Skiing Above the Clouds

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.

Posted in health, sport, travel.


  1. How great that you still manage to do ski de fond ???????? I would be up there with you every weekend too in the winter, as it is such a wonderful stress release and a delightful detox. Your lungs will love that mountain air. Like you, I hated those steep drops in ski de fond, so I did much more downhill skiing when I was there in CH. Keith was my chaperone most of the time. Such happy days in the sunshine and snow. I haven’t ventured skiing here yet even though the slopes are only about ninety minutes drive away. I hear the Australian snow is not as good and I am such a snob when it comes to skiing after my five star Swiss experiences! ???? xx

    • I laugh to think that you found downhill skiing easier that cross country. I would think that being skilled in downhill skiing would make the drops in cross country skiing seem simple. That reassures me. All the snow bunnies here are frustrated because it seems like there is less snow every year. Let me know if you ever try those Australian slopes. xx

  2. Pat, you’ve captured the essence of cross-country skiing–the exhilaration and beauty as well as the full-bodied workout. Your word-picture takes me back to my own skiing days through the woods and fields of New York State. I never cross-county skied “above the clouds” but you’ve taken me there. Thank you!????

    • Although it seems to be more of a challenge each year, I still do enjoy it even though I am terrified part of the time. Cross country skiing seems so much easier in Wisconsin. ha

  3. Lovely post – I’m from a big downhill ski family, and so love the feeling of being out on the mountain. Glad you’ve found a way to experience the bliss so close to home!

  4. I’m so glad you can still enjoy skiing, Pat! I’ve been cross county skiing over 45years, mostly in the flatlands of Nebraska. Sadly, we are getting far less snow too. There was only one skiable day this winter! I’ll have to continue venturing farther to keep enjoying this wonderful sport.

    • With your love of hiking and nature, I am sure you would really enjoy the cross country skiing here. Yes, I imagine snow is becoming a rarity in Nebraska.

  5. Hi, Pat – I am so glad to meet you. I love your blog already! What’s not to love about hope, humor, inspiration and travel all in one place?
    We also have much in common (careers in education, expat days, retirement, and the love of writing). I look forward to following your blog further and sharing ideas and experiences.

    • Thanks Donna. I, too, am glad we connected and love your adventuresome blog and lifestlye. I can’t wait to see where your home exchange will take you next.

  6. Being from KY and now SC I’ve never put on a pair of skis. My husband wants to try it, but me? I’m more of a hot chocolate in the ski lodge kind of girl. I hate being wet and cold!

    • Oh there are lots of hot chocolate in the ski lodge people here to who find such sitting in the sun gazing at the view to be equally invigorating.

  7. Like you, Pat, I’m an Illinois gal, so I’ve never been skiing … at all. I’m not at all sure I’d like it — though the beauty of blue skies and fresh air will always be attractive! I’m glad you’ve found something that thrills you and keeps you active. How fascinating that kids there ski with as much enthusiasm as kids here do with bikes!

    • As athletic as you are Debbie, I am sure you could learn it easily especially cross country skiing. And you could take Dallas too, now wouldn’t that be fun a dog on skiis.

    • Oh Lynne that is only seems “exotic” because I don’t write about the mundane stuff. We do have to do the laundry, wash dishes and take out the garbage here too

  8. So beautiful. My daughter lives in Montana and teaches snowboarding, and one day she would love to visit your beautiful country, as would I!

    • It must also be beautiful in Montana. I have never tried snowboarding and don’t think it is safe to take up at my age with my back problems, but it sure looks fun. Let me know if either of you ever get over here…would love to meet you.

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