News from the snow
Château d'Oex Switzerland
A lovely village on the French side of the French/German language border within Switzerland, Château-d'Oex was home for many years to actor David Niven who recounts his adventures on skis in his autobiography 'The Moon's a Balloon'. It's not clear whether his choice of title was influenced by the fact that the resort stages what is still the biggest annual ballooning festival in the Alps each January. The wide sunny high alpine valley in which the village is located, known as the Pays d'Enhaut, has been farmed for a millennium or more and many of the old Swiss chalets are centuries old. The architecture of many was regarded as a work of art by their creators who often signed and dated them, whilst the present owners ensure the window boxes are full of flowers for most of the year. It is a truly peaceful, relaxing place. From a winter sports fan's perspective the great thing about Château d'Oex is that the lift ticket - which includes some of the most terrain available on one pass in the world - has several unique assets! A key one is that it allows holders to hop on to the mountain train or bus and ride along from one great ski area to the next. After Château-d'Oex's own slopes there are those of Rougemont - where you can leave the train and walk over to the gondola which takes you up to the mountain tops; then it's a similar story at Saanen (after you've crossed the language border in to German speaking Switzerland!), and beyond Gstaad at Saanenmoser and Zweisimmen. Gstaad is the point where you can hop off the train and on to the bus over towards les Diablerets and Villars, with the famous Diablerets glacier the first stop. The transport system continues right through the day and the evening so there's no mad rush to catch the last ski bus home at the end of your day on the slopes.
A lovely village on the French side of the French/German language border within Switzerland. Home for many years to actor David Niven and still to the biggest annual ballooning festival in the Alps each January. More than 250km of piste are available on the Gstaad Mountain Rides pass which includes the mountain railway which conveniently runs between base lifts at most of the resorts en route.
Famous resorts included are Adelboden, Lenk, Les Diablerets, Les Mosses, Leysin, Villars and of course Gstaad. The minimum duration for this pass is 4 days. This means that intermediates and expert skiers have a vast choice of runs including, from February onwards, the epic descent from the top of the Diablerets glacier down 13km (8 miles) to the Gstaad road. The local Swiss Ski School also organises high mountain touring, off piste guiding, ski mountaineering and heli-skiing for the more adventurous.
Beginners will enjoy the chance to stay in an authentic Swiss village, learn to ski on the peaceful and largely gentle slopes of La Braye above the resort, but then have the option of doing "more than just ski or 'board", with the easy access to Gstaad and larger Swiss cities beyond. Intermediates can explore all of the ski areas, but the local slopes at La Braye above the resort itself will provide several days entertainment.
The largest and most popular area nearby is above Schönried or Saanenmöser, the first and second rail stop respectively a few minutes after Gstaad. Now all inter-linked right over to St Stephan beyond Zweisimmen, this is a wonderful area of many long blues and reds and where, with higher bases than Château-d'Oex, top-to-bottom snow lasts longer (although Château-d'Oex's ski area is in any case accessed by cable-car so the snow fields can be reached without hassle even when the lower slopes thaw at the end of the season).
A second large intermediate-friendly skiing area, not quite so big but closer still, joins the skiing above Rougemont, Chateau-d'Oex's French speaking neighbour, and to that above the resort after it, Saanen (first of the German-speaking villages).
Experts have many opportunities in the region, some already mentioned. Closer to home Château-d'Oex has several black-graded descents including a rather long one down from Monts Chevreuils to Les Moulins, above the village.
Getting off at Gstaad and wandering down the pedestrianised high street to the big swimming pool complex is popular too. Château-d'Oex's cafe, especially for older children - with non-alcoholic drinks and a games room in the basement is another rarity. Later in the season the crazy golf course opens, but before that the natural ice rink goes down well, as does the night skiing twice a week, or maybe toboganning or a sleigh ride.
Of the traditional restaurants local to Château-d'Oex, the cuisine in the Hotel Bon Accueil's restaurant has a particularly high reputation, and the Ermitage and Le Chalet are amongst the other more popular choices.
One popular option is to stop off in Gstaad en route home and take an après ski dip at the wonderful swimming pool complex. Another is to head back to Château-d'Oex to shower, change and maybe eat, then head for Gstaad's legendary après ski opportunities.
There are a dozen cosy bars and restaurants in Château-d'Oex itself should you wish to stay closer to home, and La Bamba disco is often lively.
There are three terrain parks in the area, in the larger Schönried - Saanenmöser sector, and a further three above Les Diablerets and Villars.
The year-round park on the Diablerets glacier helps this summer glacier skiing to be dominated by 'boarders throughout the warmer periods of the year, with numerous international camps.