Cervinian Christmas

Since we happened to be in Europe in the wintertime, one of Jason’s top priorities was to snowboard in the Alps. Way back in Amsterdam, we did a lot of research about where to best spend Chrismas doing just that. While there were lots of spectacular options, there was just one hitch; it was very early in the season, and nowhere had much snow yet.

Initially, our top pick was the small Swiss town of Zermatt, at the base of the Matterhorn and with access to the highest ski area in the Alps. However, Zermatt looked expensive, and most of the slopes were probably too challenging for us (Sarah is a beginning skier, and Jason is an intermediate snowboarder). Many of the Zermatt reviews spoke of skiing over to the Italian side where the food was better and cheaper (and the runs easier), and after a little thought it seemed clear we should just stay on the Italian side and ski to Switzerland instead.

The small Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia used to be called Breuil, until Mussolini decreed that the name should be changed to Cervinia to reflect the Italianate glory of the mountain above it (Cervino is the Italian name for the Matterhorn, which sits right on the Swiss-Italian border).
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After no less than 10 modes of transport (train, plane, bus, metro that broke down, taxi, and more), we arrived into Cervinia and were greeted with beautiful views down the Aosta valley from our apartment.
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We were excited to see some snow down here, since our eager checks of the weather had reported no fresh snow in the area in over a month.

The first night, we hunkered down, and Jason helped remotely with the melancholy task of shutting down the Prismatic News app. It was a sad end to many years of hard work on the product, with a small silver lining: hundreds of users left nice comments about how Prismatic had helped them over the years, and many of them offered to pay to keep the service open (which, unfortunately, wasn’t a possibility).

The next morning, we grabbed our gear and headed up the gondola, eager to hit the slopes.
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Unfortunately, the snow on the slopes was not as abundant in the valley, at least lower down. However, they were making snow as fast as they could, and there were still some nice long runs to practice on. We got our first daytime views of Mt. Cervino (a.k.a. the Matterhorn), which towered over the village.
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And also experienced the mountain in another form, this Matterhorn-shaped sweetbread called pandoro served with custard and chocolate from a fountain.
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Continuing up the mountain to the top of Cervino, we were greeted with better snow coverage and a beatiful view of the Italian side of the resort. Most years, by this time the entire valley down is skiiable, but we were content with the ample groomed pistes (trails) that were open. On the left, you can see the the third ever groomed piste in the world, a 12-km uninterrupted run all the way down to the village below.
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On our second day out, we decided to get lessons, since both of us were self-taught and felt like we could gain a lot of skills and confidence.
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The lessons were very helpful, and we both discovered we were doing nearly everything wrong, which was great — lots of new skills to hone (and bad habits to shed) over the remaining ski days.

New-found skills in hand, Jason decided to try his hand at skiing over to the Swiss side, where you could get all the way up to 12,746 feet (about 1500 feet higher than the top of the Italian side) and ski on a glacier year-round. From the top of the Italian side, he boarded down until catching this view of Zermatt nestled in the valley far below.
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The tram from here to the top was a pretty surreal experience, passing over numerous glaciers before heading nearly straight up and docking on the cliff of the large peak visible in the center of this picture.
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From the tram, you disembark into a long tunnel through the peak, with an elevator in the middle leading up to an observation platform with panoramic views of the glacier, and both Switzerland and Italy.
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When we weren’t skiing, we again planned to organize our Africa travels. However, we were again thwarted — mostly by the terrible internet in our apartment (which worked about 20% of the time), and also by the looming decision on Jason’s job prospects that had emerged back in Barcelona.
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That said, we enjoyed many more beautiful days on the slopes and eating delectable Italian food, and on the last day were both sad to leave. And we did resolve at least one piece of outstanding business while we were here — Jason decided to decline the job offer — so we look forward to writing many more blog posts over the coming months! That just left Africa planning, which was now becoming beyond urgent: we had initially planned to go there directly from Cervinia. So we headed onwards to Rome (trying to ignore the forecast of snow, snow, snow in Cervinia) to hole up in an apartment over New Years and plan our 2016 adventures.

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As planned, we didn’t get out much in Rome, besides to bring home our daily portion of delicious pizza, and enjoy the New Years festivities next to the Colosseum. But, we did manage to catch up on a lot of work with the high-speed internet: Sarah finished a draft of another paper, Jason spent a lot of time on the phone trying to figure out a consulting job for the remainder of the trip, and together we successfully planned out most of our next two months in Africa. Onwards to Morocco!

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