This piece of paradise isn’t just for the rich and famous.
By Leah Larkin
“Those won’t do,” she said, glancing down at my cheap snow boots. I was embarrassed, even ashamed. We were about to set out for a day of snowshoeing in the Engadin Valley around St. Moritz, Switzerland. Christine Salis, my guide, had a pair of snowshoes (the “racket” that attaches to boots) for me. But, I was supposed to be wearing the proper boots. I naively thought my flimsy boots would do. How could I be so dumb?
“What size shoe do you wear?” More embarrassment. “Huge, size 43 (American size 11),” I answered, assuming this further complicated the matter. Her troubled look was instantly transformed into a broad smile. “That’s my size,” she announced. “We’ll go to my house. I have another pair you can wear.” Unbelievable! Another woman with, what one of my friend calls “canal boats” for feet. We are both tall, and lucky for me, Christine also has big feet. Her house in neighboring Pontresina was not far, and her garage was like an outdoor sports supply store: several bicycles, skis of all sorts, as well as a variety of boots.
She calls herself a “low mountain guide,” while her husband is a “high mountain guide,” specializing in mountain rescue. The Alpine peaks in this part of western Switzerland near the Italian border attract skiers, climbers, hikers, and all manner of outdoor sports enthusiasts, including snowshoers.
I have been to glorious St. Moritz several times, both in winter and summer. In winter, I have always focused on skiing its super slopes. This time I wanted to experience more.
Snowshoeing has surged in popularity in recent years. It’s easy, a fabulous way to experience nature and get great exercise—all with no waiting in lift lines. We drove outside of town to an area near the bottom of the Morteratsch glacier which Christine wanted me to see. I followed her through a valley of deep snow, trying to stay in her tracks. It was hard to concentrate on my feet when I wanted to focus on the fantastic mountains surrounding us in this white paradise. The squeaks of the snowshoes on the snow reminded me to look down. It was strenuous, and I was slow. We never made it to the glacier terminus, but it was a rewarding experience nonetheless.
Christine made it fascinating, frequently stopping to point out curiosities of nature. I learned about rabbit footprints. The big footprint (rear leg) precedes the smaller front print when the rabbit hops. “They have three to four litters per year,” she said. Mother rabbits hide each baby in a different place as a safety measure against predators, she explained. She told me about the different types of pine trees, and the other animals in this habitat: deer, marmots, and chamois.
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