I arrived early Saturday in Geneva for my eight-day visit to the Valais region in western Switzerland, got my rental car (a brand new Citroën with literally five kilometers on the odometer), and drove east along Lake Geneva. On a sunny morning, it was breathtaking and borderline dangerous as I kept staring across the water at the dramatic mountains that come right to the lake's southern edge instead of keeping my eye on the road.
Within an hour, I was in the Rhône Valley and pulled into the first of several locals-only ski areas I planned to hit on this trip, Nax. Good thing that my car has a hotshot GPS system as there are only signs on the Autobahn alerting you to the most well-known ski regions, not for the under-the-radar joints that I'll be hitting.
I booted up in the parking lot, directly next to the lift:
... and was on the chair by 10:30 for a few hours of arrival-day turns.
I remembered seeing photos of gorgeous valley views from Mont Noble, but by the time I got to the top of the chair (the bottom of the actual ski area), clouds had moved in, followed by heavy snow for the next three hours, which made for nice skiing but very reduced visibility, so I only have a couple flat-light pix instead of the stunners from this article:
I found a handful of nice long runs in the 2,700-vert range, but jet lag was taking over (almost fell asleep on a t-bar), so I called it a day at 2:30 and headed to my hotel on the northern side of the valley. Skies cleared out overnight, here's what it looked like at 7 am from my hotel window:
The view from the valley floor:
It's a huge wine region so there are grapes growing on both the north= and south=facing slopes:
After a half hour of twisty driving through the Hérens Valley, I came upon the Pyramids of Euseigne -- more impressive in person than in the pix:
I was wondering if they're manmade; however, according to the My Switzerland website: The cones were created in the end phase of the last Ice Age, about 80,000 to 10,000 years ago. When the glaciers retreated, enormous piles of debris were left behind, which contained boulders. While rain and meltwater eroded the area surrounding the boulders, these rocks served as protective caps for the soil underneath them, enabling the formation of these well-known natural monuments. Looks like something you'd see in southern Utah. And being Switzerland, they built a tunnel right under them.
About 20 minutes later, I arrived in the cute village of Evolène:
... and booted up next to a family that was excited to hit the slopes.
You glide down to a little ticket shack and a path to the lift:
An old slow double takes you from the base to the bottom of the ski area: 2,500 verts in 22 minutes!
About halfway up, people were shralping the low-elevation powder, which apparently hadn't yet turned to mank in the sun.
Top of the Chemeuille chair -- it's all surface lifts for the rest of the day:
Time to hit some powder before the sun cooks it.
The only disappointment of the day -- the summit t-bar was already closed for the season:
Once the February vacation period is over, the smaller ski areas start putting lifts into hibernation. Too bad, I was looking forward to the upper terrain. I complained to the guy next to me, who wasn't happy about it either.
A not uncommon sight in French-speaking regions: older couples in matching ski outfits, which would get you thrown into fashion jail in North America:
Time for a quick outdoor lunch with requisite Euro disco blaring in the background:
It's kinda comforting to see that 20-something francophone cigarette smokers haven't gone the way of the dodo bird over here:
The sign on the right reminds people not to throw cigarette butts in the snow -- "one cigarette butt can pollute up to a square meter of snow!"
The snow was still decent on the lower mountain before I ducked into the trees on the trail to the base:
12:30, time to get moving to my other target ski area about 20 minutes away, Arolla, in a box canyon at the end of the valley. It's directly on the other side of the huge ridge that you see in the Evolène photos, but it was much colder: mid-winter temps.
Nothing but old Poma platter lifts there: the main one had a rocket-launch effect at the beginning:
I love how they zig-zag through the terrain -- this one had a few steep sections:
And like at Evolène, the summit lift was closed for the season, ugh. Several people were putting on skins here to access the upper terrain:
About six inches of nice leftovers on top of a refrozen base -- you'd hit bottom every five or so turns:
Another Poma with a 45-degree curve:
With light getting flat, I headed down for a mid-afternoon break:
Mid-mountain refreshment/snack huts are called buvettes:
Mademoiselle tending crêpes:
While I was relaxing, an entire family (parents and three kids, including a five-year-old!) arrived after skinning up half of the mountain.
As the rest of the group went inside, the mother shifted everyone's bindings into downhill mode and removed/stored five pairs of skins: badass!
Really cool, that's how I'd roll in Europe. That's how I did the time I went to CH. Arosa wasn't that small but it had rope tows etc.
RA from what I've seen the European's don't whine about that stuff. One of the primary lifts out of the base in Arosa had a required 20 vert foot herringbone required to access it every time. Can you imagine the howling? Worse than WF guys at Gore.
"You just need to go at that shit wide open, hang on, and own it." —Camp
James : Thanks so much for your magnificent reports , i really enjoy them . They are just the right elixir for me while i sit here waiting for the second surgery next week . These pics lift the spirit and are a great armchair travelogue .