A Much Needed Break From The Warm Weather: Skiing in Austria and Switzerland

Luther’s Malta and the Mediterranean Program, currently in its 27th year, offers students the opportunity to spend a semester exploring Malta's rich history and traveling to other countries in the Mediterranean region. Coursework includes Paideia II: Ethical Issues in the Mediterranean, a Service Learning class, where program participants teach English to recent immigrants to Malta, Maltese History and Culture and additional classes taken at the University of Malta.

To learn more about the program, visit the Malta Semester website.

One of my favorite things to do in life is ski, and since there is no snow in Malta, and I have missed out on such a great winter back in the Midwest, I decided last month to go on a couple of ski trips to the Alps. My first skiing adventure took me to Switzerland. I flew into Zürich and made use of the wonderful Swiss train system to get to the town of Engelberg, where I would spend the next two days skiing on the 3,238 meter tall Mt. Titlis.

 

It was quite cloudy during my stay in Engelberg, and there was practically no visibility at the mid-mountain level, so I had to do most of my skiing at the top of the mountain, above the clouds. Up high, it was perfect skiing weather, probably 25 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. The mountain had received up to a meter of snow in the past week and the snow quality was excellent. After having two months away from the snow and cold in the Mediterranean, it was invigorating to be in a snowy, mountain environment, even if it was just for a couple days.

 

My next skiing adventure was over our second week of spring break, after the group went to Greece. I have some friends in who live in Germany who like to ski, so I joined them for a week in the Arlberg region in Austria. This region is made up of several ski areas, including St. Anton, Lech, and Zürs, all of which are connected by 88 lifts and over 300 kilometers of runs, making it the largest ski area in Austria, and the eighth largest in the world.

 

By the time I was skiing in Austria, it was already late April with temperatures moving up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), and sunny most of the time. The snow was soft--pretty typical spring skiing conditions. During the last couple of days, it rained, but the rain eventually turned to snow as the temperature dropped throughout the day, leaving several inches of fresh snow on the upper parts of the mountain. In some wind-loaded areas (where the wind transports and deposits the snow), it was even deeper, maybe closer to between 8 and 12 inches in spots, so it was fantastic to finish off the ski season with some fresh snow.

 

I also skied a pretty sweet off-piste ski route, from the top of Valluga, the highest mountain in the Arlberg area, down its north face to the town of Zürs. For some reason (maybe it’s because there’s a 40 meter cliff you could ski off of if you don’t know what you’re doing), the ski area requires everyone who skis this route to bring a mountain guide with them. I found this rule a little unusual for skiing in Europe, since there are usually very few rules about where an individual can and can’t ski. Luckily, I had a mountain guide with me the day I skied this route, so all was well.

 

Skiing culture is definitely different in Europe than in the United States, and it was great for me to experience those differences. Besides not being allowed to ski in the trees (because forests are protected areas), there really aren’t a whole lot of rules set out by ski areas for what a skier can and can’t do, compared to ski areas in the USA which have far more closed areas and where ski patrol is always watching out for (and sometimes yelling at) you. Although the skiing was not necessarily better (I think I actually still prefer skiing in the western USA), it was an exceptional experience to have more freedom and responsibility for my skiing at a resort, and I appreciated seeing how people enjoy my favorite sport elsewhere in the world.

The Titlis Rotair, with Steinberg Glacier in the background, Engelberg, Switzerland.
View from the top of Mt. Titlis, Engleberg, Switzerland
My favorite warning sign, which I then skied past (no closed areas!), Engelberg, Switzerland.
Me skiing at Lech Zürs am Arlberg
A bluebird day in Lech, Austria
Ski route (following the valley) from the top of the Valluga to Zürs
Lech Zürs am Arlberg, Austria
View from the top of the Valluga, St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria.
View from the top of the Valluga, St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria.
St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria
St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria
An interesting ski lift: gondolas and chairs on the same rope, Lech, Austria.