Anyone who follows this blog knows how we extol the terrain in and around Disentis. The off-piste descents are largely what brought lodge owner Jan Pfister and, later, me to this region. Their size, variety and quality never fail to satisfy and often surprise.
We talk constantly about how lucky we are to live in a place where one can casually turn to the left or right at the top of a lift and have one’s pick of 1,200 to 1,500-vertical-meter peak-to-valley descents. Usually with few other tracks, and often with none at all. In our view, what we consider Disentis’s basic off-piste terrain rates as some of the world’s best off-piste, period.
But on the other side of Disentis, “beyond the ridge” or “over the ladder”, lies terrain that is on a whole other level.
Our King Lines.
For many, it’s the terrain of a lifetime. These are descents that aren’t just exciting and cool in great snow. They’re mind-blowing in any conditions. As you skin up and approach the wee notch in the rocky ridgeline, as you scramble up the fixed ladder, as you slither down a rocky chimney clutching a rope under your armpit, you enter a different world.
This is monumental, gigantic, tortuous landscape. And empty. Without a road, hydro line or man-made structure, let alone a lift. Its features are on a scale that, while certainly found in major mountain ranges around the world over, isn’t accessible from any lift system in North America, and is relatively rare even in the Alps. Here in Disentis, it lies 20 minutes from the lifts. In Verbier, Chamonix, St. Anton, Whistler, and other resorts known for freeriding, terrain like this would be rim-to-rim moguls. Over here, we become irritated at the sight of one other group.
King Lines. Like great art, fine wine and pornography, a King Line is hard to define. But you’ll know one when you find it – there’ll be no doubt. Massive verticals. Enormous valleys mere portions of which would swallow any Canadian ski area whole and spit it out contemptuously at the bottom. Dizzying couloirs that erase one’s ability to judge gradient. Crux points where every move, every turn, every second of skiing demands precise focus. No-fall zones so numerous and long they soon become routine.
And of course, the thing we all look for: endless pitches dropping for turn after turn after turn. Places where a person pushes off from the group and is transformed into a speck within a few turns. Pitch after pitch for descents where one soon takes a vertical mile for granted.
If cruising the pistes is Level I skiing, and venturing onto piste-side powder or corn snow slopes is Level II, then our lovely peak-to-valley runs like Val Gronda, Val Pintga, La Muotta and Val Segnas are Level III.
The King Lines are Level IV. Like Val Strem, a place with one name but at least nine completely separate routes down.
They may not bring the season’s deepest snow (the avalanche danger is usually too high for that), but they’ll hold powder, wind sift and unrutted corn snow two weeks after the last snowfall. And they routinely deliver the most memorable skiing experiences of the winter.
Special thanks to ace photographer Adam Stein for making these photos available, via Iain MacMillan of Ski Canada magazine.