Winter in the Alps
Text by Ross Hunter Photos by Sue Hunter
Who doesn’t dream of flying through high altitude powder under an azure sky and a blinding sun before relaxing with a ‘vin chaud’ and a fondue in front of a log fire? This could be the ideal winter to stop dreaming and get skiing with air fares at record lows and route choices at their best ever. The Alps are blanketed in the best early season snow for years with many resorts open a month earlier than usual. Why the Alps? Getting in ski-shape for Sochi 2014 cannot start too soon. A short, direct flight helps, and most of all, the middle of Europe offers an unrivalled variety of landscape and culture, skiing for all ages and skills, plus the availability of every other winter sport possible.
To start from West to East; how about France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Germany or Austria? Or how about the Dinaric or Carpathian Alps, which are big growth areas for winter sports? Which language, style or scenery takes your fancy? Engage your travel agent or internet travel site and enjoy the fun of booking.
We love the Rhone valley, not the least because the holiday can start and finish in Geneva; surely one of the world’s, most pleasant airports. Resorts beckon from only an hour or two drive away. Go south to The Portes Du Soleil, Grenoble, Albertville and Chamonix-Mt. Blanc or go East around the wonderful lake to Leysin, Villars, Verbier and Zermatt, or up onto the plateau to the Eiger. The very names awaken the memory of the great days of Alpinism. There is varied skiing, and much more besides. The higher slopes have guaranteed snow and dizzying descents, the lower ones real culture, charm and variety. Most of the villages work all year; they are real communities, remarkably welcoming of the blizzard of visitors who pass through. Take a moment away from the piste and the busy evening trails and go and seek the locals. The summer farmers and timeless montagnards whose life and soul is in the slopes, and who, for a glass of fendant or two, will regale you with improbable tales of epic adventures and conquests claimed. For Tower of Babel tongue twisting variety, stay in the Swiss Vaud or Valais, but ski a different language every day. Find Swiss at Romande, French at Chamonix or Abondance; Italian over the Matterhorn at Cervinia and through the tunnel to Courmayeur and German (actually the Schweitzer-Deutsch dialect) in Gstaad and Saanen. To practice your Russian, just head for the more exclusive discos but English plus a bit of improvisation will see you right in most places.
After your exercise on the slopes, replenish the your batteries with raclette and tarte aux pommes washed down with a mighty Swiss red or fruity Aigle Les Murailles, rounded of by a Marc or two. The aches and pains of the black runs will melt away, ready for a repeat on the morrow. If the village is grayed out by valley fog, fear not; quite likely the upper slopes are bathed in dazzling, tanning, smiling sunshine. I’ll be thinking of you, while the bouquetins and chamois are looking at you.
Vin chaud: (aka gluwein) warm, spicy red wine, the best pickme- up on the slopes.
Montagnards: Folk of the mountains, possibly carved from them, too.
Suisse Romande: The French speaking west of the country.
Fendant: A Swiss white wine grape, potent and palatable, perfect with…
Raclette: A cheese dish melted in front of a log fire, flowing over potatoes accompanied with pickles.
Tarte aux pommes: Apple pie, better than…
Aigle Les Murailles: A gorgeous white wine from the town of the same name.
Bet you can’t have only one.
Marc: (aka grappa) local spirit, able to clear a Moscow traffic jam
Bouquetins & chamois: Mountain goats; and you will feel like one after a good