ShShledding in Gstaad

by Mark on December 26, 2010

We stood on a Swiss mountaintop with only one way down – a wooden sled. The ride became some of the most terrifying and electrifying of my life.

I was born and raised in Defiance, Ohio, the flattest place on earth. There is only one hill, a gradual slope that rises north from the river. It could not compete with a beginners slope in Gstaad, Switzerland, the site of a week-long meeting hosted by my German employer.

Gstaad is part of the Glacier-Alpes Vaudoises Ski Area, 56 miles east of Geneva. It is overshadowed by incredible peaks. One of them, Mont Blanc, is named after a pen company. The village stores with their pitched roofs and wood trim offer brands to rival New York’s 5th Avenue. Beautiful and bejeweled people, along with Russian mobsters, glide across the cobblestones toward ski slopes and spas.

We just finished a late lunch at an inn on top of a peak. The ride up was by gondola. It was a surprise to discover we were taking a detour down. The German word for sledding is Rodeln. Their English attempts sounded like ShShledding. Regardless, the objective was to slide down a mountain path, feet first, with only the rope steering and your weight to make the many treacherous turns. There were no guardrails. There was no way out – one of these German manhood tests. They were not aware I was ¾ Irish.

My German colleagues attacked the path like mountain goats, followed by their sheepish American friend trying to remember his rosary. The lane wide path offered enough room for me to wobble around without flying off the steep sides. As I began breathing it was a surprise to find how the sled lumbered more than glided. In the first turn I leaned so much, the sled tipped onto its side. The second turn was easier. By the twentieth turn, the Hail Mary’s were working and I was having fun.

Jaymeson received a sled for Christmas. One of these weekends we’ll attack a bunny hill at Powder Mill Park. I will regale him with my shshledding exploits in Switzerland. Jaymeson at 21 months is not the most patient toddler. He will insist, “Grandpa go!” We will push off and attack the mighty slope.

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