“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…” seems to be constantly going through my head these last few weeks as my shovel and I have been spending more and more time together. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. I’m one of those annoying French-Canadians who can’t get enough snow! But I do understand that if this is one of your first winters in Switzerland you may be, at this point, considering hibernation.
That being said, it seems to have a totally different impact on children which may be described as magnetic: all they want to do is get into it! Well, I’ve got good news for you. You can enjoy the snow with your kids even if you’re not an adept skier or snowboarder. There is way more you can do and winter hiking is one of them. Here are a few tips & trick to help you head out safely this winter for a hike:
“Onion” fashion: Dressing properly is an essential step for a winter hike with your kids. They are particularly sensitive to hypothermia caused by rapid loss of body heat so dress them (and yourselves!) in layers and make sure their garments are not too big as they won’t be able to heat them. Start with a close-fitting wicking synthetic for the base (underwear) layer; wool or synthetic fleece or pile middle (pants and torso) layer; and a breathable, wind- and water-repellent outer shell. You’ll top off each outfit with a warm hat and add mittens—not gloves—for hands (finger-to-finger contact keeps hands warmer), warm socks and boots for feet.
Babies & Toddler gear: Unless you will be baby-wearing, you should dress your little ones in “Onion” fashion as well. A rule of thumb, one more layer than you. This is particularly important for your kids who won’t be walking as they won’t be creating extra body heat the same way you do.
If you’ll be pulling your babies in sleds, use ones with a seat and strap to keep them stable. Place an insulating layer (an exercise or camping mat works well) on the seat. If you have a stroller sleeping bag, use this as the next layer and pass the sled’s strap in the slits made for the stroller straps to attach it to your baby. Same goes with a baby backpack carrier: dress baby in layers and add a weatherproof mitten and bootie to protect them well.
For those of you using baby carriers or slings, follow the advice from the ASPB: share your body warmth and add protective gear over both of you which will keep your little one warm and weatherproofed.
Watch the weather: Before you leave home, check the weather forecast. Keep a special eye on the wind in the winter. The temperature may be a balmy 5°C, but a mere 15 kmh wind can effectively turn that into a frigid -5°C on exposed skin.
Time slows down in the snow: In winter, and especially in snow, everything takes longer. It takes more time and energy to hike a similar distance in the snow than on a summer trail. Keep this in mind when planning your routes and look for special features during the hike to entertain the kids rather than make it about the end destination you might not reach.
Keep to the trail: Luckily, in Switzerland trails are very well marked. However, you should carry a map and/or compass if you are going off a marked trail. Take the time to contact the local information centre and enquire about route and weather conditions before setting off. Your intended trail may be fully or partially closed, depending on the time of year and weather conditions.
Fire for safety: Always take some matches or a lighter with you to start an emergency fire. Better yet, put a full-blown commercial survival kit in your day pack just in case.
Keeping kids entertained: The snow tends to take care of that! Take some time to check out the icicles dangling from the roofs; create snow angel families; build a snow couch to have a break; try to identify animal tracks you might come across; take some sleds along and have fun on the hills; pack some food-die and create an ephemeral masterpiece…
A few suggestions of places to go to give it a try:
Schwarzsee, 4 km
The Schwarzsee (black lake) does indeed shimmer darkly in summer. However, in winter it changes colour and is now clothed in thick, bright, glittering white ice. The lake forms the centre of a vast area surrounded by snowy peaks and has a particularly attractive winter trail around the lake with reeds on the banks, covered by hoarfrost and sparkling in the sun. Start out at the Schwarzsee/Bad bus stop. At first, the route crosses mainly flat riverside areas to Seeweid before forming a wide arc to Gypsera and then returning to Schwarzsee/Bad. As you leave the valley, see works of art of a quite different nature at Lichtena – here an ice artist erects magical ice palaces that you can even walk through and climb up.
Vallon de They, Morgins, 6 km
In the Vallon de They a magical wintry silence reigns and all you hear is the Vièze Morgins stream murmuring gently between the snowy rocks. The cleared winter trail runs beside the water and into the valley. The trail repeatedly crosses small bridges and along the way you will pass a spring known as the “Eau Rouge” because of the iron coloured water that flows out of the mountain. Start your hike at the Morgins/poste bus stop and end up in En Tey, where you will find the Cantine de They mountain restaurant. From there, return by the same route back to Morgins.
Les Rasses-Les Cluds-Les Rasses, 5 km
Les Rasses sits on an elevated terrace near Saint-Croix overlooking the Swiss Mittelland. These two villages in the Vaud Jura lie at the southern foot of the Chasseron mountains. On a clear day you can enjoy a panoramic view that stretches from Säntis to Mont Blanc. The winter hiking trail begins near the bus stop (yellow “Car Postal” signs) in the village of Les Rousses. With a slight gradient, this route takes you across snowy Jura pastures to the hamlet of Les Cluds and then back to Les Rasses.
And for a bit closer to “home” try:
La Givrine-La Genolière-La Givrine, 2 KM
Easily accessible especially for a half-day outing. The walk is mostly uphill to La Genolière, a small refuge where you can enjoy a fondue or a nice hot chocolate. Fantastic views over Lake Leman and the Alpine peaks great you at the door of La Genolière. I suggest you take your sleds up as you can have a fun ride down back to La Givrine. You can download a detailed map with various winter walk options from the Saint-Cergue tourist office webpage.
Happy winter hiking!
Hiking with Kids 1 & 2 contributed by Charlaine, Canadian mother of two, MiV member, and founder of SHEzone, sports activities FOR women BY women. Watch this space for Part 3: “Keeping Kids entertained on the Trail” coming later this winter season!