Back in Ishgl, the morning sky over the Palinkopf is delphinium blue. None of the previous day’s snow or clouds or flat light. Under the watchful Swiss cameras I ski to the top of piste 80, then around a bend to the first headwall. Switzerland falls dizzyingly toward Samnaun village, from the white-coated granite swells above the tree line down the steeps and into the meandering narrow valley, passing the shoulders of one peak after another. The zigzag Piz Ot strikes terribly at the eastern sky, a pierced plume of cloud trailing from it like a scarf.
The piste itself is a friendly rolling cruiser, steep enough near the top to put on the speed that’s necessary to skim shallower ground near the village. Forbidding piles of powder and streams of ice? Nonexistent. Only smooth, whipped-cream snow. My skis glide downhill. As I descend, the Alps rise higher and higher around me until, 1,000 vertical meters later, the snow degrades into icy pellets. The village’s main street, the Dorfstrasse, lies just ahead, so I kick off my skis and walk.
Samnaun is an almost absurdly alpine village of stucco-and-wood chalets, Swiss flags and meadows that, in the spring, will surely be full of grazing cows. No American pop music here: Outdoor speakers pour out traditional music in German, flügelhorns and accordions and oompah rhythm included, and the occasional Swiss pop song. Apart from the multilingual signs advertising duty-free shopping — and these are everywhere — there’s no hint of English, no bowing to globalization or international fashion or American brand names. Samnaun may be kin to Austria after hundreds of years of trade, and its restaurant menus may proclaim pizza as a house specialty, but it’s resolutely Swiss, proud of itself, slightly dismissive of the rest of the world, sure that everyone who’s not Swiss wishes he or she were, and would be better off.
When I board the double-decker, 180-passenger cable car back up the mountain, I know I’ll spend the rest of the day skiing on the Swiss side. For whatever meteorological reason, the south-facing slopes here aren’t plagued by survivor snow. First — I hope — some uncharacteristically fervid customs officers at the top will ask to search my backpack full of chocolate and Swiss gifts. Or at the very least ask for my passport. But I sense that the only sign of the border will be that flag at the top and the security cameras taking my picture as I ski away.
Tracy Staton is a Vermont-based writer who believes skiing is the only good reason for winter.