Europe 2018 Trip Report – Switzerland

| April 30, 2018

Switzerland was part one of a three part trip to Europe which inadvertently came about as a way to salvage plans and plane tickets from a trip to Greenland which was cancelled due to lack of snow.  Like much of skiing, it was destiny as Europe was having a great snow year and many of my friends happened to be around.  Unlike a tent camping trip where you are basically with the same small group of people the entire time, it was fun to see and ski with such a wide variety of old and new friends.  Skiing is all about being in the moment, but it is the experiences with friends and shared experiences that make it so memorable.

I was fortunate to be travelling with Glen Poulsen on this entire trip, who is not only an encyclopedia of backcountry knowledge, but also a great friend and ski partner.  He is the ultimate snow sniffer, which made it easy to default to whatever plans he might have in mind.  In contrast, the one day I really had my mind set on skiing a certain area (Chamonix), the snow was so bad it was almost unskiable.

After a brief visit to Verbier to visit Dawn Sarasin, we did a day of local backcountry skiing, had an incredible fondue meal (truffle flavored cheese), met up with Sarah Halas and her Austrian travel companion Daniela Hochmuth (aka Dani Danger) and headed up to the Great Saint Bernard Hospice.  This “hut” dates back to 820 AD and is located at one of the few low spots in the Alps where it is possible to cross over into Italy.  It is also home to the famous St. Bernard breed of dogs, who were originally used both for mountain rescue and as guides in bad weather.  The approach to the hut is lined with avalanche paths and prone to bad weather, so the dogs played a large part in the history of the area.  Unfortunately there were none there during the winter, but in the summer there are apparently quite a few.  In the summer you can drive right up to the hut, but in the winter the road is closed and involves a 6km skin to get in, which takes about 1.5 hours.  They have everything you need to stay up there, except towels if you want to take a shower.

The St. Bernard hut has been destroyed or burned and rebuilt many times over the centuries and I’m guessing it currently can hold 100+ people during the summer.  During the winter, it requires a reservation and while we were there, it had about 15-20 guests, most of whom were passing through as part of the Haute Route.  The prices seemed very reasonable, especially for Switzerland, with breakfast, dinner, and a private room for two with communal bathrooms costing about $50 a day.

Skiing-wise, the terrain around St. Bernard is amazing and if it was in the US, it would be a major backcountry skiing destination.  There is not a ton of super-safe low angle terrain, but enough that it is possible to get out in almost any weather or avalanche conditions.  Beyond that, there are endless peaks, bowls, open faces and aspects to ski.  One of the key resources to the area is the amazingly detailed Swiss Maps with the ski itinerary overlay.  The overlay shows all of the classic tours and passes in the area, and it seemed like 90% of the backcountry traffic stuck to these red lines.

Travel in Switzerland is fun, easy and straightforward.  We rented a car, stayed in hotels and either bought our food at a grocery store or ate at restaurants.  As an added bonus, on the last day we were there, I met up with my friend Ruedi Homberger who took me out from the town of Bex on a flightseeing tour which included a preview of the second part of our trip, Chamonix, France.

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Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber and Mountain Unicycle rider. He and Polly Samuels McLean are the parents of two very loud little girls.

Comments (2)

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  1. F Felix says:

    Car in Switzerland? Sacrilege!

  2. We used it for France as well. ;)

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