Today I’m meeting up with a group of near-strangers, with the plan to spend five days with them at close quarters. We’ll be ski touring from mountain hut to hut, starting in Alagna in Italy and finishing in Zinal, in the Swiss Valais. I’m joining a group put together by Mike Crompton, the co-founder and -owner of Zuba Ski, an excellent British-run company that specialises in both the above-mentioned villages and ski areas.
Last year two of my cousins and I ski toured with Zuba in eastern Switzerland’s Engadine – the best hut-to-hut trip I have done yet, with clear skies (very clear – the Icelandic dust cloud meant there were no planes), sensational scenery, borderline scariness (mainly due to crevasses) and that hard-to-find harmony of ski ability and fitness in our party. Will this trip live up to last year’s…?
So far, so good. I travelled to Alagna from just over the mountain in Zermatt – I could probably have skiied, as there’s a well-trodden off-piste route to Champoluc (which connects to Alagna) from high above Cervinia. But I don’t know the way so I took the 6.13am train to Brig, which connected nicely to the 9.38 to Milan, followed by a 45-minute train ride to Malpensa airport, where I met Mike and two of his old friends Rich and PJ, who are brothers – all of whom were fresh from the low altitude of the UK.
It’s summery and settled. We’re meeting our guides – Michele Cucchi (who led my cousins and me last spring) and Marco Zaninetti – tomorrow, so we made our own way to tonight’s hut, the Guglielmina. Although it’s within the ski area, slightly off-piste, we decided to be keen and to skin up from the mid-station of Piana Lunga.
“It’ll take, oh, about an hour,” said the optimistic ski shopkeeper. It took us more than two, which didn’t surprise me when I saw it was a climb of 800m. We’d had wine and two decent courses at lunch (at L’Unione, in Alagna), which made our already overfilled backpacks (more on this in a future post) feel even heftier. Still, it was a lovely climb in the evening light and we just made it to the hut before dark. Even better, it seems we all climb at about the same pace.
The Guglielmina is more hotel than hut: there are flushing indoor loos and hot showers, I have my own room, and the hut footwear is far superior to huts’ usual rubbery offerings. There is even Wifi, though scant phone reception. Zuba sends around 40 guests here for a few days each New Year, and today’s visit makes me feel tempted to join them to see in 2012 – especially if bombardinos (our first drink there; hot advocaat and brandy) are involved…