Ski and Surf in Surprising Switzerland

As I spend more time in Switzerland, I discover more and more surprising things about the country and its people. One thing I have discovered is that many people have donkeys as pets. Another thing I have learned from master cheese makers is that hard cheese has much more flavor than soft cheese just because of the difference in the rind. Fondue is not just a delicious and highly caloric way to enjoy special Swiss cheese, it is actually a necessity for survival for mountain life. If you climb up a mountain with your skis on and ski down, you can eat an entire fondue by yourself! How fantastic is that?


Still my favorite Swiss discovery is that in Spring time, you can ski in the morning and paddle in the afternoon as the melt water comes out of the mountains. Where Juerg and I stay in Switzerland, it is absolutely ideal for this!! We are lucky enough to have mountains all around us and therefore also, local rivers. This year in particular because there has been the largest snow pack in the last 60 years, there is plenty of melt water! As seems to be more and more normal with our changing climate, the seasons in Switzerland are changing too! Winter hung around for a long time before Spring arrived and when Spring arrived it was not a gradual warming but a sudden switch to hot weather. This started a great melt but also meant that for safety sake, you had to get up and ski tour early before it got too warm and the big wet snow slides started.


On Friday April 6th, Juerg offered to join my annual bi-ahtalon of skiing in the morning and paddling in the afternoon, and he offered to do it with a twist. One of his mountain guide buddies is also a helicopter pilot so Juerg arranged for us to do an early ski trip flying to the top of the WildHorn – the highest mountain in the area. This was an incredible opportunity for both of us and really exciting. We got an early start on the cloudless and windless day. I am not a regular in a helicopter so it was a breathtaking flight over other large mountains and ravines to finally land on the peak. Once up there, it was like being in another world – snow, ice glaciers and no people!! The conditions were perfect for a gorgeous descent and plenty of fresh tracks. We even skied down a little and hiked up to another peak. Looking below you could see the incredible contrast between Spring’s arrival in bright green and blossoms and the deep world of winter above. It was amazing!


The ski down took time and I enjoyed every turn. Finally, at the bottom we had to cross a river to get back to the road – how fitting for our transition to part two of the biathlon! We stopped at a local restaurant for a well earned snack of meat and cheese and then took the train back to our starting place. After a quick turn around and gear change, we loaded our kayaks and headed to the mighty Saanen river aka the Saane – bezi. The last time I had paddled the Saanen, it had been really really low but not today! We arrived at the put in to find a great flow. The Saanen is the ultimate contrast to the Wildhorn – big huge wild mountain to small, intimate, gorgey river. Everything on the Saanen felt so small compared to the bigness of the Wildhorn. The snow melt water is always a great wake up call especially after the vigor of the ski down and the opposite contrast to the mountain view can be seen from the river – that is glimpses of big snow covered peaks from river level in between the gorges and that is gorgeous!


It was really cool to think that we had been skiing on this melt water only hours before. Down in the Saanen, the first signs of Spring appeared – a frog clinging to one of the gorge walls. This is always a sign of Spring to me and then some bright purple wild flowers growing in a tiny crack also on the gorges walls- how do they even get sunlight down here? And somehow they do and are here every year! After lots of water, slides and melt over the winter, the Saanen has a few new surprises to pay attention to – large trees and some new boulders. The exhilaration of the water was fantastic. Lots of surf opportunities and new lines to try. By 5:30pm, we had finished our biathalon and were on the way home to celebrate our amazing day!! For sure, this is a Swiss discovery that feels spectacular every time I do it!

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