Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

January 10, 2005

Swiss Ski

As always, waking up at midnight or just before to go to work is a bit of a struggle, but waking up to get on a bus to go skiing in Switzerland brings with it a sense of wonderment and anticipation that overshadows the knowledge that 6 hours each way on a cramped bus might seem a little long.
I don't know how I ended up in the front seat, mostly likely a swap gone wrong with a pair of friends who wanted to sit together.....I was right behind the driver, beside the trip vollunteer. We chatted about life for a while until he fell asleep, and then my new adventure book and headphones make the trip speed by. The weather forcast for the region said cold temps with snow....not the greatest, but I figured "have snow, will ski", and it didn't matter. But I could see the (almost) full moon out the bus window the entire night, and had hopes for a sunny beautiful day.
We were in Switzerland before the trip was half over, and it was not nearly as hilly as I had been led to believe....but when the sky started getting light, that was another story. A fresh snowfall blanketed the hills, which were turning into mountains as it got light. I figured that 4 inches of snow had fallen the day or night before, so light and fluffy that it stuck in the trees instead of falling off....every leaf and branch and fork of every tree had a glob of the white stuff attached, it looked like huge bits of marshmellow clinging for dear life. We turned off onto a tiny road that threatened to grab the bus in a curve and get it stuck for good, and right next to us was a mountain stream, still unfrozen, but with more globs of marshmellows covering each rounded lump of rock....I wanted to say, "stop the bus", to go sit by the creek, it was so beautiful.

The cold hit us as soon as we stepped off the bus below the mountain....I was glad that I had brought more clothes than ever before. This time, the way to the top of the mountain, more than 1 kilometer above us, was a cog train, and we were warned that the round trip up and skiing down might take 2 hours, so we should plan accordingly to make it back to the bus on time. We could see it was cloudy as we rode the train up, but then something crazy happened....we climbed above the clouds and the clear blue sky was amazing!

The train was hot, and I was sweating as I stepped off.....and my jaw dropped open. We had climbed a vertical kilometer, and yet the top of the highest peak was still another kilometer above us, rising to 13,000 ft. Almost at the top was a visitor's station, called the Top of Europe....we could barely see it. I got cold really fast, and zipped up everything, slipped on my goggles, and bundled up until none of my skin was exposed at all....then contemplated my choices. We were on a saddle located between two peaks, and I could ski back down from here, down the valley either where I came from or down the other side towards another town, or I could take another lift up either peak, front or back. The views were great, but I wanted to get higher, so I hopped a lift and went to the top of the shorter peak. My innoguration to the mountain as I hopped off the lift was a black diamond slope with perfect groomed snow, and the 3 huge peaks lined up to the East to look at as I skiied down towards them.

I went up and down that (relatively speaking) short lift a couple times, just because the views were so great....then headed south for a new view....staying above the cloud line, I could see the blue sky and promise of a great day, but I was skiing an hour before the sun made it above the high East peaks, and another hour before sunshine made it all the way down to the saddle. By then I was frozen.....my feet were ice cubes and my hands turn into frozen lumps when I took my gloves off for even a second. I stopped at a cafe at the top of the hill in the sunshine, tried to warm up and eat and drink a little. When I tried to drink from my camelback, it was frozen already, so I slipped the tube inside my jackets and hoped for the best. It was fun to eat something, but taking off my gloves was torture. I sat for a while and watched the World Cup Skiing slope with all the red and blue markers, and it looked like it was open to anyone, so I put my skiis on again, and WENT DOWN IT!, taking the curves around the flags like a pro....it was so much fun!

That brought me to the other side of the mountain, and down below the cloud layer, but the snow hadn't been groomed yet, so there was 4 inches of fluff above the base layer, and it was perhaps the best conditions I have ever skiied. On one section, I missed a sign that said STEEP, and stopped just before I went over the edge of a slope that seemed absurd....it would be impossible to walk up it, even in the summer.....I went down with my skiis sideways, scraping the side to slow myself down.....the trail took me below rock cliffs that towered a 1000 ft above me.....if the clouds had dissapeared, I could have seen the cliff parachute jumpers.

Then I continued on down as far as I could go, found another lift to take me back up (to a completely different place), where I found the World Cup Slolom course (and skiied that, too!)then went down again, until I found the very bottom of this side of the hill, and crammed myself in with 60 other people into a cable car, which took me to the top of the mountain, in still yet another spot! The hill down to the cable car was so cool, it was through a little mountain town, with ski trails everywhere and no cars at all....

When the cable car dumped me out at the top, I went all the way down again, this time ending up where I started at the cog train. Luckily, one was just leaving, so I hopped it again, finally warmed up my toes on the trip up to the top, and was amazed again at the sunny clear blue sky at the top.....the creators of this place must have known how great it would be, and known also that all of us ski junkies would gladly pay almost $60 for the joy of multiple rides to the top!

I was just getting started now, I was a little warmer, and I did it all again....barely ever going on the same trails twice..... as I dropped below the cloud layer, this time all the crystals in the air sparkled like a million rainbows in the sunshine, and I laughed at the thought that I was actually speeding down a mountain like this!

By the time the time came to make it back to the bus, went down to the bottom another 2 or 3 times.....and was pleasantly exhausted enough to sleep most of the way home.

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