When I first moved to Switzerland 20 years ago, I was sick every winter and friends told me, “Go above the clouds to breath.” Sure enough if you drive up into the mountains the cloud curtain opens revealing blue skies. Though we live in a picture perfect country with pristine views of the lake and mountains, we are surrounded by smog and fog, which becomes locked in over the basin every winter. That’s why each weekend people here fasten skis on their car hoods and head up.
Without access to mountains when I was growing up, I never learned to alpine ski. The only descent I conquered was the bunny hill at the golf course. Even though I am still wobbly sliding on 2 sticks, I love cross country skiing. To a flatlander from Illinois, cross country skiing in the mountains is every bit as challenging as downhill skiing due to the steep inclines.
Although I can only ski for no more that an hour or so, for 9 euros ($9) you can spend an entire day on groomed trails with spectacular mountain views. Our favorite spot, only a half hour away is La Vattay, on the plateau between the Valserine and Menthières in the Jura mountains.
Over 90 miles of trails wind through the pine filled forests and onto the open plateau where cows graze in the summer. Though I have skied the same route many times, I still get stymied because I am unable to navigate the 60 foot drop offs that end in sharp turns.
Luckily strategically placed gym mats are propped against trees at the bottom of curving slopes. To me those bright red mats are like STOP signs, so whenever I see one I pop off my skis and proceed by foot to the bottom of the steep incline. The only “snow plowing” I learned as a kid involved my back and a shovel, not my legs and skis.
If you grow up in this area, skiing is like riding a bike. You learn at an early age and never forget. Schools here take kids on ski day outings and across Europe people plan vacations around the sacred “ski week” holiday, a mandatory February break from school.
Depending on weather conditions ski stations are open from the end of mid December to end of March. Alas each year the ski season is shortened due to lack of snow. Global warming is wreaking havoc on the lower level of ski resorts.
But until the day snow becomes extinct, I will keep heading up going above the rim where I breathe, glide, breathe, slide, and savor life above the clouds.