Category Archives: Summer

Summer activities or events in the mountains.

If Winter = Patrouille des Glaciers, then Summer = Grand Raid

One of Bramble Ski`s directors, Duncan Robertson, completed the torture-fest Grand Raid mountain bike marathon that was run this weekend (as if the challenge needed to be heightened, this happened to be the hottest weekend of the year). Spanning a distance of 125km and encompassing a total climb in altitude of 5025 meters, this is the 23rd running of the event and makes it one of the oldest single-stage mountain bike races in the world.

Grand Raid mountain bike race

Duncan and Graham completed the Grand Raid in 10 hours and 28 minutes. Pic: Catie Friend.

Originally conceived to recreate the famous Patrouille des Glaciers the full length Race runs in opposite direction, departing Verbier and passing through Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Mandelon, Evolene, an intense climb up the Pad de Lona and finally finishing in Grimentz.

Duncan and Graham, representing Team Exiles on the day, executed their race-plan to perfection and are already looking ahead to next year`s assualt, only this time they intend to ease the pain on the derriere by breaking the 10 hour mark! Go boys.

Below are a selection of images of the Grand Raid shot on the first descent from Croix de Couer above Verbier down to Nendaz.

Photographs by Barry Cox.

The magic of mushrooming.

Mushroom-hunting Val de Bagnes

The distinctively beautiful gills of the underside of the chanterelle.

Wild mushrooms are a bit of an enigma. They’re strange looking things and it’s not hard to imagine how they came to be aligned with fairies and magical other-worlds – though I’m certain the psychedelic varieties out there have played due part in this association. But I find the pastime of hunting for them just as intriguing. It is largely a solo activity (prized spots are fiercely guarded secrets) and with the diversity of varieties and the associated danger of making a mistake in identification, it is an activity that I’ve always appreciated demands knowledge.

While winter in the Alps provides us with a playground for hedonistic pleasure, in the summer the forests and pastures around Verbier are ripe for foraging ideal for creating at least a sense of sustainable living. Berries, nuts and mushrooms grow in abundance. While I’ve looked for mushrooms before, as a side-event while out for a walk, I’ve never (until recently) gone for a walk with the intent purpose of mushrooming.

Chanterelles are in their peak season at the moment. I’m informed that they thrive on the humidity. As is typical in the southern Swiss Alps at this time of year, we have had some good weather, high humidity and plenty of late afternoon/evening thunderstorms that finally break the shackles of a hot day. These golden delights love the abundance of moisture and warm climate providing ideal growing conditions!

So when a good friend and avid mushroomer offered to take me, I jumped at the chance. Of course, he didn’t take me to his prized spots, apparently there isn’t anything there at the moment (not surprising given the volume of chanterelles I’ve seen him harvest recently, though I’m not discounting that he is simply protecting his turf – rightly so).

Instead we headed a little further up the Val de Bagnes, the exact location I cannot reveal as I have been ‘sworn to secrecy’, where we struck gold! Coming home with a good harvest is certainly satisfying but there are a couple of other things about the hunt that I thoroughly enjoyed.

1) Wandering through the forest looking for mushrooms is much like ski touring in the winter. You feel that much more atune with the landscape around you. Mountains are so vast that when you scan them from afar you don’t notice the intricacies of the features within them. But when you move through them, on foot or on skis, the pitch of the slope, gulleys and rock bands all become prevalent.

2) The slopes are steep, and the forest thick. It isn’t a bad way to get some exercise!

3) The hunt itself. Spotting that first chantarelle (as a novice the distinctive golden chanterelles are a great first target) makes your heart jump. Stumbling on a patch is truly joyous. And knowing that a good patch of chanterelles is a place that you can come back to time-and-again just accentuates the pleasure of the first discovery.

4) It must be the hippy in me, but I love eating what I’ve grown, and now I can add, foraged for. Inspired by the hunt, at home we pulled out the pasta machine and made our own pasta, and with the chanterelles and some fine bacon from the valley, whipped up an Alfredo to die for.

5) Finally, chanterelles are worth their weight in gold. About half a kilogram of chanterelles for a couple of hours of effort versus the cost of purchasing them from the grocery store. No comparison.

I’ll be out there again. The question is whether to go looking for new patches, or back to the spot where I know there are an abundance of chanterelle patches?

Photographs by Barry Cox.

NOTE: If you are new to wild mushrooms, make sure you seek the advice of someone who has experience, or at the least refer to literature (there are many guide books out there). Many species of mushroom can make you sick, and in the worst case, can kill.

Preparing for winter in Verbier and St Anton …

A change in season initiates a change in gear … autumn signifies the end of summer (though current sunshine and warm temperatures hardly reflect this) and for us at Bramble Ski the focus shifts to operational planning, ensuring that we’re best prepared to provide the most exceptional holidays possible to our clients visiting Verbier and St Anton in the winter ahead.

Detailed organisational charts illustrating the key roles of the central team have been drawn up and circulated; pro-active and re-active roles have been analysed, dissected and transcribed onto numerous pages of a flipchart; we’ve even cleaned up and re-decorated our Verbier office space! We are now within 12 weeks of our first guests’ arrival – time to collect balances and organise the specifics of individual holiday requirements. The countdown has begun and our focus is most certainly on another memorable winter ahead.

With this in mind, the news of potential snow in the Alps this weekend has got some of us thinking about when we’ll get a chance to earn our first turns of the season. But until that time we’ll continue enjoying the fine weather. Yesterday, Duncan and I biked up to the top of the Bruson lift (a vertical ascent of about 1,400m from Le Châble) descended into the valley behind Bruson, following our noses to the small town of Orsières at the foot of the Mont Blanc Massif and returned to Le Châble by way of road. It was a fantastic ride through a landscape of fiery autumn colours in the high tree-line and alpine. Meanwhile Phil, our web designer, cycled up the Val de Bagnes to Lac de Mouvoisin, the 13th highest dam in the world, a round-trip of 50km involving just over 1,800m of vertical ascent.

If you’re coming on a ski holiday this winter, road cycing and cross-country biking are great training! They build strong quadriceps and are excellent cardio-vascular pursuits. Get out there, enjoy autumn and get psyched for the winter ahead.

Trout fishing in Lac de Louvie

Verbier is well known for its winter offering of world-class skiing, fantastic resort atmosphere and availability of luxury mountain chalets but over the course of the off-season months we will be revealing in regular blog postings why this is such fantastic place to live, and visit, regardless of the season.

Cabane de Louvie is one of hundreds of Swiss alpine cabanes built to provide sanctuary for mountain travellers. It sits perched on a ledge above Lac de Louvie at 2,213 meters and is accessed from Fionnay in the Val de Bagnes. Yesterday we hiked up to the lake for a spot of trout fishing. What a fantastic day!

Departing Le Châble just after 4am we parked and started our hike up to the lake at about 4.30am, head torches guiding the way. Though the temperature was fresh (I’d guess close to zero) it wasn’t long before the work of the climb had warmed our bodies. The hike gets straight to business and, once we had found the trail, wastes no time gaining altitude, switching back and forth underneath the imposing presence of some large cliff bands.

Hiking in the mountains by torchlight is invigorating. Above our heads a cornucopia of stars and a sliver of a crescent moon lit the sky and, while you can’t see into the darkness below, you constantly sense the steep pitch of land falling away from you. The hike is strenuous but at no point technical and, after an hour-and-a-half of keeping to a steady pace, we had reached the cabane. From here we could see the glaciers of Grand and Petit Combin, glowing in the pre-dawn light, across the valley.

We were rigged up just after first light. After a couple of attempts we found a spot with some action, which conveniently provided the most astounding fishing backdrop I have ever been privy to, looking across the glacial water at the cabane and the Combin glaciers beyond that.

Lac de Louvie is stocked for fishing purposes, by helicopter! Despite catching and releasing significantly more nippers than those we kept, the fishing was still successful, with a final catch of mostly rainbow trout, but also two namaycush. Namaycush are indigenous to North America and, even in their local habitat, are rare. They are commonly known as lake trout, or in French as cristovomer.

By 2pm we had dabbled at various points around the lake and were back at the cabane for a cold beer before descending to the car, drinking in the stunning vistas that weren’t possible in the darkness of the ascent. Thanks to Pit and Duncan for a fantastic day.

We get to live the day over this evening when we get together with our families to feast on the catch. Overnight Pit has soaked half of the trout in his secret brine recipe and will be finishing it off by smoking it. The other half we’re going to barbeque. I’m salivating already…

Bramble Ski operates a selection of the finest luxury mountain chalets in Verbier and St Anton and offers catered and self-catered ski holidays. Contact us to arrange your bespoke spring, summer or autumn holiday to the mountains through Bramble Été, a subsidiary of Bramble Ski.

Photographs by Barry Cox.