Tracks and Trails / Booking & Info / Blog and Chat

Great news for train lovers this winter with a new Eurostar train service from London to Geneva. Although it has been possible to take the train to the Alps previously, the new service makes it a whole lot easier. Until now taking the train from the UK meant a change in Paris, arriving at Gare du Nord before departing from Gare de Lyon. During busy times this transfer can take up to an hour.

The new service, working with TGV Lyria, means you only have to switch platforms at Lille, with a maximum wait of 30 minutes. In total London to Geneva is possible in 6 hrs and 18 minutes, at least one hour shorter than before and considerably easier.

Tickets went on sale on October 9. with the first service leaving London on December 14. According to The Telegraph "A refurbishment of Lille station is underway, in order to accommodate more connecting passengers. Eurostar will operate four daytime services each week, carrying up to 900 passengers to and from Geneva’s central station."

The new service is the result of a survey which revealed Geneva as one of the most popular destinations in Europe for travellers from the UK.
As well as being a gateway to the Alps and the European headquarters for the United Nations, Geneva has a rich and colourful history of religious turmoil and revolution, a handful of fascinating museums and grand monuments, as Sophie Butler reported for Telegraph Travel last year.

The route will also mean easier access to other Swiss cities, with connections which will benefit our guests, to towns like Aigle, Martigny, Sion, Sierre, Visp and Brig.

Research has shown that more and more people wish to travel by train to reach the Alps. With the ability to travel from city centre to city centre, and a generous baggage allowance it is expected the new service will prove popular.

Already a number of our guests use the Eurostar/TGV to reach our desinations for our snowshoe and cross country ski holidays.

Lindsay

So, which course would be best for you?

As each winter passes we find more and more people are trying cross country skiing. It's such a fabulous way to travel in winter, and you can do it at whatever level you wish. You can 'toddle' along enjoying the views, or really 'go for it' and give yourself an all over body workout! We offer various courses for different levels. Read to see where your skiing could take you.

Beginners:

Our Italian Ski Breaks are based in the wonderful Val Ferret valley, near Courmayeur. The terrain and environment is ideally suited for our introductory courses with a wonderful range of cafes and bars for the all important Italian hot chocolate and cake stops!

Italian Ski Break

Mix your activities, and try snowshoeing and cross country skiing then combine the Italian Ski Break with our Snowshoe Long Weekends. You will spend time in the world famous Alpine town of Chamonix, and also get to spend the night in a mountain refuge - think mountain 'hotel', rather than basic hut!

Snowshoe Long Weekend

In the Obergoms area of Switzerland which has 82km of groomed trails to explore between Oberwald and Niederwald. With the help of the local train, included in your ski pass and regularly passes through, it gives us the flexibility to ski in different areas of the valley and from village to village. This trip offers weeks either geared to beginners or intermediates, so do check the grading for the one which is suitable for beginners.

Swiss Alps Cross Country Skiing

Intermediates:

OK, so you have done some cross country skiing, perhaps our Italian Ski Breaks and are wondering "what next?". Our Jura Highlights long weekend is graded 'Intro/Intermediate' and is perfect as the next step in your cross country skiing career. We have based our weekends in Vallée de Joux, close to Geneva, to ensure it's easy to access and that we are on the doorstep of some of the region's highest cross country ski locations. The Jura's forested limestone plateau makes for perfect 'Nordic rolling' terrain. The region is very proud of both its traditions and sports and is steeped in history, geology and gastronomy.

For those of you who have already done our Jura Highlights, at Les Rousses, in France, the good news is that we have moved our base, and thus you might enjoy another weekend with us in our new location at Vallee de Joux in Switzerland.

Jura Highlights Weekend

We also have an 'Intermediate' week based in the Obergoms area mentioned above. Just check the grading against the week to see which one is for 'beginners', and which for 'intermediates'.

Swiss Alps Cross Country Skiing

The 'Grand Ski Traverse' of the German Black Forest is a classic 100km point-to-point journey located near the borders of France and Switzerland lies north of Freiburg and Basel. The Black Forest extends from 150m above sea level to the upper reaches of the Rhine River to more than 1,400m above sea level in the highest mountains of the southern Black Forest. This is an excellent progression for 'intermediate' skiers, and sets you up nicely for our more challenging long distance ski trips.

Traverse of the Black Forest

If Norway is an attractive proposition, then I would urge you to consider the fabulous Peer Gynt Trail, this is brilliant for beginners with a good grounding, and confident snowplough, and excellent for intermediates also. A real journey across the mountains, but always on prepared tracks - it is wonderful!

The Peer Gynt Trail

You can also develop your skills on two of our other Norway weeks at Venabu, and at Geilo and Finse. Both these trips help develop your 'touring skills'; in other words, your ability to ski a journey on consecutive days through the valleys and across the rolling mountain landscape. Both these weeks include the next step in your cross country career in that they introduce the idea of 'off-piste' skiing where you make your own tracks in the snow.

Venabu: Tracks and Tours

Geilo Finse: Pistes, Trails, Tours

I would suggest you consider Venabu first, then look to follow with our Geilo and Finse trip.

The obvious next trip is the Jotunheim tour, home to Norway's highest mountain, the Galdhöpiggen (2469m), this majestic rocky mountain range offers superb Nordic touring with an almost Alpine feel.This tour follows a classic south to north route providing a great way of skiing through this quieter area between the popular Hardangervidda and Finse area to the the well-known Jotunheim. The tour ends at one of best and most important lodges of the northern Jotunheim having skied passed some of the most dramatic peaks in the country.

Jotunheim Traverse

Advanced:

So you've worked your way through all of the above and are looking for more challenging long distance skiing? Don't worry we have plenty for you to go at! I would suggest the following progression:

The Grande Traversée du Jura (or GTJ) is a fabulous journey over the Jura mountains crossing through France and parts of Switzerland. Located not far from Geneva, the journey is made on classic cross country skis. This 142km long-distance ski trail was first completed in 1978 and is nearly all on prepared, pressed tracks. If it is peace and tranquility and a true taste of authentic mountain life you seek then look no further!

Grand Traverse of the Jura

The 'Trans-Jura Swiss' is a 'tracked' point-to-point cross country ski journey over the Swiss mountains of the Jura, and is a little harder than the French GTJ described above. Following the success of our Grand Traverse of the Jura (GTJ), which is mainly in France, we are pleased to now offer the 'TJS' - the Swiss version. Starting within easy reach of Geneva the journey, first made in 1976, is on classic cross country skis, nearly all on prepared, pressed tracks and covers 153km.

Trans Jura Swiss

Norway, and a really brilliant trip with plenty of challenge is the fabulous Trolls Trail. A true mountain journey which requires commitment and stamina. It is a point-to-point ski trip across the Rondane mountains of Norway. This 200km journey takes us through a beautiful landscape of frozen lakes, plateaux, and forests which gives the perfect environment for a multi-day adventure on cross country skis. We begin in the north at Høvringen in the Rondane National Park, and ski south to the Olympic town of Lillehammer. The terrain is not steep, but offers views of the bigger peaks in the area.

Trolls Trail

Next up, it's the infamous Hardangervidda in Norway, and the route of the legendary ‘Heroes of Telemark’ raid to stop the nuclear ambitions Axis powers. This is a unique opportunity to retrace, visit and savor the extraordinary raid involving Norwegian and British servicemen to sabotage the heavy water atomic plant near Rjukan in 1943. This Nordic skiers 'must do' tour is designed for our 'Advanced Nordic Tourers' wishing to not only absorb the historic events but also complete a challenging and remote tour in the footsteps of our Heroes of Telemark.

Hereos of Telemark: The Raid

Skating:

Oh, nearly forgot to mention 'skating'! Skating has evolved as a separate Nordic discipline and is much loved by those who like to get a good workout on skis. It is very graceful and is wonderful for fitness and form. We run several skate long weekends each winter, and if you check the dates you will see these are divided into 'introductory' and 'intermediate'. People often ask "do I have to learn to ski 'classic' before I can 'skate'?". The answer is 'no'. It's often said that 'classic' is easier to learn, but harder to be really good at, and that 'skate' is much harder to learn, but that is is easier to be good fairly quickly.

Skate Ski Breaks

I am hoping that the above will have given you plenty to think about, and will also help you with your progression as a cross country skier. Enjoy the tracks this winter!

Lindsay

When I think of Peer Gynt I associate the name with the character in the famous play by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, but I have to say that thoughts of drama on the stage have been replaced by drama in the mountains! Last year, for the first time, we took our clients to Norway to ski the 'Peer Gynt' trail, and it was stunning.

The cross country ski trail travels for 100 km along the remote Peer Gynt Mountain Road through beautiful scenery.The region is well known for its natural beauty and there are good chances of seeing wildlife such as elk, foxes and birds of prey along the way, it also gives magnificent views of the Jotunheimen and Rondane mountain ranges. On route to our first hotel we do in fact pass through the village of Sødorp by Vinstra, it is the highest village in Norway to be occupied all year round, and it was once the home of the real 'Per Gynt'. The same character that inspired Henrik Ibsen when he wrote his world famous masterpiece.

The Peer Gynt ski tour is a first rate introduction to the idea of travelling on nordic skis through the winter mountains. The skiing is all 'on track', and after each snowfall the track machines set out to prepare the trails to ensure they are in tip-top condition. On my visit last year we saw virtually no other skiers, and found it hard to believe that we had this wonderland of snow all to ourselves. In Espedalen, our start point, they begin to prepare the tracks as soon as they have enough snow and usually keep going until mid-April. Track machines in Espedalen have GPS with GSM transmitters so that the status of preparation are updated in real time and published on www.skisporet.no
It was the first time I had seen this type of 'track' forecast and it makes a huge difference to the day if you can set out knowing what you are likely to find on the trails.

We use classic nordic touring skis, either waxing skis which are the ones for hire locally, or 'fishscales', and it is a great chance to learn the art of waxing. I think what is also really enjoyable is that you have a feeling of being part of the Norwegian culutre of skiing. This is where it all started, and developed as a way of travelling between communities in winter, and there is a strong sense of that history as we ski between remote village and lodges.

The terrain is typically 'nordic', in that we ski on rolling mountains and across plateau, enjoying views to the far Rondane and Jotunheimen peaks. The days take on a sense of exploration, something I think which is largely due to the lack of other skiers. For our first trip we had a great bunch of people, some old friends from previous Tracks and Trails trips who were very experienced, as well as some new guests who had limited skiing experience, but a very good attitude and fitness. The great thing about the Peer Gynt Trail is that it provides a real sense of journey, but without hugely challenging conditions. Last year we had two guests who rarely get the chance to nordic ski, and who to be honest had limited experience, but they managed fine! A good sense of balance and fitness stood them in good stead, and this year they are both back for more and aiming to ski the Grand Traverse of the Jura with us this winter.

The hotels were also rather a surprise for the group - proving to be 'much fancier than we imagined'. Great Norwegian food, and a sauna in every hotel, and sometimes even a pool, meant that any tired muscles were well catered for at the end of the day. I was ticked off for not having made enough of this in the itinerary! We have now tried to make this clear in the trip description, so yes, do bring your swimsuit.

One of the highlights for me is staying at Fefor by the lake, in an old hunting lodge with roaring log fire, and a stunning buffet meal. The only problem was that we all ate too much, and struggled to get going the next day. The lodge has a rich and fascinating history and has played host to Kings and Queens, polar explorers, and the rich and famous. It was here that Scott chose to test his motor sledge before the polar expedition to the south pole of 1912.

We already have bookings on this years Peer Gynt trip and are very much looking forward to getting back to the land where skiing was born. Join us in 2015, you will love it, and I am sure it will just be the start of your ski touring career.

Lindsay

 

A question we often get asked:

"What exercise or fitness programme can we do prior to our winter holiday?"

As guides and instructors our work keeps us healthy and our fitness level high. But like our guests we too have to consider getting ready for the next season. A long life of snowsports can be maintained by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, appropriate fitness training and an injury prevention programme. The latter for us all being of great importance.

Prior to a change of sport (like an up and coming ski holiday) or physical intensity level it's important to prepare the body accordingly. Here are a few tips during to consider prior to the winter season be it on skis, a board or snowshoes.

A fitness programme should train you aerobically and for strength. Specific strength, core stability and progressively challenging balance exercises should be prioritised into this training to help both performance and protect against injury: aim to include 2-3 strength and conditioning sessions per week.

As a guideline we recommend the following:

  • An 8-12 week training programme before your holiday
  • 2/3 hours per week of moderate cardio as a baseline increasing to higher intensity and duration
  • Cross train in different sports to prevent overuse/overtraining
  • Strength & conditioning 2-3 times per week – such as weights, pilates, core stability or SkiFit

Our physio friends at La Clinique du Sport in Chamonix (who also feature on our running camps) have just launched a specific pre-ski strength and conditioning program known as ‘SkiFit’. Designed for all levels of snowsports (but will also be useful for all other activities too) they have taken time to look at how we ski & board and broken the movement patterns down. The program has been developed to help everyone improve their strength and technique. This ‘pre-habilitation’ training programme is split into four phases over 8 weeks with the aim of improving strength in key muscles as well as developing flexibility and balance. Practised either in a class (classes are currently only available in Chamonix!) or with use of an 'app' can be done at home each phase builds on the previous one with over 100 individual ski specific exercises.

We are delighted to be able to promote SkiFit, part of the Be Fit Apps programme, as the perfect way to help you train specifically and adapt your body for your ski or snowshoe holiday. It's easy to set up & follow, enjoyable, affordable adding a trust worthy science to your pre-trip training.

Some of the Tracks and Trails team tried and tested it last year and really noticed the results that when stepping onto the snow for the first time that season the body already felt "prepped, ready and strong".

Prior to any change in exercise programme it is advisable to seek professional guidance to ensure its suitability however we feel that we've found the ideal pre-winter training programme that you can adopt anywhere.

If you have any questions at all about how to train for any of our holidays then please feel free to get in touch and we'll be happy to advise.

Make the most out of your winter holiday by feeling strong and fit before you've even touched the snow!

Jules

Preparation is underway in the Chamonix valley for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2014 - just 10 days to go! The race always creates a unique buzz around the whole Mt Blanc massif, not just in France - but also along the winding trails in Italy and Switzerland. Clare Abram of ultrarunning.com has written a good intro article on preparing to run this epic race - to read it click here

Ailsa and Jamie's garden at Lavacchio in the Garfagnana of Tuscany is truly stunning! The grounds of the agriturismo are a wonder at that this time of year, with olive trees, vines, lavender, fig and plum trees. These last few days we've enjoyed gorgeous weather, making for a really relaxing time. We'll be back in autumn for some amazing hiking here in the Apuane Alps, just before the olive harvest. Read more on our Wild Tuscany trips in September-October here.

Read the latest on our trip availability this summer. We've also some updates on cross country skiing and snowshoeing this winter 2014/15. Download the newsletter here

Tracks and Trails caught up with lucky Torq competition winner Emma Attwood after returning from a week's trail running with us in the Chamonix valley to find out how it all went...

Emma, it was great to have you with us for a week's trail running in Chamonix! How did you find out about the competition?

I'd previously looked at the Tracks and Trails website and thought what a fantastic holiday it looked. It was a dream holiday that was financially out of my reach. I follow both Tracks and Trails and Torq on Facebook, and so when I saw the competition on Torq I had to enter!

I guess it was a surprise to discover out you'd won - how did it feel?

I was ecstatic, I couldn't believe it, and although I had email contact with Julie, I didn't quite believe it and kept in mainly to myself until it was officially announced on the Torq Facebook page. I really didn't' expect anything like this to happen to me!

Did you know what to expect?!?

I was expecting lots of running in beautiful scenery, and was hoping to learn lots of new skills to improve my running.

How did it feel taking part in all the different activities?

The week was so much more than I could ever have imagined. The team that Julia has put together were outstanding. All were incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. I have learnt so many new skills, gained so much knowledge. And the runs that we went on were truly spectacular. The scenery was like nothing I've ever seen. And on top of this I have made some fantastic new friends.

So, what's changed about your running after the trail week?

I am so enthused about my running, and have already put lots of what I learnt into practice. I have improved my nutrition and am really enjoying my food. I'm incorporating the running skills that we learnt into my routine and making sure I give more time to stretching. I thoroughly enjoyed the yoga classes and will continue with this. I have a heart rate monitor that I've never really know how to use properly but the session with Neil explained about heart rate training, so I will definitely put this into practice too. With my new map reading skills, I'm hoping to never get lost on a run again. And I will take away fantastic memories that will stay with me for a lifetime!

Thanks Emma, and happy running this summer!

Gretchen Reynolds has a good piece out today in the New York Times 'Well' section in which she interviews Mark Verstegen, the team fitness trainer for Germany's World Cup winning football team. Interestingly, his appointment was initially met with scepticism, but the results obviously speak for themselves. Here's a taster of his insight into improving your fitness:

Question:

Any suggestions on which aspects of the German team’s training program those of us at home might usefully incorporate into our exercise routines, even if we aren’t soccer players?

Answer (Mark Verstegen):

The broad elements of the training program apply to anyone. Concentrate on your mind-set, nutrition, movement patterns and recovery. On a practical level, get plenty of sleep, which is extremely important and often overlooked. Kick the electronics out of the bedroom. At the other end of the day, when you first wake up, do a few push-ups or yoga poses, anything that gets your body and mind primed for activity. You’ll be more receptive to activity throughout the day. Then try to do whatever exercise you do a bit better every day. You don’t have to be doing split squats with kettle bells, but do something that pushes you a bit. The point is that the body and the brain respond positively to having demands put on them. That’s really the key to fitness.

Read the entire article at the New York Times here

Update on trip availability and more info for our fitness and trail running activities here

Kirsty Reade, Run247 columnist and Berghaus Trail Running Team member, reports from the team's training camp in Chamonix - guided by our very own Julia Tregaskis-Allen. Read more on Kirsty's week in the Chamonix valley here.

Interested in improving your performance on a trail camp in the Chamonix valley - the new Mecca for trail running? Click here for for more info.

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