Expat adventures27.01.2022 Magazine
We’re taught that ‘the best things in life are free,’ but I find it fascinating how children instinctively show up in this way. A few years ago, our youngest child spent an entire Christmas playing in a large cardboard box that had once housed a dishwasher. Deftly fashioned into a ‘time travel’ machine with blue marker pen and a cut out ‘door’, he barely glanced at the pile of shiny presents from generous friends and family that year.
We’ve experienced the same thing with outdoor activities. The Saanenland is packed with countless opportunities to keep children entertained outside, from skiing to skating, to sledging to sleigh rides and much more besides. These organised activities make the region a real paradise for family holidays, offering something to all levels of ability and desire. But we’ve discovered something almost better: the Saanenland also provides the most brilliant of natural playgrounds.
When our children were young, they acted like over-excited puppies at the first dusting of snow. Their enthusiasm never waned throughout the winter, unencumbered as they were with the daily grind of drying out boots, scraping windscreens free from ice and spreading salt across the driveway.
They’d regularly build snowmen (eventually graduating to snow families as their construction skills improved) and loved nothing better than to just roll around in the snow. I clearly remember taking our two older boys to a ‘High Fly’ event at the Rübeldorf, where we were treated to a dazzling and hair-raising display of motorbike stunts. My husband and I oohed and aahed along with the rest of the assembled throng, but our boys (then aged around nine and seven) were oblivious to it all, preferring instead to stomp around in the deep snow, competing to see who could sink the deepest. The organised entertainment was a mere distraction.
The Snow Mound
Which explains, perhaps, their delight with what we came to call the ‘Snow Mound’.
To the uninitiated it probably just looks like the place where all the excess snow gets dumped each year. But to a child’s eye, it’s a seasonal extension to the swings, slide and climbing frame in the playground it abuts.
There are several qualities that make the Snow Mound an attractive place for children. First there’s the climbing to the top and whizzing to the bottom activity, on which endless hours are devoted. Then, as the snow becomes more compact, attention is turned to construction, with the fashioning of hidey-holes and the burrowing of tunnels. And throughout, the Snow Mound offers opportunities to meet and make friends in the “let’s play together despite not speaking the same language” knack that only youngsters have.
Gstaad is a very safe place and we never had any concerns with our children playing at the Snow Mound as long as they obeyed the one cardinal rule. The rule that had been drilled into them from a very early age. The rule that stated they should never ever eat the yellow snow.
In particularly cold years, the Snow Mound would keep our boys entertained throughout the season until, like in the tearjerker ending of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, it would melt into nothingness. Except that by then the Snow Mound would be old news and our children would already be throwing themselves into a host of new outdoor activities, leaving us faced with the annual find-the-bicycle-pump challenge.