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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Switzerland skiing

Nordic skiing near the town of Saint Cergue, Switzerland.

On December 8, 1998 I was near Geneva on some business, and passing through the town where Alex de Sherbinin ’84 lives and works these days, so I stopped in for a brief visit.  Just hours after landing, complete with jet lag, he picked me up at the Nyon train station and whisked me up into the hills. Geneva and Nyon are low altitude, along Lac Leman, but the land rises rapidly up to a ridge known as the Jura, perhaps 3000 feet elevation.   As we drove up a windy road, the snow became deeper, and the views more spectacular, back across the lake to the Alps and Mont Blanc.  We stopped in the little town of Saint Cergue for a little picnic lunch and to wait for the shopkeeper to reopen so I could rent some XC skis.  When she finally returned, the neighboring shopkeeper scolded her, in reference to us, “These are the seventh people to come into my shop to ask when you will reopen, won’t you please put up a sign saying when you plan to return.”  Even in my limited French I caught the gist of her resultant muttering about how she has the right to close when she wants, if she wants to close, she closes, etc etc etc. 

A few francs later and we were off to ski on an amazing network of set tracks, in gorgeous conditions.  It was a beautiful sunny day, temps just a little below freezing, and fresh snow.  The trails rolled over gentle hills, in and out of the woods. The bright sunshine and the exercise pretty well eliminated my jet lag.  There were few others out that day, being midweek, and most who were out were retirees about twice our age.  I can only hope to be that active at that age.

Alex later took me by his office at the World Conservation Union (IUCN),  across the street from his apartment where it seemed every window had a view onto the Alps, and around the corner from the WWF international headquarters.  At the IUCN everyone seemed to be working on momentous projects in faraway places.   Really neat place.

Thanks Alex!