Smiles and skis

Fresh snow brings out the smiles in everyone.

Friday brought us a wonderful snowfall, 6″ of super-light fluffy powder. Then Saturday and Sunday brought us blue skies and moderate temperatures. Each day I drove out to the edge of town, where a generous landowner maintains (and grooms!) a vast network of cross-country ski trails. The beautiful weather and fresh conditions brought out many other skiers, eager to be back on snow after two weeks of warm weather and (gasp!) rain ruined the skiing. The sky was blue, the wind calm, and the sun glinted off the sharp edges of the fresh snowflakes coating every branch.

A brief puff of wind sprinkles snowflakes into a beam of sunlight.

This landowner (very generous!) even provides warming huts, with a woodstove and amenities like hot chocolate, at strategic points around the trail network.

One of the warming huts along the ski trails

The trails – and parking lot – were busier than I’ve ever seen them, with dozens of people out and about. They ranged the gamut – from young families with eager children, to middle-aged adults shuffling by on their classic skis, to athletic adults skating by at great speed. Everyone was in a cheerful mood, smiling and saying hello as they passed. The many dogs were friendly and excited. It’s all enough to remind you how wonderful winter can be.

Classic tracks on the left, skate tracks on the right.

Skiing Zermatt

Glorious scenery, fabulous weather.

Three days of skiing in Zermatt, surrounded by gorgeous scenery and in perfect weather. Sunshine, no wind, temps around the freezing point. Good snow conditions. 40 open lifts, 211 kilometers of open slopes. No crowds, no lines. The Matterhorn in view nearly all the time, flanked by incredible snow-covered peaks and dripping with ancient glaciers. It doesn’t get much better than this. Read on, and check the photo gallery!

The Matterhorn, seen late afternoon from the ski slopes at Zermatt.
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Zermatt

It’s hard to beat this scenery.

I’ve never been anywhere with mountain scenery as stunning as in Zermatt. When we were first here, two years ago, it was snowing hard and I feared we’d leave without a glimpse of the Matterhorn. But it made an appearance later that day, and the next day was brilliantly beautiful. Today we are back, and the results are just as incredible. Read on.

A view of the Matterhorn from the high ski slopes; Zermatt is deep in the valley where you see brown cliffs.
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Trail work

Community effort benefits community.

A longtime friend put out the call by email, earlier in the week. Saturday morning, bring your favorite hand tools, park in the big field behind the house. A dozen or more hardy souls turned up, wielding axes, loppers, pole saws, and more. The dogs played with a stick, chasing each other across the field and through the pond. The hardwoods were showing their true colors, on this warm but cloudy October morning.

We were here to brush a trail from the end of a gravel lane on the west side of Lyme, up through forests and former pastures and over century-old stone walls, to a pretty vista looking out into Vermont. This informal network of trails, criss-crossing low forest hills owned by a patchwork of landowners, is used by walkers, hikers, bikers, horse riders, hunters, skiers, and snowshoers – not to mention deer, coyote, and more. The trails are known only by word of mouth, a generous gift from the landowners to the community. Today, that grateful community turned out to return the favor.

After a round of introductions, with many explaining how their own land connects to this trail network, and how much they enjoy biking or skiing the trails year-round, we set off across the field and into the woods. It was mostly light work, clipping the saplings and brambles accumulated in recent years. The trail weaved its way up and down hillsides, in and out of hardwood and hemlock forests, as the conversation wove through stories of children growing up, grandchildren arriving, careers in transition, and news about neighbors in town. It was clear to me today as it was decades ago – the bonds made while doing physical labor alongside other people, building a community trail, build community bonds far beyond the trail itself.

Skiing

Beautiful conditions for the past week.

I’ve been fortunate to be out skiing five out of the past six days – the exception being the snowshoe day on Pico Peak – because the conditions have been so lovely. Last week the temps hovered around freezing most afternoons, softening the snow surface, but a dusting of fresh powder most nights have freshened-up the trails and skiing surfaces. Here are some photos from today’s ski tour in the outer reaches of Lyme.

The trail conditions are excellent.
A view of Smarts Mountain from the ski trails.
One of the many pretty brooks over which the ski trails pass.

Glacial erratic

Skiing the trails of northeastern Lyme.

One of the cool things about skiing through the remote areas of northeastern Lyme, as I was early this morning after last night dusted the area with an inch or two of fresh powder, is the striking appearance of huge boulders in the middle of an otherwise uneventful patch of lowland forest. These boulders are likely glacial erratics, brought here long ago astride one of the slow-moving glaciers that flowed over this terrain during the last ice age.

A glacial erratic sits beside the ski trails in northeast Lyme.

Or maybe not; some of my readers have a geology background. Correct me if I’m wrong!

A bit further long the trail this morning was a more contemporary form of wildlife: a domestic dog, complete with matching winter coat, quietly and alertly watching me approach while he waited for his pet human to catch up from around the bend.

A dog waits for me on the trails.

Obersaxen ski day

A beautiful day for the annual ski outing for my ETH-St.Gallen research group.

While on sabbatical I am a visiting professor affiliated with the Center for Digital Health Interventions at ETH.  Each year, the professors that lead this center (and related centers) sponsor a ski day, somewhere in Switzerland.  Today a couple dozen students, staff, and faculty enjoyed a day of skiing at the Obersaxen ski area in southeast Switzerland.   Although this winter has been uncharacteristically snowless, and record-breakingly warm, the snow was good and the skiing excellent.  The weather, initially a bit cloudy, turned into a blue-sky day.  Stunning views of the surrounding peaks vied for my attention with the trails below my skis.  The group generally skied together, spanning a wide range of ages and experience.  We gathered for a hearty lunch at the cozy Restaurant Stai in the village of Miraniga.  One reaches the restaurant by skiing directly off the trail, past a barn, across a driveway, and into their front yard.  The sweet smell of rural Switzerland wafts over from the barn, reminding you that these same slopes are used for grazing cows in the summer.  Inside, an Olympic Gold Medal is the centerpiece of the many medals and memorabilia from a local star skier, and the menus offer classic regional dishes and local beer.  It was mid-afternoon when we stepped back into our skis for one last ride to the top, and down the other side back to our starting point – just in time for a round of aprés-ski beers.  All in all, a fabulous day.  Check out the photo gallery.

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Hunting grouse in Finland

A day of skiing and grouse hunting, outside Oulu Finland.

Yesterday I visited the University of Oulu to give a talk about my research and to engage in some collaborative discussions with faculty in computer science.  (Impressive and fascinating work underway there!)   Timo, the professor hosting my visit, grew up in the fields and forests of northern Finland; he offered to take me out today for a day of skiing in a nature reserve an hour east of Oulu.  As he noted, this week was a special opportunity – the first time since 1981 that the wildlife-management folks were opening a winter season for hunting European Grouse… and for just 10 days.  Timo is an accomplished hunter and fisherman, as was clear from the many stuffed grouse and the fishing awards in his den at home.  This mid-week opportunity was too good for him to pass up, and I was delighted to join.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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Flumserberg

Skiing at Flumserberg on a sunny day after an overnight snowfall.

The forecast promised the snow flurries would end around noon, and the clouds would clear to partly-sunny skies for the afternoon. That was good enough for Andy and me! We hopped on a late-morning train along the shores of beautiful lakes Zurichsee and Wallensee, and jumped off in Unterterzen.  We walked across the street and climbed on the gondola, which whisked us steeply uphill past verdant green pastures and snug little cottages until the trees were dusted with last night’s snowfall.  We arrived at the tiny village of Tannenboden, at the base of the Flumerserberg ski area, right at noon. After renting ski gear in a local shop, we were ready to go… just as the clouds parted and the sun broke through, illuminating the jagged mountain peaks across the valley. Spectacular! and it would only get better.   Read on, and check out the gallery.

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Zermatt and the Matterhorn

Three days, three visits to Zermatt – with very different views of the Matterhorn.

There are few scenes more glorious than the Matterhorn seen from the ski slopes of Zermatt, under sunny skies the day after a snowstorm.  I snapped more than five hundred photos in under three days, and was spoiled by some of the best skiing I’ve ever encountered.  Read on and check out the photo gallery for more.

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