Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Skiing the Swiss Alps

Most skiers who read that title would probably be envious that we have been skiing in the Swiss Alps. Of all the Alps, the majority of the big ones are in Switzlerland and I'm sure that's part of the reason they are so famous say compared to the Italian Alps.  A little fun fact for you courtesy of my "friend" wikipedia "The Alps cover 65% of Switzerland's surface area, making it one of the most alpine countries.  Despite the fact that Switzerland covers only 14% of the Alps total area, many alpine four thousanders (48 of 82) are located in the Swiss Alps and the remaining few are within 20 km of the country's border.".

So I guess that explains these behemoth mountains that we've been taking the train thru for the last few days.  The scenery has been breathtaking.  Rolling greens to stark grey and white in only moments. Alpine villages dotted along the mountains.  It's just been beautiful.  Of course, I didn't take any pictures from the train - it was pitch dark out when we would go in the AM to the mountain and by the time we were coming back I was just too exhausted.  But take my word for it, stunning doesn't even come close.

Regardless, I'm not much of a skier, but Josh is.  And the kids are quickly following in his footsteps. So while Josh is thrilled to be skiing the Alps, I can honestly say that I couldn't tell you the difference between the runs here and the runs back at home beyond the change of scenery and the size of the mountains.  And I will say, the scenery is STUNNING!

I did ask Josh though about the differences between skiing here in Switzerland and at home in the States.  Josh has always been an avid skier so this doesn't come from a novice... he summed it up... in a website of course.  God forbid he just tell me the differences, but instead, he googled it and told me that all of these apply.  And honestly, even in my limited experience I agree.  Here is the list:  Here are a few of the top highlights:

1.  Even the smallest mountains in Europe have about double the vertical drop than those in the US, including even the largest like Big Sky, Vail and Stratton.  A small mountain here has about a 4000 foot vertical drop... that's the size of some of the larger ones in the US.

2.  "The mountains in Europe are simply bigger — grand, jagged, rugged, inspiring and soaring. In the United States, other than at a few resorts like TaosJackson Hole andMammoth Mountain, slopes seem to trace their way down what appear to be oversized hills."

3.  Lift lines.  What are those I'm sure the Europeans must ask!  After our experience in Switzerland, I can truly state that I'm not a fan of the way they "organize" the lines.  But as Josh said, he never waited in a line more than 10 minutes long.  The lines essentially arched out in a semi circle from the entrance to the lifts and you just eased your way forward, grabbing up any "white" space as Josh said.  You funnel from a row of maybe 10 across to maybe 6 to 3 to 1 as the space dictates.  There was no pushing or shoving, just easing forward at a leisurely pace.  At first I let small children go ahead of me...but then I realized that adults were doing it too and so I stopped letting people go and tried to claim any white space around me!  Interestingly while in line on day 2, I met a guy from Arlington (who actually said he also met a guy from Burlington).  Such a small world!

So skiing in Europe is different.  But really skiing is skiing for me.  Again, not for Josh and the kids. But for me, no matter where we are, it's a lot of work and not a lot of results.  We were up each day at 6/6:15 (which is earlier than I get up to get the kids ready for school) in order to catch the 7AM train to Engelberg where we were skiing.  Why not just stay in Engelberg?  Because initially I thought it would be easier to have our home base in Lucerne, plus it guaranteed that we wouldn't ski more than 3 days and would spend a few days doing some other things.  So while I would take one for the team with the skiing, they would do the same when I want to do some touring.

We had planned to ski Mount Titlis ( which is the largest glacier in Central Switzerland and also home to the world's only 360 degree revolving gondola (I'm soooo not sad that I missed that).  In the end, we skied Brunni which is adjacent to it ( - our area is where you see Engleberg listed).  We paid to ski both.  I'm sure we are out some $$ as a result but I'm just going to not think about that for the time being.  We skied Brunni because that is where the kids' ski school was. And while there was a free bus between all the mountains in the area, it was just easier to stick with one mountain each day.

Day 1 got off to a slightly rough start.  Everything went smoothly with getting to the mountain, getting our gear and then getting to the area where the ski school was located.  But Aidan was overly excited about skiing and seemed to have forgotten it had been 2 years since he was last on skis.  While Josh and I were in search of Liam's already missing ski pass (less than 5 mins after getting it of course), Aidan went ahead up the lift on his own.  While it was a kid's beginner hill, it was closer to the intermediate that Aidan had done in France.  I finally got up to the top and found a totally hysterical Aidan with one ski off.  He was freaking out and screaming that he couldn't make it down.  It was not pretty.  And even worse is that Josh got off the lift earlier with Liam not realizing what was happening up at the top, so he was no where near where we were.  It was up to me to talk Aidan down.  I'll admit there might have been a shout or two in there as well.  And we were now late for his lesson (which wasn't the only expensive thing in Switzerland but it was up there!).

We finally made it down and he grudgingly went to his lesson.  In the end, he gained back his confidence and his love for skiing which I was very happy about (because while I don't like to ski doesn't mean that I don't want him to not like it - it's a great sport!).  While the kids were in their lessons Josh took the gondola up to the next level of runs and did a few on his own.  The second day I went up with him and did one run, supposedly an easy run.  Ha!  Easy my ass!  Again, not pretty and that was my last "big" run of the trip but at least I tried.  I'd rather he be on his own and enjoy the challenge of the slopes rather than have to go at my snail pace and stop constantly on each run to wait for me to catch up.  We all liked it up at the top though, enjoying a few lunches above the clouds and even Aidan did a run from the top!
The mountain on the first morning - still covered in clouds

Kids run, still covered in clouds

Josh is so excited to be skiing!!!

View from the top of the kids' run

Sun is trying to come out...

This was a big deal this year - Liam finally learned how to do the pole lift himself!

Ski lessons...

With their instructor (whom Aidan learned everything about her life - she's from a farm in Sweden, is in university, works in a restaurant in Switzerland as well... etc etc etc)

So happy!

Mountains surrounding Engelberg

King of the snowpile!

Yeah, take that!

At the very top after the gondola ride

Restaurant at the top of Brunni

Look at me!

So proud of these guys - they far surpassed my skill level on our last trip and it only took a few runs on this trip to refresh and pass me again!  And they look mighty cute in their ski gear!

Sun coming up over the mountains from the top of Brunni

Top of Brunni

The gondola

More of Brunni

This is the ski run that I did with Josh near the top of Brunni... never again

This is the top of the gondola going up Brunni - you actually can NOT see the bottom here.  What looks like the bottom is actually not the bottom - it is where it continues to dip further down out of your sight.  Yes, it's that steep!

Practice makes perfect

Me and my big boy

One of the cool things about where the kids were skiing is that we had the perfect vantage point of the hang gliders.  These guys carry backpacks with their chutes up the mountain and then most ski off the cliffs into the air.  Their chutes looked so beautiful against the bright blue, cloudless skies.  They were landing in a field behind the boys ski school so we got to see them coming in for their landings (we didn't see the actual landings as there were houses blocking it but we could see up til they went behind the houses).

Not only were there a lot of hang gliders, but this is toboggan country.  Everyone has them.  I suppose the fact that when you have a country that is 65% mountains, you learn to adjust and plan your sports accordingly.  I even saw some fitted for babies so that parents didn't have to push the wheels of strollers thru the snow.  Kids and parents alike were using them everywhere.  On our first day, Liam tired out early so we rented a toboggan and did a bit of sledding down the mountain.  He loved it!

Why walk up the sled trail when you can take an automated track??

The kids did a great job with their lessons and miraculously skied til almost 3 each day.  Given they would start at 6AM with Josh and I ripping them from dreamland in order to get up to the mountain, this was pretty impressive.  And since we were staying in a hotel, it meant getting ourselves together for dinner each night out - not an easy feat but they did great.

Our last day of skiing was great.  We did a few runs as a family and that alone made this trip worth it to me despite my dislike for skiing.  Seeing all my boys so happy fills my heart with joy.  The kids started their lessons and Josh asked if I wanted to go to the top again... Um no thanks, I'll stick with the kid hill (and my knee hurts too).  So off he went, though he did offer to stay with me, but there is no need. Skiing is a relatively solitary sport. Yes you can start together but often you don't end together. So alone in my thoughts.  And I thought, what a lovely place to be skiing on my own.  But then after about 45 minutes I was bored and cold and went inside for a hot chocolate.

I did start back up on the skis again though and with a final lunch at the top, we finished up the day with some more family runs which I truly did enjoy and then the boys did a little sledding which they loved.  It was a great way to end the ski portion of our trip!!

Aidan at the top of the gondola

Liam at the top

All three boys at the top

If you convert meters to feet, we were at over 5200 when at the top of Brunni - and that's not even the tallest mountain near where we were!

Why not just say it holds 67 people instead of 66+1??

View from the gondola going down

Going down again... the first few times on the gondola I wouldn't even look outside but as it was our last trip on it, I dared to look so I could snap some photos...

Engelberg from the gondola

A little sledding before we go!

There was an automated walkway on this sled hill too but they had to walk to it... rough life!

Out of control!

Right before he flipped over...


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