It is a perfect powder morning in Arosa, a charming ski town in the Swiss Alps. Fluffy puffs of snow have been drifting over the stunning Tschuggen Grand Hotel since I arrived 24 hours earlier. Everywhere I glance is an impossibly perfect winter scene: towering pines shimmering with a fresh layer of icing, parents pulling children on classic wooden sleds, the town’s gingerbread clock tower sleeping under a layer of marshmallow fluff.
I’m here on a research trip about Swiss ski hotels (this is a press trip, but all opinions are my own), but even though this is one of the most popular ski destinations in the Alps, I have only agreed to come after I was promised that I will not have to engage with the snow.
I’ve been a lifelong winter-phobe since an unfortunate incident in my early teens. I was 13 and signed up for a ski weekend with the local youth group. It was the first time my parents let me go anywhere on my own. I was thrilled with the opportunity, but as a newbie, I was completely not prepared for the slick slopes of the Pocono Mountains near my home in New Jersey.
With no lesson, and no idea what I was doing, I managed, within the first hour, to not only ski into, but then slide under, a billboard-size trail sign. The bindings of my super uncomfortable boots did not release as I was told they would in an emergency. Instead, I stayed stuck, and mortified, under the sign until I was rescued, in front of all my friends, by the ski patrol.
The skis finally removed, I slunk back to the lodge, never to venture toward the slopes again.
Fast-forward nearly 40 years, and here I am in the ski capital of the world, with no plan to spend time on the piste. But a funny thing starts to happen in between watching the winter wonderland out my window and bites of cheese fondue. I start to reconsider my decades’ long grudge against the white stuff.
Since my ill-fated ski adventure, I’ve looped the globe and have tried, despite not always mastering, a range of activities so diverse my resume looks like I could qualify for the X Games: mountain biking in the Rockies, kayaking with crocodiles in Zimbabwe, horseback riding in the Kalahari Desert. If I can do all of that, I reason, why am I afraid of a little snow? And honestly, at a smidge over 50, in the postcard-perfect world of the Swiss Alps with some of the best instructors anywhere, if I don’t try it here, I’m quite literally never going to try skiing … ever. And what if I was wrong? What if the most critically embarrassing moment of my youth has kept me from something I might love? So I decide to take the plunge.
The Tschuggen Grand turns out to be the ideal perch to try my ski adventure. It has a super space age-looking private train, the Tschuggen Express, that zips directly to the slopes for hotel guests only. Every guest also gets his or her own ski locker, and the adjoining rental shop will fill your assigned space with your selected equipment so it’s waiting for you, making it super easy to gear up.
The day comes and it’s snowing, a lot, which I assume is good. This is a snow sport after all, but I quickly hear the fluffy powder will make things tougher for a newbie. “Reduced visibility” and “sinking skis” are two things conveyed to me with a serious expression by others in the locker room. My plucky British instructor Alistair adds, “It will be nice and soft when you fall!” Hmm, I’m not exactly feeling better. And getting on my boots is actually painful; almost exactly as I remember it being 40 years ago. How can we have 3D printers and Wi-Fi everywhere but not have invented more comfortable ski boots?
Let me know if you have the answer.
Also a surprise: I will not be taking the Jetson-esque Tschuggen Express up the mountain. That’s evidently for experienced downhillers. No, I’m being driven down the hill, to the Kinder School bunny slope. Good to know.
Also good to know: The first part of the lesson isn’t actually skiing, it’s getting to the top of the hill. The T-bar that will pull me to the crest is essentially a handle with an odd disc that I’m supposed to insert in between my thighs, like some sort of Goop-designed kegel aid. I watch several grade school snowboarders grab and go before I wobble my way up the mountain (okay, more of a molehill, but still intimidating to a novice).
Alistair is amazing, patient, and funny, and at 60 (a fact he shares to make me feel better), no speed-demon mountain cowboy, which I appreciate. I’m sweating like I’m in a sauna (the four layers of thermal performance wear I’ve donned may have been overkill) and it takes every bit of muscle control I can muster to keep myself upright. Occasionally, I look around and enjoy the scenery while trying to avoid being flattened by preschool snowboarders.
After two hours of lessons, I’ve managed to make it down the bunny slope without falling, but also not on my own, since Alistair is always beside, or — more accurately — in front of me to help.
I’m focusing every iota of leg strength to keep my pizza wedge in place, my goal being to keep going as slow as possible. “Parallel,” implores Alistair, “to get some speed!”
Hmm. And then it occurs to me: I don’t enjoy going fast. Speed is not my thing. I don’t want to whoosh down the mountain; I never enjoy downhill biking or super-steep rollercoasters. I hate not being in control, and even driving too fast makes me a little woozy. I prefer a slow pace and time to look around and enjoy where I am.
It occurs to me that maybe I don’t really have to ski to be able to enjoy being here. Now that I’ve tried it, I can simply enjoy the snow and the scenery, and the apres-ski that makes the Alps and Arosa such a popular winter getaway. Assured that I’m not missing out on a quintessential life experience, I can sit back and relax and not worry about it anymore.
A lifetime of pressure lifted, I toast the snow with a glass of champagne and think happily to myself, I never have to ski again. Yay snow!