Training hard for La Patrouille des Glaciers, the Swiss alpine course.

The ultimate luxury

While the rest of the West begins to experience Spring, it’s still winter here in Switzerland, where a comfortable winter stay it is not always a 5 star palace or 3 star Michelin restaurant.

The path to luxury is sweat, and a cup of hot tea.

Let me explain. When your goal is to approach nature in its most authentic version, the only way to go is the Alpine course, where the purity of the scenery is a luxury unsurpassed.

With an added synthetic skin on the bottom of your skis — a carpet-like base of fabric that lets you glide forward, but still catches on the snow to keep you from slipping downhill — you can track forward in light and flexible boots, which clip into the bindings for control on descents, but allow the heel to lift when climbing.

With this amazing equipment you are free to choose any mountain of your choice with or without a ski lift, at any time of the day or night. The rewards during climbing for 2 or 3 hours are many. A tsunami of fresh air; unbelievable scenery; a physical feeling like a two-week fitness bootcamp.

When you reach the top, it’s good to take a break for some hot tea from a vacuum bottle, some well-deserved almonds, figs, or chocolate bars. Then come the true gratification: a long downhill run in untouched fresh snow, like a heli-trip in Greenland.

Special skins on the skis add grid.

Known as ski mountaineering, Alpine touring or “skinning,” this form of skiing pre-dates chairlifts: you propel yourself up the mountain before going back down.

The popularity of Alpine skinning has never been so high as it is today, since it enable skiers to reach isolated sections of a mountain, to search out deep powder, and burn calories like hell. You can experiences vistas you almost cannot believe are real.

While downhill skiing dominates in the United States, skin-skiing is very popular in Europe. Competitions exist as well like the Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG), an international ski mountaineering race organised by the Swiss Armed Forces in which military and civilian teams compete. The race leads from Zermatt to Verbier (course Z) or from Arolla to Verbier (course A). The very long race distance, the extreme route profile, the high altitude and the difficult alpine terrain with glaciers and couloir climbs are the main features of this unique competition. The PDG is considered as the world’s toughest team competition and is so popular that thousands of athletes are rejected from participating each year due to the excessive number of applications.

Voila — now next time you plan a winter holiday, you may be tempted to discover the ultimate luxury: sweating like hell and a cup of hot tea. As they say on the slopes: you have to earn your turns!

A closeup of the skins.
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