Liberty Road Report #1: The End Of The Line

Liberty Road Report #1: The End Of The Line

If you are a fan of maps, you know that there are special places. Places at the end of the line, where the road stops, the map goes blank and all you have is your imagination to fill in the gaps. Of course, in this day and age of satellite imagery Google Earth and cell phones embedded with the latest GPS technology, there’s less and less left for the imagination. Everything has been spelled out, it’s impossible to get lost and even if you do, help is only a phone call away. And that’s only if you can’t figure out how to use that GPS system and keep on switching your phone to an annoying Brittany Spears ringtone.

You know those western movies when a new posse rolls into town. Well, this is the new posse in Vals. Good thing the locals don’t have guns.

But take a moment to toss your phone out the window (or at least turn it off), grab a map of Switzerland and turn your attention to a small valley and an even smaller town called Vals. Vals isn’t the only town in this valley. It’s slightly larger than other hamlets such as Leis and Soladura. And the road really doesn’t end at Vals, you can go farther if you want to, up to Zervreila in the winter and even farther in the summer, when the snow melts.

But what drew us – a group of Liberty athletes comprised of Travis Redd, David Lesh and Alex Applegate and a couple of journalists – to this remote valley was a map. A map with a road that ended at Vals and a small ski area called Vals 3000 at the end of the road that ended at Vals. The surrounding area on the map was white. And our imaginations were free to fill in the blanks.

We arrived in Vals on a bus that coughed and spit and honked in warning at every hairpin turn. The road lived up to its promise. It was better than we could have imagined from the squiggly red line on the map. On one side stark cliffs rose above us into the clouds, spitting rockfall and avalanches down from time to time. On the other, a sheer plunge into a frothing gorge, the rumbling of the water rising above the complaints of the bus’ engine and the sight of it – most sections of the road didn’t have guardrails – enough to keep our brains churning despite the jet lag that fogged our eyes.

We disembarked the bus in the town, thankful to be alive and found our host, Pascal Cahenzli, in the tourist office. He welcomed us, handed us our lift tickets and sent us back down the road to the apartment that would become our home for the rest of the week.

That night, the white on the map was echoed by the white of the clouds and the white of the snow, which thickened with every hour, blanketing Vals in silence and beauty and torturing us with anxiety for the day to come.

Token backdrop shot, check.

Skiing isn’t new to Vals. The locals started here in the early 1930s, holding races like the Hoobüel, a no-holds barred, first-one-to-the-bottom-wins blitzkrieg. The current ski resort opened in 1975, with additional development in 2003, when the existing gondola out of the base was installed (the construction of which is documented with excellent photos at the resort’s website, vals3000.ch).

David Lesh samples some of the fresh air.

Vals remains modest compared to the behemoths that dominate Switzerland’s ski industry. With the gondola complimented by three T-bars, no one will mistake this ski area for Andermatt or St. Moritz. But as any skier knows, there is more to the experience than lifts and acrets. With a mere fraction of the visitors that its bigger brethren enjoy, Vals feels empty. Lift lines are a rarity here, and with the four lifts accessing 5509 vertical feet and endless off-piste and touring options available, this is a mountain that skis much bigger than most North American mega-resorts. In fact, if you could magically transport Vals to the Rockies, there’s no doubt that the ski area would be high on everyone’s hit list. As it is, Vals remains an undiscovered Swiss gem, hidden at the end of a remote valley and rarely visited by those from outside the Graubünden canton.

“In the cloud” is no longer a term reserved for tech conferences.

While the empty slopes and authentic village are enough reasons to visit, it’s the terrain that’s off the map that makes Vals worth the journey. With a geology featuring limestone outcroppings, and forested pillow lines, this is a ski area that rewards the adventurous. Hike above the resort and you’ll find massive peaks (which were off-limits during our visit due to avalanche danger), drop into the trees for untouched powder and ski off the top into the town of Frunt for endless turns in powder and corn on rolling autobahns of bliss.
Vals. So beautiful, so empty and so wonderful. Welcome to the hidden valley.

After three days on the mountain, it was starting to become obvious that the white zone on our map was a very special slice of Switzerland indeed. And when the sun finally broke through the storm, we could see that it would take much more time than we had to fully explore and appreciate all that Vals had to offer. In fact, by the time we had to depart, our imagination was still working overtime, filling in the gaps: That line across the valley, are you sure we don’t have time to ski it? What about the backside, can we ski out the valley? Those skin tracks, should we follow them and ski tour up into the bowl that’s been hidden in the clouds all week? Do you think we should build a massive hip jump in that gully? All these questions and more, unanswered, until our next visit to the end of the line.

Lesh likes the XL pillows they use in Switzerland. He also says the down comforters are nice, too.

Details, details:

VALS: vals.ch
Information on the town, where to stay and what to do.

VALS 3000: vals3000.ch
Trail maps, weather and lift ticket info. Plus cool photos of the construction of the ski area’s gondola.

SWISS TOURISM: [https://www.myswitzerland.com]
Deals on traveling to and from Switzerland, background information on ski resorts and other winter pastimes and an overview of the culture, music and geography that makes this country a must-visit destinations for skiers of all abilities.

GRAUBÃœNDEN: [https://www.graubuenden.ch]
The most mountainous canton in Switzerland is the place to go skiing, featuring small resorts like Vals complimented by some of the most renowned ski areas in the world.

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