Saas-Fee: Our Easter Winter Wonderland

This is why we love to be in Saas-Fee…so much:


1. 300 days of sun. That is probably the number one reason. When you live in The Netherlands, you want to make sure of one thing when you go places.: you want to see the sun and the deep blue sky. Because there ain’t such thing up North like a deep colour…apart from deep green maybe.


2. There is ALWAYS snow and the ski-station is open all year round. How? The upper part of the resort is on a glacier. And on the top of this glacier, there is the highest turning restaurant in the world at 3500m. It has just been renovated and finally lost its 70’s groove. The food is very decent for a decent price (to Swiss standards).


3. The mountains are specatacular. There are 47 mountains over 4000m in Switzerland and there are 14 of them just around Saas-Fee. It protects the resort from changing weather…hence the 300 days of sun.


4. It is not the largest ski resort of Switzerland. Far from it. Around 100km of pistes and something like 30 lifts. But you nonetheless have it all. The easy slopes for kids and beginners, the bumpy runs, the steep runs, the wide runs for carving, the specatacular runs amidst the glaciers, the hard runs and the amazing off-piste (if you know to avoid crevaces).

5. Saas-Fee is a place with more than 100 restaurants. It prides itself of having a 1 star Michelin restaurant, The Fletschhorn. This restaurant has recently acquired a smaller restaurant on the slopes and you can enjoy gastronomic kitchen with your ski-boots on. Weird but a somehow a must-do. There are romantic restaurants like La Ferme but there are also of course plenty of Swiss traditional cusinie eateries with the expected smell of melted cheese. Nothing for dairy-allergic though.


6. We of course love Saas-Fee because that’s also where we have our chalets

…doh… Fasan & Eichhörnchen are their names. Those are super cosy little chalet 1km away from the centre and the après-ski music at the edge of a larks’ forest where squirrels and wild goats can be spotted.


7. The kids love to stay up there. Its total freedom for them, they open the door and can disappear in the fields and the forest. The resort is car free, so no danger there either.


8. We have a skate-skiing loop in front of our door. Its is a 5.5 km training course, with one lane for classic skating and one for skate-skiing. We call it our private house loop as not many people use it. My wife and I just love to exercise here. The loop goes 120m up, then flat, then throws your heart out of the chest the first time you do it. After a few work-outs, you feel stronger and it becomes a matter of who is going to beat the loop record (24:30).


9. And then, there is sledging. This is basically also a few steps from our house. A cable cars takes you up for 15min and you then have a joy ride for about 15-20min down a relatively steep course. Helmets recommended!

10. Last but not least, Saas-Fee is in Switzerland. This is where we come from. This is what we call home. And because we have enough beds (the chalets can accomodate up to 11 persons), the family is coming to visit us as well as friends. So it is a place where we celebrate and enjoy the company of those who are dear to our heart.


The Grimselpass Ride…or How a Windmill Warrior Takes on Cars

Had we known that we would ride in a 35 degree furnace, battle head wind for 60km and for Joel to crash into a car 100m before the end of the ride, would we have started riding on that foggy Monday at 07:30, the 9th of May from Saas-Fee to the Grimselpass? Probably not, but that’s what an adventure is about, I guess (and that’s why I do not understand people reading the last pages of a book before actually starting to read it).

I had been thinking to ride to the Grimsel Pass for the past three years.  Joel – a training partner and founder member of our Windmill Warriors Triathlon Club – and I could not have picked a better day to do this ride.  It all started the evening before, with some serious carb/protein-loading with our families in front of the chalet. Joel, is a Masterchef when it comes to marinating meat and BBQing. We limited our beer consumption and went up to bed fairly early.

We started to ride with a 26km long descent from Saas-Fee (1800m) to Visp (500) before taking a right turn and started a 65km climb towards the Grimselpass (2164m). The climb was gentle at first along the river Rhone. We passed Brig and were surprised how fast the temperature was rising. It was 11 in Saas-Fee, 15 in Visp and already 23 in Brig. The first “hills” showed up after Brig. Quads were warmed up by then to tackle the first serious climb until Bellwald. 800 m elevation gain in 16km. Joel was quite surprised to hear, that this was the “easy” part of the climb. From then on his requests for short stops increased 🙂 . The real deal started after Oberwald. There is even a sign warning cyclists of the 1000m upcoming climb averaging at 7.6%. It is long and it is quite hard but the view is breathtaking and seeing for the first time from a “saddle perspective” the famous switchbacks of  the Grimsel were very rewarding.

And because every ride has its loads of surprises, we suddenly encountered, crossing the road, the first trains constructed to pass the Furka Pass (same road as the Grimsel).

We manages those switchbacks without problems and finally arrived to the Pass after riding for 4 hours and 1800m of elevation gain. It was a perfect day to be up there. No violent winds, no snow, nearly no clouds. Just Perfect. We quickly ate something before moving to our main activity of the day: photo-shooting.

Now that the battery of my camera was empty, we could get back on the saddle and ride down. Joel acquired his downhill riding skills in The Netherlands. Going down the Grimsel was slightly out of his zone of comfort, but after training twice down from Saas-Fee to Visp he managed pretty well (although it took him a while to unclasp his hands from the drops afterwards).

We thought we had done the hardest bit, but the weather decided otherwise. The wind picked-up together with the heat and every km we rode down we faced more heat and more wind. We ended up in the valley with the watch registering 35 degrees in the shade. I believe we each drank about 3 liters for the 6h45min ride. It was thougher than expected, especially for my fellow riders who challenged a car in the last 100m before our arrival to the bus station in Visp. Joel does not know exactly what happened. I was in the front, unclipping my shoes when I heard a metallic thump about 80m behind me. I hoped for the best but feared the worst. And yes, it came out to be the worst. Joel on the ground with a bruised shoulder. But the car was bruised too! A good dent in the side door and a broken mirror. Joel 1 – Car 1.

I have a bit of a reputation back where I train in The Netherlands. “They” call me the Swiss Assassin, because I provoked a fall of 2 fellow bikers by braking in front of the group without (a lot of clear) advance warnings. I just would like to clearly state, that Joel decided to take on this car on his own free will. Namaste.

La désalpe des moutons de la Gemmi

There is no English word for “désalpe”. It happens traditionally and for the better health of all sheep every year around September. The shepherds gather their sheeps at a point in the alps and go down to the valley together to bring the herd in safe places before the first snow comes. The “désalpe” of the Gemmi is rather spectacular as sheeps and shepherds go literally down a cliff from the Gemmi Pass down to Leukerbad. Isa and I wanted our city-born-daughters to take this chance and have a closer look at sheeps. We wanted them to know that goat cheese do not originate at Wall-Mart and milk does not come out of a Tetra Pack.

So we decided to walk up to the “allmend” from Leukerbad, a meeting place for welcoming the shepherds and their livestock. Traditional music was awaiting us, including a good bar stocked mainly with white wine, raclette cheese and bratwurst. It was a day to remember for the kids… and Isa decided it was a day to remember for us all, hence cut this cute little movie!

On Pushing Baby Strollers in The Alps


10 days without crutches, a beautiful day, Marc, Rea & Leo visiting; 3 good reasons to take the cable car from Leukerbad to the col du Gemmi. Once on top, at 2308 m., I realise how much I have forgotten about the mountain.  At this height in September the wind is already cold. We are not dressed appropriately. Our light functional wears are barely enough. So we first decide to go to the wind protected terrace of the restauraPushin' trolley in the alps...nt close by. The view on the Walliser Alps is beautiful with the Matterhorn in the background. It is most probably the last time this year we see the “summer” alps. The first snow is about to come. I take the opportunity to order a “Walliser Platte” and a liter of Rivella Red, my favorite (non-alcoholic) Swiss drink. After spending an hour or so bathing in the sun on this terrace we decide to go on a stroll. On the map, there was a clear sign that this was mad for baby strollers. Well they should have specified the making, ’cause our strollers weren’t good enough…but we did not let the difficulties get in our way. So we did a kilometer or so on the stroller hostile path before taking the cable car back down to Leukerbad (1400m). To round of the day we had a raclette. Those are days to remember. Eating traditional Swiss food in the alps with close friends.

Vacation in Bern & Laax (Part One)

20989784Isa & I travelled early morning by car on July 17th from Vienna to Bern via Vättis (grand parents place) to pick up Zoé and Manon who spent the last 2 weeks there. We arrive at Marc&Rea’s place in the afternoon. What a great pleasure to meet up with close friends again. They have moved in a new flat with a stunning view on the old town of Bern. Reto&Esther, other close friends of ours, are already there. It does not take long until we open the first bottle of white wine for the apéro.

One of the main discussion of the evening is the pros and cons of living as a young family in Switzerland. The Swiss social structure is still based on the traditional family pattern. As long as the man works, the wife stays at home, all is fine. But beware, when exiting that pattern. As we discussed, yes it is possible to have both parents exercising a professional activity. But it comes at a cost . The worst: day schools are still not in place. How the heck do you pick up your kids from school at lunch time and bring them back 90 minutes later when both parents are working. That such system still exists in 2009 is an aberration. There is no other word.

Leaving that aside I enjoy the company of my friends a lot. It is the first trip I undertake since the accident and I am glad to have chosen to push myself and get in the caDSC_0054r despite this stiff left leg. Anyway we stay until Sunday and on that day we celebrate 2 days before Manon’s true birthday (as Esther and Marc are her godfather and godmother respectively).

And I felt very proud of my little Manon. Still so modest, not expecting big gifts, enjoying every little thing that was prepared for her. I hope this will stay that way…hm…Ok, it won’t…but this snapshot for me tells it all. Excitement, happiness and spontaneity. There is nothing better for a small kid and nothing more important to do than celebrate birthdays!