2019 in review: Swiss winter landscapes

2019 was quite a year. From a new job to more trips away than is usual, there are a lot of experiences for me to look back on. Instead of trying to sum up the entire year in one go, I thought I’d break it down into individual subjects and write about them as I feel like it.

For my first blog post in review of 2019, I decided to pick out a few of my favourite wintry photographs from last year in Switzerland, which show the kind of classical landscape photography I love. Considered and planned shots, to where I have paid particular attention to timing, composition and mood. I also remember a friend saying (long ago) that they found the story behind my images quite interesting, so I’ll explain each one as I go.

Findeln, Zermatt

I love scenes with lots of little details, and a weekend in Zermatt for my birthday allowed me to photograph such a view: arguably one of the best-known mountains in the world. After taking the funicular to the Sunnegga mountain restaurant and having lunch, I stomped off across the neighbouring piste along the winter hiking path which leads to a Instagrammers’ favourite destination: Chez Vrony. My aim was to get a shot of skiers making their way along a piste and to include some of the groups of larch trees, which drop their needles and look like spiky pencil-drawings in winter. The view above Findeln proved to be just the right spot, with a nicely overlapping range of mountain slopes leading back to the Matterhorn in the distance.

Sunset at Delley-Portalban

The lakes of north-western Switzerland are a great draw as although they are bounded to the north by the higher ground of the Jura mountains, the area around them is much flatter than where we live. The Lac de Neuchâtel is the largest of the three lakes and we enjoy visiting because of the reed beds, avian visitors, holiday feeling (in part due to the use of the French language there) and because of the unobstructed sunset views. There are a few little villages along the southern shore of the lake with small boat houses and summer cabins, often hidden amongst Scots pines and attractively ramshackle in a particularly non-Swiss way. This lovely tree is one of many right on the lake shore, next to a particularly desirable waterside cabin, which I photographed last February on a deceptively chilly afternoon.

Ballenberg open-air museum, Hofstetten

I used to work in Brienz, deep in the Bernese Oberland, and I got to know the area well through my work with the local newspaper and local website clients. One of the “insider tips” I gained is that the grounds of the Ballenberg open-air museum, to which many old Swiss buildings have been re-located and restored, are open throughout the winter, with no entrance fee. The museum is alive and busy with animals and visitors between spring and autumn, but all the buildings are closed up for the winter and the site takes on a wonderfully historic but almost deserted feeling. The site is especially picturesque after a heavy snowfall, so we had the place to ourselves last February.

Susten pass road at Gadmen

The wonderful road which leads to the Susten Pass and Steingletscher glacial region is a great photographic draw, not least because I have the opportunity to get above it with a drone and thereby capture its full snaking nature. The road and the villages in the upper reaches of the Gadmen valley are lovely and peaceful in winter, as the road is closed higher up the mountain at this time of year and so there is no through-traffic. This winter shot, taken as an aerial view near the Tällibahn car park, is one of my favourites from last year, and is an interesting alternative to the summer version I shot the year before.

Lac de la Gruyère at Corbières

When the temperatures drop, some of the lakes in the country freeze over. The long expanse of the lake in the famous region from which Gruyère cheese takes its name was frozen over for part of its length when we visited, so my drone came out for an hour or so to capture some video sequences and still images. This is my favourite of the day, of a large tree (or branch) sticking up through the ice in the middle of the lake. Seeing this shot reminds me that I should return when the lake isn’t frozen, to see if this is a permanent feature or not.

Birg cable car station

One of my favourite places to go hiking is in the mountains above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Although the snow largely precludes hiking until mid-summer, one of my favourite places to go is the area between Birg and Schilthorn. The path – which becomes a ski piste in winter and which is visible in this photo – leads away from the precipitous Birg cable car station up to the mountain-top restaurant made famous by the James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Visiting late in the day by cable car, the shadows become long and deep when the winter sun gets low in the sky, and adds even more drama to the awe-inspiring landscape.

The Tierberglihütte SAC mountain hut

Once you arrive on the Susten Pass, the vast mountain scenery with a sadly dwindling number of glaciers is full of details and features. Given that the road to get there is a relatively easy drive between early summer and last autumn, it’s easy to forget just how inhospitable the alpine territory can be. Just before the road closed for the winter last year, I drove up to Steingletscher and parked up by the side of the road, taking my long lens with me to capture some of the details of the snowy and icy landscape. Nine hundred metres above a glacial lake is the Tierberglihütte mountain climbers’ hut, which is at the top of a dizzyingly steep path and well out of my reach.

Gimmelwald

Even though I spend many weekends every year in the mountains of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, I’d never visited the tiny hamlet of Gimmelwald before. The gathering of farms and small houses are spread across the mountainside, beginning at the middle cable car station between Mürren and Stechelberg and leading back into the Sefinental valley. So I took myself off for a gentle stroll from Mürren down to Gimmelwald with camera in hand and captured a few of the deserted scenes. The shot I’ve included here is a typical view, of practical and old farm buildings decorated for the fast-approaching Christmas celebrations.

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