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Secret Switzerland: Day 5

The Big, Fat, Unintentional Lie: The Trailmap
posted: 03/18/2009
by Jake Bogoch

Redd picks a lock. Photo: Tom Winter

Some secret spots remain that way for a reason: they suck. These secret locales linger off the radar because, try as they might, the local marketing people haven’t got their shit together. No matter how hard they sell, no one’s having it.

Much more rare are the mountains that have the opposite problem. These are the places that could be famous. Like this mountain. Now, I don’t know who is in charge of selling this mountain to the masses, but somehow the filet mignon looks a lot like burgers. Those responsible for marketing this mountain have essentially done the very opposite of what they are supposed to do: make the average seem incredible. This place, the second “secret” spot of this trip, the one with a few Swedes I last wrote about, is secret because of its trailmap. Aside from a few hills in Michigan with maps that make their deciduous landfills look like Everest, this place has the most dishonest trail map I’ve ever seen. It’s five lifts penciled onto a swath of mountain that looks as steep as a golf green. Zzzzz…..

Travis Redd, 100 units in to 6,000 feet. Photo: Tom Winter.

Then you get to the top of the mountain. You get here up a tram, a crazy carpet, two quads, and a T-bar. From the top, you ski directly down Val Grande, a boot top-deep, 35-degree descent that plunges 5,000 vertical feet down north-facing bowls lined with granite obelisks. It spits me right out at the bottom of the tram. This kind of run, which few heli-ski operations have to offer, took exactly zero bootpacking to get to. There was no walking, sidestepping, herringboning, or any other exercises in wanton calorie-burning.

So how does something like this remain secret? Why are there only 11 skiers on the first tram? That’s not a typo: on a bluebird day with six inches of new snow, at a mountain with heli-ski terrain, on a tram car that holds 100 skiers, only 11 people have decided to bother. Let me be clear: that’s fine with me. I just don’t get it.

“Who knew snowblades were so much fun?” Skier: Redd. Photo: Tom Winter.

That was yesterday. Today we follow the rest of lies on this trail map. From the top of the T-bar, we discuss which of the numerous 5,000 vertical foot powder laps we should hit. We decide to actually walk this time, opting for a 25-minute bootpack up and over the back of a high peak behind the resort. It goes well off the map and to another town, from where we’ll take a train back to our house. But it should be 6,000 vertical of skiing from the summit.

At the top, Liberty riders Travis Redd and David Lesh survey the scene. Lesh elects to shred a sunny apron, while Redd traverses through shark-tooth rocks to ski the lip of a cirque that drops 4,000 uninterrupted feet of fall line to the valley below. “That,” says Redd at the bottom of the valley, “was the best run of my life.”

Redd, again. The 6,000-foot line, again. Photo: Tom Winter.

There’s still 2,000 feet to go. From here, the valley turns to the west and the sun works the new snow into carveable applesauce. We arc super G turns past fresh avalanche debris, Chinese downhill through a steep valley, and get spat out in the other town.

The train station sits 100 yards away from where we click off the skis. Between here and there is a bar. The train isn’t coming for another 20 minutes, the sun is shining, the air is calm, and the beer is cold. At this point, even the local the marketing department could convince you to order up and throw one back.

Your correspondent, doing his journalistic duty. Photo: Tom Winter.

If you can’t sell this, it’s time to quit marketing. Skier: Redd. Photo: Tom Winter.

To see all the updates on Secret Switzerland, click here.

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