This is the story of a Real Aspen Gal’s journey from Aspen to the Alps. It was the first time in a long time I had used an avalanche beacon and first time ever I had donned crampons. But all that majestic, mountain, adrenaline-filled adventure aside (momentarily), it was the people met along the way that will fill this story and make it more than a what to see, what to do piece. Maybe you have lived in Aspen for a season, maybe, like me, you have passed your 20 year mark and still can’t believe it. Fact is, we are a family, newcomers and old. We choose to live in a special place that takes special life skills, and not just those needed on the mountain. Join me for an insider’s view of Verbier and Chamonix through the lens of “dare-I-call-myself!” a local. 14 amazing days seeking a different altitude, chasing snow and navigating between the familiar and the foreign.
Day 1, Captain’s Log, February 1-
Landed Zurich. Douchebag intact. I chose to bring my skis which are not great for the amount of powder the Alps have swallowed – 51 meters in a week – but a major security blanket and the ski bag and boot bag checked through as a free piece of luggage provide tons of space for gear et al. I am headed for the night to stay with my godparents in a beautiful spot in Erlenbach, Switzerland. Starting the day with classical music, fresh-squeezed blood orange juice, a run through the nearby maze of wooded trails, a visit to the Kunsthaus Museum, and it is clear we are getting moments in the sun before we head to altitude. Not to mention a large dose of culture that can often get pushed aside in my normal schoolbus shuffle back home. Nothing like having a tea sitting underneath a Picasso in a low-lit, green-walled bar to remind us that a. elegance comes with history and b. artist’s are the wisest barterers. Miro and Picasso traded work for food and drink at this historic Zurich mainstay the Kronehalle restaurant and bar. Not to be missed.
Proud to say I got the hang of the swiss-precision, prompt-train, toss-the-luggage, relay-race as each stop gives us approximately 4 minutes to get our butts in gear and gear to the next Gleis. There is nothing quite like winding up towards Verbier on this magnificent system of trains. After a series of tracks, steep stairs and a gondola(we are truly pampered in the US), I am met by the lovely driver August for the Hotel Vanessa. The rooftops are covered in snow which we hadn’t seen much of in Aspen and Europe hadn’t seen to this degree in years. In broken French I start asking about how to hire an off-piste guide…
Hit the slopes sans guide for a day as weather looks better for the next and luck into what I will call “Best Lunch of The Trip” at Cabane Mont-Fort. I just kept taking gondolas, lifts, pomas you name it up as it seemed the best way to get the lay of the land. The front-side of Mont Fort was packed powder. The tomato and mozzarella sandwich was off the hook. I have a guide ready for tomorrow to take me off-piste as, I am sure you have heard, this terrain is vast and unmarked. Great dinner at La Grange. I held out on raclette for the following night’s invite for dinner with Gilbert Simon (former director of operations for Verbier), Laurent Vaucher(current CEO of Televerbier) and their wives Lucette and Valerie. They had smoked the meats themselves, picked the blueberries and chantarelles from their backyard, the cheese was local. It was beyond a feast. Lucette’s parents were longtime chalet owners and restaurateurs and their hospitality took my breath away. Laurent translated piecing together my French and crazed hand gestures and we laughed about the highs and lows of life in a ski town. He touted Verbier’s diverse terrain as it’s biggest draw. I have to agree. I had never seen this scope of accessible backcountry. He admitted many of the backpacks seen on the gondola were more for show than use but ski shop owners defended the local population’s ski prowess madly. Laurent’s daughter is a college student in Denver and his almost-teen son is in the local race program in Verbier. Verbier has that same cache as Aspen. It can be a glittery party with too many drugs fueling its rhythm and it is simultaneously a spiritual landscape, a place to come to challenge mind , body and spirit with the substances of altitude, rock and snow.
Author Bio: Olivia Daane received a B.A. From Vanderbilt University in 1992. She then studied with Syracuse University undergraduate and graduate programs in Florence, Italy followed by an apprenticeship with internationally-recognized artist Paul Harmon. Olivia opened her LIVASPENART STUDIO in 2006 and LIVASPENART GALLERY on Cooper Avenue in Aspen, Co in February 2011-October 2013. She is a painter(known for her butterfly series begun in 2008), art consultant, songwriter, wordsmith and mom. A full time Aspenite since 1997, she spends as much time as she can in the mountains and taking in all the enriching programs Aspen has to offer. Email: Livaspenart@me.com. Website.