Thursday, January 29, 2009

In defense of the bum

I used to joke that my friend Doug changed his identity twice a year. He worked as a surveyor during the summer and a ski instructor during the winter. Like clockwork, his hair grew long when the weather turned warm, the libations flowed more freely, and rousing poker games regularly ensued. He walked around shirtless. He used profanity. He lived like a bum.

It may seem counterintuitive, but when winter rolled around, “winter Doug ” as I called him, actually wore the opposite identity. I say counterintuitive because a general impression of ski instructors is that they’re nothing more than ski bums. It’s true, some instructors might be bums, but his guy looked well kempt, drank wine, and preferred to talk about good books. He walked with an air of sophistication and his vocabulary always improved. He was no bum.

What’s the point? The above photo offers a glimpse of one of our head guides, Ken Fuhrer, living the seasonal life and doing what he does best. He, along with Peter Walker and Daniel Sundqvist, are currently skiing through the Arlberg region of Austria as tour leaders for Alpenglow Ski Safaris.

Look closely at that face. Do you see a ski bum or a scholar? Do you see Winter Ken or Summer Ken? Does it really matter? Ken, Peter, and Daniel are having the time of their lives just sharing the beauty of this world with others. Perhaps we could all benefit from a little bumming now and then.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Step Out Your Backdoor

The Ryder-Walker office lies in a quiet valley deep in the heart of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Snow capped peaks, irregular rock formations, bubbling streams, placid lakes, dark forests, waterfalls, and grassy meadows characterize this landscape that we call our backyard. Just out our backdoor, for example, stand three mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet of elevation. Forests of spruce, fir, and aspen blanket the shoulders of these summits and provide a home for bear, lynx, hawk, grouse, elk, deer, beaver, and coyote. The rivers and ponds teem with trout during the summer, and wild mushrooms grow in profusion following an autumn rain. It is hard to ignore the call of the natural environment here, and when the moon shines with intensity like it did last week, then I feel that I must answer that call.

Every winter I head out the back door of the Ryder-Walker office and unroll a sleeping bag in my own snowy corner of the Rocky Mountains. It can be quiet up here on a January night when the thermometer hovers around zero, the moon explodes with brilliance, and the snow sparkles like a million diamonds. It can also feel a bit lonely when a coyote’s solitary howl makes the only sound for miles around. Cold nights are the best nights, in my opinion, because each noise hangs for a moment, amplified, as it pierces the winter stillness and then stands alone.

Mornings also provide something special when they dawn cold and clear like they did last week. The sight of a lone snowshoe track across an empty expanse of unbroken whiteness never fails to stir something electric in my soul. Could the image be a reflection, or a glimpse, of the inner workings of my psyche? Does the old snowshoe trail symbolize a lone memory, vivid at first, which eventually blends and fades into a vast field of past experiences? Maybe I’m attracted to this picture for the same reason that I’m drawn to our hiking tours; the trail represents a metaphor for life’s journey, with its many twists and turns, toward adventure and endless possibility.

I’ve often heard book and magazine editors lament that nature writers consistently stretch for metaphors and hidden meanings within their surroundings. I’m not a nature writer, and I’m not a philosopher either, but I do know what a quality outdoor experience can do for a person. I’ve experienced it first hand with our guests, and I know it within myself. The summer hiking season may seem like a long way off, but don’t forget about the opportunities that lie beyond your own back door.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Congratulations to Our Lucky Winners

Every year we send our Ryder-Walker tour participants a questionnaire following the completion of their trip. It affords our guests the opportunity to tell us where we shined, or less frequently, to give us a verbal shiner.

Last fall we entered the names of the people that returned their 2008 questionnaires into a special drawing for a one night’s stay at any one of our preferred hotels in Europe.

We recently chose two names from the drawing, and we’re pleased to announce the following winners.

(Drum roll please)

Barbara Campbell and Deb Pagnotta.

Both ladies won a free night, for themselves and one guest, at one of our favorite hotels in the Alps.

Congratulations to Barbara and Deb!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Best Adventure Travel Company on Earth

National Geographic ADVENTURE Magazine named Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures "One of the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth" for a second year in a row.

National Geographic surveyed hundreds of outfitters and travel companies in their February 2009 issue and scored them on Education, Sustainability, Quality of Service, Spirit of Adventure, and Client Satisfaction.

We are pleased to announce that our overall score ranked us in the top ten best adventure travel companies on the planet for hiking and trekking. Ryder-Walker received it's highest scores in quality of service, spirit of adventure, and client satisfaction.

We are especially honored to receive this special designation from such a respected leader in adventure travel media, and we look forward to renewing our commitment to the best guest experiences on the planet.

The Ryder-Walker staff would also like to extend a heartfelt "thank you" to all of our guests for making this designation possible. We could never do it without you, and we hope that you'll join us again in 2009.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Einstein tops list of leading Swiss

I wasn't surprised when I read the following news, “A man who was born German and died American has just been named the most significant Swiss of all time. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) beat such greats as Red Cross founder Henry Dunant and educationalist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in a survey conducted for the SonntagsZeitung newspaper…”

Read the full article here.

It seems like many people know about Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and of the formula that helped rock the world, E=mc2. The results of Einstein’s discoveries touch us daily from from atomic bombs to cell phones. What many people may not know, however, is that Einstein developed the bulk of his theories, including E=mc2, while working at a patent office in Bern, Switzerland. Einstein called this period in Bern from 1902 to 1909, the happiest and most fruitful period in his life. It was in 1905, while living at Kramgasse No. 49, that 26 year-old Albert Einstein published six of his most influential scientific papers. Einstein referred to this year as his "annus mirabilis," the most creative period of scientific endeavors for himself and the world of physics. He eventually presented no less than 32 scientific publications during his stay in Bern.

I visited Einstein’s apartment at 49 Kramgasse on two different occasions. The old residence is now a small museum called the Einstein House, and visiting the museum makes a great side trip for any student of physics and/or history.

The Einstein house, a small second floor apartment, sits directly above the main shopping street in Bern. Walk out of the Einstein Haus and turn left, you’ll run smack into the Zeitglockenturm, a clock tower that served as Bern’s first western city gate between 1191 and 1256. The gorgeous astronomical calendar clock that marks the face of the tower dates to 1530. It’s easy to understand how Einstein would revolutionize our conceptions of space and time while living in the shadow of such an attractive time-keeping device.

I also had a chance to visit another Einstein museum during a recent stay in Bern. Referred to as the Einstein Museum, the museum is actually a permanent exhibit that falls within the greater auspices of the Bern Historical Museum. When 350,000 visitors from around the world attended the Jubilee Exhibition on the life and work of this genius of physics in 2005 and 2006, the museum decided to make the exhibit permanent and call it the Einstein Museum.

The phenomenal Jubilee turnout offered a testament to the quality of the exhibit. I was impressed. I also enjoyed spending a few extra Swiss Francs for the audio guide. The stylish ipod, (I asked for a blue one), is easy to use and allows a visitor to skip, fast forward, and rewind chapters on demand. The ipod allows a guest to dive into areas of the museum that interest them the most. I spent most of my time studying Einstein’s theories and experiments, though I DO recommend taking the whole tour.

It's an interesting fact that the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology denied Einstein’s application for study. They claimed that he lacked what they desired in a model student. What do they think now? Einstein’s experience reminds me of the author James Joyce who mused, “When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.” I submit that Einstein not only flew, he soared.

One afternoon, this past October, I sat by an open window in Einstein’s old living room. The window curtains fluttered gently in the warm autumn breeze, and the hollow sound of footsteps falling on stone drifted skyward from the cobbled street below. Suddenly I heard the clock bell chime, and a flood of inspiration consumed me. For a single moment I felt the creativity that Einstein must have known while living there. The city of Bern can be a magical place. It also makes great city stop between hiking tours.

Visit the following sites for more museum info:
For the Einstein Haus:
The Einstein Museum:
(Click the Einstein museum icon.)

Top photo courtesy of the Einstein Haus.
by Chris P.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What's the Deal with the Luggage?

Long ago we discovered the many benefits of ditching our luggage and hiking with a lightweight daypack. “The light way is the right way,” became our mantra, and we developed our hiking tours to reflect this philosophy.

We use an intricate transportation system to accomplish this mode of travel. The methods involved include, but are not always limited to, trains, buses, boats, cable cars, taxis, and vans. In special cases, we might just leave our luggage in one place, and then pick it up few days later.

Every tour offers a different scenario, so we implore our guests to inquire about the specific tour that interests them. Many of our tours differ in their approach to luggage. The Engadine Trek, for example, offers luggage transfer every day, but the Tour du Mont Blanc does not. Many of our trips incorporate a night or two at a rustic mountain retreat, and luggage transfer simply isn’t logistically possible.

Here’s a brief look at our various modes of travel. It’s good to know what you're paying for.

Trains, buses, boats, and cable cars. Oh my! These modes usually apply to our Swiss tours because the Swiss offer a near-perfect solution for baggage transfer. Their state-of–the-art public transportation system allows travelers to ship their bags from almost any destination served by public transport to another within the country. To illustrate, a hiker can present their bags at the Grindelwald rail station and simply request a baggage transfer to Lauterbrunnen. The bags will travel around by train and await the hiker’s retrieval by the end of the day. If a remote mountain pass or a lake lies between the two destinations then Swiss transport officials will choose the appropriate travel mode. Your bag might leave by cable car or boat, then hop on a bus or train. Our guides handle these logistics behind the scenes of a guided tour. Our hotels usually handle this for our self-guided tours, but there are exceptions. Again, it pays to inquire. We occasionally invite our guests to ship their own bags on select self-guided tours.

Taxis. We use taxis to shuttle bags through remote locations that lack sophisticated public transport systems. Virtually any region outside of Switzerland falls within this category, though we do use taxis within Switzerland for extremely remote and select cases. Taxis typically offer a cost advantage for large groups covering short distances. They’re also a bit more flexible than public transport. The Italian Dolomites Trek relies solely on taxis.

Vans. Vans offer the most flexible alternative to the aforementioned modes of transport. We use our own vans in extremely remote locations that either lack public transport or would simply make for a very expensive taxi transfer. Tours that use vans require at least one Ryder-Walker guide to drive the vehicle in addition to another guide on the trail. One guide can sometimes pull it off with village-based scenarios, but we usually don't go there. Our Telluride Trek relies on a company van.

Bag storage. This doesn’t represent a mode of travel, but it’s worth mentioning because it involves luggage. A few of our trips begin and finish at the same location which makes it possible to leave excess baggage during the course of a tour. The Appenzell Hut Hop works this way as do some of our village based tours. Our guests can also ship bags ahead and have them waiting at the final destination. This is a good tip to know for guests that don’t like packing and repacking a bunch of stuff every day. This is also great for extended journeys through Europe. Leave the excess souvenirs behind, and enjoy an unencumbered hiking tour.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Dollar Rallies Against Euro

What a great way to start the New Year.

The skinny this morning:

"The dollar gained against other major currencies Monday on growing expectations that US president-elect Barack Obama's stimulus plans will boost the ailing American economy, dealers said.

In late morning trade, the European single currency dropped to 1.3694 dollars from 1.3910 dollars in New York late on Friday."

read the full article.

And for our friends down under:

Australian dollar trades near 8-week high against euro

"The Australian dollar extended its recent strong rally against the European common currency in early New York trading on Monday."

read more.

For the market value of all major currencies, visit