Climbing the Kinshofer Wall just below C2, 6200 m, on Nanga Parbat (2008). "This was one of the few times I did not want to ascend the line of descent, it would have been too dangerous."
Image by Luis Stitzinger courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
View from the Diamir Face on Nanga Parbat (2008). "Conditions were just perfect, firn snow for most of the descent."
Image by Luis Stitzinger courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
Line of descent through the Central Diamir Face (2008). It took 2 hours.
Image by Luis Stitzinger courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
Line of descent, seen from down below. "The line looked so improbable, a real maze of seracs, crevasses and steep steps, and still there was a way through it."
Image by Luis Stitzinger courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
Luis Stitzinger and Alix von Melle on the top of Dhaulagiri 8167 m (2009). A skiing attempt of the mountain failed on this expedition due to bad weather. Alix is currently the German female climber with most successful 8000 m summits (five). "I am happy to climb these high mountains and get back down safely on my feet," Alix said. "I know my limits well and I do have neither the stamina nor the skiing technique Luis does.”
Image by Luis Stitzinger courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
Sky skiing, Luis Stitzinger final: Finding a way through the impossible line

Posted: Jun 13, 2012 11:54 pm EDT
(Tina Sjogren) In part one of this sky-skiing special at ExplorersWeb Luis Sitzinger debriefed the bad storm that quickly changed objective from summit to rescue on Manaslu. In the follow up interview he described the unique challenges present in ski descents from the death zone. Today a final chat about his best ski-run yet, dream descent, favorite skiers, gear and regular climbing mate wife Alix von Melle.

Explorersweb: Your best 8000er meter ski-run so far and why?

Luis: Skiing the Central Diamir Face on Nanga Parbat on a new line in 2008.

Because conditions were just perfect, firn snow for most of the descent. And the line looked so improbable, a real maze of seracs, crevasses and steep steps, and still there was a way through it.

I had a walkie talkie with me and my friend Joe watched the ski run from basecamp and warned me of any dead ends and obstacles. This was one of the few times I did not want to ascend the line of descent, it would have been too dangerous.

When Messner did his solo ascent in 1978 through the same section of the Diamir Face it took him several days and he only climbed at night to reduce the danger of ice and rock fall which is tremendous in this part. The ski descent took only two hours in comparison.

Explorersweb: What would be your Dream descent?

Luis: A complete ski descent of K2. In 2011 I skied from the shoulder (7900 m) down to BC on a combination of the Cesen and the Kukuczka Route. The winds were too high to summit that day but conditions were good enough to ski down.

I had to take off my skis on the lower part of the Kukuczka, however, because there is a snowless rock ridge of about 200 (distance) meters that you cannot ski. It would be a dream to ski from the top, through the bottle neck. With a slight correction of the line in the lower part a complete ski descent is possible in the right conditions, I am convinced.

Explorersweb: Your favorite sky skiers in the world?

Luis: There aren´t too many around who do this … Hans Kammerlander (Italy) definitely because he is a real pioneer of the sport. Fredrik Ericsson (Sweden) who died on K2 in 2010. He had a good eye for possible lines on the high peaks. Davo Karnikar (Croatia) for his attitude. When he said he skied Everest he really had done so on every meter.

I certainly admire the extreme skiing grand masters of the Alps, like Sylvain Saudan, Heini Holzer or Anselme Baud who really skied incredible stuff (with the crappy equipment of the seventies even).

Explorersweb: Carrying your gear to the summit is a huge part of the difficulty, you must choose light vs sturdy enough to take the terrain, what are you using in terms of boots, skis etc?

Luis: For the general mountaineering equipment I use what most climbers do. On the high peaks you need good quality down equipment, I use a Marmot 8000 m Parka/Pant combination and a Marmot Expedition Mitt.

For slightly warmer temperatures or more “fingery” stuff I wear a real warm finger glove like the Marmot Ultimate Ski Glove.

The skiing equipment needs to be light and reliable. For the last two years (Broad Peak, K2, Manaslu) I have been absolutely happy using Dynafit “Broad Peak” Skis and an ultralight Low Tech Radical binding. Besides the weight aspect it is important that your binding stays reliably closed when you want it to be. The Low Tech has a manual locking mechanism preventing any unwanted release.

Your feet is really the most critical part as the insulation of ski boots never comes close to the one of expedition boots. I wear a Dynafit TLT 5 Performance boot with a thicker and warmer inner boot, along with a Below 40 Purple Haze Neopren Overboot and a battery powered Therm-ic heating sole. For ski poles I am using Black Diamond Whippets (with an integrated ice axe pick) for steep stuff because the pick not only comes handy for short traverses on ice during the descent, it is also quite convenient for climbing up.

Explorersweb: You climb with your wife Alix, did you meet climbing or did you get into it together?

Luis: We met on a ski traverse in Switzerland when we were both University students. Whereas I grew up very close to the mountains in Füssen, Bavaria, Alix comes from Hamburg in the northern part of Germany close to the sea. There are no mountains anywhere close by.

She studied in Munich and caught the mountain bug there. In a few years she worked up a list of activites, climbing, ski touring, hiking, other people take half a lifetime. So you cannot claim I talked her into it. She is at least as mountain crazy as I am.

Explorersweb: Other sports/hobbies you share?

Luis: Interestingly in some fields we follow quite different interests. She likes to listen to classical music, I prefer rock. She watches soaps, I like action movies or comedies.

We still find enough topics we both like but we have to select them more carefully maybe than other couples. We also try to give each other the free space to follow our uncommon interests, however.

Explorersweb: How long have you been together?

Luis: We have been together for the last 15 years – also climbing together since then. She is currently the German female climber with most successful 8000 m summits (G2, Nanga Parbat, Dhaulagiri, Cho Oyu, Broad Peak) and has accompanied me also on demanding ascents, like the Aconcagua South Face.

We are a good team, not only on the mountain. Although she is a passionate ski tourer she is not into sky skiing. I have the feeling she enjoyed the skiing episodes on Manaslu, however, so who knows what is yet to come?

Luis Stitzinger is Product Manager at DAV Summit Club and UIAGM certified Mountain Guide. Oldest of three children, his family resides in Füssen, Bavaria.

Music: Classic Rock, Pop, some Country. From Coldplay to La Brass Banda.
Movie: No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski.
Book: Yann Martel: Life of Pi
Food: Argentinean Steak with a glass of Malbec or a piece of fresh German sour dough bread with butter and a Bavarian “Weissbier” (wheat beer).

In the last couple of years Luis Stitzinger successfully climbed 5 Eight-Thousand-Meter-Peaks in the Himalaya and Karakorum together with his wife, Alix von Melle: Cho Oyu 8201 m (2000 & 2010), Gasherbrum II 8035 m (2006), Nanga Parbat 8125 m (2008), Dhaulagiri 8167 m (2009) and Broad Peak 8051 m (2011) as well as attempted others, such as Makalu to 8050 m (2010) and K2 to 8000 m (2011).

Partially or in full, Stitzinger skied down some of these peaks (Gasherbrum II, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, K2) and is probably one of the most achieved “sky skiers” worldwide at present.

Resume of Luis and Alix most noteworthy climbs and links to picture galleries.

#Mountaineering #topstory