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Saas Fee

Via Ferrata in Saas-Fee
Swiss mountaineers do not mess around. One look at our group’s footwear—a mix of trail running sneakers and amateurish hiking boots—and they told us we should go back to bed. We were in Saas-Fee and pumped to be ascending the Mittaghorn via ferrata. Lucky for us, a local sporting goods store opened early to outfit us with crampon-compatible hiking boots. It was October, but the top of the mountain was slicked with ice and snow. The feeling of being so high up in the mountains—really dangling off a ledge with just a cable preventing you from plummeting back down to the village—is a mix of terror and ecstasy. Our Swiss guides had been leading hikes up these peaks for more than 40 years and despite their years (one was pushing 70) barely broke a sweat. When we reached the summit, marked by a cross of course, we paused to enjoy the otherworldly views of the clouds and distant peaks as we refueled with cheese sandwiches and Swiss chocolate.

One would think the descent would be a welcome break after all of the hours of uphill climbing, but the steep downhill switchbacks left my quads burning and my toes numb from banging up against my new hiking boots.

Modern Alpine Lodging
After an eight-hour via ferrata climb or a long day on the slopes, I want to come back to a nice hotel with comforting amenities. The Dom opened in March 2012 in the heart of Saas-Fee’s town square. While it has the classic alpine-style touches (blonde wood, animal fur carpets, thick wool blankets) it also has the latest modern amenities like enormous flat-screen TVs, iPads, cleverly discreet minibars stocked with local beer and wine, a seriously fun bar with live music, and a fantastic restaurant. The owner’s pudgy pet pug (Rooney, named for the Manchester United star) greets guests in the lobby. Ask for a room with a balcony so you can take advantage of the spectacular views (see photo). But make sure you don’t get the room that looks out over the neighboring church (the church bells start ringing at dawn even before the cows start mooing).

3906 Saas Fee, Switzerland