The train winds its way like a thread through the mountains. We're going skiing.
I lean out the window. I draw the crisp February air deep into my lungs, as I watch snow-covered fields, villages and alpine mountains whiz by. The iron tracks scream out, and my traveling companions are wearing broad grins of anticipation as they hang out the windows next to me.
A few days earlier: Skier, mountain biker and Norrøna ambassador Armin Beeli invited us on a skiing adventure near his hometown of Flims in Switzerland. His job as a logger has made Beeli more than familiar with the trees around here; knowledge that comes in handy when the environment doesn’t play along. It was like that when we arrived. It had been a long time since the last snowfall and Beeli spoke of idyllic conditions just a week earlier. “You should have come sooner,” he says. The weather forecast was bad and the fog was thickening. “Well, what will be will be,” I said in an attempt to reassure myself. Beeli, on the other hand, seemed as upbeat as ever, yet was also as silent as a sphinx, as if he knew something we didn’t. We would be going exploring.
Deep in the forests of the steep hills around Laax, the snow is untouched and dry. Christoph Weber Thoresen made the journey from Austria to join us. He’s never one to say no to making the first tracks between the spruce trees when opportunity arises. Afterall, the German snowboard legend still likes the feel of snow in his beard. We are in safe hands, my countryman Even Sigstad and I. Sigstad is an experienced globetrotter and Norrøna- ambassador. But he is best known for skiing on rails in Field Productions films. Now he is up for this Swiss pillow fight. So here we are, deep in Beeli's secret realm, enjoying our first day of forest skiing. And what will tomorrow bring? More fog. When we wake up it's almost as dark as when we went to bed. You can nearly reach out and touch the grey outside. “What will be will be,” I hear Sigstad say from his bedside. “Yes,” I answer, “it will be,” and pretend that the weather doesn’t bother me. At the same time, I think of all the pictures I probably won’t be able to take today. We just have to trust the logger.
The gondola ride starts at 1 100 meters at the Laax base station. At Crap Sogn Gion, 2 228 meters, the fog is still as thick as pea soup. The visibility is zero. It strikes me that I am about to experience Switzerland without seeing a single mountain. Yet, I’ll still have fun. Maybe there is a story in that? Somewhere on the way to Crap Masegn, I suddenly feel the sun warming my cheek. The Gondola cabin rises out of the fog and takes us all the way to Vorab Glacier at 3 018 m. I begin to see why so many people head for Laax. As soon as the gondola cabin breaks free of the clouds, we break free of our pessimism. We see an alpine landscape bathed in sunshine, and the night’s fresh snow. The fog is rolling around down there in the valley. It is an unbelievably beautiful landscape. Now I understand what Beeli was talking about ; why he is such a local patriot. The day brings mountains, powder and Swiss sausages on the grill. Skiing into the fog when the day is over doesn’t bother us at all.
Now we’re on the train. Somewhere up ahead, one of the highest railway stations in Switzerland awaits us. At 2 048 meters, our thread leads to Oberalp Pass. It’s a good starting point for some railroadbased alpine touring. The conductor says something over the loudspeakers speakers that I do not understand. Beeli nods. We’re getting off at the next stop. We can start skiing right from the train tracks. The alpine trek was exactly what we had dreamed of. The descent was what we had hoped for. The train ride? We reach Laax again. I remain seated. I don’t want to get up. I want to stay on the train, see more mountains, get off at more high-altitude stations.
What? Railways and skiing around Laax-Flims in the Swiss Alps.
Travel: Fly to Zurich, take the train to Chur or Ilanz, and then 30 minutes by bus from there to Laax.
Lodgings: We stayed at the Riders Palace, which caters to young people. If you’re looking for quiet evenings, try Signina Hotel or Rocks Resort. All are near the lifts in Laax, not more than a five to ten minute walk.
Train: You don’t need to rent a car in Switzerland because you can reach many great ski resorts by train. Swiss railway ticket prices and timetables are available at Swiss Railways and SBB.
Guide: Alpine Action Unlimited, Swiss Mountaineering School, 7017 Flims Dorf/GR. +41 (0) 81 936 74 74
More info: www.laax.com
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