Looking for Early Skiing in Europe – Try Glacier 3000 in Switzerland

On your marks, get set, SKI!

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!

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Enough snow for you? Photo credit: Glacier 3000
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Snow, snow everywhere…  Photo credit: Glacier 3000

 

So, who’s ready to hit the slopes this weekend? I know I am…!

 

Photos: banner – Jennifer Hart, Glacier 3000 original source click here

Photo Journal: First Ski Day of the 2016-2017 Season

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.

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

Weekend Getaways: Les Diablerets

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.

Les Diablerets:

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Love the mountain back-drop! Our hotel on the left, Auberge de la Poste

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!

  • skiing/snowboarding (children under 9 are free)
  • ski school (multilingual)
  • tobogganing/sledding (with the famous 7KM Sledge Run)
  • snowshoeing
  • skating
  • cross-country skiing
  • hiking
  • curling
  • paragliding
  • Avalanche training centre
  • rock climbing
  • VTT/Mountain biking
  • outdoor swimming (summer only)
  • canyoning
  • golf
  • white water rafting
  • tennis
  • Nordic walking
  • Tissot Peak to Peak walk (107metre long suspension bridge at 3000m/10 000ft altitude – accessible via Glacier 3000)
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Information centre and Ski/Snowboard school downtown

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.

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Impressive views at Glacier 3000 from the télécabine/gondola
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View from Isenau


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!!

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The kids and I at Botta Restaurant – Glacier 3000

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.

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Après ski at L’Ormonan

 

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Cheese and drinks – what else do some skiers need?
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Cheers from Les Diablerets

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.

 

Photos: Jennifer Hart

Weekend Getaways: Leysin Part II Hôtel Central Résidence

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.

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King Size bed for us and bunkbeds for the juniors

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!

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Plenty of choices on TV!

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!

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The hot fire heating up the individual carbonnade grills (you can see above each table is a copper vent to diffuse the smoke from grilling at the table)
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la charbonnade

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)
  • Pool
  • Jacuzzi
  • Sauna
  • Gym
  • Hammam
  • Massages
  • Games room (baby foot, video games)
  • Billiards table
  • Reception area bar
  • Fireplace
  • Vending machines
  • Coffee machine in lobby available any hour of the day
  • Multilingual staff
  • Private function rooms (a wedding was happening while we were there!)
  • Library
  • Elevators big enough for baby strollers 😉
  • Apartments on-site for rent for longer stays
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Heated ski lockers (we rented one and it was definitely big enough for all 4 sets of boots, poles and skis)
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Pool area
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Chilled out by the fireplace

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

Weekend Getaways: Leysin Part I

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

-Gustave Flaubert

To claim that I love to travel is a bit of an understatement. I am a bonafide wanderlust; craving the new experiences, cultures and moments that travel can bring. However, this doesn’t mean I need to go to the most glamorous and expensive places in the world to experience that feeling of escapism that travel can bring. Sometimes all I need is to head an hour down the road and see what life is like had I ended up somewhere close to home but far enough away to be different. This is why I love the idea of Weekend Getaways. These mini-breaks can provide a wealth of memories and help you return to the weekly grind without wreaking too much havoc on the budget or requiring taking time off from work or school. We are very very very (we know!) fortunate to live somewhere where the weekends can be spent exploring some of the best skiing and hiking in the world. We are lucky enough to be able to do this frequently. Recognising that, I’ve decided to write about our favourite weekend places and hopefully help anyone hoping to plan a weekend (or longer) trip to Switzerland. I will approach each weekend with families in mind but can assure you that singletons and couples will find a LOT to do outside of family activities at most of these places. As this affects many people I care about, I will do my best to report back on vegetarian-friendly locations that I notice, keeping in mind that Switzerland is not the best location in the world for this (unless you are OK compensating your protein intake with simply cheese, cheese and more cheese).

Leysin: Oxygene des Alpes

 

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Swiss Alpine town of Leysin

I will admit, I did NOT know what to expect when I first booked our weekend trip to Leysin. It was one of the ski resorts listed as included on our Swiss annual ski SuperPass and since were decided to spend the first year trying as many places as we could, it made the cut. I hadn’t heard of it before, I didn’t know anyone that had been there but it was an hour from home and in the Swiss Alps and we determined that that must make it OK at a bare minimum.

What a silly idea to have!

Leysin, it turns out, was an amazing weekend experience and we can’t wait to repeat it as soon as possible. Mr H and I had a moment where we looked at each other and said, ‘Why haven’t we been here before?’ We happily stayed at the Hôtel Central-Résidence  and I will be blogging about that experience later in the week. For now, let’s talk Leysin.

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Good morning, Leysin!!

Points Forts/The Good Stuff:
Leysin, one of the amazing locations of the famous Swiss Hospitality Management Schools, is a beautiful town not to far from Aigle. Located in the french-speaking canton of Vaud, Leysin is easily accessible by motorway, running about 90 minutes from the Geneva airport. If you are without a vehicle, there is a direct Aigle-Leysin train that runs hourly to get you to the slopes in the most efficient manner possible.  As Leysin is a proper all-season town with schools, a town hall, university, the world-famous American boarding school and more, the services available are quite impressive. There were several grocery stores, clothing shops, banks, etc. If you need something in Leysin, you will find it here.

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Leysin Train Station
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Coop grocery store in centre ville

What to do? Well, it might be a shorter list if you asked me what you CAN’T do in Leysin!

  • skiing/snowboarding (children under 9 are free)
  • ski school (we overheard English, French, German, Italian and Spanish instructors)
  • tobogganing/sledding
  • snowshoeing (free of charge)
  • skating
  • cross-country skiing (free of charge)
  • hiking
  • curling
  • broom-ball
  • Avalanche training centre
  • rock climbing
  • VTT/Mountain biking
  • swimming
  • night skiing
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Tobogganing Park

Points to consider:
Leysin is built INTO a mountain. It is a town that has developed and grown over time and without much flat land to grow on, the town has spread up and down the side of a mountain. This makes the skiing superb and snow amazing but it also makes the getting around town part a bit challenging. There is a superb navette/bus service that is free and you will use it if you head into central Leysin for shopping or a restaurant. Our hotel was located up near the télécabine/gondola which was extremely convenient for skiing but made our trek into town to shop a bit of a journey. We walked down but absolutely took the navette back home afterwards. Can I blame having a 5 and 8 year old? 😉

Leysin is a huge ski domain yet due to the nature of the mountain, there are very few green pistes. If you are a first-timer, I would suggest learning to ski at a smaller station then progressing to Leysin. There were many blue and red pistes, as well a some black pistes that were very well-deserving of their grading. We were there on an exceptionally busy weekend and on-piste traffic didn’t bother us. The longest we ever waited in a queue for a chairlift was 10 minutes. Pas mal!

Parking. Leysin was not originally designed to be the huge mountain adventure place that it is now. Parking can be an issue so if you are a day-tripper, GET THERE EARLY! If you are staying in a hotel locally, take advantage of the free navette/bus service. They run efficiently and quickly move people up the mountain to the departure point. It seemed overwhelming to us at first and we almost cringed at how many people were waiting for the same bus to arrive but it didn’t seem to be a problem. 10 minutes later, there wasn’t anyone left waiting and tumbleweed could have passed us by. Pretty swift service if you ask me.

Lift passes. Due to Leysin’s popularity, it does attract a lot of day-trippers from France and Switzerland so the queue for daily lift passes could get quite long. The Swiss handle this efficiently (surprise, surprise) but you will still have to wait if you didn’t book your lift passes in advance. Consider this pre-planning step and you will save yourself a lot of time.

Restaurants. With the hospitality school and reputation for great skiing, Leysin tends sees a very international audience and you can really tell that it caters to this mindset. A traditional mountain fare tavern sits next to a Pekin fine dining restaurant. Tastes are varied and as someone that gets tired of cheese after a day or two, I very much appreciated this fact. We obviously didn’t have time in one weekend to try them all but if you don’t mind, I’d like to go back, try some places and get back to you on which were my favourites. All in the name of research, I tell you!

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Loving the cowbells in this traditional Swiss-style on-piste restaurant

As you can see, other than some parking and steep walking issues, there was not much to complain about in Leysin. We’ll be back sooner rather than later, I hope!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Leysin Tourist Information