Skiing Over International Borders

Rifugio TeoduloI never thought that I would say that a restaurant saved my life.  I don’t consider myself an adventure seeker or an adrenaline junkie by any means.  I do, however, like to visit new places, experience different cultures and taste local cuisine.  While I don’t like to be cold and would much rather lay on a warm beach, I ski for two reasons.   First, I am fascinated by the views that can only be seen from on the mountain, and second, I love to eat.

While recently skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland within the comforts and safety of the resort, I was overwhelmed with the towering mountain landscape that is the Alps.  Having skied a lot at resorts in the United States, this panoramic view was like nothing I had ever experienced.  The runs were long and secluded, sometimes I found myself making turn after turn with my husband as the only other person in sight.  It was as if we had our own personal mountain.  The views were so awe-inspiring that although I was ready for a break, I pushed forward and focused on rewarding myself with lunch in Cervinia, Italy.  My legs were tired, already sore from three days on the slopes, but I could not pass up the opportunity to ski over international borders.  As I stepped off the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise lift at 12,740ft, I was overwhelmed with the beautiful vista that surrounded me, but I was also shocked by the extreme change in climate.  I knew having gone up in elevation that there would be a vast glacial terrain, but I was not prepared for the conditions.  At -13 degrees Fahrenheit and 30mph winds, it was the weather that took my breath away, not the views.  Within seconds of taking my gloves off to get a few pictures, my hands were painfully numb, and I was unable to hold onto the camera.  I fumbled trying to get my gloves back on and headed as fast as I could down the long, open glacier run into Italy hoping to find a place to rest inside as soon as possible.  The winds were blowing so hard that I found it difficult to control my turns.  While the gondola was full coming up, I realized that my husband and I were the only ones around and thought it was likely that we were the only ones crazy enough to stay up here.  My husband took one look at me and began to massage my nose, telling me that it looked frostbitten.  The cold had affected me so quickly.  I was already cold and hungry before we started this run, but now I was getting desperate for both food and shelter.   We continued skiing down the mountain searching for any sort of building that may offer us a break from the relentless blowing wind.  When we finally saw a small mountain hut at the top of a lift, all I could hope for was that they would have food!  After a very cold ride up on the chair lift, we stopped in front of the hut to find a man sweeping the snow away from the entrance, his beard frozen with the blowing snow.  He advised us to go into the bar where it was warmer although the restaurant had a good view.  At this point, I couldn’t believe that this small hut had space for a bar and restaurant, but I certainly didn’t care about a view.  I was just grateful to go indoors.  The hut, Rifugio Teodulo, meaning refuge, was simple inside, and I set my eyes on the fireplace where a man dressed as a chef was standing.  Only one other person was sitting inside, another skier that I’m sure was also grateful for refuge from the cold and wind.  The man, who we met upon entering, is a ski guide and the small hut we were in held 8 rooms where hikers and skiers can rent by the night when shelter is needed from the outdoors.  I was thrilled as I sat down to be handed a menu filled with a variety of Italian dishes.  This is what I had hoped our lunch would be, and I was even more grateful since spending the last few hours in the cold.  As we placed our order, the chef made his way in what seemed like a very tiny and modest kitchen.  The fire and wine were very helpful in warming us, but once the food arrived, I forgot all about the frigid tundra we had just escaped.  I was in Italy and was going to enjoy eating Spaghetti a la Bolognese.

Recovered from the cold and hunger, my husband and I left the small Italian shelter and skied our way back down into Zermatt.  As we made our way back down in elevation, the wind was less intense, the temperature felt warmer and we saw more and more people on the slopes. I honestly don’t know if it was the location, the journey, or the food, but this meal was the best I had ever had.  It was not at all how I had envisioned a trip to Italy, but it was an adventure that I would never forget nor regret.  The restaurant had saved my life, and there is no beach in the world that I would have rather been.