Winter in Switzerland is a lot of things, but mainly its all about skiing and fondue! While Geneva is practically empty on the weekends to begin with, its really empty on the weekends in the winter. This is because the locals and tourists alike have gone skiing at one of the many, many ski areas nearby. Recently, my husband and I decided to act like the locals and get out on the ski slopes.
Now, this is where I have a confession to make: I’m terrified of downhill skiing! Every time I think about downhill skiing, I picture myself going out-of-control fast and smacking right into a tree. I think this fear is probably rooted in childhood because even as a kid I didn’t like to go downhill fast on roller skates. Oddly, though, I love roller coasters- go figure? So as an adult when my husband and I moved to Boston, we decided to pick up a winter sport and chose cross-country skiing rather than downhill due to my fear. We were able to get reasonably priced skis at a second-hand store, but cross-country skis are far less expensive than downhill skis on average. We bought our boots, poles, pants, etc new for better fit and luckily decided to bring all our ski stuff in the move.
As I mentioned earlier, there are tons of places to go skiing near Geneva. We have our pick of the very popular places near Chamonix and that area of France as well as lots of places within an hour’s drive in the Jura mountains in both France and Switzerland. Ultimately, we ended up choosing to go to the St. Cergue area of Switzerland since its only about 20 minutes away by car and since there are seven different cross-country ski (ski de fond in French) areas, each with a selection of tracks.
One thing I really love about skiing over here is that its so accessible and very reasonably priced. In the St. Cergue area, its only CHF 10 for a day pass and CHF 5 for an afternoon pass! We bought our passes in town at the tourist info center, but we could have bought them at the trail-head too. If you don’t have ski gear, I’d recommend renting in town since there’s a wider selection of shops compared to by the trail heads. We did have a bit of trouble parking because there were so many parents who brought their kids to go sledding (there are actually separate sledding areas and trails).
After parking, we donned our gear and walked over to the start of the ski tracks. There were lots of options and a very nice sign with all the tracks marked with difficulty level, location, distance, and time to complete. I was a little surprised to learn that there were specific trails where you could go skiing with your dog! There were also lots of parents who brought their babies in either a carrier on their backs or a sled and went on the snow-shoeing trails too.
We ended up choosing a trail for all abilities that was 6 km long and typically takes one and a half hours to complete. We simply showed the man working the trailhead our already purchased passes and asked which trail matched our selection from the map and we were off. (You can see the map above with our trail circled.) He was very helpful and gave us directions for the trail in English.
The scenery was just absolutely gorgeous and the trails had lots of fresh powder and no ice. We kept stopping every 10 or 15 minutes to take photos because the setting was just so stunningly pretty. The trail was really well laid out too because it was a nice combination of straights, turns, and up and downhill sections. We also really liked that the cross-country track wasn’t too crowded and we only saw other people every 15 minutes or so.
I was really happy that I did much better on the whole going downhill on skis than I had in Boston! If you’ve cross-country skied before, then you know that every hill seems like a BIG hill when you’re skiing because your skis are so long and narrow and its difficult to control your speed and direction. I was also excited to finally learn how to use the “pizza wedge” when going downhill on skis. I’d never really been able to do this in Boston since I’d always stayed in the groomed tracks, but I tried it out towards the end of the trail by getting out of the track and using the middle part for skate-skiers. I’m sad to say that I’m way less skilled that this than the little kids I saw doing it, but it actually wasn’t too difficult once I figured out the footing.
In the end, because we were a bit rusty from not skiing in over a year and because we kept stopping to admire the scenery, it took us around two to two and a half hours to complete the trail. And I was proud that I only wiped-out 3 times!
After coming off the trail, we stopped at the little restaurant next to the trail head for some hot cocoa and warm soup. They were reasonably priced for Switzerland and the food was quite yummy and really warmed us up after an afternoon in the snow.
If you want to learn more about ski areas near Geneva, check out the AIWC’s ski book, Think Ski.
You can see more photos from our cross-country skiing trip to la Givrine on my personal blog, Stumbling Upon Happiness.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/