Week 8: A bunch of college juniors try skiing for the first time

UPDATE 13/03/17: Added group photos from the ski trip!

As I wrap up my eighth week in Geneva, I have the strange simultaneous feelings that time is flying by and that I’ve been here for an eternity. I don’t know whether to feel excited or disappointed that we’re only a third of the way through our program…

But enough cliché—in today’s episode, we scratch a major goal off our collective bucket lists and Casey turns 21!

This week

We had our first “group meeting” at CERN on Monday. The 16 of us met with our CERN contact to discuss our project progress so far; half of us prepared slides for this week’s meeting and the rest will go next week.

It was also Casey’s 21st birthday on Monday! Sadly, due to the looming deadlines for two assignments, the birthday festivities were postponed until Wednesday evening.

That night, our celebration began with dinner at Chez ma Cousine, a highly-rated chicken restaurant in Geneva’s Old Town. I was highly impressed by the service; they expertly handled our group of a dozen people. The food itself was delicious and at a decent price for Geneva! We then stopped at an Irish bar to buy Casey her first beer as a legally-drinking American. It was a mostly-symbolic gesture, since the drinking age here is 16, but it was still a milestone worth celebrating!

On Wednesday morning, I attended a session of a graduate-level particle physics seminar at UniGe. Two other students in BU’s study abroad program are taking this course so I tagged along with them, looking for something to take in lieu of E&M. The material was definitely advanced and a lot of it went over my head, but the class is only a two-hour lecture once a week with no final exam, so I’ve decided to stick with it. At least the topic is interesting!

Thursday was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 50s (Fahrenheit, that is). Mina made bread pudding with caramel sauce with the plethora of stale bread leftover from breakfast.

In preparation for our Saturday ski trip, a group of us went to a nearby ski shop on Friday and rented our skis, poles, boots, and helmets from the friendly French-speaking owner. Afterward, I worked from home and made good progress on my CERN project. That night, Dan and I made a delicious batch of chicken fried rice for dinner.

On Saturday…we went skiing in the Alps!!! UniGe directs a program called “Samedis de ski” (meaning “Saturdays of skiing”) where students and faculty can sign up for ski trips that take place every Saturday from January to March. Our fee covers transportation to-and-from a nearby ski resort and the lift pass; for 10 CHF more, we could sign up for ski lessons. Altogether, it’s a fantastic value for a possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Transporting our skis and supplies proved to be the most physically-exerting part of the day. None of us had any sort of straps or bags appropriate for lugging around skis and poles, and the boots were too big to fit in our backpacks. We found it easiest to sling our boots over one shoulder and balance the skis and poles on the other with our helmets latched to our backpacks. Fortunately we had minimal walking to do and took a tram most of the way to the bus meeting-point.

We drove for two hours before reaching Morzine, France, where the Pointe de Nyon mountain is located. After awkwardly clambering from the parking lot to the station with our ski gear (ski boots are ridiculously difficult to walk in) and riding the téléphérique (cable car) up the mountain, we were greeted by a picture-perfect scene:

A beautiful day for skiing on Pointe de Nyon!


I was grateful to have brought my sunglasses with me; the sun was blinding, radiating off the snow-covered ground. It made for a stunning and sublime sight, though.

I had only skied once before, and that was at Lake Tahoe when I was about six years old. All I remember from that trip was sitting on my butt in the snow, my red rental skis causing my legs to splay out awkwardly as my jeans got soaked. Did this really happen? Would my parents really practice such neglect and let me go skiing in jeans—a cardinal sin? The world may never know.

Regardless of that memory’s legitimacy, I considered this to be my real first time skiing. Dan R, Dan S, Mina, Kavi, Abby, Nate, and I were all registered for level 1 ski lessons. Our two instructors—Deborah and Manu—spoke primarily in French, which added an unexpected layer of difficulty to the class. We were first instructed to slide around on one ski at a time, sans poles. (As easy as this sounds, it wasn’t a walk in the park for us first-timers.) We soon graduated to sliding down a very shallow slope—again, one leg at a time.

Finally, we were allowed to don both skis and glide down the slope on two legs. It was oddly exhilarating for such a short distance and such a small incline! Our wonderfully patient instructors made sure we were putting all our weight forward and keeping our hands on our knees to maintain control. They also taught us how to walk (more like duck-waddle) in skis and form a “pizza slice” to slow down and stop.

An example of a “button lift”–a cable pulls a metal pole along and you place the disk at the bottom of the pole between your legs. [source]
We then moved to a slightly longer, slightly steeper hill (steep enough to have a small ski lift, called a “button lift”) Here, we learned how to turn and continued practicing control. Meanwhile, children half our size whizzed by us on all sides. Apparently, here they get ski lessons in elementary school, so we felt a little ridiculous in our ineptitude.

After practicing there for a while we broke for lunch. The few restaurants on top of the mountain have the unique advantage of being literally the only available food for skiers, so we found a table in one chalet called La Pointe de Nyon. Sadly, despite the quick service at the beginning, our food was very mediocre. My pasta with Chanterelle mushrooms tasted like Ramen without the flavor packet and everyone else’s pizzas were similarly average. I was happy to have a cup of hot chocolate, but it really was no better than a packet of Swiss Miss. We were also charged 7 Euro for each liter of water we drank (three in all) since there was reportedly “no tap water”. The only consolation I had for the meal’s high price was that I’d probably never again have lunch at a chalet while skiing in the Alps. #YOLO

Nearly two hours later after sitting down, we emerged from the restaurant and re-buckled our skis. Our next exercise for the lesson was doing a small slalom on the same hill from that morning. We did that for a few runs, then Deborah said she’d take three of us to try a run down a “real mountain”. Abby, Dan R, and I were deemed ready.

Deborah led us up a bigger button lift that took us to the top of an intimidatingly-steep hill. (It was probably one of the easiest hills there but it was still scary for us.) Once at the top, we nervously started our descent. Unfortunately my skis quickly gave way to gravity and I began plummeting down. I was desperately trying to wedge my skis together as Deborah shouted behind me to “slow down!” but I was having an unexpectedly difficult time controlling my speed.

I fell. Deborah quickly rushed to my aid, but I was fine. She helped me to stand back up and I continued my trip down the hill, which was much easier now that I was starting in the middle. Dan finished that run without a tumble but Abby had also taken a fall behind me. We went down one more time after that; this time, I didn’t fall at all! Dan was close to completing two tumble-free runs but he wiped out at the very last second. We agreed that that last hill, however nerve-wracking, made the whole day of duck-waddling and squinting in the sun worth it.

Once back in Geneva, the full effect of an entire day spent atop a snowy, sunny mountain was revealed in our red and sunburned faces. Dan suffered a full-face burn, save only a strip on his neck from his helmet’s chin strap, and two lines around his nose from squinting all day. (Thankfully my genetics got me off with only a slightly-rosy nose.)

All in all, it was a wonderful day and a great experience. I’m thrilled to now be able to say I’ve skied in the Alps—and I only fell once!

Sunday was a relaxing day. It was nearly 60 degrees outside so Dan and I took a stroll along the lake. The serenity of the afternoon reminded me of how lucky we are to be here, especially living in such a beautiful part of the city. And we have four more months to enjoy all of Geneva’s charm!


General updates

I am indescribably relieved to have dropped the E&M course. This week I have already felt happier and less stressed. I actually look forward to going to quantum lectures because I find the material interesting. So far, I am confident that my decision was the right one.

Every day I’m grateful that I brought my own yoga mat to Geneva. Technically, mine is a Pilates/exercise mat, thicker than a conventional yoga mat. This also makes it much less convenient to pack in a suitcase. I was very close to leaving it behind, but given that I use it every single morning, I decided it was worth investing in the space. There are two communal yoga mats in our building, but at least once a week someone is posting in the group chat wondering where they are and I thank god I have my own. My daily workouts would be impossible (or at least much less comfortable) without a yoga mat, so bringing mine from home has turned out to be an excellent decision.

Today (Sunday), my family and friends in the United States have turned their clocks forward one hour for daylight savings! Since Switzerland doesn’t do this for another two weeks, we are now only five hours ahead of Boston and six hours ahead of Chicago. Exciting, right?


Cultural differences

The fire exit signs here are very different from the blocky red letters we’re used to seeing in the states:


Is that…a man on fire?…green fire??…



Coming up

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re going on a snowshoeing trek this Saturday! I’ve also officially booked lodging for Padua and Verona for my spring break trip. Spring break is just over one month away!…





Maddie 🙂

2 thoughts on “Week 8: A bunch of college juniors try skiing for the first time

  1. Pingback: A Reflection + brief update (Weeks 9-10) – mad world

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