People often ask me the unanswerable question, “What’s your favourite ski area?” A much more possible discussion might be, “Where was your best run last season?” And there’s an easy reply for that one.
We were just barely above treeline at what’s possibly the world’s most famous ski resort, one gondola ride away from the bustle of Zermatt, Switzerland, but as alone as if we were on the flanks of Mt. Logan. Every few moments, a chubby chamois would stop and turn to look back at me and my posse, slogging along 15 metres or so behind him. In retrospect, the little alpine deer was probably hoping we were just going to leave him alone and give up following his traverse through the untracked powder. But at the time, we took his leading presence as a sign from the Swiss Ski Gods. Our alpine sheep was the local guide, piloting us toward another spectacularly deep-and-steep hidden off-piste run in Zermatt’s Schwarzee area.
With my new buddies, the crazy Krupa cousins, immediately behind me, and the omnipresent Matterhorn looming behind (mostly above ) all of us, we felt as if we were in a scene from some inspirational poster—or perhaps a Monty Python skit. But after about 10 minutes, our chamois stopped in a moment of complete finality. His statuesque gaze as no longer at us, but directed straight down the fall line.
Words weren’t necessary since it was clearly obvious that he hadn’t just brought us to the best snow and pitch he could find; he delivered us to an entirely new people-free, north-facing area of week-old untouched knee-deep (sometimes thigh-deep) dry powder. It was truly remarkable. With all the skiing I got in last winter, hands down, this run (which we’d named “ChamWow!”) stands out in my ever-purging memory, as if I were there right now.
On our previous run, the three of us had been with several others who were on the annual Ski Canada Readers’ Swiss Ski Trip. We’d set out to explore one of Zermatt’s several distinctive areas, each large enough to be a separate resort at home. So typical of what kind of skiing the Alps provides, we weren’t just putting in laps, we were spending another day exploring. With the world seemingly to ourselves, the flanks of ChamWow! widened the eyes of Charlie and Vicki Keith (who were more at home on New Brunswick”s Poley Mountain), Ski Canada Europe-trip veterans Don McQueen and Rick Garland, as well as technical editor Marty McLennan. Zermatt was providing a whole new level of off-piste adventure. As we hit the run-out to take us past farmers’ hay-drying huts back to the gondola station, a couple of others in the group who’d skirted around the steeper stuff met back up with us.
But it as Scott Krupa from Edmonton and cousin John from Scotland (by way of Calgary, and both vets of the Rabbit Hill Ski Team), who were the easiest to convince to take a return trip, despite the lunch bell ringing much earlier. Thankfully, John had an unopened pack of Sesame Snaps to share in the gondola ride back up. And with the promise of a proper lunch of fresh marmot to come, the three of us headed back for what would become even more staggeringly memorable runs II, II and IV.
“I’d just been heli-skiing at Wiegele’s a month earlier and those runs off the Matterhorn were every bit as good,” said Scottie in retrospect. “Our only regret was finding the area so late in
the week.” John was equally impressed and later muttered knowledgeably between mouthfuls of marmot: “You now, I never really thought about where the real chamois to clean your car came from ….”
If you’re interested in joining other Ski Canada readers this January/February for a week of exploring Portes du Soleil’s massive terrain on the Swiss-France border with its uphill arsenal of 197 lifts, all levels of skiers welcome, see page 63 for details —or send me a note: email@example.com—and I’ll try to answer any questions. And for more on last year’s Zermatt adventure, see Marty mcLennan’s story ‘Group Therapy,” page 66 this issue.