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Secret Switzerland: Day 1

The Storm and the Sheep
posted: 03/11/2009

The Valser bottling plant, sheepshit-free since inception! Photo By Tom Winter


Switzerland’s finest water is bottled 50 feet from where I write this. And if you want to know the absolutes of Swiss culture, it can be distilled here—and it is, quite literally done so. The finest water in Switzerland sits downhill from this house, as does nine pairs of skis, seven of which belong to the Liberty freeride team. There is a sheep farm producing prodigious amounts of sheep shit just below the water source on the hill. If the sheep farm were 200 feet higher, it would make Valser an industrial delivery system for ingesting livestock crap. But due to meticulous Swiss organization, the plant is where it is, the bottling tanks glittering through the ultra-modern structure that contains it all. So when you taste Valser, all you taste is nothing but pure, mountain water. There is nothing you’d rather drink.




clouds blowing off as the storm passes through Switzerland’s Graubunden region. Photo by: Tom Winter



All of this is perched in the head of the Vals valley, home to a tiny, little-known ski hill of two lifts that few know and few care about. Liberty team riders David Lesh, Travis Redd, and Alex Applegate along with photographer Tom Winter and I are here, in Switzerland’s Graubunden region, for two weeks. In Vals, we five are the only English voices in this small town, which clings to water both hot and cold for its economy. Vals is home to a natural thermal spa that bubbles its way to the surface at 30 degrees Celsius. That’s the temperature of water that Goldilocks chose: not too hot, not too cold—just right. The cold water trickles through limestone rocks, licking its way to the bottling plant and past it to the plains below. The hot water burbles to the surface through the foundations of the Hotel Therme, which fences bodily marination for 26 Francs a soak.




David Lesh fluffs soms Swiss pillows. Photo by: Tom Winter



Ultimately, all of the water comes from the big, regular snows that fall here, accumulating far from the eyes of the rest of the Swiss-Italian region known as Graubunden, the most mountainous canton of Helvetica. For the next two weeks, we’ll explore this unknown, untouristed quadrant of the alps—the buckle of this year’s snowbelt. It’s raining in Geneva, raining in Berlin. And it’s absolutely BARFING up here. Here are a few teaser photos from day 1. Stay tuned for more updates…and the occasional run-in with sheep.




Your humble correspondent, on the job. Photo by: Tom Winter




Travis Redd is white. Photo by: Tom Winter




Alex Applegate tends this Swiss garden with his gardening gloves. Photo by: Tom Winter




No friends on a powder day, nor other skiers of any kind. This (secret) spot is secret for a reason. Photo by: Tom Winter



For more info on skiing the Graubunden region, visit myswitzerland.com

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