Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Trains, planes and....sorry, no automobiles allowed!

Zermatt is the end of the line. Literally. The train line stops here and vehicles must be left at the station before Zermatt. I originally thought this to mean there were zero vehicles in Zermatt, until we almost got run over by one of the crazy little taxi vans upon our arrival. There are one or two regular sized buses but mostly there are these little rectangular vans and trucks which act as anything from delivery vehicles to taxis, hotel shuttles to police vans. Seriously, their police van that we saw yesterday looks like a Matchbox toy. We had a good laugh at that. I discovered on Wikipedia the other day that these vehicles are electric because combustion engines are not allowed. Their reasoning is to reduce the impact on the environment; specifically they don’t want pollution to obscure their view of the Matterhorn. The streets are quite narrow here and seem to lack any kind of indicator as to which side of the road belongs to which direction of traffic. If there are pedestrians in your way then you drive around them, missing them by millimetres. I’ve yet to see any semblance of traffic lights, stop signs or painted road lines. Rush hour is when there is a taxi parked halfway on the sidewalk unloading people (think clowns at the circus getting out of the mini car), a taxi coming up behind it and one van coming from the opposite direction. Add to that people wandering down the middle of the road oblivious to traffic and things get pretty entertaining. Haven’t seen any accidents yet which is rather surprising but we have been wondering how these drivers would fare in any major city. Sean told me that these little dinky car vans have horns but they don’t seem to use them. They’ll drive right up behind you and sit there until they can whiz around you or you look to see why your legs are suddenly so bright and move over.

Today is Tuesday Jan 29 and we’ve been here almost a week now. On Sunday we took a break from snowboarding and rented toboggans for a day. However, this was no ordinary tobogganing expedition! First we took a cog railway train up to Rotenboden station at 2815m. For perspective, Blue Mountain is less than 1000m high. We’d decided to double up on the sleds so Sean and I took on Tony and Darlene in the first descent. I should point something out here: these sleds we had rented had no brakes or any pretence of steering mechanism. They’re just wooden sleds that you sit on and go. The toboggan course runs between the ski run and the railway tracks, twisting and turning down 1.5 km to Riffelberg station at 2585m. I soon discovered that my inability to stay on the sled would impede my success at winning any sled races. Round one to Tony and Darlene but, not being ones who give up easily, we took the train back up and lined ourselves up for a rematch. This time the girls were in front steering while the guys helped brake from behind. Brakes came in the form of dragging your feet on the ground and digging in to try and corner at a rather high rate of speed. What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of snow this would blow right back into our faces, not only blinding us to the course ahead but also finding its way into every crevice of our winter wear. With me being in the driver’s seat, Sean and I managed to pull ahead and things looked good. A near miss with an embankment and the subsequent violent braking caused our speed to slow too much on a flat spot. Sean got off to push but before I realized what was going on, I had dug my feet in and Sean ended up pushing me on my face while tipping the sled forward and flying over my head. When we finally reached the bottom of the course, it was decided that I can’t steer or stay on the sled. I didn’t argue. After a few more descents, it was time for Darlene and I to race each other. To make a long story short, I can’t steer, stay on the sled or brake effectively. I lost count of the number of walls I hit or the number of times I cornered sideways only to get violently pitched off the sled into the snow. At one point I was running after my sled for about 100 ft. Near the bottom of the run was a steep section with a sharp left-hander at the end. On the outside of this corner was a snow fence to keep you off the railway. Another sled had crashed into the fence and I entered this section with zero control. To avoid the other couple I slammed on the brakes but crashed into the fence, only to get crashed into by Darlene. 3 sled pile up, zero injuries. Off went the other couple while we untangled ourselves. I managed to get free first and set off to complete the last section of course. Another steep hill, another sharp left-hander and I was done for. It’s very difficult to corner a sled sideways at seemingly 50mph so of course I fell off. What I hadn’t known was that Darlene was headed right towards me until BLAM!! Crash number 2 in as many corners only this time I am sporting a vicious bruise on my left knee and the guys caught it on camera.

Yesterday was our first semi-rest day. Sean is battling a nagging leg problem while my boots make the balls of my feet feel as though they are on fire after a few hours. Tony is holding up pretty well although he’s had some pretty spectacular crashes and Darlene is favouring her neck of late. We slept in and took the morning off. After lunch the guys headed up to Trockener Steg at 2939m while Darlene and I made our attempt to cross over to the Italian side. My one goal in coming here was to ride in two countries and yesterday I accomplished that goal! We didn’t have a whole lot of time but managed to get over the international boundary and down to Plan Maison at 2555m. It’s funny. On the trail map the border is shown as a line of little x figures but there’s nothing in the snow like that. Our first stop in our quest was at the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise station, located at 3883m and the distance of 3 gondolas from Zermatt. What a view!! It was a warm, sunny, absolutely brilliant day yesterday with mountains and snow and sun for miles and miles. Turn left, you’re looking into Italy. To the right, you’re looking back down at Switzerland and the teeny village of Zermatt in the distance. It’s like being on top of the world and it’s incredibly gorgeous! D and I made our way down to Plateau Rosa Testa Grigia at 3480m for a pit stop then it was off to ride into Italy just like that. Whoosh! And suddenly I can use more of my mangled Italian language skills. The Italian area that we were in is a kind of bowl with far more bare rock showing between runs, probably because of a combination of sun and wind conditions, but we really liked the runs on that side. With one eye on the time and the other eye on the gorgeous scenery, we had a blast! Darlene had an unfortunate crash involving some dumb snowboarder we named Italian Ken (Barbie crashed out on her own ahead of me but I avoided her) while I slid partway down a run on my butt but it was all worth her sore neck and the snow down my pants. A few gondolas later we were back up to Plateau Rosa to take photos of ourselves literally straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy. There’s a sign on the wall with a yellow line painted across the ground which defines cool in my little world. I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t stamp my passport since I had it with me but whatever.

Today is a full rest day for Tony, Sean and I while Darlene just left the room to head over to Italy again. My feet need a day out of my boots while Sean wants to rest his leg. I’m hopeful to get down to Breuil-Cervinia (2050m) in Italy tomorrow, weather permitting. My trail map shows some pretty good looking runs on the way down there. We were talking last night of attending a fondue dinner up on the mountain tonight which sounds like a lot of fun. Today I’ll go into Zermatt and do some exploring, take some photos, maybe buy some kitchy souvenirs. There’s no shortage of chocolate here but don’t hate me for it. We head to Geneva on Sunday for a few days of sightseeing there before we head home.


John said...

Remember load up that camera! We can watch them on the 42" plasma when you get back!

Anonymous said...

more photos please!!!

oh and tell snaggletooth 'hi' :D