Summit County man takes a once-in-a-lifetime ski trip through Europe on the Epic Pass
As Steve Swaim thought back to his times learning how to ski as a youngster on the hills of Mad River Mountain in central Ohio, the cross-country European ski odyssey he just concluded with his son put things in perspective.
“I started skiing for the first time at about 8 years old while living in Ohio, learning how to ski on a little rope-pull,” Swaim said. “That to me when I was a kid, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a mountain.’ It was nothing like these.”
This past week Swaim, 60, returned from a 10-day trip of hopscotching from one iconic European ski destination to another. His 22-year-old son, Chris, took time off from his Marine Corps work on new F-35 jets in Yuma, Arizona, to join him.
The father-and-son journeyed together via Vail Resort’s European Epic Pass, which the company launched in the fall of 2016. The multi-resort pass permits skiers to access such European destinations as Vallees, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D’Isere in France, Skirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta in Italy, 4 Vallees in Switzerland, and Arlberg in Austria.
After moving to Summit County from Hawaii six years ago, Swaim, a real estate broker, meticulously planned out his ski itinerary while criss-crossing across the mountains of Europe.
Like many other Epic Pass holders, Swaim found out about the European component while stumbling around the Vail Resorts website last April. The Swaims made their reservations in late November for the January trip, and departed on Jan. 8 for Zurich, Switzerland, via New York.
The duo arrived on the morning of Jan. 9 and took the opportunity on their way up to Veysonnaz to explore their family history, which Steve traced back to 1517 on his mother’s side.
The first thing the Swaims noticed about the European resorts relative to their Colorado counterparts was that though the mountains are at a lower elevation, they appeared much more prominent.
“And winding roads all the way up mountain with no guardrails,” Swaim said with a laugh. “The closest comparison we have to that would be Telluride. Every one of them were very distinct, but I remember that first town we were driving into, driving on the highway and my son made a comment about the town being all the way on top of the mountain. I thought, ‘How crazy that people would decide to live on top of a mountain like that.’ And that’s where we ended up going.”
Father and son skied Veysonnez on the first day and then drove 30 minutes to hit Verbier, the largest resort in the Swiss Alps, the next day. Swaim described the resort’s gondolas as “more like cable cars … that would hold 150 people,” he continued. “They were nothing like anything you’d see here. The mountains were just fabulous, we were actually skiing on top of a glacier at Verbier.”
To get to their next stop down in Lech, Austria, the Swaims drove their Avis rental car, a B Series all-wheel drive Mercedes Wagon, with chains in the back just in case. It was while driving in and around Lech, just north of St. Anton, when a blizzard struck on day two of their stay in Austria.
“I’d never seen a snowstorm like that,” Steve Swaim said. “At the end of day two skiing there, you couldn’t see someone ahead of you on the chair. They had these (protective) bubbles that you could put down, beside a bar. We were surprised. We don’t have those in Colorado.”
Swaim had to throw those chains on the rental car after he dropped his son off to depart in St. Anton. Then on Jan. 17 a couple of buddies, Margaret and David, joined him to ski at his subsequent stops: at the Hotel Goldener Berg in Arlberg, Austria, before driving down to the Dolomites in Italy.
“That trip took seven to eight hours to drive,” Steve Swaim said. “It was insane to get down to Pinzolo.”
This trip served as all three’s first time skiing in Europe, and when Steve arrived at Madonna Di Campiglio on Jan. 20, the second-to-last ski stop on the trip before Courchevel, France, he found his new favorite spot.
“Just the town,” he said, “the people, the slopes, the conditions — it was just unbelievable.
“And the mountain where you go up to ski is Passo Groste,” he added, “and when you are skiing up on Passo Groste, it is wide open areas with rolling hills on top of the mountain. It was amazing.”
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