By Pat Morton – Year 5 & 7 Parent
What am I Supposed to Write About?
When I was asked to write this article, it was before our winter break. I think that I was supposed to write about fun winter family activities. But, that was a long time ago and a LOT of fun family activities ago! So, I think that I should focus on us stay-at-home parents. I’m thinking about activities that can be done between 8:30 and 2:30 with something slow-cooking at home so we can still get some of that “you must’ve worked all day” vibe from the spouse. Plus, whatever we find to be fun, we can bring the family back later and we’ll know how everything works…bonus!
Snow in the Jura!
So, we now have snow in the Jura mountains. Have you noticed how some parents have crazed eyes and goofy grins just after drop-off as they gaze up towards the mountains? Then, they show up at pick-up looking tired, yet happy. You should join this crowd!
Keeping it Simple
At first, I was overwhelmed by the list of options and locations that came to me when thinking about this article. Everything from simply escaping the fog to St. Cergue with lunch at Rando Burger to doing alpine touring (walk up mountain, ski down). I had to narrow it down.
Thinking back to when I moved here, I realized that I really didn’t need a comprehensive list. My confused, overwhelmed little brain just needed someone to say “Hey, go do this. It is fun. This is where you go and this is how it works.” So, I will keep it simple. One location, several activities.
La Vattay is a 30 minute drive from school, so it definitely fits into a school day. You just head through Gex and continue to the right from La Faucille. Pretty simple and Google maps finds it easily. Plus, when you arrive at La Vattay, there is just the one main building on-site; it is hard to get lost.
The main building has three key areas. Downstairs, you will find the rental shop. After renting your gear, the ticket shop for trail access is at the top of the stairs. The trails are then to your left. After your adventure, the coffee shop/restaurant is to the right from the ticket booth. It’s great to have a coffee (or beer or wine) with friends after a little exercise!
You can choose between three different activities at La Vattay and rent equipment for any of them. The three activities are snowshoeing, classic cross-country skiing, and skate skiing.
If you are new to snow sports, snowshoeing might be a good place to start. Bring good solid winter boots and strap on some raquettes de neige. Please do not confuse raquettes with raclette, melted cheese on boiled potatoes, which is equally wonderful, but has a different effect on your waistline. Raclette also doesn’t help you in deep snow. Once you have the raquettes on your boots, you will find the trails are well marked by difficulty and length.
For classic cross-country skiing, you will rent shoes, skis and poles. So, no need to worry about what footwear to bring! For classic skiing, you walk/slide along in parallel tracks that are made by a grooming machine. If you have never tried it before, you might want to try a lesson or watch a couple of YouTube videos. This is one step more difficult than just showing up, but you will be glad you did it. One option for lessons is Kathy Zimmerman from zimfit.ch. She has previously taught a bunch of La Châtaigneraie parents and is highly recommended. The key things you will learn are how to get up a hill that is a little steep and to get down the bit that always seems to come after the uphill (gracefully and safely) .
OK, skate skiing…this is where you use a skating motion similar to ice skating or roller skating, but you have long skis on. Yep, this one is the most complicated. Similar to classic, you rent boots, skis, and poles. Only this time, you stay out of the pre-made tracks and skate your way to a brighter tomorrow!
I tried skate skiing for the first time this week. As an experienced alpine skier and a recreational hockey player, I figured that I would get this right away. So, I clipped in and started out through the practice field surrounded by several primary school classes, their teachers, and their ski instructors. Skate right, no problem. Skate left, easy money. Skate right, hooked the ski in the snow and fell flat on my face. The photo below shows the general gist of how things ended up (sorry, you just have to imagine the somewhat impossible things my legs were doing between the bottom of my jacket and the middle of the skis…I was going to remove my pants to complete the photo, but thought better of it).
After that rather difficult start, I did manage to complete the beginner loop. Plus, there was a couple of moments where I started to get the feel of it. I can tell that there is a good learning curve in front of me but that the hard work will be worth it.
Regardless of the sport you choose, at some point, just stop and listen while you catch your breath. Enjoy the quiet, appreciate the sun sparkling on the snow, and wonder at the snow on the trees. Being in a snow covered alpine forest is truly magical!
One last reminder…it is in France, so you’ll pay in Euros.
Ok, I’ll throw in a couple of other activities that could be fun during school, after school, or on a weekend.
La Faucille – If downhill skiing while the kids are at school appeals to you, just stop before the turn to La Vattay. Great school-day skiing for about the same price as a cup of espresso in the Alps. You can also rent and ride sleds here.
Skating in Coppet – the Coppet ice rink near the chateau is fun with kids. The grown ups can skate for a while and then retreat to the buvette for a beer or a glass of wine. Best to arrive early; the first hour is usually pretty quiet. Hint: parking is 10 centimes for the first three hours. Then, it is something like 1 CHF for 4.5 seconds!
Nighttime Snowshoeing – Usually, these involve a hike to a hut to eat fondue or raclette. There are tours that do this in many places, but St Cergue/La Givrine is the most convenient for most of us. Think of it; raquettes AND raclette! The yin and yang of waistline management! For your school-day enjoyment, the PTA has a raquettes and fondue event planned on Thursday, 2 February near St. Cergue (wait for further details in the weekly newsletter or contact Jo Perry firstname.lastname@example.org).
Torchlight Ski – That’s right! Give your child a giant flaming stick and then ski down the mountain! There’s no liability issues, this is Europe! As of last year, Verbier offers this through the tourist office every Wednesday evening. Other resorts may offer something similar. Safety Briefing: 1) do not hold it in front of your face while moving; 2) if you get scared, just drop it.
Overnight at Cabine Mt. Fort – At the Verbier ski resort, you can ski into a hostel-like classic chalet perched on the side of the mountain and get basic lodging and family-style meals. You get to enjoy the setting sun with an amazing view and then hit the piste in the morning before the lifts are even open! There are many other options for this type of thing here in Switzerland. This just happens is the one I did with my daughters and we had a great time in the provided Crocs.