tour?

The day before I think about the weather, the avalanche situation and the snow conditions and check all related information. Then I have a brainstorming session to decide which tour will provide the best experience and the best snow under the circumstances and keeps risks to a minimum. Once a tour is over I always pack my rucksack ready for the next one so I only need to optimise the clothing for the weather and the water and supplies for the length of the tour. I put fresh, dry boot liners in the shell and select the skis best suited for the type of snow.

What are the most important items that you always take with you on a tour?

Avalanche kit, airbag, mobile, first aid kit, warm clothing, enough water, multitool, ski strap, good skis of the right width – very narrow for firn, very wide for powder – and my reflex camera :)

And last but not least: what does ski touring mean to you?

Ski touring is not a lifestyle – it’s life!

Thanks for the interview Lukas!

For more from Lukas, visit: www.lukasruetz.at I Instagram: @lukasruetz