From the age of 5, I used to dream about skiing for 51 weeks of the year. As a family, we’d look through our printed photos from the previous years, and shout excitedly at Franz Klammer and Pirmin Zurbriggen on Ski Sunday. We’d even sit in a line on the sofa and make chairlift-bumping-over-a-pylon noises together, in the middle of summer. When Christmas finally arrived and our family headed off to a chalet on the ski slopes, I was plunged into a wonderful magical world of twinkling snowflakes and stunning mountain panoramas.
Choosing a holiday was very exciting, as there was so much choice between resorts and different chalets, so many tour operators and packages and independent offerings. We used the Sunday papers, teletext and the telephone like weapons to find the best deal, frantically watching the prices change as the snow began to fall around the Alps.
After 10 or 15 years of memorable family holidays, we decided to buy our first place in the Alps, and spent a summer cruising around the resorts and wading through the hundreds of options available. The first ski trip over brought a whole new dimension to the pleasures of a skiing holiday: we were now part of the village! Now that we could come out several times during a season, we started getting to know the locals and making friends in the lift queues. We had our favourite routes and circuits, challenging ourselves to find the best route to “Ski All the Black Runs in One Day” or “Get to the Furthest Mountain Restaurant for Lunch and Back without Missing the Last lift Home”.
As time went by and I got more involved in different outdoor sports, I discovered the Alps outside the ski season. A whole new world of breathtaking experiences opened up to me! I had no idea that the mountains could be so beautiful when they weren’t covered in snow! My world changed overnight. Now I could go hiking along mid-altitude trails in the ever-changing colours of a larch forest in autumn. Now I could struggle up the last hundred metres of a 4000m peak at sunrise as a 360º mountain panorama opened up before my very eyes. Now I could ride a mountain bike around the valleys and paraglide over the mountaintops. I took up rock-climbing and via ferrata, canyoning and mountaineering, road cycling and trail running. I spent my holidays ice-climbing, glacier-walking, and swimming in refreshing mountain lakes. I was mesmerised every time I saw a grazing herd of bouquetin, or a fleeting glimpse of the shy chamois. I grew thirsty for knowledge of alpine flowers and high-altitude birds, wanting to name them all and capture them in macro photographs. I quizzed the mountain guides on the names of the peaks, on the formations of the rocks, on the changes and developments that they’ve seen over the last decades.
I now live with my equally-mountain-mad husband in the incredible resort of La Tzoumaz, a secret well-kept from mass-marketing and tour operators, nestling on the back of Verbier’s Mount Savoleyres and directly linked into the huge and world-renowned 4-Valleys ski area. It doesn’t have Verbier’s night life. It doesn’t have Verbier’s chic bars and restaurants. It doesn’t have more than 200 residents year round, or more than 6,000 visitors in the high season. But it does have the magic of the mountains.
We will never tire of our ever-changing view across the huge expanse of the Rhone valley, looking up to the peaks of the Haut de Cry, and over to Gstaad’s Glacier 3000, or looking down to where the clouds sometimes sit, hundreds of metres below us, with the Swiss Air Force F18s skimming over the tops. The expanse of vineyards and fruit trees below bears testament to the long hot summers and provides a stunning multi-coloured vista from every window.
As La Toumaz is ideally situated on a T-junction of two valleys, we also have a view across to the narrow-streets of Iserables, listed on the Swiss Inventory of Heritage Sites Worthy of Protection, its public transport cable car up from the floor of the Rhone Valley, and the 4-Valleys ski lifts of Tracouet and Plan-du-Fou.
Sometimes, I sit on the balcony of our chalet in La Tzoumaz and watch the Savoleyres telecabin gently bumping over the pylon as it carries another group of skiers up to the 4-Valleys, and I smile to think what has become of the summer dreams from my childhood sofa.