I just read an article this morning claiming that research shows that planning vacations is actually more fun than taking them, which I think must explain why our work at Alpinehikers is so much fun. I don’t know if I agree completely, but I get the point… planning is about dreaming, which is always perfect, and the actual doing of it is sometimes stressful and tiring and many other things that are not perfect. Our job is to make all of it as easy as possible. To make it easy for you to look at all of the countless possibilities in Switzerland and the Alps, to cut through the junk, and to dream about what might work best for you. Then to make sure that all the difficult details are worked out so that your hotels are great, your train connections work, your hikes (if you are hiking) are easy to follow, and that you have an idea of what to see and do when you’re here. We want to make every trip as easy and enjoyable as possible. You can’t make them all work out perfectly, but we do our best.
We offered our first hiking tours in Switzerland in 1999. I’d been living and working in hotels in the Alps for a couple of years, blissfully unencumbered by things like bills or responsibilities or even much in the way of ambitions. I actually remember the moment I stopped worrying about future goals and paths, and just gave in to living in the moment, enjoying where I was at (which is admittedly not as hard when you live in Mürren). I was snowboarding in winter, hiking all summer, and it was amazing. But as carefree as it was, eventually thoughts of doing something more than wait tables for a career started to creep back. I had always been interested in guiding and travel, and remembered very well being really drawn to the romance of hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps before having any clue of how to start. Well, now I knew how to do it and had been to quite a few places. I thought, maybe I can get people to come hiking with me to some of these places I know and love?
What a dumb idea. I don’t really know how I thought it was going to work, but I was pretty fortunate to be thinking this at a time when the internet was just taking off, changing the way people searched for travel. I tried to think of a name that would be fairly descriptive (check), put up a website in December 1998, and went back to work at the Hotel Belmont, now the Guesthouse Eiger in Mürren. I didn’t have a cell phone, so I paid for a second line at my parent’s house that went straight to voicemail, and that I could check from Switzerland, although I had to go to the post office to make calls. Checking emails was even more convoluted, and usually involved taking the cable car to Stechelberg, riding my bike to Lauterbrunnen, then waiting for the one internet computer at the Horner Bar, and navigating a German keyboard as best I could (among other things, the Y and Z are switched on German keyboards, leading to many emails hastily sent from Troz).
It just wasn’t really a recipe for success. But I was cheap (some of my clients that year told me I need to charge more), and I was living there in the Alps already, which must have had a certain cachet, and I could talk about the Alps knowledgeably and enthusiastically. Somehow, amazing, I had 14 people sign up that year, spread across 5 different tours, and I’m forever grateful to them for allowing me to get started. The next year, somebody asked me for a self-guided tour (“What’s a self-guided tour?”, I replied) and a whole new branch of the business was born. Two years later, it occurred to me that this might have potential as a full-time job, so I stopped waiting tables for good and committed to focusing on the tours full-time.
Now that I’ve been doing this for 17 years, a few things have changed. I don’t live in the Alps anymore, for one, although I do still come back every year. I don’t lead many of our tours anymore either, entrusting that to people more dedicated than I can be right now, and leaving me to focus more on the organizational side of the tours. We have an office in Prescott with 5 of us working full-time to put everything together and keep track of all the details, and we don’t make phone calls from the post office or send emails from a bar. But much remains the same too. We maintain a strong connection to the Alps, arranging everything ourselves and with long-term relationships with many of the hoteliers we visit. Three of us guide tours, and everybody in the office has been on at least one extended trip to Switzerland, so we can know what we’re talking about. I’m still incredibly excited by the Alps, I like to talk about it, and love to come back every summer, to visit old favorite stops and to try to discover something new at the same time.
So I just arrived in Zurich Tuesday night. This is a bit of an unusual year in that I will spend “only” 5 weeks in the Alps, when I normally spend a full summer here. I have a lot of things I want to see and do, so it should be a pretty full 5 weeks of travel, hiking, some guiding, checking in with hotels and guides, and hopefully adding some new itineraries. One of my goals is to write a bit about what I’m thinking, seeing and doing as I go along, so you can see a trip through my eyes. Right now I’m on a train to Interlaken, using the dining-car-as-upgrade trick, so I can have a table and plenty of space, all for the cost of an apple juice. I’m getting close to the mountains and can feel the anticipation brewing. Is planning more fun than the trip? I don’t know about that… it’s pretty nice to be here, actually. And that idea about bringing people to the Alps… maybe it wasn’t such a dumb idea afterall!