It’s that exciting time of year when skiers and snowboarders begin the process of ‘hurry up and wait’ for the winter season to commence. If you are desperate for some early ski season action, look no further than Glacier 3000 in Switzerland. Located at 3000m/10,000ft, the glacier has one of the longest ski season in Europe and will be opening THIS weekend: 28th October, to be exact!
Glacier 3000 is situated 7 minutes away from the Swiss town of Les Diablerets (a firm favourite on this blog), 90 minutes from Geneva international airport and is accessible by train, car and bus. What are you waiting for? Let the pictures speak for themselves…I see that 50cm/20inches of fresh powder fell this week!
So, who’s ready to hit the slopes this weekend? I know I am…!
Photos: banner – Jennifer Hart, Glacier 3000 original source click here
I’m often asked by people “aren’t you scared of avalanches when you ski so much?” Short answer: Yes. Any skier/rider worth their weight that spends time in the mountains KNOWS this is a permanent risk underlying our favourite activity. Avalanches are real. They kill real people every year. They are not exclusive to the Alps and they can happen anywhere with mountains/hills and at almost any time.
So, if that’s true, then what the heck makes me go up a mountain, with my children and ignore this reality.
Several factors lead to this; none of which I intend to sound smug or dismissive. I am forever aware that this is part of mountain life and sports and try to be smart and prepared.
Wear Recco reflector strips. My entire family does. We wear them in the recommended manner of one on one boot and one on the helmet. Recco is a trademarked avalanche rescue system that almost every ski resort in the world uses to find people trapped in an avalanche. There are several clothing companies that now make winter wear with Recco sewn into their clothes. Their transmitters are the best in the world and when the juniors start wanting to experience more freeride and off piste adventures, we will buy one for each of us.
Stay on piste and listen to the advice of the mountain staff. If they have closed my favourite piste for the day, I don’t argue or think I’m above their decisions. I listen to their advice and stay where it is safe.
On my personal to-do list is to take one of the numerous FREE avalanche safety training courses offered throughout Switzerland next year. Anyone can attend and as my juniors get older and push the boundaries of their skiing, I will make sure they are fully trained up in this area. Look to see if courses are offered near where you ski or at your favourite mountain gear shop.
ABS Airbag systems. We don’t have these yet but we will all get them when/if freeride becomes a part of our lives. Check them out!
Until then, I have discussed avalanches with the kids and we have practices the dog-paddle move you are meant to do to help create breathing space if you are ever caught in an avalanche. Our needs and the safety items on our list will expand as their skiing does but for now, I take comfort in playing it safe and only skiing when the pisteur/mountain staff say it is a moderate risk day. Their job is to make us safe and if I didn’t have faith in them, I don’t think I could ever take my precious children to 3000m/10 000ft.
When I first moved to Europe from Canada, it took me a while to come to terms with how late in the year snow fall arrived. I was used to Halloween being a snowy event so when ski trips booked to the Alps for Christmas deemed dicey, my brain couldn’t compute.
Yet, compute was what I was forced to do when TWO Christmas/NYE trips in a row were all but ruined from a complete lack of snow. Global warming is not up for debate in my world and I truly believe we are seeing the affects of it in the Alps. Perhaps a topic for another day…
So, imagine my surprise when we hit the slopes this past weekend at relatively lower altitude (1800m/6000ft) Here are some photos from the 20th of November 2016 at Les Diablerets/Isenau. For tips on skiing with children, click here.
Earlier this winter, Mr H and I were cuddled up on the couch one night watching the BBC 2 programme Ski Sunday. On this particular evening they were discussing Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant return after missing the 2013 and most of the 2014 seasons due to a horrible accident. If you don’t know who she is, I highly suggest you take some time and watch the RedBull documentary The Climb and get to know what a phenomenal athlete she is. Anyway, the hosts of Ski Sunday made a comment about looking forward to seeing her race in a few weeks time at Crans-Montana. That was all I needed to hear and within 10 minutes we had a weekend booked to see the Audi FIS Ski World Cup – Women’s event!
The excitement in our household was pretty high as we packed up the car to head to the event. The kids were honestly buzzing with energy. We discussed all the kick-butt skiers we were going to see: Lindsey Vonn(USA), Lara Gut(SUI), Larisa Yurkiw(CAN)…! Unfortunately for everyone involved, the unthinkable happened: winter was too wintery for the world cup. The races were cancelled under a high risk level of 2 metres of fresh powder! Mother Nature wasn’t playing around! However, it did leave us lots of time to get to know Crans-Montana and enjoy our weekend in this charming alpine location.
Crans-Montana: Made up of not one but two neighbouring ski areas, Crans and Montana, the region has everything you would need for a ski trip to the Swiss alps. Situated around 1500m/4900ft, the villages are both distinct in their nature and yet there is space enough for families, the jet-set crew and everything in-between. The shopping is out of this world, ranging from local artists to the most luxurious of luxury goods. If the thought of Switzerland conjures up images of luxury and snow, then you must be thinking of Crans-Montana. I am not sure whose life sees them arrive at a mountain village needing t0 purchase an Omega watch but I am certainly NOT going to criticise! 🙂
Points Forts/The Good Stuff: Located in the bilingual canton of Valais (French) or Wallis (German), Crans-Montana is a sunny resort that offers not only great skiing and impressive mountain views, on clear days you can catch a glimpse of the neighbouring Matterhorn. Crans-Montana is easily accessed in about 2hours by car from Geneva airport. Train accessibility is excellent and a funiculaire/cable car taking you straight up the mountain can be found in the lower altitude town of Sierre. Parking in both Crans and Montana was extensive and the free interconnecting buses/navettes can see you going from your car to the gondola/télécabine in minutes.
Like many alpine resorts, Crans-Montana is an all-season location with a reputation for some of the best golfing in Europe. Every September, the Omega European Masters is hosted in Crans-Montana, drawing fans and sports enthusiasts from around the world!
What To Do in Crans-Montana?
skiing/snowboarding (children under 5 and under are free)
ski/snowboarding school (multilingual)
tobogganing/sledding/winter tubing at Snow Island
cross-country skiing (gorgeous pistes!!)
VTT/Mountain biking (117KM of marked trails)
outdoor swimming (summer only)
lake activities (summer)
host town of world sporting events both winter and summer
Late shopping every Friday night for those that arrive at the mountain having forgotten something…like a diamond necklace! 😉
Skiing in Crans-Montana: Located between 1500m (villages) and 3000m(Plaine-Morte glacier) Crans-Montana is well situated for snow-seekers. There are over 140km of groomed trails, many of them wide and long to allow for more time on the slopes and less time on a lift! There is a mix between easy, intermediate and advanced allowing everyone to find what they are looking for. For those looking for a bit more of an adrenaline rush, the Snow Park offers a chance to try rails, backflips and everything in between.
Dining in Crans-Montana:
The international nature and appeal of Crans-Montana is evident by a small wander through town. The restaurants are just as varied as the languages you will hear. This was the first time I have ever seen an Indian restaurant at altitude before and we were tempted to try it but I already had my eye on something even stranger: Restaurant Chez Chico: a popular Argentinian local haunt. It was too tempting not to try and I am so glad we did!!! The owner, Chico, and his wife are simply amazing and if you are in the Crans-Montana region you simply MUST try their restaurant. The empanadas alone will have you swooning with love.
Where to Stay:
There is no shortage for places to stay, from high end luxury hotels to Airbnb rentals, in Crans-Montana. With the abundance of parking and free bus/navette system, you are pretty much guaranteed almost any spot you find will be a fast link up with the ski departure zones. The Crans-Montana website offers both special offers and accommodation suggestions so feel free to check that out here. If you have the means and feel like having a luxurious getaway, I suggest booking yourself at LeCrans Hotel & Spa.
Points to Consider:
Crans-Montana is a VERY popular destination so book early! When looking for a hotel or an apartment rental, if parking is not listed and you know you will need it, don’t dismiss the location before you check and see if it is near one of the numerous parking lots available. Check with your hotel location to see if they offer any discounts on lift tickets as some do offer this service. In addition, if you are worried about skiing at higher altitude please see my previous post on Les Diablerets where I discuss what to look out for.
In the end, we didn’t see the women’s world cup but we did participate in the festivities and get a real feel for Crans-Montana. We will be back!
Thank you, Crans-Montana for an excellent weekend. It wasn’t the one we were expecting but we left happy and excited to return. A big thank you, also, to the staff of Chez Chico for such a delightful experience. Mountain dining has never been so fun!!
“Once you take your first ride up a lift, your life will forever be changed.”
No stranger to regular readers of this blog, allow me to state the obvious for a moment for any newcomers: we are a skiing family. From the time my juniors were quite small, we have been trekking several times a year to the mountains in the hopes for some fun in the snow. Both learned at a young age (Buddy boy was 3 and little Miss was 2) and have taken to the sport like ducks to water. I’ve learned a lot over the years watching the kids learn to navigate their way down a mountain and after being asked for the umpteenth time if I have any tips or suggestions to get kids started, I decided to blog about it.
Please note: this is written from MY point of view as a skier and “sometimes snowboarder”. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY believe that young children can be plopped on a snowboard just as easily as skis and do NOT subscribe to the belief that they need to master one before the other. My kids are skiers that dabble in snowboarding and if I was a stronger snowboarder I would be happy to write about that as a family sport but I’m just not. If your child shows an interest in snowboarding over skiing, perhaps you should inquire about what is available around you to help them learn their preferred sport.
10 Tips for Skiing as a Family Disclaimer: these tips are merely suggestions and things that worked for us or other families I’ve spoken with and might not be right for your family.
Invest in lessons. I cannot stress this one enough which is why it is the first to make the list. I am fully capable and able to teach people to ski but there is just something incredibly stressful about trying to teach someone you love a skill. Ski instructors around the world are well-equipped to teach littles how to navigate skis. As part of their training, they have learned to really understand how even the youngest skiers think and respond. Trust them. Respect their training. Let them do their job! Swiss ski schools start at 2 years old and French typically start at 3. Always call ahead and ask if you think your child could handle lessons at an earlier age than is listed on your local ski station’s website. My daughter was eager to try which is why she started at 2 instead of 3 (which is normal in France). Bringing me to number 2…
Don’t assume they are too young. This is very personal choice and I am not suggesting you do anything that you are NOT entirely comfortable with. Skiing is an easy skill set easy enough for even the youngest in your family to learn so don’t deprive them by assuming they cannot handle it. Many places have contained ‘play areas’ (French skiers think Club Piou Piou) where the littlest kids can play with skis strapped on their feet. With this method, they unconsciously learn technic through play. Both my kids started this way and really elevated quickly from the play area to the pistes.
Rent. In the first few years of a young skier’s life, I highly recommend you rent their gear. Whilst children’s skis and boots are NOT expensive, they do grow very fast making owning gear not worth it. Our local sports shop here in Switzerland does seasonal rentals where you can exchange at any time for free if they kids grow mid-season. An EXCELLENT solution for families! Inquire if something similar exists near you.
Forget about the poles. What? That’s right. FORGET about the poles to start. Young children are more often than not completely unable to grasp the complex set of motor skills needed to learn skiing with poles. I have seen children (and adults, Mr H will attest I made him ditch his poles to start!!) that I want to rip the poles away from. In the early days, poles are more of a headache than a necessity. In fact, most times it results in a very classic break or ligament tear in the thumb/arm area. Let them master their feet and carving skills before adding more gear to the mix.
Helmet and goggles. These are a non-negotiable in my world. You may have your own personal opinions and feelings on the matter and that is great. However, do yourself a favour and protect your kids from UV and head trauma. Nothing in life is a guarantee but why take the risk?
Proper clothing. I thought skiing in jeans ended in the 80s but after seeing some bizarre outfits the last few years, I have begun to wonder what do I know?! Please get your kids some proper waterproof, warm and well-fitted gear. This goes for the aforementioned helmets and goggles, too. If it doesn’t fit or keep them dry and warm be prepared for a less-than-fun day. Also, put some tissues in their pockets. You’ll be happy you were prepared for this one. Trust me and don’t ask why I know this.
Listen to them. If they are cold, tired or scared, don’t push them. Teaching young children to ski should be viewed as an investment in an activity you all can do together as they get older. They don’t need to attack challenging runs their first few times out. This will come in time if they want. Also, if they want to practice more, take them to the green/bunny run and enjoy. A kid showing interest is a great thing so bank on it, don’t ignore it.
Pack snacks. Snacks and a bottle of water should be with you at all times. You will absolutely require water if you are skiing at higher altitudes. Healthy, good energy snacks like granola bars, bananas, nuts, dried fruit and even some dark chocolate are always on hand when we ski. Before I had kids on the slopes with me I was anti-backpack while skiing but it has become part of my standard gear now. I truly hated it at first but it has proven invaluable. Somedays we pack our lunch and stop slope side for a bite to eat. Many European resorts also have designated heated on-piste/slope picnic rooms. Scope it out before you head up for the day and you could save yourself some major cash if you are skiing on a budget.
Skin protection. UV rays at higher altitudes are a LOT stronger than normal so be wise and protect your kids with some strong SPF (types that are designed for sports/labelled waterproof are best) and lip balm. Both my kids carry lip balm in their pockets as chapped lips and skiing go hand-in-hand!
HAVE FUN! I shouldn’t have to say this but the amount of on-piste family drama I have seen over the years makes me feel like it is necessary to point out. This is a fun past time and sometimes people forget that in the moment…especially the ones that seem to ignore point number 1 😉
Now get out there, dress warmly and have some fun!!
Before we moved to Switzerland, Mr H and I were both told from several different people how amazing Les Diablerets ski area was and how lucky we were to be moving an hour down the road from it. We had never heard of it but were keen to try anything ski-related a short drive from home. For years, I had long dreamed of skiing in Switzerland but the price and two small children held me back. The places I knew about were either overwhelmingly large, like Zermatt, or pricey, such as Gstaad or St. Moritz. While I have nothing against these places and actually plan on visiting all of them soon, I wasn’t sure about taking a husband that couldn’t ski and two very young children to massive resorts if there was a risk that all of them were just going to turn around and say they hated it.
So, we took advantage of a Mr H’s family’s place and skied on the French side of the Alps. We were newcomers to Switzerland except having skied once in the Jura together. The Swiss Alps were uncharted territory for us and we are very aware of how fortunate we are to have the ability to explore as much as we can during our first ski season here.
Points Forts/The Good Stuff: Located in the french-speaking canton of Vaud, Les Diablerets is easily accessible by motorway, running about 95 minutes from the Geneva airport. If you are without a vehicle, there are multiple daily trains that will to get you to the slopes in the most efficient manner possible. The train station is in the centre of town with connecting buses immediately outside. The timetables were very clear and easy to understand. From the train station, if you are staying in town, you should be able to walk to your accommodating within 5-10 minutes. If you are day-tripping on the train to ski, the local free bus/navette stops outside the train station to take you to the departure point of your choice. Les Diablerets is both a summer and winter destination with lots of activities to offer everyone in your group!
What to do? If you want to get active, this is the area for you!
Tissot Peak to Peak walk (107metre long suspension bridge at 3000m/10 000ft altitude – accessible via Glacier 3000)
Hitting the slopes:
Admittedly, the Alps are having a rough season. The snow and weather have been somewhat unpredictable and this is frustrating for both business-owners in the mountains and those of us keen to spend a day in the snow. Luckily for Les Diablerets, they are so well-situated that snow is never more than 10 minutes away. Uniquely positioned in the Alps, skiers/boarders at Les Diablerets have their choice between 3 ski stations in the immediate surrounding area.
For beginners/families still learning:
Isenau offers the best choices for the whole family. Accessed from the town of Les Diablerets via a gondola/télécabine, Isenau offers a well-groomed ski area with the majority of the runs rated at blue (easy) level. There is a large red that our family really enjoyed and one short black for a bit of a challenge but on the whole, if you are with someone still learning, this is the place you want to be.
For Intermediate/Advanced: Meilleret, offering primarily red and blue runs, offers a more challenging terrain for skiers and snowboarders. We did ski one day there with our kids in tow (5 and 8 years old) and they enjoyed it. I would say if your kids are nervous skiers or have less than 2 years experience, stick to the Isenau side for now. Meilleret also offers a connection to the Villars ski area via connecting pistes.
For everyone and days when the snow is light down below: Quickly becoming one of my favourite ski areas, Glacier 3000 is a short 10 minute drive/bus ride from Les Diablerets. Reaching a peak of 3000m/10 000ft, Glacier 3000 guarantees snow from late October to May. The conditions are beautiful and the views are out of this world! While Glacier 3000 is open to all levels of skiers, I would suggest that everyone going there on their own accord have at least skied before. The very first drop down can be overwhelming for a beginner and we have seen families yelling at each other things like ‘just get through this part and you’ll be fine’. Never a fun way to start a day!! Professional ski instructors are able to run beginner lessons up on Glacier 3000 helping newcomers to the sport descend via the chairlift and begin on the easier slopes below. Once on the glacier, the options are endless. For those looking for a challenge, the 7KM long black piste Olden offers a spectacular view of the mountains while making you put your skills to the test. Please don’t attempt this piste if you are NOT yet experienced on black runs. You’ve been warned.
Please note: Glacier 3000 is situated on a very high and exposed mountain top. Conditions vary and if it is foggy or too windy, they will shut down the lifts. Please check their website in the morning to see if they are operational that day. They make this call by 8:15am daily. You are welcome for this well-learned tip lol.
A note on high altitude skiing:
While the 3000m/10 000ft that Glacier 3000 operates from might not affect a large portion of the population, do not doubt that this is indeed high altitude and within the range where humans are affected by the lack of oxygen in the air and can experience AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness. Don’t let the name fool you, AMS is SERIOUS and potentially deadly. Please take a moment before attempting to ski at this height and learn about what to look out for. There is no rhyme or reason to altitude sickness and if you were fine one time it does NOT mean you will be fine every time. I am often in high altitudes and once during a ski trip to Glacier 3000 I had to come down mid-lunch (altitude 3050m). I was weird and I knew something was wrong. By the time I descended to the parking lot I was better. I hate skipping out on skiing but it was the right choice that day.
Points to consider: Due to its popularity, Les Diablerets runs a low vacancy rate on local hotels and apartment rentals. The best time to book is 6-8 months in advance. Luckily, a lot of places won’t make you pay for the whole trip in advance which helps with budgeting and vacation planning. Some local hotels offer coupons or discounts towards local ski lift tickets (remember, under 9s are free) so check with your accommodation choice before purchasing tickets to see if that is available for you.
Parking. The best location for parking is at Glacier 3000. A vast parking lot with controllers helping those that find parking ‘challenging’ keeps everything organised and running smoothly. Glacier 3000 experiences a LOT of day-trippers yet we have never had a problem parking at the glacier. In town, there is extremely limited parking at the Isenau departure. I suggest either taking the free local bus/navette or doing the drop-off and park further. This inconveniences one person in your group but my husband and I chose this method to help with the kids. We didn’t stay far from the Isenau domain but the steep climb plus icy terrain made us both decide it was a better route for us to take. Meilleret has much better parking approximately 200-300 meters from the departure point.
Restaurants. Unfortunately we have not tried nearly as many as we are tempted by! We can say that the restaurant at our hotel, Auberge de la Poste, was incredible. It was perpetually packed with both a mix of locals (always a good sign) and tourists a like. The staff were constantly turning people away and overheard informing them to make a reservation next time. They offer traditional Swiss mountain cuisine (i.e. fondue, charbonnade, steak tartare, etc) but also many other seasonal options. The kid’s menu was vast and my juniors were pretty happy. Also worth mentioning, we did have a wonderful lunch of raclette up on Glacier 3000 at Botta Restaurant. Located at the main télécabine/gondola terminal at Scex Rouge, the views are stunning and after a chilly day of skiing, you simply cannot go wrong with hot melted cheese!!
Nightlife. Mr H and I are no longer in the age bracket were ‘après ski’ is something we look for in a ski town. Painful as that is to admit, it is just the honest to goodness truth. Good food and fine wine are more ‘our thing’ yet even we were tempted on a pre-dinner stroll through town to check out L’Ormonan Café Apéro Bar. The heaters were on, the music was awesome and the place was absolutely packed by 5pm on a Saturday. It reminded me of younger ski trips before children 😉 The kids loved the music and danced while we indulged in a post-ski beer. It was a very fun way to kick off the evening and I highly recommend checking it out.
As you can see, Les Diablerets has something to offer everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in the Alps and look forward to returning as soon as we can.
We all love a vacation, right? But I am sure that I am not the only one out there that stresses over the actual planning of it. Picking a hotel turns into a checklist of dread: family-friendly, quiet, free wi-fi, parking, pool, proximity to restaurants/activities/event, cost, cleanliness…the list goes on and on. Thankfully, for the most part, I have always had great success in choosing a place. There was a one-off in France that was so bad we checked out at 5am but that remains a sole blip on an otherwise clean record of location-choosing. Yet, because of that blip, I panic whenever we check-in somewhere new. Without a doubt, I can say that our recent getaway to Leysin was made even sweeter by the location of our stay.
After pouring over places, I finally booked us a family room at Hôtel Central Rèsidence. I gathered from the research I had done that Leysin was going to be a bit of a hilly experience. As I was travelling with an 8 and 5 year old, I chose to find us a place close to the télécabine/gondola departure. Upon arrival, I was very happy with that decision! To say Leysin is ‘hilly’ understates it by a LOT!
Hôtel Central Résidence
A 3 star hotel, Central Résidence is well-situated in sunny Leysin, located approximately 300m from the ticketing and télécabine/gondola departure area. This makes it incredibly convenient for anyone hoping to hit the slopes for a fun day of skiing or snowboarding.
First Impressions and Check-In: I knew from photos online that Central Résidence looked a touch ‘retro’ from the outside. I am not someone particularly fussed about that but I did want to mention it for the high flyers who might find their trip affected by aesthetics 😉
Check-in was a breeze and took roughly 2 minutes. You are given a proper, old school key that you MUST leave with the front desk staff when you leave the premises. Imagine how many keys have been lost out in the mountains and you might see the reasoning behind this. There is outdoor parking but next time I would definitely call ahead and book an underground spot (over 2m in height) for the extra few Francs per day. There was plenty of parking available outside but to say everyone who was there knows how to fit a car into one spot would be a lie. This makes it tight if you are an SUV family like us. My husband did manage to park the car and we did not use it the entire weekend except when we left as it wasn’t necessary for us.
The Room: We booked into a family room and were pleasantly surprised by the space (ski accommodations can often be TIGHT). I made the rookie mistake of forgetting my Canon on this trip so you will have to see the hotel through the lens of my iPhone. Apologies.
The room was clean, warm and spacious. We had LOTS of closet and shelf space for our things and the bathroom was both large in size and clean. There was a random flower on the ceiling in our bedroom and I’m not sure what that was about but the kids loved it! We had two very peaceful night’s rest here. The rooms are definitely quiet and although the beds were a bit soft for my liking, my tired post-skiing body didn’t seem to mind!
I know that television in another country can be a concern for foreign travellers but it needn’t be here. The TV came with a channel list that was colour-coded based language. How very organised and how very Swiss!
The Restaurant: We did not partake in the half-board option for the hotel. My only reasoning is that I tend to avoid half-boards for places I don’t know. It’s a personal thing and I have nothing negative to say about the half-board on offer having seen it now, I just have a little quirk on this one! That said, we were able to purchase breakfast and have dinner at the restaurant nightly. Our children loved the breakfast buffet (a mix of hot and cold items) as well as the night buffet (Saturday was raclette night!). My husband and I opted to order à la carte and try the famous ‘charbonnade’. Charbonnade is a dinner of meats (or meats and fish) served and cooked at your table on a hot copper grill. Served with six sauces, a side of grilled vegetables and super crispy shoestring fries, it is one LARGE but hearty mountain meal!
Amenities and Features: For a 3 star hotel, we were pretty impressed at the amount of amenities offered to guests. From the pool with the most amazing view to the ski lockers, the weekend was both fun and functional.
Access to skiing 300m from lobby
Heated ski lockers (either rental private lockers or one large room with ski storage – at your own risk)
Games room (baby foot, video games)
Reception area bar
Coffee machine in lobby available any hour of the day
Private function rooms (a wedding was happening while we were there!)
Elevators big enough for baby strollers 😉
Apartments on-site for rent for longer stays
While this wasn’t a luxury weekend away for us, we were definitely happy with our choice. Hôtel Central Résidence definitely made our weekend a hit by being such a surprisingly charming alpine hotel. The kids were disappointed when it came time to check-out and I will admit that even though I was telling them it was OK, I felt the same. We would definitely return.
Thank you et merci to the staff at Hôtel Central Résidence. We had a great weekend and will definitely return! For information on Leysin in general, please click here to read my review of the ski area and town.
Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Hôtel Central Résidence