There was no easing into our first winter. Storms steamrolled across the lowlands and entombed Europe with snow. Even Switzerland—mighty with its snowplows—struggled to deal with it. Towns near Davos were cut off for days. Mountain passes shut down. Driving was a nightmare. But the trains still ran. It was easy to spot the faithful. Every afternoon they’d walk out of Bern’s main train station with skis over their shoulders and snow dripping off their chins like melted pork fat. Meanwhile, all my gear was still captive in our missing container. I couldn’t wait any longer and decided I’d just go rent skis. I’d need pants and a jacket, too.
I needed a Euro suit.
One Saturday morning I wandered around Bern’s old town, searching for a ski jacket that looked to be on the right side of 1984. Gaydar systems tend to jam in Europe, where pink and yellow outfits are an equal opportunity. But instead of geometric sprinkles and neon trim, the racks were heavy with Jack Wolfskin, Sherpa, and Mammut, everything in surprisingly reasonable cuts and colors. Even the grocery store sold respectable gear. Though nothing was cheap. The one jacket and pair of pants I found that fit my flagpole frame cost nearly $1,500. No wonder so many still own one-pieces from junior high. I came home with nothing but a purple hat I bought at the Swiss version of RadioShack.
Even if I’d had my gear, I couldn’t have gone skiing anyway. Our daughter, Evie, arrived in early December, right as the first big dumps hit. I didn’t sleep for weeks. We’d been in Switzerland for almost four months and real life had settled in, too. I had a desk job and insurance to pay and an extra crack to clean. Each morning I would check the snow reports and nearly spück my coffee into the keyboard. The storms never let up. Wengen had double the normal snowpack. Andermatt had quadruple. A meteorological miracle was unfolding and, in the next room, someone kept shitting her pants.
But soon another miracle unfolded. A guy named Kevin called from the Netherlands saying he had our shipment and that it would arrive in 10 days, nearly six months after we’d shipped it. The mafia hadn’t stolen it. It hadn’t ended up misfiled in a warehouse with the Lost Ark. Rather our shipping company had gone bankrupt and not paid Kevin his fee. That meant we’d have to fork over almost another $1,000. But it was our stuff! Back from the dead! I wired the money the next day.
Soon Heidi and I were tearing through all 29 boxes. There were ski clothes, my Mac, gloves, helmet, goggles, and a half bottle of Tapatío hot sauce. Every plate we’d shipped was destroyed. I nervously unzipped the ski bags. All six pairs were just as I’d left them, their bases still shiny with a thick layer of protective wax. Everything smelled like the sea.
The next weekend more storms lined up but this time I was ready. Trains were leaving for Adelboden in 30 minutes. I did like the Swiss and stomped out of the apartment wearing ski boots, racing in walk mode for the station. I bought some cheese pies and an espresso and leapt onto a 7:40 Regional Express. I felt more Swiss than ever, sipping my coffee as fields out the window folded into the Bernese Oberland. I didn’t care when my wife called to say my neighbor had left a terse note in our mail box reminding us that even on a powder day one must leave the building more quietly.
When the train arrived at Adelboden, I jumped out and raced up the first gondola I saw. I was so impatient, I cut people off in the lift line and ran over the tails of those in front. I took another gondola, then a chair and a T-bar. I dropped into an untracked field, then into a small clearing where I opened it up. My skis felt like they were on missile lock, guiding me to shots hidden between the firs and down the back sides of knolls. I stopped to catch my breath. A light snow was falling. Everything was quiet.
I was utterly lost. I’d never been to Adelboden before and, somehow, I’d worked my way over to the next village. It would take me a good hour to get back.
And so began another mission. I had to find a ski buddy and fast, a real local willing to show a brother a few things about my new home. For the moment, though, I lowered my goggles and shoved off again, just a man and his cheese pies whistling through the Alps.