Up Close and Personal with The Glacier

Post by Lauren

There are 24 major glaciers in Switzerland. We had seen the one on Mont Blanc in France before and it is truly magnificent to see, especially in the summer when everything else has melted.

However, we had a closer experience during our time in Saas-Fee. As you can see from the photo below, the glacier is visible from the town.

See the blue? That's the glacier!

What is neat about Saas Fee is that you can actually take a cable car up to ski or hike on top of the glacier. Gabe and S & S skied on the glacial snow.

Skiing on Glacial Snow

While they rocked out their glacier skiing, I decided to explore the Ice Grotto and revolving restaurant found at Mittelallin, 3,500 meters or 11,480 feet high, directly above Saas-Fee. Both are considered the world’s highest of their kind.

Worlds' highest revolving restaurant - 2 miles high.

I’d like to point out that when its snowing, it doesn’t really matter if you are two miles high on the worlds highest revolving restaurant.

My view at the world's highest restaurant

Luckily, the sun peaked out or a second and I was able to see a glimpse of the mountains:

Also at the top of Mittelallin is the Ice Pavilion — a glacier that you can walk into. It was my first time stepping inside a glacier. At -12 C outside air temperature, it was super frigid inside.

It was Sunday and quite a coincidence they had an ice chapel at 11000 feet.

It was a nice relaxing way to spend a Sunday, sans skiing in Saas Fee. Say that 5 times fast.

For more scientific information on glaciers and why they are blue, consult Schwingen in Switzerland. http://schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/3058/

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Saas Fee

Post by Lauren

We decided that it would be good to spend my last weekend prior to surgery doing something wintery. We knew it would be quite awhile before I could experience the outdoors again. At least on foot. The week had been super busy planning for surgery and prepping meals to freeze, so I hadn’t gotten around to selecting a place or activity.

So, we pretty much decided where to go at 9pm Friday night at Happy Hour at S & S’s place. We planned to hit the Carnival celebrations in Wiler and to continue onto Saas Fee in Valais to spend the night and potentially do winter sports Sunday. S booked hotel rooms round midnight for that next day.

Saas Fee is located in a valley very close to Zermatt. Until the mid-twentieth century, it was remote and not accessible by cars. Currently, trains are still not able to reach Saas Fee through its narrow valley. However, even though you can drive there now; the village itself is car-free. You must leave your car at the deck at the city entrance.

Driving in was "squiggly"

 

Majestic mountains on the horizon as we drove into Saas Fee

The books say that Saas Fee is just as picturesque as Zermatt, just without the Matternhorn view. For all Gabe and I know, it was equal since we didn’t see the Matterhorn when we went back in January with Pascal and Gisele.

We arrived at sunset and it was quite nice to walk around and to see the après ski buzz.

 

After exploring, we grabbed a bite of Italian at Boccalino and then had an after dinner drink at Popcorn. We called it an early night due to the ski activities planned for the next day.

Saas Fee was a lovely little town. I think I might prefer Zermatt a little more, but all in all, a nice stop.

 

Moonlight Snowshoeing

Post by Lauren

On the night of Gabe’s birthday, we went snowshoeing in the Jura mountains, around St. Cergue, with AIWC. It was the night of the full moon and it was beautifully clear.

I wish I could share lots of images to capture the beauty but it was so cold on the hike that there was no way I was going to take my hands out of my two pairs of gloves to snap photos.

How cold is too cold to remove hands from gloves? Negative 14 degrees.

I did manage a few shots as we started and finished.

Getting geared up in our snowshoes

Unfortunately, I got a bit faint about 10 minutes in… I think the combination of altitude and the chill with the exercise got to my body and I had that feeling that I was going to pass out. We had some experienced snowshoers in the group and they assured as that this was normal due to all the changes in temperature and pressure with the sudden movement. Luckily, they were right and I started to even out in dizziness as we pressed on. It was a good thing as the bus had already departed from our drop off point and it was still a 45 minute hike in the snow to our pick up point.

So thankful the group was so kind and patient to me, especially those who were experienced. Glad to report that I wasn’t eaten by coyotes and didn’t freeze to death in the wilderness and we made it to the end destination of a fondue restaurant.

We left our snowshoes before heading into the fondue restaurant

Since we really had to work for it, it may have been the best fondue we have ever had.

 

Vibrant Verbier

Post by Lauren

For Gabe’s birthday, he had an easy wish: skiing in Verbier. We planned the trip about 3 weeks ago and the last hotel room left in the entire valley was a hostel at the base of the hill in Le Châble. We were excited to get it. Also, we have friends with a chalet there and could rely on their expertise for what to do in the chic mountain town at night. Plus, I was actually excited to ski after my lessons the week prior.

We met A & A in the parking lot Saturday morning, along with their friend J. We climbed about a half hour in the telecabin and were greeted with snowy skies. I immediately noticed the complete lack of green runs. Literally, no greens. Apparently they don’t exist in Switzerland like they do in France, where we’d been skiing prior.

Also, let me disclose that in a normal world, the easy skiing would be at the bottom of the mountain. Not here. They put it in the middle, so that you have to do a red to get to the blue, etc. etc. Not cool.

Planning out our routes

 

On the first run, we all went as a group of five. We did some blue then a red before lunch. It was way over my level. Gabe commented the blues at Verbier were like blacks in Virginia & West Virginia.

 

Snapshots from skiing Verbier

 

After lunch, we split off from the guys so that they could enjoy skiing sans babysitting. They assured us we’d taken a wrong turn before and it was possible to do the blue the whole way down to Verbier village.

 

At least we knew there were trained dogs to save us in case of emergency

 

And, we set off. We found that blue they mentioned and followed it…and…it led back to a black. Way worse than the red from before. We could see where the blue was supposed to go but it was chained off because of a recent avalanche.

There was literally no way to go but down.

Me, attempting to side step the entire black. This was moments before the ski patrol came over and told me it wasn't wise for me to be on a black. No S&**, lady.

 

A and I survived to tell the tale. However, after that second run, we decided that spending the afternoon in L’s chalet would be a safer adventure for us.

The guys rejoined a few hours later, loving life after their mountain exploits. We all got ready and went over to the chalet for an awesome dinner before going out.

Afterwards, we headed to T-bar with the group. There were some amazing live musicians and it was a great evening. We really enjoyed the stark contrast to Gstaad nightlife.

 

Nightlife in Verbier

We had so much fun that we missed the last bus back to Le Châble and our hostel. It was a 75 franc ride back down the mountain ($85). Whoops! But well worth it as we really loved the night time atmosphere in Verbier.

*I was also severely scolded by my french tutor for skiing Verbier. She informed me its one of the hardest places to ski in Switzerland. I now learned not to assume that all slopes have pistes for beginners. But in turn, she gave me a great list of places in France that are “my speed”.

Gstaad: Home of the Rich and Famous…and Dreadfully Boring

Post by Lauren

Our hotel on Friday night after the Balloon Festival in Château D’Oex was in Sâänen, which was only a ten minute drive from Gstaad.

Although we were planning to ski in Verbier the next day, we were very excited that we were staying near Gstaad as we have heard the skiing was amazing…so naturally, we thought the nightlife would be as well.

We did not do any research on this subject prior to coming. First mistake.

Gabe attempted to look for “Best Bar in Gstaad” on our walk into the charming town. Funny that only one bar entitled “Richi’s Pub” came up. Silly iPhone, not working properly. So we thought.

And these were the views on the streets at 10pm in Gstaad on a Friday night:

 

The only action we saw were some local guys practicing on the hockey rink:

 

 

We did end up finding Richi’s….the only bar in town, and stayed for one drink because we had made the effort. Such an adorable town, but so boring at night! There was not a soul to be found out in the night air.

We were later told that Gstaad is the playground of the rich and famous and that they don’t go out.

In writing this post, I Googled “Gstaad nightlife” to see if we were missing out on anything, and the top mention was this site. I noted it gets updated once a year.

So, if you are looking to get away to a quiet destination without any disturbances or things to do at night, we wholeheartedly recommend this town. For a glimpse of a pulse, we would recommend Zermatt or Verbier (check out tomorrow’s post!).

Night Glow at Château d’Oex

Post by Lauren

I had read on another blog that the International Balloon Festival was a Swiss event not to be missed. When I found out when we were available for it this year, I was pumped. When Gabe requested that we ski for his birthday (coming up in a few days) in a ski town, Verbier, not far from the balloon festival, I was super excited. I found out that there was even a Night Glow Balloon event that evening prior to our ski day. Now, how could I convince him to go spend the night and to see this?

 

Night Glow photo from festival website, (c) Fabrice Wagner


Luckily he is a great hubby and agreed. We booked a hotel in nearby Gstaad in anticipation. We left Geneva on time so that we could see the balloon kick off. We drove an hour on the windiest road you will ever imagine…covered in snow!

After parking, with hot chocolate and vin chaud in hand, we climbed a big hill up to the church along with the entire town. The announcements in French commenced and the lights on the hillside started…

 

Wait….does that spell ABBA? Why, yes, it does. The next hour was filled with a light, fire, fireworks, and paraglider show to ABBA music. I made a little video to share:

Then came out the ski team with torches in coordination to the music.

Ski team

However, I could hardly watch, in hurried anticipation of the night balloons. I couldn’t wait for the bit to end.

However, after the finale, the crowd started to leave.

But wait, where are the balloons? !! ??? !!!

As it turns out, the weather was too bad – we didn’t catch that on the French announcements. I was so bummed and pouted on the way to the car. Gabe joked with me and reminded me how awesome the cliff side light show was. “There were even torched skiers, babe!” he added.

But I was sad. We went to Zermatt last week and didn’t see the Matterhorn and now this week, we went to the balloon festival and no balloons.

We happened to get photos in the cute little town of Château d’Oex as we were leaving. Glad I got to see some chocolate balloons in the window of the patisserie!

 

Oh well, there’s always next year……or can I convince Gabe to come back after skiing Sunday? You’ll just have to wait and see……

 

Gratitude Friday: Ski School

Post by Lauren

This week, class was in session for A, S & moi. Ski school that is.

While I was by far the the worst of the three, I convinced them to take ski lessons with me for the day. The womens’ club has a ski group and the leader takes beginners in the month of January for an introduction and a lesson. And January is running out fast!

I obviously needed some skills based on the last adventure, so we set off for Les Contamines, France for some education on how one skis the Alps properly.

Luckily, the place was a ghost town on a Tuesday. The lack of crowds immediately made me more comfortable. Part of the fear is lack of control. Mainly, hitting a small child.

We started on a blue and Ski Angel (our name for the nice lady from AIWC) led the way, and like little baby ducklings, we followed.

We went slowly, and after a few runs, our confidence built. We were ready for ski school!

 

Ski School

 

Our instructor, Odile, taught us the basics in a combination of French and English. It ended up being more than skiing…it was also a good French lesson. We learned that to snow plow is “chasse-neige” and that the technique of side slipping down a mountain is “descendu en escalier” . She had us (me in particular, being the worst) follow in her tracks so she could teach us how to S curve back and forth properly. I learned that when transversing, the skis should always be parallel, you should stand up straight, and put your weight into the front of the boots.

We also took lots of types of lifts.

There is the bubble lift, the “Télécabine”

There is chair lift, the “Télésiège”. A took this of me & Odile.

 

There is also the butt lift, or the “Téléski”, captured by A.

 

We went on a few runs on green and then Odile took us to a blue. After completing that, we took a lift to the tippy top and then we saw…..

Black Olympic sign - yikes! Photo courtesy of A.

 

Yup, that is a black. Covered in snow. Named Olympique. Okay, so we didn’t do all of Olympique but we had to take it to connect to another area of the resort.

After our two hour lesson, we met back up with Ski Angel for another run.

When we got to the car, I realized that while we had done at least 10 runs, I didn’t fall down once the whole day. Quite a contrast to falling about thirty times in one run on our previous trips. My husband was on a business trip and didn’t believe it when I emailed him to tell him I was safely back in Geneva. In fact, I am not sure he still believes it!

A great ski day at Les Contamines

 

 

So, gratitude for more confidence and a great experience!!!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Getting Around in Zermatt

Post by Lauren

Even though we have lived in Europe 8 months now, I still love being exposed to new things. One is the difference in transportation. This was really prevalent during our trip to Zermatt so wanted to share the many ways to “get around”.

In Zermatt, you can get around by sleigh…..

 

If that’s not your cup of tea, a bus is another way.

If you want, you can go on the roads with your bike…..

Or riding a toboggan is an option if you are a little tyke.

You can do some nordic walking with some sticks and your feet.

Or you could just be pushed in your stroller down the middle of the street.

You can ascent to the top of the mountain in a little telecabin

But if you brought a rollerboard in the snow, an easy time is something you ain’t havin’

You can get a cart to push your luggage in the snow,

Or simply use your spare sled when you have lots of stuff on the go.

 

When in doubt, feel free to ski down the avenue.

These guys will fill you up with whiskey if you happen to get askew.

If you want, you can take Grampi’s electric taxi to get to your place.

And you know that the train will always have plenty of space!

Helicopters* will take you far.

But whatever you do, you can’t take a car!


*Helicopter photo courtesy of Freshly squeezed events. You know I didn’t take it because we never saw the Matterhorn

In Winter Wonder with Pascal and Giselle

Post by Lauren

It’s an exciting week in our Swiss household! We have guests Pascal and Giselle, in from Richmond, VA. Geneva has been really behaving, showing its pretty blue sky. We didn’t even know that was possible in the winter here.

So, we feel very grateful that while they are here, they can actually see the mountains instead of the perma-cloud layer that hovers above us usually.

When they arrived, we forced them to stay up and took them around to Carouge Saturday market day and then to Annecy, France so that they could be out in the daylight to help with the effects of jetlag*.

Market day was a little quiet in the winter vs. summer, but still very enjoyable as Carouge always is with its simple Italian architecture and colorful artisans:

 

A quiet day at the Carouge market

 

Next, we went to Annecy, France for lunch. Pascal and Giselle had their first savory crepes. Did you know that a crepe can be a dessert and a meal? Kind of like a wrap…with a pancake. They ordered hamburger ones….check them out below. Even though it was about 20 degrees, there were still a ton of people enjoying the Saturday blue skies and even a crew team practicing in frigid Lake Annecy below snow capped mountains.

The next day, we ventured to Chamonix & Mt. Blanc. We took the Auguille du Midi to the top, the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car. Gabe and I had done this back with Henry Birmingham on July 4th weekend, but boy, what a difference winter makes.

Everything was snow covered and beautiful. We were in awe of the off-piste skiiers.

After the dizzying adventure up Mt. Blanc, we had a nice warm raclette meal in Chamonix, the base village. Very soon, there will be a cheese tutorial on The Swiss Watch Blog so you can learn more about this fabulous Swiss dish. It’s soooo good.

The famous French ski town was bumping at dusk and into the evening, full of skiers and snowboarders returning from the mountain.

You are probably wondering why we keep taking Pascal and Giselle all over France when we live in Switzerland. Actually, because Geneva is surrounded by France, the alpine areas of France are much more accessible to Geneva because of the topography. See my ski map, complete with flags, to check this out.

Don’t worry, we’ll take them around in Switzerland soon. Stay tuned….

*When you visit us, we will also do such mean things as to not allow you to sleep and force you to be in the daylight to reduce your chance of jet lag.

Our first Alpine skiing

Post by Lauren We just so happen to live in the epicenter of the best skiing in the world. Most of these places are less than an hour and a half away from our house.     If you live in the Alps, you are supposed to be able to ski. And well. I have historically not been a good skier, but bought equipment in the US in August so that I could try it out again. I mean, we live in the Alps. How can I not give it another whirl? And, I ended up getting everything used for about 180 USD; not too bad, considering new equipment here is 2000 CHF. So, armed with my new gear and a pack of 8 friends, we set off to La Clusaz in the French Alps for the day to explore the alpine ski action. It was only about a 45 minute drive.

Getting geared up. Thanks to A for getting the group shot prior to lift off. The little specks in the distance are little chalets. So cute.

And….I fell about five times trying to get from where we were to the first lift. I was a bad skier in the US, but a bad skier in the US makes for a miserable skier in the Alps.

My husband is the type of person who says he’s not a great skier but he is. He has gone multiple times with Henry Birmingham at his place in Jackson Hole. He did not marry his match in this department.

We rode an extremely long lift to the top. They don’t have lifts that long in Virginia and West Virginia – the two States where I have skied prior. Everyone said it was a normal hill but it was crazy scary to me. Fear set in. As the group set off, we set a meeting place for lunch. I made it my goal to survive getting halfway down the mountain to this chalet. It had red lounge sofas outside. I just kept visualizing them and basically snow plowed the entire way, 1000 metres. Even with snowplowing, I still managed to fall a dozen more times. One time I lost control and zipped headfirst into the powder. if it was golf, I would have been in the rough.

Taking a break after falling a ton! Did I mention my husband was good at skiing? I must mention that he is also patient. His first Alps run in his life, he had to babysit me as I teetered down the mountain.

And….we finally made it to the chalet.    As the group was starting their next run.

Reporting back to the group over lunch, A commented… “Oh yea…we saw you from the lift. We saw like one leg in the air, face in the snow, skis everywhere. Couldn’t get my camera out in time, though.” So blame her that you don’t have any eye candy. After a delicious French lunch and a glass of Bordeaux (no hot-dogs & chicken sandwiches on this mountain, ladies and gents), I got back on the skis and we headed to the bottom. Still continuing to snow plow. And fall. The group gathered at the bottom to take an enclosed gondola to ascent back up to the tippy top. Even further up than where we were last time. No way in hell I was getting on that thing. I chose to stay at the base on the green we’d found on the map. I ended up being the only one over five years of age who wasn’t an instructor on that particular run. I didn’t care. I was way more comfortable there.

Notice the tiny skiers. This was my happy place.

When A & S tired of the slopes, they joined me and we ice skated. J kept going with her mad snow-boarding skills!

I had a lot more fun on the ice. Don't judge the face we were still wearing our helmets.


It was a great new adventure. However, I will not be getting on a blue hill anytime soon in this region of the world. Going to be sticking to my greens. And perhaps taking lessons soon…. We both slept really hard Saturday night. I woke up a bit earlier than Gabe so made this visual treat about our Ice-capades in my time waiting for him to awake. Enjoy.