Glacier 3000

Glacier 3000 is a dysfunctional resort. It is halfway between Gstaad and Les Diablerets, and is claimed to be part of both their local ski systems; it reckons itself to be in Vaud but much of the ski area is in the Bernese Oberland and Valais; it promotes itself for it’s glacier skiing, but the more adventurous skiing is not on the glacier. In essence it is two areas, the north-facing area below the glacier with terrain down to Reusch, Col du Pillon and even Gstaad if the snow is good, and a glaciated plateau with dizzying views over Valais and beyond.

There is little to commend the glacier skiing. Flat blue runs, bitterly cold in Winter, inevitably serviced by t-bars and only accessible via a long schuss from the cable car – and most skiers and snowboarders will find they get insufficient speed from the very steep incline off Scex Rouge to make it across to the first lift (surely a case for a rope tow). However the glacier has a superb snow record and a long season, and there is some lovely, gentle off-piste, especially when there is fresh snow. If it has snowed overnight get to the top as soon as you can to make it to the off-piste outside and between the runs from Quille du Diable.

The runs away from the glacier are tough. The red run to Oldenegg would be a black at most resorts.There are also some trails and a range of demanding off-piste, including a devilish drop-off from the back of the eponymous Mario Botta-designed restaurant at Scex Rouge. Talking of eating, there are a good range of hostelries on the mountain, and the view from the terrace at Refuge L’Espace is one of the most breath-taking in the Alps. The Botta Restaurant sports Formula 1 images, reminding diners of Bernie Ecclestone’s investment in the resort.

Gstaad Mountain Rides classifies Glacier 3000 as sector 4 in that system, and it is priced for 2010/11 at CHf 60 for an adult for one day, only slightly cheaper than the main sector 1 area. There are a courtesy ski bus and a scheduled post bus linking Glacier 3000 with Gstaad and Les Diablerets. From the gondola station servicing Isenau in Les Diablerets it is possible to ski on a red run down to the Col du Pillon base station at Glacier 3000. The other lift system in Les Diablerets, Meilleret, which connects up with Villars and Gryon, is about a 15 minute walk from the Isenau base station, and the railway station in les Diablerets is equi-distant between the two lift systems.

Glacier 3000 is rarely crowded, even at weekends, although if you are driving it is worthwhile getting there early to get a good parking space. Parking is free.

Glacier 3000 is a bleak resort when it is cold, and would not be a destination I would normally choose over the nearby Rinderberg/Hornfluh, Videmanette/Eggli (both Gstaad Sector 1), Meilleret, Leysin or Chateau D’Oex slopes. However for early season excursions or on sunny Spring days it provides the best (or only) skiing and snowboarding in all the Vaud resorts, and on a clear day the views from the top make it worth a trip.

Details on the resort in Dutch are at the Swiss WinterSports web site.

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Late-season Skiing & Snowboarding

Ski Sunday abandons the season in February, the FIS World Cup season climaxes in March (this season at Lenzerheide, on 20th March) and most of the continent stows away skis and snowboards after Easter. So what for those who want to prolong the season? is there decent skiing anywhere through April and May?

The simple answer is yes. For many freeriders this is the best time of the year to tour, and for those who prefer to stick to the pistes or use lifts to get off-piste, there is still fresh snow. Essentially the very best places are high, so resorts with lifts to about 3000m are promising. The Aletsch Arena, Belalp, Val D’Annivers, and Lauchernalp are not well known but passes are relatively cheap, they are rarely crowded and make good destinations for families, beginners and for weekend escapes. All you have to do is get on the best site for sports gear on the internet, get the appurtenances, and start right away. Val D’Annivers is a little known gem, with Zinal in that area offering the most challenging off-piste and Chandolin the best pistes. Samnaun gives access to the huge Silvretta Arena which has all but the valley runs over 2000m and consistently has good snow conditions throughout April. The Jungfrau stays open until after Easter with good pistes still available down to Wengen, Mürren, Kleine Scheidegg and Holenstein through until mid-afternoon. Diovolezza in the Engadin, near Pontresina, is the highest valley run in Switzerland, with a bottom station above 2000m and lifts open until late May. Davos and Klosters should offer good skiing on the higher runs on the Parsenn until the lifts close on 1st May. The 4 Vallées (centred on Verbier), Flims/Laax and Les Diablerets have glaciers and stay open until early May this year, and Engelberg will stay open until the end of May – although I doubt the valley run will last quite that long. St Moritz, Saas-Fee and Zermatt offer the very best late season skiing, with Saas-Fee and Zermatt providing some limited glacier skiing right through the year. Once you decide on the place you are going, make sure you capture all the exciting moments. The best way to do that is using a drone. Don’t forget about radio, check this comparison to decide which one is better for you.

There are other things to do in the tail-end of the winter sports season in Switzerland. Over the week ending 20th March are the FIS World Cup at Lenzerheide, the Zinal Freeride contest and the Nissan Freeride World Tour 2010 in Verbier (on the Bec de Rosses). On 19th March the longest torch-lit downhill skiing procession in the world takes place down the 2000m, 12 km descent from Titlis to Engelberg – meeting point is at the Valley Station at 6pm with dinner on Mt Titlis at 9.30 pm.

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Swiss Weather Forecast

Before I go skiing I always check out Snow Forecast. It is a fairly cludgy site, but so useful, with a free six day forecast available for every resort in Switzerland (and elsewhere) and bags of additional info. Really useful site. Here is an example of the information available (updated in real time, so this is what it is really like!):

Another useful site is the Swiss site, Meteo Swiss and the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, really useful for going off-piste.

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Chateau D’Oex

Chateau d’Oex in the Pays-d’Enhaut is the most Easterly French-speaking winter sports resort in Switzerland. It is denoted Sector 3 of the huge but largely unconnected Gstaad Mountain Rides network, most of which is in Saanerland in the Bernese Oberland. It is one of the few valley stations in the circuit that is easy to reach by public transport (Zweisimmen being the easiest) but is also fairly easy to reach by car from Berne, via Bulle and Gruyeres. Indeed, Gstaad Mountain Rides is probably the only winter sports area in Switzerland where a car is a good option – for those flying in by private jet to Gstaad airport there is a good Range Rover rental company nearby!

Chateau D’Oex is most famous for its thermals and balloon festival in January, and once was a favourite ski resort with the Brits, but probably fell out of favour because of it’s height – the top station at La Braye is only 1630m. There are a number of quibbles you can have with the resort as well as it’s altitude. No valley run except to nearby Gérignoz,  the awful t-bar from Bois-Chenau which you need to take up from the Gérignoz chairlift to get back to La Braye, old equipment,  a modest vertical, only one mountain restaurant…

Chateaus d'Oex

But on the bright side, it’s a lovely, friendly resort with 40km of pistes for all abilities and it is usually totally uncrowded at weekends. After the frequently-run valley cable car gets you up the mountain you can rely upon the efficient covered two-person chairlift to give you access to virtually all the terrain, including blue, red and black runs and some off-piste and a fun park. The runs are mostly North-facing and through the trees and are generally wide, well-groomed and easier than their designation. The restaurant at La Braye is good and (like everyone here) very friendly, and also doubles up as a ski-in, ski-out b&b at a respectable CHF25 for adults (less or free for kids; half-board is also available). The ski school seems good and English is widely spoken at the ski school, restaurant and lift office. The lift pass in 2010/11 is CHF42 for an adult for a full day, much cheaper than the main Gstaad area, sector 1.

An up to date resort report is located at the Swiss Winter Sports web site and a Dutch language version here.

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