Monday, March 4, 2013

Expert Sledding: The Alps

I had a near death experience sledding. I can hear you laughing, how bad must I be at sledding to make that a dangerous activity? Well, sledding in the alps is a whole different experience than that innocent race down the nearest hill with some plastic disk. In Switzerland, they take sledding to a whole new level. But let's start from the beginning....
Look at that dude

When choosing to study abroad in Geneva, it didn't occur to me that I would be studying abroad in Switzerland but more Europe in general. Therefore, it didn't occur to me to travel within Switzerland. However, when my friend came to visit for a weekend and her sophomore year roommates planned a whole trip to Interlaken to show her our new home-country of Switzerland, I decided to join in on the fun. So the weekend before my study group left for a week-long adventure "Westward," we headed up to the alps.
The very train trip to Interlaken was beautiful, as is every train and plane ride to/within Switzerland. The country is just full of beautiful countryside and landscapes. Although I am usually resentful of the snow, a quality I have gained since attending school in Upstate New York where the winter is six months long, I couldn't help but find the winter wonderland before me absolutely breathtaking.
When we got to Interlaken, we stayed in this hostel called Balmers. Apparently, it's the place to stay in Interlaken because two other girls from Colgate who are studying abroad in Dijon also happened to choose this hostel for their impromptu trip to the alps that weekend.
Why you may ask is this hostel the place to stay? As seems to the pattern with highly recommended hostels, it has very little to do with the cleanliness or bed quality but everything to do with the social life. Balmers has a lively biergarten for post-ski socializing and drinks, which was unfortunately unavailable while we were there. They also have a club attached to the hostel called Metrobar, which is apparently one of the hottest spots in town. The seven of us (five from my group, two from Dijon) met up at the club on our first night. It was probably the biggest sausage fest I have ever been to in my life (well, besides that one time I visited an all boys high school).
Looking around the room, there was the sense that people were attractive. Fitter and broader shouldered than any of the guys we had seen in skinny France, these skiers and snowboarders gave off the look of attractive. Upon closer inspection, we had realized that none of these guys were Swiss, but rather the entire club was full of American college students studying abroad, just shoveling out cash to go skiing in the alps. Upon even closer inspection, none of these guys were even cute, but yet they all seemed immediately more attractive than the hoards of Europeans we had seen all semester. This was the first time we experienced the American attraction phenomenon. (As Americans, we are more attracted to other Americans).
While we were at the club, Daheuin and Allie (the two girls studying in Dijon) said that they were going paragliding the next day. Staring at the screen which advertised this adventure, I was immediately pulled in. I starting sending emails to my mom, begging her to let me drop 170F to go paragliding in the alps! The next morning, I checked my email for my mom's verdict. You need to look at your expenses and see how much you are spending on your basic necessities. That sounded like a passive aggressive "No" to me.
That could've been me!
I was heartbroken; I had been certain that paragliding was going to be one of my crazy study abroad experiences to tell for years to come! And with that email, she had deprived me of having an experience of a lifetime. Perhaps inspired by my desire to have some nature-related adventure in the alps, our group decided to actually go up into the mountains. Now, we had not fully prepared for this, since we thought we'd just be wandering around the town of Interlaken. Therefore, we were not all ready for a nature adventure....well none of us were properly prepared, but we were all screwed to varying degrees. I had thought to bring some athletic spandex, running shoes, my parka from Aqua, and my super cute jackalope sweater from Madewell--the perfect clothing for snow! So I layered as much as possible, and we took the train to Grindelwald and then then up to the mountains!
 When we got off the gondola at the top of Männlichen mountain, we looked like complete idiots. Everyone else around us was doing serious Alp skiing and decked out in ski gear, while I was wearing a little jackalope sweater and running shoes. We wandered around the mountain and grabbed some food from the stands and headed over to the tanning area of the mountain. Yes, there were tanning lounge chairs on top of this mountain, since despite the snow everywhere, it was probably 70 degrees up there. After finishing our delicious food and taking some beautiful shots of the Swiss Alps, we went looking for the sleds.
so sporty

A little sunbathing in the Alps
Although this had been our entire plan when coming up this mountain, as we were coming up in the gondola, we realized that this was a real mountain, not a hill. Suddenly, this little adventure seemed a lot more risky and scary. When we got to the sled desk, they looked at us with some amusement. We told them about our concerns and they told us we would be fine...until they saw our shoes. "Shit shoes" they called them. We would have no traction in the snow, unless we rented snowshoes that all of us were too cheap to rent. After fifteen minutes of freaking out, we decided to do it and grabbed our old-school sleds. The guys' final piece of advice was to be sure to avoid the difficult trail, since with our shit shoes, we wouldn't be able to handle it, and it was for expert sledders. Expert sledders?
We started down the first hill and it was pretty mild, I can handle this. As we kept going, the real declines approached. The first one was terrifying, as I mildly lost control, futilely trying to dig my heels into the snow to slow down. Thankfully, the hill leveled out, naturally slowing me down. That was amazing! I thought to myself, I can totally handle this.
Exhilarated from that experience and the shot of adrenaline, I went for the next hill with confidence and didn't even dig my heels in as early. And then I kept on accelerating and accelerating. I began to dig my heels in as the first hill was followed not by a flat period, but another hill. The next thing I see is a "Slow Down!" sign followed by a even steeper drop. Slow down? At this point, I'm desperately digging my heels into the snow but with no affect. I let out a high pitched scream as my heart hung, suspended in my chest and then dropped as my body continued to accelerate. Soon I was going too fast that I knew there was no chance I was going to make it and my sled raced completely out of control straight towards the curve in the trial. I was thrown off my sled as it continued forward, only to be caught my the ankle attachment. I opened my eyes and found myself at the edge of the trial with my sled dangling over the side of the trial, half-way over the edge.


As I lay in the snow, waiting for my heart to stop racing, I watched the trial as I heard some shrieks. One by one the rest of my friends came screaming down from the hill and crashed into the snow (or one another). Suddenly, this sledding experience seemed really scary (and dangerous) all over again. After sitting there for a while to recover (and watch the experience sledders make it through that point with such ease), we decided to continue on. The hills only got steeper to the point where I gave up on sledding and tried to just walk down the hill. It was still too sleep. I scooted down on my butt. I still went down pretty fast. It was a really steep hill. In case you don't believe me about the intensity of this hill, we were directly parallel to the ski trial, coming from the top of the Swiss Alps. It was that steep.
It took us some time to realize that there was a reason why the trial we were on was so steep. We had accidentally taken the "expert" trial, instead of the safe, gradual trial for those with "shit shoes". When we finally got back to the regular trial, the whole experience was quite enjoyable and not dangerous at all. There were beautiful views with a nice, easy descent. If only we had just taken the right trial....well, if we had, I wouldn't have gotten my crazy abroad story from the alps! Oh, I almost forgot to mention the craziest detail of our sledding adventure. While we were struggling down this mountain on the verge of tears (well that was basically just me, but we were all freaking out), these parents with their babies trapped down would be whizzing down no problem in perfect luging form. Crazy Swiss families.


2 comments:

  1. Historically speaking, plastic glasses include the experimental spectacles in the time of invention of glasses.

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