Skiing Special Report: Postcard - From glacier 3000, Switzerland
Glacier-skiing conjures up images of the balaclava-clad Milk Tray man making another daring night-time delivery. Or the equally cavalier Roger Moore, eyebrow cocked, hotly pursued by machine gun-toting baddies. Glacier-skiing equals danger; it is extreme, heroic, but in reality it can be a real pussycat.
Saturday 19 October 2002
The glacier of Tsanfleuron, near Les Diablerets in the Vaud region of Switzerland, is a two-hour train ride or drive from Geneva and is one of the most convenient places to enjoy glacier-skiing in Europe. It serves both the quietly salubrious skiing village of Villars-sur-Ollon and the rather more coquettish town of Gstaad, 30km north-east.
Since the completion of two swanky new cable-cars two years ago, which whisk you effortlessly from the base to the summit in about 15 minutes, the area has rebranded itself Glacier 3000. The glacier provides much-needed access to skiing in a low-lying region that sometimes sees pitifully lacklustre snowfalls from December through to March. It is possible to ski there all year, but the season starts in earnest at the beginning of October, long before you would be able to ski in Villars or Gstaad.
From the top, you can enjoy plenty of gentle, uncrowded ski runs on fine snow that's well tended by the piste-bashers. Alternatively, walk on beaten tracks and gawp at an extraordinary view that takes in Mont Blanc (65km south-west) and the three peaks of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch (65km south-east). But the weather can change in an instant; dark snow clouds roll in from the French Alps, so make sure you've got plenty of time to get off the glacier before it closes in. The pisteurs have got that one covered; they give you plenty of warning and ask you to make your way back to the cable-car before the wind picks up and they have to close it down.
Provided the weather is good, you can ski down and put yourself to the test by following a route that drops nearly 1,000 metres in half an hour. It is exhausting but very rewarding; there's a real sense of achievement as you look back up the hill. The drop is a lot hairier than the skiing on the glacier itself, which is much flatter and, therefore, more flattering.
Glacier 3000's convenience, reliable supply of snow and proximity to the beau monde of Gstaad have ensured its reputation as a cool place to ski. As such, an enjoyable pastime has developed when skiing near the glacier – spotting famous figures standing next to you in the queue. When I was at Glacier 3000 in February, I shared the cavernous cable-car cabin with the Amazonian Elle Macpherson (who was wearing impossibly tight ski pants) and three of my sniggering, pointing, whispering friends. She was accompanied by what seemed to be a personal mobile phone flunky, charged solely with relieving Elle of the burden of carrying the phone herself. Is that cool? As cool as a glacier.
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