While the western U.S. has been mired in a nasty dry spell that doesn't have an end in sight at the moment, the Alps are having their best early season in recent memory. Pretty much the entire range has been getting well above average amounts of snow and cold temps, and several regions are borderline buried. That's what led me to kill a planned trip to the Wasatch and make an audible to Switzerland for a five-ski-day visit covering the same time period.
For my first two days, I ultimately decided to try a place I'd previously not even considered, Arosa/Lenzerheide, 90 minutes southeast from the Zurich airport. These two separate ski areas were joined by a cable car four years ago, resulting in what German speakers would call a "Grossraumskigebiet" -- a large-scale ski area with 140 miles of marked trails and what any self-respecting American skier would consider mind-boggling amounts of offpiste (you'd never guess from the trail map/Lenzerheide is almost five miles wide as the crow flies).
After landing in Zurich at 8:30 am, I was on the road a half hour later, driving east through alternating pouring rain and heavy snow flurries. Still, I managed to be at the ski area by 11 am. Conditions were nice for groomed turns but not for taking photos: low clouds, flat light, and light snow. A good day for me to shake out the cobwebs; I managed four hours:
Luckily, it continued snowing overnight and we ended up with 6-10 inches. Even though it's a weekday in the early season, most of the key lifts were running:
During the first hour, there were some residual clouds and a bit of flat light; however, nothing to get in the way of the beautiful visuals:
But by 10:30, the skies cleared and it was game-on:
On a lift ride with two local women, one told a great joke, which translates as: "What's better, great sex or a powder day? A powder day because it lasts longer and you don't have to talk to the snow afterward!" Not sure if slightly less than a foot constitutes a true powder day or not but I wasn't arguing; it skied great and had enough body to keep from punching through to the base. Not knowing the area, I didn't venture too far from marked trails to avoid getting stuck in terrain traps but with nonstop high-speed lifts, I covered a lot of ground vertically and horizontally.
Lunch at the Chile Hut:
By 2 pm, I took the cable car across a huge valley to the Arosa side, which is likewise much bigger than the trail map above indicates:
I love looking at advertisements in different countries -- here's one from a local company that plastered the entire ski area with all sorts of funny pitches for its hard cider:
"Trends change. Good taste endures."
Also, check out the snowboard nappies/diapers they give to people who take their planks into the gondola (to prevent them from scratching the glass):
Within 90 minutes, my early-season legs were calling it a day, so I headed back to Lenzerheide and took a final 3,600-vert run down -- you can see that it's mid-December by how weak the light is:
Time for après-ski drinks in the late-afternoon sun:
Bike store next to my hotel -- open year-round (Jason would approve)
Based on the weather forecast, today may be the only sun I see on this trip. No idea where I'll be driving my Ford FIesta tomorrow; hopefully somewhere with trees in case of limited visibility.