International borders are, of course, a uniquely human invention. They aren’t marked on the landscape. The ibex and mountain hare and chamois deer bound across unaware, and cultural artifacts like food and hand gestures diffuse from one side to the other and back. Even we Homo sapiens need compasses and surveying scopes to fix them precisely. Perhaps that’s why borders loom so large in the imagination, and why crossing them feels taboo, furtive. Try stepping directly from one country to another without looking over your shoulder.
Countries protect their frontiers. Mapmakers survey them. Illegal immigrants and smugglers sneak past them. Settlers erect crosses and raise flags, hikers stack stones into cairns, scholars study them, and travelers pose for photos, the jokers among them with one foot on either side.
And, apparently, some ski-resort developers build lifts to them and trails across them — because some of us just want to ski over, whether it’s for bragging rights, adventure or scientific exploration. We want to know: Is the snow different on the other side?
Because of geography and time constraints, this adventure requires a timetable. Like any good agent, I surround myself with maps and train schedules, and I plot a course from the French-Italian border in the Valle d’Aosta to the Silvretta Mountains in the Austrian Alps to the far northeastern snip of Italy between the Adriatic Sea and the former Iron Curtain. Planes, trains, buses, automobiles, cable cars. Seeking lodging and train tickets via email and phone, I begin to wish I were a well-educated Swiss who’d been brought up quadrilingual, or Jason Bourne, unaware I spoke a language fluently until it became time to use it. The international lift tickets turn out to be the easy part, and two out of three are easily ordered online, with RFID tags that can transmit speed and altitude stats to my iPhone.
The proposed itinerary: Fly to Rome. Train to Torino. Another train to the Valle d’Aosta station of Pré-Saint-Didier. Resort bus to La Thuile, on the Italian side of the border. Ride La Suches cable car to the top of the mountain by the same name, the Chalet Express to piste (trail) 9, which will take me to the Chaz Dura lift and piste 7. Then another quick lift to Belvedere peak at 2,642 meters. Finally, the Liason piste into France’s La Rosiére ski area. Then back via Col de la Traversette, the first half of the run in France, the second half in Italy. Two countries, one border crossed, one 37 euro lift ticket.
Then repeat, with names and numbers changed, skiing Austria to Switzerland, Italy to Slovenia, with an eight-hour pit stop in Venice in between.