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Secret Switzerland: Day 4

The second spot: Full of Swedes. That’s a good thing.
posted: 03/17/2009

Photo by Tom Winter



Like last week, this is another “secret” mountain of Switzerland, though it’s slightly less secret than last week’s gem, Vals. You’ll see two posts detailing what this place is all about but I’m not revealing where it is until Wednesday.



Here’s another secret to help you ski here: The key to Switzerland is Sweden. Really. That’s because Sweden is absolutely full of freeskiers. Polluted with them. Only there are few ski areas there with proper, big mountain terrain. So they leave en masse for the Alps. They set up satellite communities. Establish bars. Make local connections. Sometimes they stay for good. Swedes have been in La Grave for twenty years and Chamonix for thirty. And now that the Euro has made those locales expensive by comparison, they come to Switzerland because it’s handily running its economy with its own private, modestly-priced currency.



Photo: Tom Winter.



But the Swedes are discerning. And not every mountain is right for freeskiing in Switzerland. Some are south-facing and some are low-angle. Those characteristics are good for drawing weekenders and fair-weather gapers on rental gear but neither is conducive to big mountain pow laps. But if you go to a Swiss ski hill and hear Swedish spoken, see fat skis among the carvy Stocklis in the rack, and walk on tiny moons of brown snuss spittle dotting the snow, you know the place is absolutely loaded with killer terrain.



Photo: Tom Winter.



Sure enough, within an hour of showing up, a skinny blonde guy with hoops in both ears walks by. It’s Martin Soderqvist, a rising ski photographer who shoots a lot for Skiing. Our meeting is a total fluke. Martin says he spent two seasons at this ski hill. That alone was all I needed to know.



We find out on our first run. I’m standing on the summit, the headwaters of the Rhine River, a full 5,500 vertical feet above the town and its monastery built in the 8th century. This first run, on a mountain I’d never skied, scribes a line down northeast-facing ribs under slabs of spiky brown granite crenellating the ridge top. The run drops down 30-degree pitches for a few thousand feet before petering out into a valley. A long, thigh-throttling descent that few heli ops can deliver. The run delivers me and my companions—Liberty riders Alex Applegate, David Lesh, and Travis Red—to within 100 vertical feet of the bottom of the tram, which is also less than 100 feet from where we sleep. Incredible. Something like this should cost a fortune. But Martin had said this town wasn’t expensive. And he’s right. Rico and Maria Flury-Valier rent out the six-person chalet where we are staying, steps from the slopes for a piddling 100 francs a night. (Call them at 081 947 46 69 to make reservations).



Photo: Tom Winter.



Regardless of how cheap it is, the Liberty crew stuck to the book of the dirtbag. At a mid-mountain bar housed inside a transparent igloo the size of living room, the Liberty boys insisted on table-grazing on a plate of fries from the next table over. A table that was occupied by a trio of fashion-conscious young men on vacation. The guys leave their nearly full beers to go outside for a cigarette, the Liberty crew is about to drink from the bottles. Suddenly, they realize that these stylish young men are gay. Our crew knows nothing about whether the young men are sleeping with each other, nor can they ascertain whose lips had been on whom. They pass, but continue eating the fries anyway.



Photo: Tom Winter.



We buy drinks instead—Swiss schnapps cut with hot water, instant coffee, and sugar cubes, the golden liquid warming us up as we watch the flakes falling by the windows. It isn’t pounding, and we don’t know if it will because the weather is hard to read in the Alps. Maybe the Swedes know, but there aren’t any here to ask and they wouldn’t tell us anyhow.



Photo: Tom Winter.



Photo: Tom Winter.



To catch all of the dispatches from Switzerland, Click here.

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