Last weekend, I almost died skiing the Swiss Alps. Yes, you heard me correctly. Luckily, somehow, I managed to live to tell the tale.
Okay, so let me start from the beginning because I’m sure I have sufficiently frightened my poor mother by those first few sentences.
I spent the weekend in Villars on a ski and spiritual retreat with Hannah and 60 other students in our program. We left on Friday evening by bus and drove about two hours out of the city and up to the mountains. Our bus driver left us at the bottom of a steep hill and told us our chalet was at the top of it but the road was too icy for him to drive up. So, we all picked up our luggage and began trekking up the steep hill covered in black ice. Near death experience number 1. (Although this wasn’t quite as scary as what the future had in store for us.) Luckily, we made it to the top of the hill with no bumps or bruises and all 60 of us piled into an old creaky chalet that’s been a part of the Pepperdine Lausanne program from years. We, then, ate lasagna for dinner, and afterwards gathered together for worship and prayer. Then, it was bed time. Except, I’m pretty sure no one slept a wink that night. The beds were really creaky, the house was really creaky, the walls were super thin…so every whisper in the room next door sounded like yelling, every footstep sounded like a stampede. We got up the next morning, put on our snow gear, talked about how sleep deprived we were, grabbed some breakfast, and headed out to the ski rental place.
Right next to the ski rental place was a gondola that went up to the slopes. So, we hopped on with our newly rented skis, boots, helmets and admired the incredible view as we went further and further up the mountain.
When we got to the top, we looked for a sign to point us in the direction of a beginner slope since it had been a really long time since we last skied. In fact, I had only been skiing once before when I was 13 and Hannah got lessons over winter break. So, beginners we were, and that’s where we wanted to stay. Here’s the thing…there are no “green” slopes on Swiss mountains (the easiest). The easiest run is a “blue,” which is between beginner and intermediate level. Here’s the other thing…the Swiss don’t find it necessary to mark the slopes with any sort of sign telling you the name of the run, the difficulty level, or anything helpful at all. That’s probably because they seem to learn how to ski before they learn how to walk, meaning any run is a piece of cake for them. Not for us, though. So, we asked where to find the blue slope and we were told that we must first ski through a “red” (intermediate) to get down to the “blue.” Great. Here comes what we thought would be near death experience number 2. We stood at the top for a couple minutes looking over the edge and the nerves were really creeping up. But, we figured that with our trusty skills of snowplowing and zigzagging down the mountain that we could make our way down slowly to a slope that we felt more comfortable on. Slowly, but surely, we made it down without falling and without dying! Yay! Then, we skied down the blue slope with a little more grace and confidence than we had on the red. Lesson learned: Always ask which routes will be waiting for you at the top of the lift before getting on. We found a lift that took us up to only blues and we were perfectly happy going up and down that one over and over. We started to really get the hang of things and I even began to go down the slope with my skis parallel to each other instead of snowplowing.
After skiing for about 6 hours, we realized our muscles were a little shaky, we were getting tired, and it was beginning to get dark. So, we asked someone to point us in the direction of the train so that we could go back to town, return our ski gear and get some dinner. They told us to ski down the slope just around the corner. We asked a second person just to make sure because we really didn’t want to end up on a slope we weren’t comfortable on. The second person told us the same thing, “ski down that slope over there and you’ll find the train at the end.” Okay, then, down that slope it is. It was going really well for about 10 minutes. The slopes weren’t that steep at all. Then, we came around a corner and our wide slope narrowed into a ridiculously steep slope. We came to a stop just before it dropped off and looked at each other like you have got to be kidding me. We finally encouraged each other to just keep going, taking it as slow as we possibly could, confident that we were almost at the end. We got down that slope, only to find another one that was ridiculously steep, and another one after that, and another one after that. Each one becoming more narrow and more icy than the one before it. It just didn’t seem to end. We could only tell ourselves to just keep going for so long before our nerves and anxiety turned into terror. At one point, we came across a slope in particular that stopped us dead in our tracks. Not only was this slope narrow (about 15 feet wide), but there was a cliff on one edge of the slope that dropped off to depths I couldn’t even see the end of. It took us about 10 minutes to gather the courage to go down it. I went first. My plan was to zigzag so hard that there would be no way I could go fast. Well, it turns out there is still a way to go fast. On my first attempt, I was luckily headed in the direction away from the cliff because even though I was going directly across the mountain instead of down it, I went so fast that I lost control. It wasn’t until then that I realized that this slope didn’t have a drop of powder. It was solid ice. (Picture an ice skating rink…only slanted at what felt like a 90-degree angle) When I lost control, I figured I would just crash into the powder on the side to stop myself. Well, it turns out that was solid ice too and I rebounded backwards when I crashed into it. At this point, I knew I had to just fall or else I would be going straight off the cliff behind me. So, I did. So, I put my hands down and then dropped to the ice. Except, my leg got caught in a position halfway through falling that I was sure if I put weight on it that it would dislocate my knee. So, I held myself up with one hand, used the other hand to lift up my leg and place it in a position that was more comfortable, all while balancing on an icy slope. That moment right there was probably the scariest moment of the entire decent. If I had dislocated my knee, I’m not quite sure how I would have gotten down the mountain. And at that point we were only half way. I was nearly in tears, not sure if we were ever going to make it down. I remember thinking to myself as I was sitting on the mountain that I was sitting in the most beautiful place I had ever been and if I had to be stuck somewhere stranded like I was, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Anyway, when I snapped back into problem solving mode, we sat there for about 5 minutes in silence, in disbelief of our situation, and then we decided the best possible scenario was to hold our skis in our hands and then slide down this slope on our bums. We got down it safely and decided that because it was getting darker and we were just about the only ones left on the slope that we should probably get a move on. So, we put our skis back on and decided to just go for it. The last half of our decent was still full of icy narrow slopes, but the distances between each decline were shorter before leveling out a little. So, we felt like we could go for it without dying. After about 20 more minutes of skiing (more like flying down the mountain), we turned a corner and skied down one more slope to the edge of the street in town. Meaning we had just skied down the entire mountain. From peak to street.
I remember looking at Hannah and at the same time we both let out the breath that we were holding in the entire way down that mountain. We stood there in shock for about a minute, then vowed that we would teach our future children to ski before they could crawl to prevent that scenario from happening again. And then, we headed back to return our skis and get some dinner. We found our friends and the rental place and they couldn’t believe what happened to us because remember when I said that we asked two people where the train was and they told us to ski down the slope of death? Well, there was actually a train that you could catch right next to where we asked those two people. So, why on earth would they send us down that treacherous slope? I will never know the answer to that. Oh, also, we found out after looking at a map that the slope we were skiing down was a “black” slope (Level: expert). I don’t recommend trying to ski down a “black” on your second time skiing. Ever.
We grabbed some fajitas for dinner before heading back to the chalet. We had a session that night where we all worshiped and prayed some more…and seriously, thanked God we made it down that mountain alive, with no broken bones, or bruises. I mean it’s a miracle actually cause not a single person broke a bone or died, which is amazing considering many of us found ourselves on slopes we were in no way ready for.
Despite near death experiences and many lessons learned the hard way, it was one of my favorite trips. I never realized just how much I loved being in the mountains until that trip. It really and truly is one of the prettiest places I have ever been.
So, family, are you ready for our ski trip to Zermatt?!