Switzerland is covered in snow, and the streets of Zürich – and my apartment – are buzzing with excitement over mountainside activities. “Winter is finally here!” shouts the Floridian gal from the window. “Hooray! It’s snowing!”
Spurred by my ridiculous enthusiasm over the freezing chill, Justin and I are eagerly following the lead of local Zürchers, doing what they do when the skies stay grey over the city for weeks at a time: head into to the Alps on weekends and embrace the world of winter sports. So, within these first few weeks of 2016, we have done just that – with varying degrees of success.
Crash Course in Winter Sports: Part I
Skiing in Switzerland
Early one Saturday morning, Justin and I set off from Zürich by train to hit the ski slopes of Switzerland for the first time. It quickly became apparent that the first challenge for the day was to reconcile the difference between our ski experiences.
I was lucky enough to grow up skiing in the great Rocky Mountains of America. Learning from a young age was helpful, as now skiing seems almost second nature. Nevertheless, I have always had a love-hate relationship with skiing.
I love skiing when the conditions are just right. When the slopes are well groomed, when the runs aren’t too steep, when the temperatures aren’t too cold, when the skies are blue and the scenery breathtaking. I hate skiing when none of those things are happening. Icy slopes, slushy snow, whiteout conditions, bad bindings, shin-crushing boots, lugging all your winter gear around, trying to go to the bathroom with said winter gear. Ugh.
Justin, on the other hand, did not grow up skiing. He was a skateboard kid, which came in handy when he tried snowboarding in the Appalachian Mountains during our college years. Since we moved to Switzerland, I have convinced Justin to put his boarding days behind him and give skiing a try. I promised to teach him the basics, confident that he’d pick up the skill in no time. I was right about his athletic ability, but perhaps I misjudged my instructional abilities…
We rented our equipment in the mountainside village of Unterbäch (Canton Valais), snapped on our skis (ah, that sound!), and hopped on the chairlift. At that time, temperatures still weren’t cold enough at lower altitudes, and it was raining on us up first chair lift. So, Justin and I left the slushy bunny hills below and continued up the mountain. Two chair lifts and two T-bar lifts later, we were approaching the end of the line. I surveyed the run from my T-bar position; it was the steepest section of the ski area we had seen thus far. Probably an intimidating sight to a ski virgin.
Not wanting to scar my husband physically or emotionally on his first ski run ever, I made a game-time decision to hop off the lift as we approached a cross-section run, avoiding the final ascent and that scary, steep slope above. I yelled back to Justin, “Let’s get off here!” and I slipped the bar out from under my legs, let it carry on, and moved onto the ski piste. Justin came up behind me, ready to follow suit, and so began our ski lessons.
Lessons in Skiing
1. Go over the basics before getting on the lift
Justin had managed to get all the way to the top of the mountain with little to no instruction on how to ski. Thus, upon our premature exit of the T-bar lift, Justin wasn’t able to figure out essential things, like turning or going in a desired direction, before he plunged into 3 feet of fresh powder – as demonstrated in the photo above. Oops.
2. Practice turning
One of the hardest things for a former boarder to learn is turning with skis on. Having to deal with two pieces of equipment strapped to his feet – rather than just one – made for a tough learning curve, literally.
3. Go slow and maintain control
Once Justin got the basics of turning down, he was challenged to maintain speed and, therefore, control. I was constantly reminding him to “Pizza!” or “Pie!” or “Pizza pie!” as he made his way down the slopes. This strategy worked, sometimes.
4. Avoid snow banks at all cost
Justin’s time buried in snow was almost equal to his time moving down the slope on his first run. However, he learned to implement #2 and #3 well enough to avoid the pits of powder after his initial sweep downhill. To my surprise, after an entire day of thick snowfall, I was the one who ended up in a massive snow bank – having missed a turn due to low visibility. I felt like I was caught under an avalanche when a large chunk of snow landed squarely over my face and for a moment, I couldn’t find air to breath. I had to dig myself out inch by inch and army crawl back to solid ground. I put my skis back on and stuffed my injured pride in my coat pocket.
5. Keep trying and don’t give up
I was so proud of Justin, who handled his first ski experience like a champ! Yes, his first time down the snowy mountain was really rough. But with a lot of patience, focus, and determination, Justin’s subsequent skiing was excellent for a first-timer. He reached his winter goal of learning to ski, because he never gave up!
Thus, Justin’s crash course in skiing turned out really well. I wish I could say the same for myself when we went sledding the following weekend…
Hey snow junkies! How did we do with our first ski experience in Switzerland? Do you have a first-time ski story? Are you in the winter sports camp or do you prefer to stay inside with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book when the temperatures drop below freezing?