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  • Sarah Kraemer

Path Charted: Ski the Alps

Ski lunch al fresco, Zermatt, Switzerland

I love to ski, and can claim visits to most of the ski resorts in the western USA. Skiing in Europe seemed so romantic, imagining the Matterhorn looming in the distance while leisurely lunching at a gourmet restaurant, all cozy and wrapped in sheepskin throws. Ruth called from London. “Meet us in Zermatt for February break!” Getting to Switzerland from New York is almost as easy as getting to Aspen or Jackson Hole. There are non-stops to Zurich, then a ride on a beautiful Swiss train into the Alps. I was traveling alone, meeting the rest of the crew in Zermatt, so I had to pay attention to the train schedules! I admit I was a bit nervous, but locals in the airport and train station were very friendly and happy to point me in the right direction. The Swiss train was a bonus of the adventure, and the gorgeous scenery made the climb up the mountains a joy. A chatter of delight erupted in many languages, when the Matterhorn came into view. Disembarking at the station, I was met by a horse-drawn carriage, which would take me down the charming street to our hotel. Ruth had done wonderful research on restaurants through her connections in London, so we were set to enjoy delicious treats. First up: renting skis. I felt quite clever, solving the ski boot challenge, by packing the lining of my boots, but leaving the hard shells at home. The rental equipment was top-notch and they delivered everything to the ski room at the hotel. The town of Zermatt is picture perfect, and vehicles are limited to horse-drawn carriages and electric taxis. In the morning, everyone fuels up at the buffet, hustles downstairs to put on gear, and waits as the hotel summons a taxi to deliver you to a ski lift. The lifts are a marvel of Swiss efficiency. We had a guide the first two days, because the place is enormous. Our guide took us up a sort of theme park like moving walkway inside the mountain, then we boarded a cable car, where we climbed the elevation inside the hill. Lots of hustle and bustle and and we were again out in the sunshine, overlooking the gorgeous valley below. We followed our guide around wide open piste (trails) and enjoyed the moderate pitch of the mountains. It is quite different from skiing in the USA, where the trails are more distinctly defined between trees. Our guide had made a lunch reservation, and we followed him off the trail to a lovely red building in the distance. He had booked a table, and we tromped inside to a warm and welcoming dining room. The meal was delicious, and of course we enjoyed a bottle of French wine! This tradition was quite a favorite…stopping to enjoy a great meal and wine for an hour (or maybe longer) at lunch. We dined at a different place each day, discovering little noticed trails and at the end, a beautiful chalet with a warm fire burning. We could dine outside most days, because the restaurant supplies you with warm blankets and wooly sheepskins to sit upon. This adds so much charm to the ski vacation. Another wow was the day we skied from Switzerland to Italy. I loved the idea of skiing across borders!! You take the lift to the highest point at Zermatt, and ski down into Cervinia. When you ski into Italy, you swap the high tech Swiss lifts for something more old school. One thing that is a bit strange about the Swiss lifts is that they seem to have eliminated the need for humans. You go through a lift ticket activated turnstile, and the gondola doors open. We wanted to ask a couple of questions, but no lift operators were in sight. Italy retains the lift operators, as they have not gone so high tech yet with their lifts. After a delicious lunch of pasta at a slopeside trattoria in Cervinia, we made our way back up to the border crossing. I was keeping my eye on the time, because if you miss the last lift back to the top, you may end up spending the night in Italy. (the drive between the two resorts is about 5 hours). Another favorite of our trip was stopping at the outdoor bars set up on the side of the ski runs . There was a great ice cave bar with chairs that looked like they were borrowed from the beach. How fun to be skiing down the hill and recognize the orange logo of Veuve Cliquot, skid to a stop and realize there’s a log cabin serving champagne! I had imagined a trip to the Alps would be so much more expensive than a trip out west. Surprisingly, the adventure ended up costing about the same. I can’t wait to go back to Europe to ski. Can we chart your ski trip to the Alps?

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