Padding through snowy Tschamin Valley

Snowshoe hiking with Heidi in Tiers/Tires at the Rose Garden

"Such a beautiful, snow-filled day – the perfect snowshoe hiking weather," Heidi laughs as she welcomes us at the Vajolet alpine hotel in Tiers/Tires at the magnificent Rose Garden. For more than 20 years, the hardy 72-year-old has accompanied nature lovers on hikes and along groomed cross-country skiing paths. And she has quite a repertory of tales to tell along the way. But first, our equipment has to be adjusted. "We do that here at the hotel – we can do it more precisely than out in the snow. The important thing is to have good traction. And the snowshoes mustn't work their way loose from your shoes", Heidi explains. The poles, too, must be adjusted. And each person should have a thermos with them. We begin our march from the Runggun parking lot, where a giant-sized snowshoe marks the spot. We continue across the Doss Meadows and past numerous dairy farms (with cabins or shelters – where the farmers live) while Heidi tells us how she used to spend her summer months here. In the summer, the cows are allowed to graze in the forests and meadows, thus saving the hay for the winter. The cowherd – a so-called "Hiater" – lived on the farmstead during this time. By the time autumn had come around, the fields had been grazed clean, so the cows were then fed the third cutting of grass – so-called "Poufl" – unloaded into the troughs. Heidi and her sisters always got to herd the cows for a week in the autumn. "It was a minor catastrophe when the herd wandered over to the neighbor's meadows. The neighbor would go out, count the number of cow pies littering his land, and my uncle would have to pay," Heidi recalls. "Next year, we were smarter", she chuckles, "and cleaned up after the cows.

"We loved herding the cows", Heidi remembers fondly. "We would smoke 'Raftschoidn' (dialect for the alpine clematis, a member of the Buttercup family) and have all kinds of fun. "But we'd really get in trouble if anyone spotted a burn-mark on our aprons from smoking. I once actually bit out a burn-spot just so no one would catch me – the apron was ruined, of course, but that was a small price to pay."

After we pass the last farmstead, we reach the Tschamin Valley – known also for its splendid spring water. Right at the start of the valley, there's a crystal-clear spring which bubbles up through the earth at the "Schwarzen Letten" (dialect for "black mud"). Despite its name, the water from this spring is sparkling clear. It is especially praised for its long-lasting freshness – even after a whole day of hiking, a cool slug from your thermos is still refreshing and pure.

We continue our snowshoe journey and cross several bridges over the Tschamin Brook until suddenly the brook has vanished. "That is a natural phenomenon," Heidi explains. "In the wintertime, the brook flows underground up to this point, and is visible at the surface only in the summer." So from here on out, we trudge directly in the bed of the brook, winding our way amidst large boulders, and enjoy the incomparable peace.