Winter was not a part of most of my childhood. My young interactions with snow boil down to a handful of family fables. When I was three and we were living in Phoenix, the seemingly impossible happened: it snowed. Well, that's what the Arizonians said anyways. My Michigander parents say "it flurried." I looked up into the sky, so the story goes, with wide eyes and said to my mom pensively, "oh, so this is what mits are for."
A couple years later we drove from our new location in Houston, Texas to Michigan for Christmas. I remember my grandfather pushing me down a hill on what I thought was a giant, plastic frisbee. My parents remember taking me tubing. You have very little directional control when you fling yourself down a snow-covered hill on an oversized rubber doughnut. Apparently my mom and I took out a rather oversized lady right at the knees... (Dad, I have a vague memory of seeing this once on a family video??)
Several winters later, in North Carolina, we rather exceptionally got about 4 inches of snow. The grocery store ran out of milk and bread and school was canceled for days. I remember watching two of my dad's students try to pat together a snowman in our front yard. The poor dears had never seen the make-a-snowball-and-roll-it-til-it-gets-big technique and their attempt look more like a burial mound for Frosty than the jolly bon homme himself. My mom opened the front door and gave them directions... and a carrot.
I didn't fall in love with winter until we moved to Michigan when I was seventeen. Granted, I've never had a driveway to shovel or a school-path side walk to clear before 7am, but I'm unconvinced that these tasks would change my mind. I love winter. I love making soups and stews, drinking huge mugs of milky tea, watching snow fall, seeing sun glint of ice sickle daggers slowly dripping toward the ground. Before I start sounding over-the-top, I will say that I absolutely hate having wet feet (or wet anything for that matter) and I really dislike the mushy end of winter that seems to span all of March, April and sometimes part of May in Michigan. BUT, for me at least, the glinty, snowy height of January and February are only eclipsed in beauty by crisp, colorful, produced-laden autumn.
The only time I saw snow last year was when Lauren and I ingeniously decided to go to Poland... in February. We caught an inexpensive Easy Jet flight from Paris to Krakow and were too cheap to check any bags. I wore three sweaters, a wool vest and my winter coat on the plane. I think I was most thankful for the wool vest the day that Lauren and I misread the scale on our map of Warsaw and walked over three hours across the city just to see this "spectacular-can't-miss-it" (or so our Let's Go Easter Europe guide claimed) floating palace. You would think that two college graduates from the Midwest would have the foresight to realize that, in the snow, the "floating" palace would look much more like a palace in the middle of a corn field.
Anyhow, all of this to say that this winter in Switzerland certainly makes up for last year's total lack of winter (and almost makes up for an entire childhood without winter!). Some days when I step out my front door, I wonder whether or not I've had to rummage through the back of a magic wardrobe to get where I've landed.
The spectacular thing about winter here is how active of a season it is. Nearly every winter sport you can imagine is accessible by bus or train in under an hour. What's more, at this elevation the temperature rarely drops below 25 F (that's -4 C for all you European folks reading this ;), which means that you can actually get outside and do things instead of scurrying from car to building to car. So, I thought I'd take you all on a wee tour of some of my winter excursions since getting back here after the holidays.
Three days after I got back, my dear friend Lauren Berka came to visit for ten days. She's currently in grad school in... Phoenix, so it seemed appropriate to pack enough winter into her ten days here to last her until the end of February, which is when we all want winter to end anyways. Our first adventure was with this lovely group of women:
We went on a group snow-shoeing trek on a nearby mountain. And, if that in and of itself weren't Swiss enough, the package also included a gluhwein (hot, mulled red wine) stop with a bonfire AND a fondue dinner. We were all a bit bummed in the morning when we woke to clouds and snow. No sunshine, no vista views. But the complete silence in the forest made up for it. Well, OK, and the fact that, since it was impossible to see much more than twenty feet in any direction, my imagination pulled up a National Geographic narrator who filled in the details of our team's blizzard trek across the Antarctic that our guide was leaving out. haha :) Look how beautiful it was:
It seems the winter-adventure-syndrome got into our bones because a couple days later when we were looking at the weather forecast for the top of Mt. Pilatus, we discovered that, in addition to stunning gondola rides, Pilatus also offers a 6 kilometer (3 mile!). The run basically begins at the tree line and twists and turns all the way down the mountain. My original thought, "Oh! This will be so fun!" quickly turned to "Shit! How do you control these things!" I've been sledding plenty of times, but the runs have always been short enough (and straight enough) that you barely even have time to pick up speed before you reach the bottom. Not so with a 3 mile continuous run. Not so. And, to top things off, the sleds were the for-real deal: wooden with metal runners. In short, the kind you only ever see as decorations at Santa Land in the mall or on vintage, 19th century Christmas cards. Turns out, there's a very good reason that sleds have evolved since the 1850's: safety. I don't think I've done something that's terrified me so much, given me so many bruises and yet been so much fun.
Well, it's getting exceptionally late here and I should go to bed. But I still want to share a few more pictures from the hike I went on this morning. An unbelievable ten minute bus ride away from my door...
I wish I could transport you all here for this wonderland. (I also wish I could figure out how to make this underlining go away....)