Two trains, a cable car, and a snowmobile ride later, we are at the Swiss village of Riederalp, located in the heart of the Alps, in Switzerland’s Valais region. This car-free village, along with the neighbouring Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp, is centred on the Aletsch Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage site that overlooks the Rhone Valley.
Pulling our jackets tightly around us, we get ready to brave the sub-zero temperature as huge chunks of snowflakes fall consistently while we negotiate our way across the slippery white ground to our resort, just a few metres away. The village is devoid of high-end shopping malls and entertainment zones but the fresh air, pollution-free paths and superb skiing track more than make up for it. Enchanted by this fairytale landscape of snow hoods, small wooden houses and sugar-white trees, we pause to capture the scenery, ignoring the biting cold on the naked hand.
The glittering white rooftops and frosty pine trees speckled across the region form an enormous white canvas. Passing locals and tourists, armed with skis and sledges greet us as we make our way to our rustic dark wood chalet, quietly grateful for the snowshoes that save us from the treacherous and slippery ground.
Easily accessible from valley stations of Morel and Fiesch, the Aletsch Arena is not overcrowded even during the high season. There is enough space to make new tracks in freshly fallen white snow or just wander on lonely paths through snow-covered forests, listening to your shallow breath and muffled footsteps as you take in the postcard-perfect surroundings.
The altitude range of the ski slopes here is one of the highest in Europe, beginning at 1,925 metres above sea level and rising right up to 2,869 metres, making them one of the most snow-covered destinations in the continent.
In the Aletsch Arena, it’s often off-the-front door and directly onto the slopes. And if you still need an adrenaline kick, you can venture down the 13-km-long sledge run from the Fiescheralp to the valley. For our first ski experience, our guide David leads us to a basement room of the chalet where we pick our ski-suit and caps. Once we find our sizes, he whisks us to a nearby sports shop for the next round of gear—helmets, ski poles and of course, the ski boots. I try on a pair of boots that feel heavy and stiff, restricting my movement. But David explains that it is the rigidity that will protect the ankles and feet from injury.
Armed with our equipment, we tread to the nearest ski zone accompanied by our ski instructor for a ski lesson that included the basic steps of attaching our skis to the shoes, the tricks to stop and adjust our weight to turn in different directions. Despite the lessons, managing to not topple down the ice slope is a challenge as I struggle with adjusting my speed using the snowplough technique that requires forming a ‘triangle’ with my skis to ‘lock’ and ‘halt’ the motion. “You have to really spread your legs as wide as possible and make sure that your skis are pointing towards each other,” my instructor hollers as I speed down the slope.
Panic-stricken at the gathering pace, my quick lesson is soon forgotten and I am flat on the ground, unable to detach my skis or figure out how to get back up. Fortunately, my instructor rushes in and I unsteadily manage to stand upright. Despite his encouragement, I chicken out of the second round. Soon, the lessons come to an end and after returning the gear; we walk to Aletsch Sports Café for a hearty meal of Rosti and Goulash served with local cheese and freshly baked bread.
As we silently savour the food and the view of the majestic Matterhorn, we can only see the wind tripping over the snow.