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Breaking and Entering in Europe

The Euro made me do it.
posted: 11/04/2008

As international currencies go, the 2008 euro wasn’t just cruel. It was Stalinistic. Hitlerriffic. I spent five weeks in Europe last ski season and eventually resorted to thievery. Little things mostly. A newspaper. One stolen breakfast from a hotel where I was a guest, another from a hotel where I was trespassing. A lighter off a maid’s cart.

The greenback may as well be the peso. I couldn’t afford a pentola to piss in. The euro that cost us 85 cents in 2000 now goes for roughly twice that, US$1.50. Basically, the euro is slipping the dollar a roofie and harvesting its kidneys.

So, yeah, I poached a few chocolate croissants. Looked for free lodging wherever it might exist. I knew alpine huts that open to the public only in summer sometimes maintain unlocked shelters for ski mountaineers. The rooms aren’t powered or heated, but tables, beds, and blankets are available. Skiers need to bring their own mini-stoves and food, but not much cash. Maybe two euros per person for the donation box. That’s a far cry from the $400 per night I paid elsewhere in Europe last spring. (Thanks a lot, Amsterdam Sofitel.)

A guy can take only so many $20 tartiflettes—glorified baked potatoes with cheese and ham—before he snaps. And that’s what happened when my hut plan went all to hell.

I was traveling for a few days with a Colorado chick. We took far-flung chairlifts to reach the edge of a ski area, then slapped on skins and hoofed it toward a hut. The pitch was gentle and we made good time, but so did some low, thick clouds headed the same way.

Coming up the final incline, we briefly saw the hut, standing in the mist several hundred yards away. Then the worst whiteout imaginable obscured the entire valley. We kept moving forward, closer to the hut, but it never showed its stony face again. Without a GPS to point us through the murk, we had all the navigational aptitude of an earthworm. And it was getting dark. The Colorado chick and I turned around in shame, accented by lots of financial fear.

How were we going to find shelter now? The chairlifts we left earlier would be shut, and no taxi could drive through the snowbound valley. Summerhouses speckled the route, but their shutters would be locked and I couldn’t afford fines for breaking and entering. Not in euros, anyway.

We desperately needed a place to shack, and for that place to be free. That’s when we came across a big summerhouse with three small RVs parked under its eaves. I tested the windows on one. Locked. Then another. Not locked. A gift from the gods of penury!

The Colorado chick and I clambered in through the window. The RV was clearly shut for the season, packed with lawn chairs and acting as a storage unit for summer goods. With a little rearranging, though, we managed to dig out mattresses and cleared enough counter space to set up our camp stove. We even located some thin sleeping bags. For trespassers in a foreign country, we slept pretty well.

The next morning, there was joy—over keeping our credit cards in our wallets and relying instead on humankind’s innate, animalistic instinct for self-preservation. We tidied up the RV as best we could. But a couple muddy bootprints resisted our paper towels. I felt bad for a while. Then, on the final sweep, I saw in the closet something despicable: a heavy leather Oakland Raiders jacket. I bet the European owner knew nothing about the great NFL, and simply had the black and silver jacket for the Raiders’ pirate logo and bad-boy
image. I’ve been raised since birth to hate the Raiders, and the sight of the jacket made me sick. To be in a European RV, beholding a memento of the Raiders, annually the most penalized team in football and forever known for ditching the city of Oakland for L.A., and then ditching L.A. to return to Oakland, was too much.

Suddenly, the muddy bootprints seemed…just. Screw the Raiders—and while I’m at it, the euro.

-SKIING MAGAZINE, November 2008

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