I have often joked that Switzerland may be the only place on earth where gyms are completely deserted during the month of January. I remember going for the ubiquitous January 2nd workout last year, anticipating the typical hordes of resolution bandwagoners, but I ended up having the place all to myself. The reason for this phenomenon of course, is that everyone is skiing! Why would anyone workout during winter holidays when the Alps are right there?
Skiing is as Swiss as cheese and chocolate, and the Swiss people take all such enjoyable things very seriously. I should note here that the idea of health and wellness in Switzerland is much more geared toward just that, health and wellness. It is quite a different mentality from the North American obsession with fat burning and muscle pumping. Many Swiss believe that if fitness can be found within some of the most beautiful outdoor settings in the world, then the Elliptical machine can take a hike. In searching for outdoor activity, there is no better place to find heart-healthy fresh air and challenging winter adventures than in Europe’s highest city, Davos.
Davos, Switzerland is one of the (if not the) most popular ski towns in the world. Snowboarders and skiers, from around the world flock to Jakobshorn and Shatzalp to experience once-in-a-lifetime Alpine adventures. When my husband was invited to play in the Spengler Cup, an international hockey tournament held each year in Davos, I was thrilled to be able to spend eight days in the famous locale. Unfortunately, due to my husband being a pro athlete, he must abstain from risky physical activities such as skiing and snowboarding. As a result, we both tend to end up at the Apres Ski without having skied. It’s a pretty feeble feeling cramming into a gondola with all the cool looking snowboarders in their flashy snow gear, brightly colored boards, and trendy goggles; us sporting our black dress coats and jeans, carrying a Chihuahua in a sweater. We certainly stuck out like silly tourists, but I was not going to miss the views or the fun just because we couldn’t ski.
I sure am glad we didn’t shy away from the slopes because of course, that’s the place to be, with or without the sporty footwear. The Swiss Apres Ski is an experience like no other. Imagine sun beds, outdoor bars, dance parties, even hot tubs, in the warm sun and crisp snow, 8000 feet above the world. During my first experience at such a place it dawned on me, the Swiss ski culture isn’t really just about the health benefits of skiing; it’s also about the party! More and more I am discovering this Swiss version of “wellness”: balancing work and play, earning life’s indulgences. As an avid hiker I also see this occurring along the Wanderwegs. Atop a long steep climb often sits a hut, hosting groups of jovial hikers partaking in local wine and beer, eating rich cheeses and hearty schnitzels, socializing after their long trek.
During my stay in Davos I started to feel this need to earn my fun. Taking the gondola up and sharing a few jaggertees with the hard working ski crowd left me feeling a bit inadequate. I had to discover what other outdoor activities Davos had to offer. To my surprise, I found many ways to enjoy the snow, and earn my cheese fondue. I tried Nordic walking, dorky poles and all, up to Schatzalp at over 6000 feet. We also tried sledding on traditional wood sledges down a quick icy trail. If I had had more time (there were a few hockey games that needed attending) I could have also tried cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing.
If skiing isn’t your thing be assured that you can still find many ways to be active in the great outdoors of Davos, and earn your right to eat, dance, and be merry. Be aware however, that trying to explain to your Swiss friends, as well as to those back home, that you went to Davos and didn’t ski, may prove to be your most challenging adventure of all.