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The best ski-town bartender I’ve ever met is undoubtedly someone’s worst employee. Let’s call him George.
“You know what I like to do in situations like this?” George says. It’s nearly 4 a.m. and we’re still in his bar in Davos, Switzerland, with full bottles to drain. “I like to have shots.”
This is the third time he’s tried to kick us out…by plying us with more booze. Free booze, I might add, because George himself is so blitzed he can’t remember whether to pocket solids or stripes, much less who’s had how many of what bottle. Snow falls and piles up outside this dive bar which has been carved out of a former ski shop. George, an expat from New York, is wearing a corduroy button-up shirt so wrinkled it looks like he slept in it, which he probably did.
“He gets regulars to pour their own pitchers,” whispers Dan Caruso, another American expat in Davos. “No matter how long the night lasts, he’ll be calling me up first thing in the morning wondering where we’re going to ski. He has a tally behind the bar of how many days he hasn’t skied.”
George shows me the tick marks. Eight.
“Jäger!” he booms. Jesus, what a day.
It all started this morning when the ski trip I’d been waiting for all winter finally kicked off. Some pals from the States had flown over a few days ago to plunder the Davos backcountry in Graubünden, a snow-choked region bordering Italy.
I’d been in Switzerland for six months and I hadn’t skied or partied with Americans in so long that I’d kind of forgotten how much fun we are—witty, crude, and ready to charge. Finally feeling at home, I even took off my Euro scarf. It was a dream situation. Not only had Davos been getting walloped with storms, but Dan, who works for Black Diamond’s Europe office, had helped arrange for us to “test” the company’s new line of freeride boards and boots. We walked into a room of shiny Justices, Zealots, and Megawatts. Ours!
If George is at one extreme of the expat-ski-bum scale, Dan is at the other. I’d called him a few months earlier from my new home in Bern to check on conditions on the other side of the country. “It’s poor man’s heli-skiing,” he’d said. “Epic.”
And so we finally met. I thought I’d been living the expat fantasy until I met Dan, a fiery freerider with a classic Swiss chalet, a Swiss pro snowboarder for a wife, and their two tiny Swiss jibbers. Dan had left the rowdier Verbier scene for the quiet folds of Graubünden, which is something like the British Columbia of
Switzerland with its small population and endless mountains. Eight years later Dan’s entrenched. He speaks the local German dialect, instinctively knows how to find the best snow, and has made the backcountry his office. That, as soon as I learn it, became my new picture of the expat dream.
“Bottoms up!” George shouts. His teeth have perfect gaps between them, like a pull saw. “I hear it was, um, eventful out there today.”
It was. Dan met up with us that morning and took us up Pischa, an 8,150-foot peak with open shoulders and steep, protected faces. We dropped thousands of vertical feet, boosting over wind lips and slicing through untracked for hours. We skied past buried shepherd’s huts through the firs of Flüelatal, a valley pinched between the 10,325-foot Flüela Schwarzhorn and endless ridges. At the bottom we hitchhiked back into town.
Then things started to go wrong. One friend blew his ACL at the top of a run, 4,000 vertical feet from the valley. Moments later, another guy set off a minor avalanche that threw him down a steep rib. And moments after that, a second slab broke off and two more buddies got whisked over a small rock band. ACL aside, everyone walked away with barely a bruise. We hit the bar early.
“You’ll have to come out and hang with us again,” Dan says. “I can show you some stuff that will make you want to forget Bern and move out here.”
We finally get up to leave but George extends his arm, palm out.
“Wait!” he says. “Before you go, I have to show you something.”
“More shots?” I ask.
“No, the door!”
Sure enough he’s out skiing in the morning.
Tim Neville moved to Switzerland to live the dream. His column will appear here all year. To read his previous installments, visit skiingmag.com/sunnyswitzerland. Next: A trip to Oregon almost draws him back home.