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Secret Switzerland: Day 3

The Secret is Revealed

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“I agree, Season 2 of the OC was TOTALLY the best one.” Photo: Tom Winter

So here’s where it is. The name of is the so-called secret valley? The valley with some of Switzerland’s best backcountry skiing, best water, and fewest people to mess it all up?

It’s in Graubunden. I said as much. It’s up — Canyon with the slight avalanche problem, the one with guardrails that couldn’t deflect a VW Rabbit. The town with 5,500 vertical feet of lift accessed skiing and enormous peaks but no glaciers—making the valleys steep, forbidding, and tough to travel through — is skied by few. The last three days here have been under a blanket of two feet of snow, one of them bluebird and calm, yet the parking lot had exactly 34 cars at its busiest time. And a bunch of those cars were here for the “mountain walking” or whatever it’s called when you carry ski poles while you walk.

Travis Redd endures a little more hardpack. His edges had to be sharp for this air. Photo: Tom Winter

For the rest of us, we took the short gondola (1,800 vertical feet), then a short T-bar (623 vertical feet), then another T-bar (1,574 vertical feet!), a short herringbone up a rise, and then a third T-bar (1,512 vertical) to the top. Add it up. Divided by the 43-franc lift ride (about $36) that’s 153 vertical feet per dollar you pay to ski here. To put that in perspective, for the same price, you could ski a full day at Ontario’s Mt. St. Louis Moonstone but it’s 550 vertical.) This kind of cheap vertical is pretty much unheard of.

Tom Winter shredded this line and wanted to yodel. He resisted. Photo: Tom Winter.

Vals. Here’s how to get here:


: Into Zurich. The airport is directly across the street from the rail station. Buy a ticket to Vals ($53). It’s three hours and change.


The Hotel Therme is a luxe hotel built atop a natural hotspring. You could stay elsewhere but after a day of 5,500-vertical-foot laps, soaking your bones is tough to beat. Doubles go for 225 Francs a night, per person ($189). Visit

for more info, though it’s in German.

The town of Vals smells a little like sheep, though it’s a reassuring, homey kind of smell. Photo: Tom Winter

More Swiss information: Hit up

. It has everything you need.

If Travis Redd sees his shadow, there will be two more weeks of winter in Vals. Photo: Tom Winter

You could drink out of this, though it’s a lot easier to buy a bottle of Valser water. Photo: Tom Winter

Mountains! In Switzerland! Who knew? Photo: Tom Winter

A Swiss brothel. From left to right, Alex Applegate, Travis Redd, a local farmer, and David Lesh. Photo: Tom Winter