“Don’t just tell your kids to be active and get outside and play. Lead by example.”
One of the great joys of our move to Switzerland has been the availability and proximity to the great outdoors. I grew up in northwestern Ontario and despite some its flaws, the endless ability to just get outside and DO stuff was not one of them! Lakes, forests, mountains, snow, sun…we had it all. I felt strongly like this was missing from my kids’ lives in Paris and by moving here, we have all enjoyed our newfound freedom to explore the world outside.
I have previously written about hiking and skiing with kids in tow and I would like to expand up on that with a post about snowshoeing with kids. While this isn’t a very technically difficult sport to master, there are some considerations to make when taking children out with you. Hopefully you and your juniors will love this activity as much as we do!
Tips for Snowshoeing with Kids: 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.
Start Gently and Slowly. Snowshoeing may not seem like a lot work but in no time your heart will be pumping and your muscles will be working hard to carry your body over the snow. Try to start with a flat trail that doesn’t challenge your youngsters too much. The idea is to make it fun which, in turn, generally means they will be more likely to want to do it again and again. The first few treks out, my kids also enjoyed throwing themselves into snowbanks and playing. I joined them. Being together outside isn’t about my exercise and heart rate, it is about teaching my kids to love being active and having fun together.
Buy Proper Gear. While I have seen several super cheap, plastic snowshoes available for youngsters, I have a hard time believing these will do the job. My kids wear very lightweight, kid-sized snowshoes called First Tracks by Lucky Bums. We have hit all kinds of terrain this season and they have done the job! Also, they come in pretty cool colours!
Skip the Poles. I said this with skiing and I will say this again now. Unless your children have extensive practice using poles for hiking and/or another sport like alpine or cross-country skiing, poles can just get in the way to start. They are a GREAT way to add additional balance but in my experience, kids actually enjoy falling in the snow and the poles can hurt when they land on them. If your child is really keen on using poles or is a bit older, then go for it, but for the very little ones, skip them to start.
Dress Appropriately. This should be a no-brainer but in case it isn’t, I will stress this point here. Kids love snow. Kids love falling, playing and rolling in snow. Dress them warmly in waterproof gear. Snow suits are best but older kids can get away with wearing gaiters if they are more interested in actually snowshoeing than snow-playing 😉 Gloves, hats, warm boots, sunscreen and even sunglasses if is sunny. Don’t forget the snow reflects UV rays so protecting the eyes and skin are crucial.
Pack Snacks and Water. A thirsty and hungry child can quickly shift a fun activity to a stress fest for mamas and papas. Be wise. Carry a backpack with healthy snacks and water for all of you.
Listen to Them. This goes back to point one where I strongly believe if you start slowly and progress gently, you will be a snowshoeing family in no time. However, kids get tired easily and this doesn’t have to be a negative thing. If they are cold, tired or just simply over it, then head back to the car/home. Forcing kids to do anything will result in a meltdown and will ruin the experience. Some kids have more endurance than others so don’t push your kids to keep up with anyone else other than themselves. Learning to snowshoe is a gift. You will be teaching your kids to exercise without it seeming like a big deal. Even kids that loathe sports are keen to try snowshoeing so bank on their interest, keep it fun and at THEIR level.
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.
Before I proceed with this post, I’d like to address the term ‘hiking’. As a Canadian, I know this term to mean a vigorous, oftentimes challenging, walk primarily on trails (but not always) in the countryside and forest/mountain regions. It requires gear and special shoes. Sometimes I use poles and I most certainly must carry water with me. Married to a Brit, I have had a decade of listening to the term walking (or even the lesser used ‘rambling’) used for the same thing. To me, walking is something I do to take the kids to school or go to the local shops. I walk in the city. I walk in town. I walk in the mall. I can walk in heels. I can walk in flip flops. I cannot, however, HIKE up a mountain in either of those forms of footwear. Walking and hiking may look the same to those who do not do both but try walking up a mountainside in your city gear and tell me if they feel the same to you! I don’t say this to be rude, though. I say this because I think it is a let down of the English language to not embrace more terms for this particular form of movement. When I hear someone say they took a walk on the weekend I picture a flat wander through town. I don’t think of mud, the need to wear gaiters, dirty hands from gripping onto massive boulders or being completely out of breath. So, what is the point of all of that? I just wanted it to be clear what I personally mean when I refer to hiking so there is no confusion about it (Kiwis of the world, I hear you…insert tramping for hiking wherever relevant!) 🙂
Back to my original reason for posting today: families that hike. The juniors grew up in Paris and learned at an early age that walking was going to be a major part of their daily lives. We walked everywhere in the city and by the age of 3 I knew Buddy was ready for more. I spoke about hiking back in Canada and he asked so many questions that I decided to bank on his interest. I knew introducing him to hiking would be more successful if we weaned ourselves into it. So, I bought him a mini Camelbak Skeeter (now discontinued) and we went for a walk through the neighbourhood the very first time with it half-full. He drank all his water in about 30 minutes then had to use the toilet so we traipsed our way home. He was a happy little fella and he never complained about the backpack. I considered it a success.
A few weeks later, we went to the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and tested out my little hiker on a bit more rugged terrain. This time his pack was full and he had snacks in his pockets. He felt like a mountaineer and kept talking the entire time about us being explorers off in an unknown forest. I loved it and so did he! I could tell he was getting into it and it naturally progressed from there. When his sister turned 3, I did a very similar thing.
When Little Miss turned 4 the kids asked about hiking somewhere different. We packed up our kit for a day hike in the Forêt de Fontainebleau and stumbled across a great 6K hike around the Rocher des Demoiselles and it was exactly what we were looking for! Some flat, some steep and some rocky terrain all mixed into one. It definitely challenged all of us and it is, what I believe, what bit both my children with the need-to-be-in-the-mountains bug! We returned, many many times to Fontainebleau to hike. We spent a few weekends in the village of Barbizon at a local hotel and would hike all day Saturday and Sunday. For Little Miss’ 5th birthday, she asked to spend a weekend in the forest. Everyone loved her idea!
As you can imagine, the news that we would be moving to Switzerland came with a lot of excitement for many reasons. I have previously explained how our family love of cheese was a part of our excitement to relocate here. So were the mountains. We are all skiers, amateur snowboarders and definitely hikers. Being here has meant we are 30 minutes away from amazing hiking in the Jura Mountains or in the Alps-both Swiss and French sides. Waking up on a lazy Sunday morning has often led to comments such as, “Can we go hike somewhere after breakfast?” and more often than not, the answer is yes. We do this as family. We hike in silence sometimes and other times we talk the whole way. We leave TVs, games, stress, work, homework, etc behind and just hang out together. I’m not anti-technology by any means but I do think there is something very important and special about spending time with your loved ones whilst ‘unplugged’. A few weeks back we hiked around the ski pistes of Métabief with the kids and the dog and spent 7 hours together without interruption. A fondue spot on the mountain was open so we stopped for lunch then carried on. For us, that was a perfect day.
I’m not saying every family will enjoy hiking together. It IS labour-intensive and your fitness levels will affect how fun or completely not fun it will be. However, it is a great activity to do together as a family and is something everyone can improve upon. My kids want to train up to do a tour of Mont Blanc when they are in their teens. I can’t think of anything better than crossing Italy, France and Switzerland on foot with my family in tow!! Alright kids, let’s do it!
Tips on hiking with kids:
-Work up to it! It’s too much to assume a kid that doesn’t mind a 15 minute walk to the store will enjoy 4-5 hours of difficult hiking. Find a park or a smaller forest path and train up over the course of a few weekends. You’ll be thankful you did.
-Train them to carry a backpack. My kids started with the CamelBak ones but progressed from there to Deuter backpacks with snacks, water bottles and rain jackets, gloves, a hat and an extra polar fleece inside.
-SNACKS!!! Kids and adults get hungry on a hike. Your quads, glutes and hamstrings are working overtime to climb up down and around so make sure you feed them. My kids make their own trail mix and both carry their own packs of pistachios since they refuse to share them. Make your snacks healthy and hearty. Fruit, nuts, protein-packed sandwiches, etc will all last longer and fuel you longer than junky store bought ‘granola bars’. I DO bring chocolate and energy gels/fruit chews in my bag for any crashes in energy. I’ve never used the gels or chews but sometimes at the end of a hike we all have shared the chocolate 😉
-WATER!!! Non-negotiable. We all carry water. The kids each have a bottle. The dog carries two bottles on his back. I carry over a litre and my husband carries about 3 litres in his CamelBak hiking bag. You can almost never have enough water, especially when your hike takes you into higher altitudes. I have taught my kids to at least stop and sip on some water every 20-30 minutes or so even if they don’t feel thirsty. I did not say they chugged a bunch of it. They sip. There is such a thing as being over hydrated and far up a mountainside you don’t want to experience that. But, it is crucial to stay hydrated to keep your body cooling itself properly and to help stave off any effects of altitude. Be smart, drink water.
Gear We Carry:
I like to be prepared. I’m ‘that mum’. So, we carry more than you might want/need to but since it doesn’t bother me on my back I figure I’d rather have this stuff than say “oh no!!” at any point in the trip. As previously mentioned, the kids both carry a bag with rain jackets, hats, gloves, water, small snacks and extra polar fleece. They also have tissues for any running noses or toilet breaks needed! Hey, it happens. But what else do we carry?
My husband carries most of the water and any maps we have. If we have our poles with us, he carries the boys poles and I carry the girls poles. Our kids are too young and too short to have theirs strapped to their backpacks. They do add weight and even folded up they are still long. That leaves me with the majority of the ‘other stuff’ which includes:
-first aid kit
-canine first aid kit (first aid needs adapted for your furry friend including powdered dog- safe antiseptic, non-stick wrap, tick remover, etc)
-crushable water bowl for the dog
-Swiss army knife (Mr H has one, too)
-medication (i.e. antihistamine, paracetamol)
-small mesh garbage bag (no littering in Mother Nature!!)
I think that about covers it!!!
What about you? Do you hike with your family or are you thinking about doing it?