Curieuse Guide to Skiing in Verbier, Switzerland

A collection of useful information for the skieur or skieuse wishing to spend a few days in the Swiss alps.

  1. Don’t eat the yellow snow.
  2. When taking the egg lift down to Le Châble, be sure to raise the window to avoid snowballs in your face, launched from the hooligans on the balconies below. At least until you get into the trees.
  3. Taking a tumble in the powder is the perfect time to sneak a snow angel.
  4. When ordering the plat du jour from a resto on the mountain or in the valley, ask your waiter for a “petit supplément” to get a small refill of your pasta bolognaise or poulet émincé. And use all of the parmesan cheese on your pasta; after all, it’s free calories.

Powder to the People

Just days before I arrived, a bumper snowfall in Verbier ensured a solid base of vast, glittering alpine slopes for many sunshiny days to come. Compared to the years before, the skiing here has been incredible. So much so, in fact, that I can only wonder that more people aren’t out here to enjoy it.

The air is cold, much colder than last year, but no one seems to mind, not least the brave Scotsman who faced the slopes in a kilt, exposing the curly hairs on his bare legs to the elements (and let’s not wonder what else besides).

My skiing, I am happy to report, has improved considerably this year. From those first tremulous plough turns, to skidding sideways across the slope before stopping to make a grand turn, and shooting back the other way, reaching the lift below some forty minutes later, I now fly down the slope with skis straight (as opposed to the plough formation), making turns when I intend to make them, and even managing to get on edge once in a while. I can even keep up with my party for once (when I’m not stopping every few meters to take pictures), even if I am still the last one down. And I am getting better every day.

And as I continue to hone my skills, I often watch other skiers and notice their form. Interestingly, modes in skiing exist just as much as in fashion. I used to think that the best skiers were those who sped gracefully down the mountain, standing straight atop skis held closely together, turning with the hips and using the back ends of their skis as breaks when needed. Gentleman skiers, I call ’em. Apparently, this is the old-school, 70’s style of skiing, back when women wore purple and lime green snowsuits and men wore blue spandex jumpers, and all had thinner, longer skis. These days, modern-day skiers use their full body, bending their knees to make harder turns and getting on edge with their skis, carving the slope of the mountain as they go down.

I think the hardest thing to learn about skiing is that, the steeper the slope, the more you have to lean downwards towards it. This is like telling someone at the top of a high building that the best way to get down is to jump. It’s a good thing I wear a helmet.

In Switzerland

The first time I came to Switzerland, in 2002, the Swiss Franc (CHF) was roughly two to one against the dollar. This meant that I could simply divide the price of Swiss goods in half (more or less) to get an idea of its worth, instead of converting to the Euro, which was at an odd value, 1.28€ to every $1.00.

This year, I’ve found, is even easier, as my request to withdraw 100CHF cost me $97 and change. At roughly one to one, this made it especially convenient when figuring out the actual cost of a single hamburger at the airport in Geneva, which was 7CHF or 10CHF with cheese.

Man, I Love Christmas

As a student, you tend to discover certain aspects of your surroundings which you might not notice as a salaried adult. Like the herb garden on the south side of campus, because spices and herbs are so expensive. Or the flammkuchen at Canossa, because after 8 on campus, everything else is closed. Or the silverware with no pfand attached at the Mensacafe, because you lost all your forks in the grass after several rounds of ‘schwenker’ nights.

Okay, I was only kidding about the last one 😉

In any case, the longer you spend on campus, the more you become aware of these interesting tidbits and keep them in mind when future needs arise. Still, the one thing I have always regretted, living in Saarbrücken, is not having found my ideal place to study.

Different people have different needs when it comes to studying. Some students require absolute quiet, some are lucky to have offices as part of their hiwi positions, and still others like to bring flashcards into the forest. For me, none of those options suffice. My ideal study place is in a loud, busy cafe, with a cup of coffee or tea by my side, and a fast internet connection for my laptop. It may seem strange, but the louder the chatter, clanging and banging, the more focused I am in my work, and the more work that gets done.

Nevertheless, this bizarre need is surprisingly difficult to satisfy in Saarbrücken. As I do not have my own office on campus, and the lab is full of scary linux boxes, and my own bedroom is a disaster for distractions, I have searched high and low for a spot that I might call my educational haven. I’ve tried Grandma’s, where the coffee is good, but the grumpy Grandma always comes to shoo anyone with a laptop away from the power outlet. I’ve considered Ubu Roi, the cafe downtown, but like all cafes in Germany, there is no free wifi (or any wifi at all). And in the end, I have often settled for the Mensa cafe which has an abundance of coffee, campus internet, and power outlets galore.

Which works, for the most part, except for Friday afternoons, like today, when you are kicked out at 3:00 so they can close early. Then where to go?

Luckily this holiday season has been good to me. Out of a lack of better options, I finally found myself at the AC, the foreigner’s cafe on campus, which is open until 8pm, where I can access the campus network, but which typically has no power outlets available. Except at Christmastime, where, if you look carefully, you can find a nice power strip behind the Christmas tree connected to the outlet in the ceiling.

Man, I love Christmas.