Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter in the Alps? Yes please!


 
If you’ve accompanied us in Europe, then you know how special a hiking tour in the Alps can be. Hiking across mountain passes by day, relaxing in bucolic villages by night, and connecting it all with modern conveyances; it’s not a stretch to say that Europe is a hiker’s utopia. But what are the Alps like during winter?

Ryder-Walker’s veteran trip leader and head guide, Ken Fuhrer, weighed in on the topic. When he’s not leading summer hiking tours for Ryder-Walker, Ken helps people realize their dreams of a European skiing vacation with our sister company, Alpenglow Ski Safaris. Enjoy.


It was the guiding in the summer that made us dream of winter. Each day we’d look up from the deep carved valleys, or down from high on the trail, while Daniel Sundqvist continually pointed out ski runs on the distant mountain slopes. Just as the first summer tourists from a century ago returned to the Alps for winter, we, too, longed to ski the snow. Thus it happened that our winter ski trips were borne of the summer treks.  


The feeling is so different in the winter. It starts in the morning, when we board the giant trams. There is a certain excitement that you feel during lift-off while clutching your skis! The day is spent high on the mountain, far above tree line. We glide along wide open terrain and gaze at the endless panoramas. Then it’s time for lunch, which is an absolute pleasure during the ski season. Almost all the alpine restaurants feature ample decks filled with an international crowd relishing the sun. 

Quality seems to be a point of pride and that is what makes the greatest difference during the winter. The food simply amazes, and, for whatever reason, it seems like European chefs pull out all the stops when visitors come to ski. We often smile at the groups of tourists that come just for the food and the winter experience, dead set on whiling away the entire afternoon eating, drinking, laughing and just relaxing on the sun deck.

We join in the revelry too, before turning our attention to the long ski runs and deep powder, often skiing past snow-covered farmhouses on the way back to town. Entering our charming village, we feel the chill in the air as the last rays of sun crawl up the mountainside. No matter; our mouths water as we stand in line for the warming burn of plum schnapps and hot spiced wine. 

Après-ski in the Alps is something that is unique to winter, and must be experienced to be believed. Spirited groups of happy people clamber down the cobblestone streets, still wearing their ski boots, as dusk settles in. Then it’s off to dinner to taste the elegant Swiss white wine that is so perfectly suited to fondue and raclette. The winter air nips a little after dinner, but we welcome it. The fluffy down comforters that feel so cozy during summer’s cool evenings are tailor-made for the Alps’ crisp winter nights.  


Peter Walker first brought us to St. Anton, Austria, and it was good. St. Anton showed us everything wonderful about the Alps, but more importantly, it revealed that our dreams had finally come true. Alpenglow Ski Safaris came together during that first ski trip in Austria, and now, six years later, we are truly proud of our winter schedule of ski trips. This year’s snow pack in the Alps is far, far above average, so the conditions promise to be great.

Daniel just finished guiding a trip in the Arlberg last week, but our March tour in Stuben and Ischgl, Austria, and the April trip in Val d' Isere, France still have availability, so please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.

-Ken Fuhrer

Top photo; Trail signs get a little shorter during winter. What is normally a 20 minute hike to the train during summer will take Ken Fuhrer about 7 minutes by ski during the winter.

Middle photo; The same trains that deliver hikers to the high alpine meadows during summer, also drop skiers to white, fluffy playgrounds during the winter.

Bottom photo; There's no need to stay on a single path during winter. Feel free to make your own!

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