Friday, December 25, 2009

Zermatt: Skiing the Swiss Alps

I have decided there is a small fee to pay when you stay at the Peterthal Hotel. In exchange for free room and board, all you have to do is write a blog post for me. Fair enough, right? So, without further is the guest post from my brother. Thanks, Dave.

When Deb and Josh told me that they were moving to Switzerland, I knew that a trip to Europe would be in order.  There was also no way that I was going to miss out on a chance to ski in the Alps.  After looking at several places, the one spot I realized I had to ski at was Zermatt.  Where else could I ski around the Matterhorn?  I would be able to ski from one country to another, ride the highest ski lift in Europe, ski down a glacier, ski a single run that is 23 km (14.3 mi) long, and I would get the chance to finish the day up by having a drink at a bar inside an igloo.

Deb and I worked out the details and began our plans for a trip to the Swiss Alps.  One great piece of advice from a friend of hers was to get a Snow 'N Rail pass.  We got an unbelievable discount on our ski passes, and a pretty good discount on our rentals.

After arriving in Zermatt the day before, we woke up early to grab a quick breakfast and pick up our ski rentals.  I also made time for a quick stop up to the rooftop of our hotel to watch the sun rise on the Matterhorn, and to check out the Mountain climbers' cemetery.

(Matterhorn at sunrise)

(Mountain climbers' cemetery)

I had originally planned to catch the lift at the edge of town in Zermatt, continue up to the Kleine Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn), ski into Cervinia for a quick beer and lunch, ride back up the lift, ski down to Furi, up another lift, and finally meet up with Tina, Drew, Deb, and Josh at Riffleberg.  The man at the ski rental place, after first trying to talk me out of my trek, told me it was just as fast to catch the train up to Riffleberg with everyone else, since it was only a couple of blocks away, and then ride lifts the rest of the way to Kleine Matterhorn.

(Ski map for Zermatt-Cervinia)

So we walk the couple of blocks and get there as a train is leaving, so we had to wait another 20 minutes for the next one.  Then instead of stopping at Riffleberg, where I need to catch my lift, it stops further up the mountain at Gornergrat.  So much for this being the fast way.

(View from Gornergrat)

Not being deterred, I leave the rest of my group and ski down to Riffleberg ready to start my gondola trek.  While I am riding up, I meet a guy from Germany that tells me that there are two ways over to Cervinia and to Italy.  The first is the way I had planned, the cable car from Trockner Steg to Kleine Matterhorn.  The second is a 15 minute t-bar ride followed by a second 10 minute t-bar ride from Trockner Steg to the border.  I decide to stick with my first instinct.

After reaching Trockner Steg, I head over to where I catch the cable car.  I wait for a few minutes when finally someone comes up and says that they are closing the cable car down due to the high winds.  The cable car coming down would be the last of the day.  This means I will not be able to ski down a glacier, or ride the highest ski lift in Europe, or ski the full 23 km to Cervinia.  But, I could still ski to Italy.  I would just have to brave the 25 minute t-bar ride through the extremely windy and cold weather (-26°C /-15°F and 45km/hr or about 30mi/hr winds).  Not exactly what I wanted to do, but I was on a mission, right?

(View of Kleine Matterhorn and the day's last cable car)

(Matterhorn; and yes, all of the blowing white stuff in these pictures is snow and not clouds)

I venture out and find the t-bar lift.  It is not running.  I am not sure what is going on so I find someone who tells me that unfortunately this lift is also closed.  There would be no trip to Italy.  So instead I take the lift up to Furggsattel.  This will be the highest point I reach and the closest I get to Italy.

(T-bar lift to Italy in the middle, Furggsattel lift on the right)

I reach across the fence stopping me from skiing to Italy and touch the snow.  I can at least technically say part of me made it anyway.

Somewhat disappointed, I head back to Trockner Steg for some lunch (bratwurst with rösti) and to take some pictures.

(View from Trockner Steg; in the valley on the left you can see Zermatt)

Could things have worked out better?  Maybe.  If I would have gone with my initial instinct and taking the lift straight out of town I probably would have reached the top before the cable car closed for the day.  I likely would have made it to Italy and would be writing a different story.  However, I just needed to remind myself that I was skiing in the Alps.  Looking around at views like these made me realize that this is not only one of the most unbelievable places I have ever skied at, it is also one of the most memorable places I have ever been to.  With this new outlook, I finish out the day by enjoying the long ski runs on the way back to meeting up with the others.

And for anyone that was wondering, the igloo bar was closed too...luckily, I was prepared with my flask of Kirsch!  Oh well, plenty of things for my next trip, right?

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