Ryan and Angela's European Vacation:
March 22

Ang and I finally hit the ski slopes March 22, one day later than originally planned due to the delay in Geneva. There are numerous ski areas near Zermatt, generally accessed via cog railway or cable car. Angela and I decided on Gornergrat (10,170 feet), since the ski map seemed to indicate that it had the greatest number of "easy" runs. A single pass card for each of us, and we were covered for all ski-related transport in the area.
Angela at Gornergrat

Ryan at Gornergrat
The cog railway up to Gornergrat was about a half hour ride. We wore our shoes and carried our ski boots, because neither of us likes walking in ski boots. When we got to Gornergrat, we discovered that the lockers required one Swiss Franc. Our smallest change was five Swiss Francs, so I bought a Twix from a vending machine for 1.50. Unfortunately, the machine decided it would be really funny if it gave me seven half-Franc coins in change, and the lockers only took exact change (not that I didn't try, and lose, two half-Francs first). So I went around to the ski patrol window and traded in two half-Francs for a one. Stuck it in the locker's coin slot and it jammed. Went back to the ski patrol window and again traded in two half-Francs. The ski patrol guy clearly thought I was an idiot or something (there was a language barrier, so I wasn't able to explain), but I did manage to finally get a locker open. So, for those who haven't been keeping track, the one-Franc locker actually cost 4.50, though I did get a Twix in the deal.

Before skiing, I wanted to go to the bathroom, so I walked around to the back of the building to where the bathroom was, only the door wouldn't open for me. Thinking that maybe it was the exit door and that there was a separate door for entry, I exited the ski area and went around front to where the ski card-reading turnstiles are. After a brief panic when the first turnstile I tried wouldn't let me back in (the second one worked), I walked all the way around to the back again and discovered that I simply hadn't pushed the door hard enough. On my way out, I was treated to the amusing sight of a man entering the women's restroom by accident, though I didn't stick around to see what happened next. As it turned out, Ang was wondering where the heck I had gone, so she was glad when I finally returned and we were able to start skiing.
Angela at Gornergrat - note the T-bars

Angela at Gornergrat
The weather at Gornergrat that morning wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. It was overcast and snowing lightly. In certain areas, there were also some fairly strong winds, but I assumed that was normal for the mountains. The snow at Gornergrat was in excellent shape.

Things started uneventfully, at least for the first couple hundred feet of our first run. Then I tried to make a sharp turn and one of my skis came off (I wasn't going very fast, so it didn't result in a fantastic wipeout or anything). Oh great, I thought, they set the bindings way too loose. But as it turned out, I didn't lose another ski the rest of the time we were there, so I guess they were set correctly after all.
Riffelberg (8471 feet), seen from above

Our first run concluded with no further mishaps, and we went over to the T-bars (they didn't have a chair lift at Gornergrat, just T-bars) to head back up for another run. Ang and I tried to get on a T-bar together and Ang didn't get on right, turned the ride into a slapstick comedy routine, and blamed me. But maybe it was my fault, because the next time, we got on separate T-bars, and I managed to totally screw up and reprise Ang's earlier performance.

Part of the run from Riffelberg down to Furi

After a couple runs at Gornergrat, we skied further down the mountain, stopped for lunch, then continued down to Furi (6115 feet). The further down we went, the worse the snow conditions got, and by the time we made it to Furi it had become a mixture of slush and ice-- not very good or easy skiing. At this point we discovered that the fastest way back up to Gornergrat to retrieve our shoes was to take the cable car down to Zermatt, then the cog railway back up to Gornergrat.

By the time we got to Gornergrat, around 3:30pm, the snow had picked up considerably, and there was an avalanche advisory. Ang was too tired to want to ski any more, so she just picked up the shoes and rode the train back down to Zermatt. I wanted to try skiing all the way back to Zermatt, so I left her at Gornergrat and started down.
Ryan at Riffelalp (7254 feet)

Furi, seen from a distance through snow and fog
Once I got out on the slope, I found it had snowed considerably since that morning. The snow seemed close to a foot deeper than it had been earlier, which, combined with my own fatigue, made the skiing considerably more difficult. Also, it was snowing hard enough at this point that the visibility was not very good. I headed down the mountain through the howling wind, hoping conditions would improve as I got lower. They did to an extent, although the condition of the snow in the lower altitudes had not much improved.

By the time I got to Furi I was soaked and very tired. Before you can get on the run down to Zermatt, you have to take off your skis and carry them several hundred feet, past the cable car station. I decided to abort my ski-down-to-Zermatt mission and take the cable car down.
The cable car from Furi to Zermatt

Part of the piste from Furi to Zermatt, seen from the cable car
As I reached the cable car station however, I noticed that on the ski map it didn't really look like Zermatt was all that much further, and it hadn't seemed that far when riding down in the cable car earlier that day. I felt my spine harden as I declared to myself, "Darn it, I've come all this way to Switzerland, skied all this way down, I'm not quitting now, I'm skiing down to Zermatt!" So I left the cable car station, walked down to the piste, put my skis back on, and started down.

As I got lower, I found that not only did the snow get slushier, there were also some pretty decent-sized moguls. Never one to want to catch much air, I skied very cautiously and slowly, and bailed into the slush several times. Some British-sounding guys passed me at one point and one of them commented to me "Dreadful!", hopefully referring to the snow conditions and not my skiing. They eventually turned back to take the cable car, but I continued down.

After five or ten more minutes of skiing, I stopped to take a nice picture of a stream, and thought to myself, "Now, if I hadn't skied down this way, I wouldn't have been able to take this nice picture." I wasn't exactly correct as it turned out, because after putting the camera away and skiing another hundred feet or so, I found myself rather suddenly on the outskirts of Zermatt.

Our hotel was on the other side of town, and I didn't want to try to walk there in my ski boots, as exhausted as I was, so I waited for the ski bus and rode it to the Bahnhofplatz, then walked from there to our hotel. I smelled, felt, and maybe even looked like a wet dog. But I had made it.

Stream on the outskirts of Zermatt

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