The Swiss Family Carlson Hurl Themselves Down a Mountain – Part 2

Last time we threw ourselves down a mountain on sleds. The next day we strapped two sticks to our feet and threw ourselves down a different part of the mountain.

We did so well at not dying during the sledding that I felt like perhaps I could also not die while downhill skiing.

Our oldest, E, absolutely loves downhill skiing. He learned through week-long ski trips with his school to Nendaz. In fact, he just got back from one and was excited to show us his mad skillz.

Mark and I are not what I would call “avid skiers.”  We grew up in the flat lands of North America and didn’t have many opportunities to learn downhill skiing.  I have been skiing twice and Mark only once. The last time I went skiing I was 15 years old on a church group trip. It didn’t go well. I was cutoff by some 5 year old zipping around the slopes and ended up wiping out. Not just wiping out. More like spinning out of control, cartwheeling head over heels, losing both poles, both skis, my hat, and a glove.  Two other 5 year olds brought me my stuff saying, “Here ya go, lady,” and skied off.

I spent the rest of the day in the chalet spending money on hot chocolate and pinball.

I could barely sleep the night before; terribly worried I was going to injure myself.

Kandersteg is famous for having beginner- and family-friendly slopes. There are several ski schools and individuals who will teach skiing. We signed the kids up for lessons.  We signed E up even though he is a good skier because we needed someone who could show him the way down the slopes and give him a general idea of the topography of the mountain. That was certainly waaaaay beyond my skill level.  H was getting lessons because this is his very first time on skis and Mark and I have no idea what we are doing. It’s probably safer for everyone.

Plus we have childcare while Mark and I fumble around trying to figure out what in the world we are doing.

And while we are falling.

At least the scenery is nice.

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And there is a church we walk by the on the way to the gondola. I can go and pray for help from the god of skiers.

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When we got to the top I took time to study the map.  Or, you know, stall for time.

img_4117-1There is a spot right off the gondola where newbies learn to ski. H’s instructor took him over there and I decided that would be where my family could find me. H’s instructor was lovely. He was playful and encouraging and got H over his own nervousness and into the joy of skiing.

Henrik ski lessons 2016 KanderstegE’s instructor immediately took him through some of the blue routes and gave him tips on how to ski safely through those paths. Money very, very well spent.  In fact, we should have paid for 2 hours.

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The boys got done with their lessons and came back to the bunny slope where Mark and I were languishing.  I had already wiped out once. Mark was still on his feet, though. Darn his natural athletic prowess.

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Bunny Slope 1.0

E wanted to go right back out onto the blue runs with me. There was absolutely no way I was going. You know that phrase “Know Thyself”? Well I know myself and in that way lay certain doom. So I did what any mom would do.  I told him his dad would take him.

Yes, I completely sold Mark out. I threw him under the snow-bus, so to speak. But I give that man tons of credit because he did it. He didn’t hem or haw or hedge at all. He asked for 15 more minutes to go down the steeper bunny slope – Bunny Slope 2.0 – and then he’d take E out.

Mark practiced his snow plow and balance with extreme concentration.  E was bored with Bunny Slope 2.0 so he decided to add the challenge by skiing backwards. Which he did perfectly.  (Grrr… )

Mark came down to watch H really quick before he and E left for steeper mountains so I could down Bunny Slope 2.0 again.

This trip did not go well.

First you have to go up the slope. You grab a metal cable attached to a massive pulley system to winch yourself up to the top. It has quite a jerk to it and I almost flew out of my skis.  Then when you reach the top you quickly turn your skis to point across the mountain so you don’t accidentally ski backwards all the way down.

Then, when you are ready, you point your skis down the hill and let gravity take over.

See, the problem with skiing is that it relies on gravity and inertia. Gravity and I have never really gotten along that well. Gravity loves me too much and tends to be all clingy and I would like a little more freedom in our relationship.  Inertia and I are like frenemies. We are all hunky dory for awhile and then inertia just totally takes over the conversation and the only thing to stop us a major road block and crash.

So Gravity is helping me out and Inertia is behind me egging me on and then WHAM! I lose my balance and somehow end up with the point of one ski in my ear and the other ski tucked up underneath me, pinning my leg down.  And heaven knows where my poles are.

I laid there for a couple of minutes and then a snowboarder shushes up in front of me, looks me up and down, and says – IN ENGLISH, because I am obviously American, “You know you wouldn’t have this problem if you were snowboarding.” To which I wittily snap, “Just get my ski off so I can roll over.”

He laughs and in about 5 minutes I’m walking the rest of the way down the hill with my skis under one arm and my poles, returned by another snowboarder, clutched in my fist.

E says, “I got him to help you. I told him you were my mom and you probably couldn’t get up.”

I didn’t say anything so E added, “You can say ‘thank you’ now.”

Thanks, Sweetie.

After that Mark took off with E and I stayed with H. I did strap my skis on again and go down the Bunny Slope 1.0 a few times with him and that was a lot of fun. I let him boss me around – er… I mean instruct me – and pretty soon it was time for lunch.

The boys hoovered down their hot dogs and fries like they hadn’t seen food in a year and Mark and I recharged with hot soup. Then we boldly went right back out to the slopes. H and I tackled the Bunny Slope 1.0 again and Mark went back out with E.

Everything was going great until H got slightly off course and ended up going head first into a snow bank. I tried to get to him, but I missed him my first ski-by so I had to grab the rope and come back around for another pass while he floundered around like a turtle on its back trying to get these gigantic sticks strapped to his feet to cooperate with him.  By the time I got to him he was shouting “I’M DONE!”

I’M DOOOONNNNEEEEE!!!!

He was covered in snow. He had snow in his gloves, down his coat, in his boots, over his head. He had more snow covering him than a snowman. “You want to try one more time?” I stupidly asked.

“DDDDDOOOOOONNNNNEEEEEEE!!!!!”

Mark was just getting down the bottom of the hill as I was hauling my skis and poles and H’s skis and poles towards the gondola. “He fell in a snow bank,” I explained. “He’s finished for today.”

“Yeah I know. I heard him at the top of the mountain. I think everyone in the entire Canton knows that H is D.O.N.E. with skiing.”

“What are you stopping for???” demanded H. “I’m going home!” And he stomped towards the gondola.

The keeper of the gondola had also obviously heard how done H was with skiing for today and met us at the gate. He grabbed H’s skis from me and helped us use our passes to get through the gate and into a wagon.

Mark and E came back much later on. They were having a blast skiing. At dinner that night we discovered that even with the crashes we had all had a wonderful time and we were actually looking forward to trying it again the next day. Even H.

Evan skiing Kandersteg 2016We picked up our ski gear from the rental shop nestled underneath the gondola house at the bottom of the hill and got ourselves up the mountain in record time.

Mark, H, and I got ourselves warmed up on the Bunny Slope 1.0 again, while E went right for Bunny Slope 2.0 – forwards and backwards. Then Mark and E were OFF. Right to the blue slopes.

I tried to ski with H. He was feeling bold enough to want to try some steeper slopes so I tried to oblige. On the other side of the snow fence on Bunny Slope 1.o was a short, but steep hill.  I took H up the hill, clicked on his skis, clicked on my skis, and then we went down.

H in his "racing tuck" position.
H in his “racing tuck” position.

That was the easy part.

“Okay!” he said, “Let’s do it again!”

We had to get back up the hill wearing devices specifically designed to help us slide back down the hill and we have no pull rope.

When you climb a hill wearing skis you have to turn side ways and keep your skis perpendicular to the slope of the hill.  This is not so easy for a 6yo to get.

On our first attempt we got about 2 feet up the hill when his skis slowly started angling themselves down the slope and then *poof* he was sliding backwards down the hill and ran into a snowboard instructor.  The second time we made it 1 foot up the slope before he slid back into that snowboard instructor. The very, very nice snowboard instructor then helped boost him up to the top of the hill with me. We rejoiced for all of 2 seconds before he skied back down.

And then we got to do this again.

About the 3rd time up I realized sometimes your skiing becomes about his skiing. So I clicked off my skis and hung them up.

I kept a pole and used it as a leash to pull him behind me up the hill. He was in heaven. He didn’t have the frustrations of trying to get up the hill only to fall and I could actually be more useful. He got bolder to the point where he wanted to try Bunny Slope 2.0.

But not all the way up to the top.  So I hauled him halfway up the hill behind me while he was clinging to the pole and then helped him turn around and get set to ski.  It was glorious.

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We skied for hours. I probably walked 6 miles up the same hill over and over, but H was so delighted I didn’t mind at all. And I totally earned my gigantic ice cream sundae that night!

Over night the temperatures went up considerably. The snow that had fallen the two days before was suddenly gone in the morning leaving the mountain a little bare looking on the lower sides.  We were on our way home anyway, so we felt lucky that we had had such great snow on Friday and Saturday.

Instead of skiing we went over to where there happened to be some dog sled races!

We got to pet the dogs and I got to drool over the other pet dogs that people had brought along, particularly the Bernese Mountain Dogs.  Sled dogs are really incredible and the people that train those dogs to pull those sleds are amazing.

We could only spend about an hour there before we had to get to our train. But as we were watching dog sleds waiting at the starting line we witnessed a small avalanche. I videoed it and am sharing it below.

Here is a picture. It went on and on and on. So much longer than the movies would have you believe. And this wasn’t the only avalanche was saw. We saw at least 4 more small avalanches as we waiting for the train.
And with snow avalanching at our heels, we left Kandersteg.

We all had stupid happy smiles on our faces and Mark and I fantasized again about never leaving Switzerland. Then we made plans about how we could keep the boys skiing once we returned to the States. I even went to so far as to propose lessons for Mark and I.

Clearly we have become smitten with skiing.

And, yes, I have lost my mind.

The Swiss Family Carlson Hurl Themselves Down a Mountain – Part 1

Skiing.

It’s the one thing that everyone says we should do.  Followed by “It’s the Alps, for God’s sake!”

So, even though we come from the flat lands of the Midwest and have gone downhill skiing a combined total of 3 times in our entire lives, Mark and I did it.

We went skiing.

IN THE ALPS.

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The Alp we selected was Kandersteg/Oeschinen, a picturesque Alpine town in the Bernese Oberland. It’s just a little to the southwest of Schilthorn, where the kids and I took Mark’s brother and sister-in-law when they visited.

Every parent that I spoke to about our plans would get a faraway nostalgic expression and then sigh, “Ah, Kandersteg. Our kids learned to ski there.  It’s a wonderful place for beginners.”  That was pretty great affirmation given that I have ZERO experience in selecting skiing locations.

And it’s beautiful.

We intended to get the kids right out the door and on some skis, but failed because we forgot that stores in Switzerland usually close between noon and 2pm for lunch. This also extends to all the ski rental shops.  So instead we started gently by hauling the kids up the mountain and pushing them down it.

img_4073Kandersteg has a wonderful 3 kilometer-long sledding run. You go over the skiing runs (sledding and pulling the sled) until you get to the start. The start is a gentle slope that fools you into thinking this is going to be easy.  You even pass by a little cute chalet/restaurant that beckons you in for a hot chocolate or a last meal.

But we bypassed that because we didn’t know better.

Map

And even the next stretch is gentle and lovely. It was so flat we had to get off for a bit and pull the kids behind us. Then we found a nice slope so Mark got on behind H and I got on behind E and we pushed off.

We were all smiles and full of delight at the beauty around us. As I went down the first hill I thought, “This is soooo much easier than hiking down the Matterhorn!”

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That’s when we realized the sleds had no steering wheel.

And there were lots of turns.

The majority of those turns were necessary to make or you would just fly over one of the many sheer drops off the side of the mountain. In a rare show of safety mindedness, the Swiss had actually put up bright orange snow fence to prevent us from plummeting to our deaths.  They also put cushy bumpers over the wooden posts of the bridge we had to slide across.

There was even a snow fence cleverly placed in front of a creek that prevented H and I from plunging head first into icy water on our second run. Well, actually, we hit a boulder first so I think we would have been good.

The most important turn was where a choice between “blue” and “black” runs presented itself. Or, as I have labeled them above “easy” and “certain death.”  The “easy” run included a huge 35% slope with signs that read “LANGSAM!/SLOW!” Which is hilarious because you are fighting gravity and inertia while on a device created to minimize friction and having no brakes. I was sure that I was going to burn a hole in the heels of my boots from doing the Flintstone drag for almost 700 meters.  I never did try the “certain death” path because my will isn’t up to date.

In one thrilling moment E and I whipped around a corner on the 35% slope doing about 40km/h, E yelling, “I’m too young to die!” the entire way.

H and I reenact this in the pictures below. Right before we DID IT AGAIN!!

img_4075As I said above, the run is a total of 3 km long. With crashes it can take you about 30 to 45 minutes to get all the way to the bottom. The run takes you from the top of the gondola all the way to the bottom of the mountain.

Then you jump on the gondola and ride back up to the top!

Don’t want to pack a sled in your car or on the train? No worries! You can rent one at any of the ski outfitter places in Kandersteg.

Need a break before you attempt to hurl yourselves to your death?  There is a great flat area right off the gondola where you can throw snowballs at each other and a cafe, also right at the gondola, that serves some of the best hot chocolate ever.

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Even if you don’t want to ski or sled go up to the top.  The gondola ride is worth it just for the view.

img_4076Kandersteg also offers guided snowshoe hikes! We intended to do that, but we got swept up with skiing and never got around to it.  The slopes were so lovely even I, who am guaranteed to wipe out in spectacular fashion, rented skis. (Not without trepidation, as I mentioned in this conversation with Shaun.)

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See?  It looks so gentle and fluffy!!  What could happen??

Plus we look good.

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Find out how we did next time! (With, I hope, videos!)

A Robert Frost Moment

I was walking back from the ski gondola tonight and found this scene.


And I immediately though about Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.   

His house is in the village though;  

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   


My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   


He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.   

The only other sound’s the sweep   

Of easy wind and downy flake.   


The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

I remembered it in its entirety, which should be a credit to my middle school English teachers. It didn’t impress my 6 year old, who asked how many miles the guy still had left to go until it was his bedtime and would he get a snack first.

But I did remember it and that is something.

I Must Be Out Of My Mind

I am in Kandersteg. Part of the Swiss Alps. And tomorrow I am going skiing. I have not been downhill skiing since the church youth trip to Afton Alps when I was 15.  I was not particularly good at it and I spill down the hill losing both poles, both skies, my hat and a glove.

And now I’m going to attempt this again on a decidedly steeper slope.

I needed moral support so I texted Shaun. Here is our conversation.

Me: OMG I’M GOING TO SKI IN THE ALPS!! PRAY FOR ME!!!

Shaun: Come here. You can ski in the Rockies. Multi-continent.

Me: Fulfilling a life-long dream.

Me: I am going to die.

Me: You can have my record collection and my new computer.

Shaun: Don’t die. Bend your knees, slowly turn making lovely arcs down the mountain.

Me: Lovely arcs. Cartwheeling is still making arcs.

Shaun: If you yard sale it will be funny.

Me: If my blog was paying me for this story this would be worth it.

Shaun: I don’t remember enough technical stuff about skiing to be any help. You strap two sticks to your feet and throw yourself down a mountain.

Me: And I will even be sober.

Me: Well. I guess this is what the kids call a YOLO moment.