Carving down the pistes of the Swiss Alps: a phenomenal view
As an avid snowboarder in Asia, I would say I am a decent snowboarder and have been to some of the famous ski hills in the northeast. When I shared my snowboarding experiences with my work colleague, he was shocked to hear I haven’t been to Switzerland. I made some excuse that it was too far and expensive to justify going over the pond just to snowboard. There it was, the idea was planted.
Several weeks later, I was pricing out a trip to Whistler, British Columbia for a snowboarding trip over the Christmas holidays and was shocked at the price tag for just a domestic trip! I joked with my friend that at that price, we could go to Switzerland instead and I can justify that price tag for an overseas trip. The joke led to some price checking, which led to the ultimate conclusion that yes, a trip to Switzerland would be cheaper than a trip to Whistler over the holidays. Before we knew it, we had booked our trip and packed our bags for the Alps.
While I had visited Switzerland during the summer months a few years ago, the country has a different feel to it after a light dusting of snow. Stepping into the city of Davos, the Swiss Alps feel close enough that you could just reach out and touch it. With the Alps’ towering presence over the area, Davos offers an unparalleled view of the snow capped mountains. What a phenomenal view, it’s just like walking into a winter wonderland. Standing at the bottom of the pistes, I looked up at the mountain and thought that the Canadian ski hills looked like mole hills in comparison.
How to get here: take a scenic train ride from Zurich to the pistes
In North America, it takes a decent amount of driving for any city dweller to reach the ski hills. The drive is especially grueling after a full day of skiing and snowboarding (and maybe some after-ski drinks). In Switzerland, I’m amazed at the ease of access to pistes: most of the popular ski hills are accessible by train, with Zurich acting as a hub for the country. The trains have luggage compartments, including ski racks, so there’s space to bring your gear on board. The locals even wear all their gear, including their ski boots, onto the train so they won’t have to carry large duffle bags with their gear. It is quite a sight seeing people lifting their ski poles and skis, while running in their unbuckled ski boots to catch a train.
SBB, the Switzerland train operator, offers Snow’and’Rail packages which include a return trip by rail and a ski pass. The ski pass can be purchased for 1-day, 2-days, or 6-days worth of access, depending on the slopes. The package also offers discounts on equipment rentals at Intersport Rent, which is an excellent way for the traveler who doesn’t want to lug all their gear from home. All you have to do is buy your tickets, sit back, and relax on your scenic train ride through the Alps to the slopes.
Time to gear up! Where to get the right equipment
If the main purpose of a trip to Switzerland is to hit the slopes, it makes a lot of sense to bring along all your equipment on the trip. For me, the slopes were only a small part of my Switzerland trip, and I had no intention of shipping my 20 pounds worth of gear overseas. After a little research, you’ll find that equipment rental shops are a dime a dozen around the base of the mountains. All the hardware is available for rent, including skis, snowboards, boots, ski poles, and helmets. You should provide for all your “softer” equipment, such as ski jackets, snow pants, ski socks goggles and gloves. In case you forget these at home, all of these are available for purchase in the rental stores as well.
I ended up bringing all my soft gear plus my snowboard boots. I’m naturally disgusted by the idea of stuffing my feet into footwear that accommodated other strangers’ smelly feet, so it was worth carrying an extra 5 pounds of weight on the train. With my Snow’and’Rail pass, it was most logical to go to Intersport and rent a snowboard with my 15% discount. The staff at the store were very professional and helpful, even allowing me to leave my shoes and duffle bag in their storage room for the day.
Ashamed: even the young kids are better than me at skiing
Between the wait lines, gondola rides and ski lifts, it might take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes before you reach the peak. There are multiple sections of the hill, so if you’re a slower skier or you’re going with younger kids, you don’t need to go all the way up but can stay closer to the middle of the mountain. After all the logistics and rentals are out of the way, it’s finally time to hit the slopes!
Perhaps I wasn’t as good of a snowboarder as I thought I was (I’d like to think that the Swiss are just exceptional skiers), I was having a very tough time on the slopes. After being used to the fake snow at North American ski hills equipped with snowmaking, the real snow in the Alps was making the way down extra difficult. On the one hand, I see kids under 12 strapped to a pair of skis and barreling down the hill like it was as easy as walking. On the other hand, there’s me with my plus one-half skiing and half falling our way down the mountain. It was absolutely embarrassing being shown up by a bunch of kids half our age. Luckily, we slowly regained our ski/board legs and held up our own (sort of) in the latter half of the day. THIS is how skiing should be – just look at the view.
Apres ski drinks? Why wouldn’t you have a drink halfway down the mountain?
Skiing just isn’t skiing without a cold drink at the end of the day. But, who says you can’t have a drink in the middle of your run? There are restaurants located at the top and in the middle of the mountain. If you’re feeling a little winded and need a beer to re-energize for the last half of the run, take off your skis and step in for a drink!
After you’ve had your fill of skiing and drinks, it’s time to bid the elegant ski hills goodbye and hop back on the SBB train to head home.