Perched just below the rim of the Aletsch Arena, the village of Riederalp sits in a UNESCO-protected region of outstanding natural beauty. Encompassing one of the Alps’ mightiest glaciers – the Great Aletsch – this is a powerful place where word has it the earth’s positive energy is magnified.
Calm, car-free and with a spectacular setting, Riederalp is definitely a place to come and recharge.
Down in the valley, way below the village, the Rhone winds its way to Geneva and then on into France. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, this is perfect wine growing country. There are family-owned vineyards all around and we tried several white wines made with region-specific grape varieties. Dry and flinty they paired perfectly with Swiss cheese… of which we were about to eat several pounds (at least).
Despite those 300 days of sunshine, we boarded the cable car up to Riederalp under grey skies and promptly disappeared into a blustery cloud. We emerged into a world of white punctuated by lightly swirling snowflakes – no fears on snow cover then.
A practice run
Earlier in the week we’d visited Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre to find our beginner snow legs before the real thing. The Snow Centre has just begun a partnership with the Valais region, so you can experience real-snow skiing in the UK with a backdrop of the incredible Valais region. What better way to build the anticipation?
Less than a week later I’m standing amidst real mountain peaks – albeit I can’t actually see them…
The real thing – Fresh powder skiing
The next day we were up and about and ready to try out the fresh powder that had been falling steadily all night. ‘At least ten inches!’ shouted one in our group, who’d been so excited that they’d run outside in a t-shirt to check.
The powder skiing didn’t disappoint and the slopes were blissfully quiet all around the village. Riederalp is a fantastic family ski destination with easeful ski in/ski out chalets dotted around a set of great beginner pistes with plenty of wide blues for progression.
We spent the whole day playing happily in the snow, and refuelling on wine and cheese at lunchtime. This was the first of the ‘Riederalp Cheese Sessions’ – a take on the traditional alplermagronen, which we enjoyed at the Eidelweiss Restaurant.
The second day heralded yet more snow – in fact it hadn’t stopped snowing for more than half an hour the whole time we’d been there. We took the opportunity to enjoy cosy hot chocolates and an easy day after yesterday’s zealous hitting of the slopes.
Another day, another cheese dish and this time we tucked into satisfying slices of savoury cheese and potato pie in the Neues Panorama Restaurant, Bettmerhorn – this was serious comfort food.
Not to slide on the cheese front, that night we opted for a traditional raclette dinner with pickles and potatoes.
I’d been putting my strange dreams down to the altitude, but come to think of it, isn’t cheese supposed to have just that effect…
That evening the snow stopped falling and at some point during the night the clouds were swept away. I woke up around 3am to a strange silvery glow in my bedroom. Not supernatural, nor a cheese-induced phenomena as it turned out, but the bright light of a full moon reflecting off the drifts of snow outside my windows.
I opened the double doors wide and took a sharp intake of breath. Yes it was cold, but it was also overwhelmingly beautiful. With very little artificial light, this area is perfect for stargazing.
The full moon and the magic of the scene made me want to step straight out of the door in my bare feet and dance away. But any Frozen-esque fantasies were quickly checked by the reality of the temperature. I shut the doors and admired from behind glass.
And then the sun came out…
The next morning we were all excited to see where we were. After arriving under cloud cover this was to be the first time we’d get to see Riederalp properly – the big reveal. And it was well worth the wait.
We headed up to the ridge between Riederalp and the tail end of the glacier for a snowshoe walk. Up here we were surrounded by mountain peaks and glittering snow. Brush strokes of blue sky were interspersed with moody, fast moving clouds and the light changed every few minutes – we were getting the full display.
As the clouds in the valley parted we glimpsed the vast arena of the glacier. The Aletsch is not for skiing on as it’s far too dangerous in winter, but in summer you can hike around and across its surface. You can certainly feel the forces of nature at work here as you gaze out across this sea of ice stretching 23km between the peaks of Valais.
As we walked on, star shaped snowflakes were glinting in the sunlight like diamond dust and we spent our hot chocolate break catching them on our jacket sleeves and admiring them up close. Dendrite plates apparently – those perfect snowflakes you see in cartoons.
Oh, and there was just enough time for a fondue lunch before heading home… ‘Riederalp Cheese Sessions: Volume 4’
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination. Prices are £104 in second class and £167 in first class.
The Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre offer private and group lessons on real snow, just half an hour from central London. To find out more and book your lesson or lift pass visit the Snow Centre website.
With thanks to The Snow Centre, Switzerland Tourism www.myswitzerland.com and all the team at Riederalp and Valais #InLoveWithSwitzerland