I rented a chalet with two friends in the Swiss Alps for the winter. Veysonnaz was optimal for our price point as a small resort, less posh and pricey than other locations like St. Anton, St. Moritz, Verbier or Zermatt while providing access to the other resorts of the four valles with our season pass, linked by lifts, gondolas and T-bars. In retrospect we picked the perfect location — and house!
Being eight hours ahead of my Colorado workplace timezone allowed plenty of time to ski in the morning before returning to Chalet Adele to work the rest of the day; somewhat surprisingly, Chalet Adele turned out to be our favorite part of our Swiss winter – a hot tub, a sauna and a spare bunk room for friends to come visit — ski in and ski out, adjacent to the slopes — and a picturesque, unrivaled view of the surrounding mountains making for truly epic sunrises and sunsets. Great wifi too. So when the snow wasn’t great (and it wasn’t great a lot of January and March) we were quite comfortable working hard and then relaxing in our chalet.
My chalet-mate Chris is an accomplished cook and most nights he and Trevor would prepare a home-cooked, family meal. Taco nights, roasted duck, steak chili — it will be hard to return to my egg and sardine diet from here on out. Chalet Adele’s kitchen is large enough for two cooks — Trevor often played the part of sous chef while I did the dishes — Chris ring-mastering the menu. As expensive as Swiss groceries are — when you split the cost three ways things become more affordable. Similarly it is much easier to justify the cost of an apres ski bottle of slope-side champagne when the cost is split three ways — and even three of them!
In the evenings throughout our stay we watched a variety of classic, famous ski movies from the 1980’s and 90’s as well as more modern classics. Afterwards I made a ranked list of what I consider the best, for the sake of posterity:
- Ski School
- Hot Dog
- Aspen Extreme
- Downhill Racer
- Chalet Girl
- Better off Dead
- Hot Tub Time Machine
- Ski Patrol
- Out Cold
When we reserved Chalet Adele for the season we had arranged two one-week breaks dividing our three months to allow for the owner’s use. During that time Chris Trevor and I each took a week vacation somewhere else. During our first break I visited Spain (Madrid, Granada and Barcelona), Trevor was in the Canary Islands and Chris went to Tel Aviv. The second break Trevor and my friend Peter who was visiting from New York and I went to Zermatt for four days and then Verbier for three; Chris went to Marrakech, Morocco. It was a great idea to have breaks during the ski season and get some time outside of our beloved home-away-from-home; when we came back we were more energized and ready to make the most of what Veysonnaz had to offer.
In the same way the copious number of friends and family who visited and skied with us helped to appreciate our winter circumstances. It’s funny how when you are waking up in front of a panoramic view of the mountains each day you can still manage to take it for granted sometimes. With an influx of people not accustomed to it though, it was a reminder to appreciate all of it. We played a board game called Avalon which is a paranoia-inducing game of cunning and misdirection perfect for big groups of friends drinking wine.
We made great use of the outside hot tub overlooking the mountains and our indoor sauna. And oh yeah — the ski slopes. The snow overall was bad this season as Europe’s winter was unseasonably warm; February was the best month for snow and we made the most of it. Since Veysonnaz is contiguous to three other ski resorts: Thyon, Nendaz and Verbier there is plenty of terrain variety. My favorite run in Veysonnaz is piste d’lours (“path of the bear”) which is a former FIS World Cup course that when the conditions are right makes for ideal downhill and carving. I have a pair of twenty year old skinny, carving skis that I brought with me for just the occasion (and a pair of 2016 Line Sick days 95/186 for everything else). My favorite day on Piste d’lours came on a cold week day where I got first run on a packed powder day when no one else seemed to be skiing. I skied it eleven times in a row as fast as I could. By the time I was done it was sloppy towards the bottom and there were a lot of people. It felt great to ski everything out of it.
When the snow was bad I started getting into ski touring as a way to mix things up and supplement my exercise. You put “skins” (mostly synthetic now but traditionally real animal skins) on special, light-weight touring skis that have touring bindings that transition between walking up the mountain and skiing down it. It is brutal exercise and involves some technique practice; you are never supposed to lift your boot or ski off of the ground when ascending a mountain instead always slide it forward. It’s trickier than it sounds and you soon realize the internal muscles of your hip flexors aren’t prepared for it. But after a few times doing it I got better and my heart felt less like it was exploding and it became more fun. I made a friend, Michiel, at the local ski shop three hundred meters from Chalet Adele who took me with him on his days off.
Four times I went night skiing; twice under the light of the full moon (one) and twice on my touring skis (one) to practice some night photography. It is really an amazing environment to be in the darkness on the mountain with no one around you, overlooking lights and stars surrounding you. The cold air makes it feel cozy even though in the vast emptiness I was alone. Once I separate a little into nature things feel decompressed and comfortable. I tend to forget that when I am travelling and living in more urban areas internationally owing to the conveniences they afford.
Our last week in Switzerland my friends and I did an impromptu overnight trip to Zermatt on short notice to take advantage of a storm that dumped 26 centimeters of powder. We arranged to go heliskiing onto Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately the trip was canceled when clouds prohibited our morning departure. I headed back to Veysonnaz with our friend Jeff who had a flight the next morning while Chris, Trevor and our friend Marc stayed an extra day. Chris and Trevor had a heliski re-do the following morning in fresh, untracked powder, and had a blast. Another reason I’ll have to return to Zermatt — to heliski.
As for Veysonnaz I might never return. While this winter was perhaps my favorite of my entire life, I don’t know if there’s anything to come back for other than my local friends I’ve made here. Veysonnaz was an outstanding success — I’m looking forward to my next, elsewhere.