Mid-December and it's the time of year where many of us pop out to the mountains before the season hits full swing, to meet new people, check out some new resorts and, of course, to get in the first tracks of the season. Most of us have been to visit resorts new to us as individuals, with staff heading out to the ever popular resorts in the Tarantaise and Austria, but I was lucky enough to go somewhere new for all of us... the only problem is I don't want to tell too many people about it.
Over the weekend, along with Jay from the sales team, I went out to Val d'Anniviers, to visit the resorts of Grimentz and Zinal and to take a look at the new properties we will be featuring and to see what the ski area had to offer. The two resorts offer around 50-60km of piste each and include the nearby resorts of St. Luc & Vercorin on the lift pass, offering an additional 120km of piste and making up a decent amount of skiing for a week's holiday. But that's not what about this ski area is about, yes there is 200km of skiing, and yes the inter resort buses are typically efficient, Grimentz and Zinal is more about the quiet pistes and easy access to countless off-piste adventures.
We arrived in Geneva on Friday night and enjoyed a relaxing, though busy, transfer to resort on the train. Being Swiss, the train was waiting for us when we arrived and even got to the destination on time, with minimal fuss — well, you can't imagine the Swiss letting any pesky leaves get in the way, can you! The drive up to resort was quick, though as the sun had gone down we missed the dramatic views. The valley rises up quite dramatically before getting into resort, as we climbed over 1,000m in altitude in around half an hour.
Chalet Edelweiss was both charming and relaxing, and our hosts Eric & Penny were fantastic. Penny had prepared a fantastic meal for us, while Eric showed off their stock of Scott skis and fitted everyone out with the latest kit, apart from me, as I was apparently their first ever snowboarding guest. The chalet is extremely welcoming, and being run by a mature couple means you felt more like guests in their home.
Eric and Penny are clearly huge ski enthusiasts, and were keen to share their knowledge of the local mountains and to talk about the regular weeks they organise where the guests can ski with a mountain guide every day. Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, they whisked us up to the lift station, and by 9:30 we were hitting the slopes for our first runs of the winter.
The resort may have been only half open, but within minutes you could sense the endless possibilities off off-piste riding. After a few runs to warm up, we headed up to the top of the Combe de Sorebois, where a huge bowl offering great back country skiing was shown to us. We hiked along the ridge for ten minutes and dropped into the first knee deep powder of the winter. We skied the area throughout they day, never tiring of what is a relatively small area, only dreaming of coming back later in the season, armed with a transceiver, a guide and some snowshoes.
That evening, after another fantastic meal in the chalet, we went for a short hike along the river basin in the valley, heading up passed the resort into the relative wilderness, where Eric lit a small fire and Penny produced some Vin Chaud to help keep us warm. It was a full moon and the views across to the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche were impressive. This was just one of the nice little touches that the couple offer their guests, should you chose to take it.
The following morning we took the short drive, around 15-20 minutes over to Grimentz, where our next host Will, would take over the reins. Will had collected us from the station in Sierre and had skied with us the day before, but we were now in his back garden. Grimentz had only opened for the season the day before, the cruisy blues and red runs, filled with rollers and corduroy were fantastic, though the off-piste looked pretty tracked out.
Again, after a hour of warming up and playing around in the sidecountry, we were taken on a short ten minute hike from the highest open lift. I say a short hike, for the skiers it was nice and easy, but for the token snowboarder, hiking in thigh deep snow, was hard work, but rewarding. We ended up in a huge, untracked bowl, with lovely rollers, and small trees to play with, followed by a little bit of tree skiing. The snow was knee deep throughout, and was one of the many hidden gems the region has to offer.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon we enjoyed the easily accessed off-the-beaten-track skiing with Will, Eric and Penny, and definitely got a feel for why the three of them had upped sticks and left London for a life on the slopes.
Later that afternoon we were in for another treat, when we checked into our accommodation for our final night, the gorgeous Chalet C by Chivoone, nicknamed Chalet CBC, much to the owner's dismay. The views from the balcony, all across the valley were truly stunning, as was the chalet itself. The master bedroom boasted a huge standing bath in the middle of the room, offering the same fab views. The terrace has a hot tub, and for those looking to cater for themselves, a kitchen to die for.
After settling in we visited the many high-end chalets on offer, before checking out the charming, and superbly named, Chalet la Legende. This chalet sits in the centre of the old town, filled with typical Swiss charm. After our tour of the accommodation, we left the chalet, expecting a short walk to the restaurant booked for the evening, only to be taken into the little cave, underneath the property, where we were treated to a glass of wine, in charming surroundings — for guests staying here Will can arrange for Raclette and wine to be served here, though unfortunately you don't get to indulge in the owner's wine collection.
We ended the evening with a trip to Le Mélèze, one of the many quaint restaurants offering typical mountain cuisine, where we were in for another treat. Our table essentially had a barbeque built into it, with hot coals and a grill over the top, and after a starter of salad, we where given a bowl of meat to cook for ourselves. We were treated to veal, veal sausage, merguez, beef and bacon — what else do you need after a day of deep powder and good wine!
This trip took me to an undiscovered corner of Switzerland, the valley offers views of the nearby Crans Montana, and is across a ridge from Zermatt along with bieng a short drive from Verbier, but has been left alone for years. The people we met moved there as it offers great skiing, incredible backcountry and no crowds. The only problem now, is I want people to go there and enjoy it for themselves, just not too many...