Bringing Swiss Hut Life Home

It’s our last day on the Haute Route and the glorious weather adds to the excitement as we gear up at the Bertol Hut for the ski down to the classic Swiss Alps village of Zermatt. The morning light bathes these craggy peaks with an orange glow, and as we trudge uphill in the crisp air the Matterhorn in all its majesty appears over a rise. As we descend along the northern base of this awe-inspiring mountain, late spring powder leads to heavier snow and finally full-on slush as we latch onto the pistes of the Zermatt resort.

After 10 days of hut-to-hut skiing, with a couple of village stays thrown in along the way, we’re ready for some civilization…the Stafelalp. At 2,200 metres above sea level and at literally at the base of the slopes leading to the Matterhorn’s northeast Hornli Ridge, the Stafelalp setting is stunning to say the least. Maybe the only better thing right now is the fondue awaiting us on the sunny outdoor deck. Culture…here in the Alps we’ve discovered it’s an amazing aspect of skiing, and eating!

Back in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, we attempt to re-create that wonderful winter Alps experience with monthly full-moon fondues. Mount Garibaldi is typically bathed in late afternoon pink alpenglow as we skin up Paul Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park just bordering our hometown of Squamish. After dumping our cheesy and chocolaty goods at the Red Heather Hut, stoking the fire and elicting promises from hut guests to leave these “valuables” alone, we continue up the now-deserted ridge in the fading light. A couple of quick runs to whet our appetites and we’re definitely ready to fondue.   

Melting cheese, simmering broth and oil, and the variety of meats, veggies and breads for dipping provide a veritable feast for the nose and palate. And then it’s onto the chocolate, which as we all know is a requisite backcountry ski food group, made even better when melted and dripping from luscious pieces of fruit.

Added to this melange is our ukulele-toting skier regaling us with some Johnny Cash and Neil Young. The sun now down and the moon rising over the ridge, it’s time to work off some calories as we skin back up to our afternoon high point in these sub-alpine meadows, at this time of year buried under about five metres of snow.

Stark shadows from the moonlight eliminate the need for headlamps as we click in and carve down. It’s so good we skin back up for more before a final stop to gather our supplies and push off for the effortless five-kilometer schuss through the trees back down to the parking lot.

Another full moon, another fondue, and a great evening of Alps culture, Coast Mountains style.