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Skiing Switzerland 15 January 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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A little over two years ago, I packed my bags for a 7 a.m. flight, jumped on the pre-dawn train toward Geneve Cointrin, and boarded my plane home to America, leaving Switzerland behind — for the time being. But two weeks before that, I’d found myself racing alongside Lac Leman bound for the Val d’Anniviers by way of Sierre.

If those names don’t mean anything, that’s okay. Imagine this: nearly floating along one of the best rail systems in the world with no responsibility. The French Alps crash into a dappled Lake Geneva, steeper and more jagged than any geological formation should be. France begins over there, and on this gentler side, vineyards roll away from the train as you pass Montreux, Switzerland’s Riviera, then Martigny and Sion, tracing a path up the Swiss state of Valais — literally “Valley” because that’s just what it is, an eons-old swath of habitable terrain between 11,000-foot peaks.

Imagine Caesar’s army cresting the pass into this primeval world: the mountaintops running on into infinity, higher still in every direction, and there in the middle of it the Rhone, ice-blue with glacial run-off and guiding the way toward Lake Geneva.

Now imagine skiing here.

Bowls? What bowls?

The Alps are not the Rockies. Well, yes. Of course. But I mean that; though lower, treeline kicks in sooner leaving so much more terrain blissfully, unendingly sheathed in white. The American ski industry prizes “bowls” those rare areas devoid of trees where you can ski with the sun in your face and the wind in your hair/helmet for what seems like an eternity — wherever you point your skis, there you go. No pre-planned runs in a bowl. Nothing like that exists on the East Coast, however, and even out here in the West, Vail’s seven bowls drop jaws. It is simply too much terrain to be allowed.

In Switzerland, talk of bowls is a little silly, really, because everything goes on above the trees. The Swiss don’t even bother cutting pistes through the forests, instead employing a funicular to bring everyone to a more manageable altitude before dumping them onto the slopes. Around here, only A-Basin can hope to match those views. And even with the Beach in full swing, I doubt it can wrest away claim to most authentic skiing experience.

But perhaps I’ve let nostalgia get the best of me. After all, I learned to ski in Switzerland, braving icy bunny slopes and never venturing onto a chairlift for fear of (what seemed at the time) disastrously steep descents on the intermediate terrain. Something about it grips me, though — and I know that “something” lacks any necessary precision. Maybe I can parse out my meaning. Skiing Switzerland returns in snippets: the paralysis of fear on my first run, the Leffe Blonde left on the hotel roof to cool, the Ovalmaltine with the hotel breakfast.

That evening stroll.

The American resort ski-village attempts to replicate this experience, I think, but no amount of production value can recreate the twilight stroll through a centuries-old village. The last gleams of alpenglow fade from the valley wall and it becomes clear at that moment that for all the steeps and bowls and gnarliness encountered in American ski culture, the sport lives and breathes there with the Swiss.

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