I awoke panicked at 03.00. Then at 03.30, and again at 04.00. My dreams were plagued with the thought of missing the train; of failing to get out of Greg’s bed in time to run to the train station with all my ski gear. When my iPod finally decided to play Kobojsarna’s “Saang om ingenting” as a wake-up call at 05.05, I lurched out of bed to the frantic pace of the Swedish techno and checked the weather report. Andermatt, Switzerland, opening day: High of 46 degrees Fahrenheit, low of 33. Good enough.
Finally, the chance to wear my beloved winter clothing had presented itself. I layered on my favorite articles of Craft and Patagonia winter wear while Kyle made eggs for breakfast. Sleepily, we fastened our helmets to our packs and departed into the wet Sorengo morning, ski boots slung around our necks and skis balanced precariously on our shoulders. As we passed the penthouses rented by the wealthier of the student population, drunken classmates called obnoxiously to us from open windows. What a waste of time, I thought. Our day was about to be infinitely more enjoyable than their hangovers.
We met up with 4 other guys at the train station and hovered hesitantly at the platform, debating purchasing a group ticket. At 06.40, with the ticket office closed, I saw this as impossible anyway, and tried not to panic as I watched the clock tick closer and closer to departure time. My fears were confirmed when the train came speeding into view as the guys were in the chaotic process of pushing individual coins into the ticket machine. Our collective entry into the train car was a violent one, involving much tossing about of ski gear, yelling, and sprinting to the doors seconds before they closed. Note to self while traveling with men: keep an eye on the clock. I collapsed in my seat and was asleep within minutes, Switzerland rolling by outside my window.
Another note to self while traveling with men: Reinforce the concept of “preparation time”. This is to say that I awoke to shouts of “HURRY! WE HAVE TO GET OFF!” and the train slowing to a stop. Upon opening my eyes, I discovered that every square inch of space in our train car was now entirely packed with members of the Swiss military, babbling away in Swiss German. My travel companions had failed to take any preparative measures whatsoever, and our skis still lay scattered among various luggage racks, our bags unpacked all over the floor. A mad scramble ensued, during which we truly discovered our collective inability to speak any German whatsoever while whacking Swiss army guys in the head with various articles of ski gear. Falling haphazardly onto the platform, we shuffled hurriedly through the labyrinth of the transfer station and jumped on a local train to Andermatt. I made sure to stay awake this time, bags packed and ready for spontaneous departure.
Mountains rolled by, semi-covered in a light dusting of snow. Jagged rocks and green grass were more prevalent than the snow itself. I pondered the wisdom of skiing the current conditions with rented skis. We disembarked in Andermatt into a pile of slush and made our way through town to the tram.
Andermatt is unique in its quaintness. It lacks the super-modern, corporate resort-town feel of many other popular ski mountains. The town lays relatively untouched, small, and quiet, still very traditional in its Swiss ways. Skiers are carried up the slopes by slow, simple lifts and dine in tiny restaurants with a limited menu, yet the entire experience maintains an air of classic nostalgia often forgotten in the whirlwind of monster ski resorts. Only one slope was skiable on opening day, and as uneven, inconsistent and downright bizarre as it was, remained absolutely packed with people. Swiss teenagers crowded the hill in gigantic neon jackets, smoking cigarettes on every lift ride. The Alps loomed in every direction.
We skied all day, pausing only once for a picnic of bread and cheese. We had brought water in Kyle’s CamelBak, but it had gone bad, and tasted exactly like the days-old dishwater in his sink. The sickening flavor, in combination with our lunch, is impossible to erase from my memory. Besides that, it was delicious. We skied the same run time and time again, trying off-piste only a handful of times, which resulted in deep scratches in the bottoms of everyone’s skis. One of our companions, another Alaskan, managed to break one ski tip, both his tails, a binding, and a pole basket – on rental gear. By some miracle, the people in the rental shop seemed more astounded than anything, and didn’t ask him to pay for it.
No better place or time to experience firsthand what apres-ski really means! Hot soup, fresh bread, and Swiss beer were waiting for us at a cozy pub in town, at a table with a handful of other college students. We rode the trian home in the dark, thoroughly satisfied with opening day in the Alps.