Due to starting a new job late last year, I was only able to book one trip to the Alps this season so I flew out last Wednesday in the midst of the growing Coronavirus hysteria in the U.S. Here in Switzerland, you hear news about the pandemic on radio, TV, and internet, but in real life, no one seems to be talking about it much and you don't see anyone wearing respiratory masks, despite being only 100 or so air miles from ground zero of the European outbreak in northern Italy.
As you may remember me mentioning in past reports -- whereas we in the U.S. always look forward to skiing through storm days, here in the Alps it's not necessarily a situation you want because many ski areas are mostly above treeline so if you get low-lying clouds/fog, it can turn into a vertigo-inducing challenge. That's what I got on Days 1 and 2; very interesting ski areas (I'll post about them later) but really tough visibility -- sometimes a total whiteout, similar to what you get occasionally at Grand Targhee -- so we'll fast-forward to Day 3 when the weather cleared a bit for my arrival at the ski circuit of Obersaxen/Mundaun about 50 miles as the crow flies south/southeast of Zurich. It's just to the west of the larger and more well-known Flims/Laax:
By Alps standards, Obersaxen/Mundaun is considered somewhere between medium and medium-large in size with 60 miles of marked trails. That's 5.5 miles across, about the same size as The Canyons and Park City combined, with huge expanses of offpiste skiing:
Obersaxen can also lay claim to one of my favorite ski-area logos (right up there with Hickory's original one with the rabbit). I'm glad that they've kept it old-school/no flashy updating:
My pix are OK but not spectacular and don't really show the expanse or gorgeous views. For that, check out these stunning photos that an Austrian skier posted a few years back.
The first lift ride, it looked like 3-4 inches had fallen overnight; enough to freshen things up nicely offpiste.
On my first run, there were still plenty of high clouds; however, visibility was decent enough so I followed this guy for a long run through soft bootcuff-deep snow.
I like the pix of this young girl, who appears to be skiing into clouds that look like the Chernobyl nuclear reactor:
Traversing through the western quarter of the ski area:
There's a really long run that wraps around the south-facing backside of the ski area, starting off with a massive cloud bank:
Then clearing up with a long-distance vista:
German-speaking skiers love to do the sitting-down thing on cat tracks:
Eventually, about 3,300 verts later you hit the lower-elevation tree line with snowmaking in spots:
I stopped in for a mid-afternoon coffee/dessert break here:
A really enjoyable day at a ski area that's decently known, but overshadowed by larger, more recognizable mountains.
You are so right snow days in the Alps are tough - I have found that if you find lower altitude places that have trees it can work but there are not many of those with good skiing in Switerday where everything tends to be above tree line. Germany and Italy have more lower altitude places. When that happens to your carefully planned trips to you call an audible and go somewhere else?
Flims / Laax has long been on my list to do a week in that area and hit the big as well as smaller areas
where did you stay? are you doing one central location or moving every night?
if You French Fry when you should Pizza you are going to have a bad time
You are so right snow days in the Alps are tough - I have found that if you find lower altitude places that have trees it can work but there are not many of those with good skiing in Switerday where everything tends to be above tree line. Germany and Italy have more lower altitude places.
I was in Zermatt last Wednesday to Friday. Wednesday was a beautiful cloudless, windless day. Friday was mostly sunny with no wind. But Thursday was terrible visibility. Snowing and cloudy. I saw some mid mountain clearing between upper and lower clouds on the way up but couldn't find anywhere with visibility on the way down. Experienced the vertigo in a complete whiteout twice trying to ski to the bottom by Braille. I would definitely make a plan B for a below the tree line area in the future.
Thursday was terrible visibility. Snowing and cloudy. I saw some mid mountain clearing between upper and lower clouds on the way up but couldn't find anywhere with visibility on the way down.
Yep, Thursday was the day I arrived and skied at Flumserberg, an hour from Zurich, in similar vertigo conditions to what you had at Zermatt. One of these days, there'll be affordable night goggles for skiing!
I've scored great storm days at below-treeline ski areas in the Alps; however, sometimes it's not logistically possible. Regardless, the good/great days in the Alps make it worth the whiteouts.
Yes and not out of preference. Same deal when I'm in Colorado because I don't have an Epic or Ikon Pass like most people so it's not easy to find ski partners.
My wife used to accompany me on an Alps trip every season; however, shifting family responsibilities the last few years have made that impossible. An American who speaks the local languages here in the Alps is a bit of a novelty so I always get chatting with locals on the lift at every ski area and often do a handful of runs with them. I have a fun story about joining two amazingly fit 70 year-olds for an epic T2B run on Day 2 -- will post about it later.