Alpsolutely Amazing! (posted by Pierre en Suisse)

Okay, so quick confession: I have been to the Alps so far about three times and I have yet to actually write about it. When I say I have been to the Alps three times, I am talking about skiing. What’s it like here in Europe? Well my title says a lot, because it is just incredible!

I had always planned on doing some skiing while in Switzerland, but I honestly had no idea what to expect, aside from huge mountains of course. I have skied my entire life but mostly on the East Coast, and have been out west before as well. As many of my friends know, I could tell you basically anything you would want to know about North American skiing, but Europe was a mystery! Someone had told me once that Europeans spend more time just relaxing while at the mountains and skiing every now and then. Someone else had also told me that in Europe you spend half the day going up the mountain and the other half actually skiing down. Both of these myths have not ended up being my actual experience. However, I can happily report that skiing here is better than I could have ever imagined! I’ll do my best to actually describe it, but I warn you it is difficult to put into words.

Because Switzerland is a country completely connected by rails, the ski day starts for us with a train ride into the mountains. The first morning I went, I was on the train at 6:30 in the morning while it was still completely dark. About an hour later, when the sun began to rise my view from the train window was just the silhouettes of the jagged summits and snow-covered peaks of the mountains. Once off the train, we always have to take a connector bus or an additional train to get to the actual mountain. I won’t lie, Swiss engineering is impressive. The first place that I went to, or “station” as it is called in French, was really far from the train and required a bus ride to get there. The roads are a continuous series of windy turns as you head up the steep sides of the mountain. In many instances, there need to be tunnels to get around. Whatever the case, I couldn’t help but wonder how people were able to live in this country before the modern technology that was put in place to simply move around. It was impressive to see what people are capable of doing! This may be worth looking into more, but hopefully it is done in the most environmentally conscious manner possible.

The actual skiing is completely different than what I am used to. As soon as you get to the top of one of these mountains, you are above tree line. That means it is completely wide open, unlike what I am used to where there are trees lining the trails. You can also be at the top just looking at glaciers all around you. These can be quite scary but at the same time amazingly impressive to just see the blue crystallized ice that has been there for such a long time! It is also deceiving for me of how high these mountains are. Because everything is in metrics here, I’ll be at the top of a mountain and everyone around me will be gawking at the fact that they are 3500 meters in the air! The first time this happened, we literally rode the highest mountain subway in the world. It was an actual train to carry skiers through a tunnel to the very top of the skiable area. When we got to the top, we had to walk up a set of stairs to get out of the “metro.” It hit me just how high we were when I got light headed and had to sit for a while to adjust to breathing the thin air. While waiting, I looked on my phone for the conversion and realized that we had started out at 5,905 feet at the base of the mountain, and by the time we were at the top, we were almost 11,500 feet high. Like I said, the elevation really hit me when we were at the top. But the views are unreal! Everything at the top is so open! From one of the places, I could see Italy at the top! At another one, I could see France (even though I can see France every day just across the lake). It is simply a magnificent scene; pictures cannot do it justice.

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Skiing adventures will keep coming, and I will say I am especially excited for next weekend, when we will have a three day trip planned by the exchange student association here in Lausanne. Because skiing is literally such a part of the culture here in Switzerland, they said it was necessary for them to host one. I’m excited! But that’s all for now! Until next time, à bien tôt!

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