I’d headed out to Graubünden in the Swiss Alps as a non-skier – I wanted to see what fun there was to be had off of skis. And as it turned out the answer was – well, quite a lot actually.
Our first evening of alternative mountain adventuring was spent snowshoeing through a wintery realm of pine trees and softly falling snow. We clipped our walking boots into a pair of long, oval, criss-crossed pads that helpfully distribute your weight across the soft snow and off we set – marking our big-foot prints across a pristine sweep of snow in the gathering twilight. The lights of the valley just visible below blinked out as we cut up a steeper wooded stretch and disappeared into the gloaming.
As well as distributing your weight, snowshoes also have sharp, claw-like grips at the front, so that you can kick them into ice and frozen earth on steeper paths. But this is far from an extreme sport – it really is just walking, plain and simple and wonderful if you’re a fan of hiking and beautiful landscapes. You can do as little or as much as you like, planning your route around the region’s network of paths and scheduling strategic stops for hot chocolate, fondue and schnapps.
As we progressed a little higher and a soft snow started to fall – we stopped a moment to enjoy the moon shining through the clouds and the utter quiet of a snow-blanketed landscape at night. That familiar flush of wonder at the beauty of the world washed over me a moment, before we walked on and the clatter, chatter and shush of ski trousers, walking poles and people broke the reverence.
It was dark now, but still perfectly fine walking without any artificial light – the silvery snow glowing all around us made it easy to find our way. As we came out onto a more exposed stretch a sharper gust of snow hit us from the left, the wind whipping it around and stinging our faces as we battled on, heads down, hoods up. It was a little taste of the harsher mountain elements, and one of those moments of mild adversity that make the anticipation of dinner in a warm mountain hut that much sweeter.
Said mountain hut was Alp Fops, 150 years old and currently under the guardianship of the very contented Gian – the 5th generation of his family of farmers and hosts to live out their lives in this beautiful valley. They farm a dairy herd in summer and are part of a cooperative producing cheeses. Then in winter they offer welcoming refuge to hungry walkers, skiers and snowy wanderers – it seemed like a pretty good life to me and the permanent smile on Gian’s face throughout our visit seemed to confirm it. Although, thinking about it, perhaps the mischeivous smile was down to the somewhat giddy, motley crew of Brits sitting around his table… I think probably a bit of both.
Back on the path things were taking a turn towards arduous, when just at the right moment the comforting glow of our port in the storm appeared and we all gladly tumbled into the warmth and light of the good ship Fops. The aged and comfortably worn wood of the chalet did have the feel of a boat about it – slanted wooden doorways with softly rounded handles, dipped door steps from well over a century of footfall and dates and names scratched into the walls.
Our table was laid with a spread of dark breads, soft crumbly cheeses and cured meats. We feasted on local beer and wine, cider infused fondue, herby cherry schnapps and sweet pear bread.
After eating our fill we gathered hats and gloves that had been quietly steaming dry on the wood burner, fumbled with the ties on our snowshoes and off we set into the snowy glow of an Alpine night. NOT skiing in the Alps was turning out pretty well so far…
Alp Fops is close to Lenzerheide, in the Graubünden canton of the Swiss Alps. You can find out more about it here. We also highly recommend a stay at the Hotel Kurhaus in Lenzerheide – a fun and friendly hotel in the village centre.
With thanks to Switzerland Tourism, all of the team in Lenzerheide and Hotel Kurhaus, our singing guide and to our excellent host Gian at Alp Fops – Viva!