It’s late morning and already the slopes of Ischgl are bumped up, with skied-off streams of icy hardpack running between deep, broad humps of the soft stuff. Only the flat connecting trails, where even beginners look for speed, remain, well, flat. No turns, no moguls. The snowfields between marked trails have that untracked, come-hither look, but getting to them requires close observation, prior planning and hair-trigger turns. I put my poles to work and follow the moguls along my predetermined path: the smuggler’s circuit of 11 lifts and 14 runs, half in Austria, half in Switzerland.
Plans are made to be broken, just like ski-boot fittings. A faulty buckle sends me back down into Ischgl, and it’s all as good as suboptimal conditions can get until the gondola station at Idalp is behind me. Then, the intermediate piste leading to town grows icier than the slopes higher up, with sneaky double fall lines, and I begin to thank the ski gods for the variable conditions at home in Vermont. Below the tree line, the snow softens up, so for a few hundred meters, it’s slower going and easier on the brain — if not on the quadriceps.
But then I hit the slush. For ages I pole along, struggling to keep up speed. I pass a hiker walking on the muddy fringe between the once-groomed piste and the trees. I unzip my shell, then my fleece. My goggles fog. I thank the ski gods that I run during the offseason. Otherwise, a St. Bernard would have to retrieve me. Or I’d have to stop and rest, which goes against my core skiing beliefs. (Sleep when you’re dead, rest on the lift.) Overhead the gondola passes, full of people who are no doubt wondering why my face matches my tomato-red jacket.
Today’s not the day for a border crossing. Equipment failure averted, I head back up the mountain, and, mindful of the long slog awaiting me at day’s end, stick to the Austrian side of these mountains. When snow moves in, it’s the thin, spitting kind that comes with light-flattening clouds. Lacking the sort of ski goggles that might render the slopes in three dimensions — the sort Q would provide 007 for just this weather — I misidentify bumps and veer into the wrong fall line and skid downhill on my stomach, skis flying. A kind Austrian takes pity. He retrieves my equipment and helps me up. I take it as a sign that, 32 hours after my most recent night in bed, it’s time for a nap.