The sun is warming my face, the wind is in my hair and I can’t stop grinning. I’m watching my boys carving up the slopes in front of me. Leading our charge down the pistes of the Saanenmöser ski area is world champion skier, Mike von Grünigen. I’m in the gorgeous snow-covered valleys of the holiday region Gstaad with my son Indio, dad John and fiancé Joe.
I visited Gstaad nearly two years ago with Dad and had the best time. This time we’ve come en masse. We’ve never been overseas all together before, bizarrely. It’s so heart-warming to do it, particularly seeing Dad and Indi skiing side by side – they have such a close bond, and both love the snow.
Joe and I have taken Indi skiing quite a few times, but it’s his first time in Switzerland. “It’s so clean and pretty!” he had declared on our journey up into jagged Bernese Alps on the GoldenPass Panoramic train the day before. He was totally mesmerised by the views, pointing out spiky icicles, snow-dusted “Christmas trees” and troll-like boulders through the train’s vast windows (while contentedly munching on Swiss chocolate).
The conditions are incredible for our day’s skiing with Mike. Fortunately, there was a huge dump of snow just before we arrived, he tells us. The skies are completely clear and there’s hardly anyone else on the slopes.
Now working for the local tourist board, Mike lives in Schönried, a village just below Gstaad, and has been carving up these slopes since the age of three. He won two World Cup giant slalom titles and represented Switzerland in the Winter Olympics. There’s even a run named after him. Having not skied for a few years, I feel I am in safe hands.
After a few easy runs, we’re off. Dad is in his element, even though he keeps saying he’s too old to ski. He might be nearly 80 but he’s still a brilliant skier. After an hour he retires for a refresher on a sunny veranda. The three of us keep at it with Mike, who shows us all small tweaks to how we stand or move that make a huge difference, and meet up again to take a red run down to Lochstafel restaurant for lunch. We refuel with röstis and Apfelschorle (a Swiss apple drink that Indi’s taken to). Energy restored, Dad’s back skiing with us, beaming and having the most brilliant time.
Softly spoken with a twinkle in his eye, Mike is warm, encouraging and a great guide. He’s especially attentive with Indi. The two of them spot a Snow Park and before I know it, Indi is doing jumps.
Nordic but nice
The scene wasn’t quite so coordinated when we had a go at langlaufen (cross country). I love a challenge so wanted to try something new as a family. I’d considered sledding, winter hiking and snowshoeing, but decided they were too easy. Instead, we spend the morning at Sparenmoos above Zweisimmen, a high and snow-sure plateau, learning how to do it the Nordic way.
As we wind up a narrow road, the snow gets thicker and the early morning sky is turning an icy blue as the rising sun turns the mountain tops pink. Pulling up by a picture-book-perfect wooden chalet, we’re greeted by mother and son Sonja and Patrick, who kit us out with cross-country skis and poles. “All the gear and no idea,” says Joe with a wry smile. After a short but steep walk (“That’s the hardest bit,” Patrick assures us), we’re in the exact kind of Narnia-esque winter wonderland I was hoping to take Indi to.
Patrick shows us how to stand for the best balance and demonstrates the basic shuffle and kick-and-glide motion of Nordic skiing. We follow tentatively in his tracks. Typical Kidds, there are long limbs everywhere, made even more ungainly with the extra-long skis. After Patrick pulls him along by his poles to help him get the motion, Indi is in his stride.
Joe learnt Telemark skiing when he was in the military so is quick to pick up the technique. He glides off along the forest trail with Patrick. While I’ve enjoyed trying something new, I leave them to it and head to a little wooden hut where Sonja has lit a fire outside to brew a cauldron of homemade herbal tea.
I sit down in the sun, enjoying my tea and the hushed peace. An immense sense of calm washes over me. The Swiss Alps are my happy place. There’s just something about the mountains that resets me.
We crunch back down the sparkling tracks and drive back to our hotel, the hip and cosy HUUS Gstaad Hotel in the hills above Saanen. Dad and Indi enjoy some chill time in their family room and I can hear them chitchatting and giggling as we walk past on our way to the spa. Joe goes for the exhilarating ice fountain while I swim in the serene pool and stare across the peaks from the sauna.
We notice there’s even a kids’ spa, which Indi later discovers. With a hip Alpine design, lovely mountain-view restaurant and fab facilities for kids, it’s a great place for our first family foray. It’s even dog friendly: Indi and I spot lots of cute dogs too, including the adorable “HUUS dog” called Charly.
Later that afternoon we walk around Gstaad with its cobbled Promenade and cuckoo-clock-esque chalets. I insist everyone drinks the ice-cold water trickling from the fountain. It’s the best in the world. I want to bottle it and take it home.
The glowing windows of Hotel Olden tempt us in and we sit by the fire with a glass of a spectacular Petite Arvine before strolling to Posthotel Rössli for a traditional Swiss dinner. Dad and I enjoyed our meal here enormously the last time we were in Gstaad. After a bone-warming beef broth, we share a meat fondue – sizzling slivers of Saanenland beef and veal in hot oil.
The night before we might not have tucked into the beef with such gusto. We’d eaten in front of the prized local Simmental cows. Literally. I adore cheese fondue and had been recommended Michel’s Stallbeiz. Little did we know, though, that the rustic restaurant is set inside a stable. Thankfully, we were separated by huge glass walls, so we could enjoy watching the hefty cows and cute calves, cosying up here for winter, at a distance and without the stable smells.
We were mesmerised but soon distracted by the bubbling pot of cheese (made with their house-made Alpine cheese) that arrived on the table. Indi had a fondue hot dog which he declared delicious.
My kind of skiing – and après
Back on the slopes again, I’m once more struck by how well-groomed and uncrowded they are. It’s my kind of skiing – wide, open and no lift queues. We spend another memorable day laughing, skiing and warming our cockles with a lethal huus kafi (house coffee with schnapps and whipped cream).
Rosy cheeked and with our muscles singing, we realise we’re ravenous, so stop off at Hotel Le Grand Bellevue for afternoon tea. Sitting in its firelit drawing room, like a grand country house but with quirky interior accents, we dig into dainty sandwiches, scones and pastries with a brew (and an extra-thick hot choc for Indi). This is my kind of après-ski.
Later that evening, we continue our gourmet explorations with a visit to Restaurant Rössli, a long-running restaurant in nearby Feutersoey, on the road that leads to Glacier3000. It’s super-cosy and relaxed but with seriously impressive food. We discover it’s run by husband and wife Simon Richard and Sabine Köll – who used to work at the (now closed) Michelin-starred Chesery.
It’s perfect – they deliver a feast fit for muscle-weary skiers. After an incredible tartare of Simmental beef, we’re served a little bowl of cauliflower soup with sweetbread and shavings of Alba truffle. I feel almost tearful when I sip it – it’s like drinking cashmere. I could sit in a bath of it!
Indi, meanwhile, declares the entrecôte one of the best steaks ever, while Dad is rendered speechless by the whole dorade, served with cime di rape. Joe is in raptures about it all – his mouth literally dropping open as a whole roast guinea fowl arrives, like a scene from a Charles Dickens book. It’s carved and served with pumpkin, kale, sprouts and the most incredible gravy. “My taste buds have ascended,” he declares.
Food-drowsy, we’re ready for bed as we see our lovely Huus in the hills, lit up like a glowing gingerbread house under the star-speckled sky. Inside, the funky lounge is buzzing: a house DJ is playing tunes and guests are sipping cocktails on its inviting sofas. Sitting down for a nightcap by the fireplace, I get a tingle of excitement knowing the next day will bring another day skiing together as a family.
Discover a winter wonderland
Jodie Kidd and family stayed at HUUS Gstaad Hotel, a four-star family-friendly Alpine getaway with spa, kids’ club and ski centre.
For more information about winter holidays in holiday region Gstaad visit gstaad.com
Switzerland’s ski resorts are easily reachable via train from London or by Swiss International Air Lines. And once you land, the famously efficient public transport will take you to the regions you want to visit by train, bus or boat using the Swiss Travel Pass, available from the Switzerland Travel Centre.
Discover Switzerland for yourself at myswitzerland.com