Top 3 Safety Tips For Families In The Swiss Alps
by Melinda Taylor Schoutens, co-author of Fresh Air Kids Switzerland
When the Swiss Alps come to mind, we often think of beautiful scenery, Alpine lakes and extensive hiking options. What we rarely take into consideration, however, is our safety. Countless times while in the Alps, we observe individuals in inappropriate footwear, offering little to no traction, hiking without any gear and meandering off the designated trails.
While the Alps offer an array of family activities and interesting things to do with kids, there are a few essential precautions everyone should take into account before heading out on your next hike or adventure. Regardless of the season, these simple steps will help keep you and your family safe.
1. Check the weather forecast before you go!
Weather in the Alps is constantly changing, therefore, knowing the weather and what to expect during your adventure is key. MeteoSchweiz is a fabulous resource and app to consult before heading out.
Be aware that at higher elevations, the temperatures will be colder and more prone to snow and even avalanches. Hiking over passes in the summer months may involve snow, so plan accordingly. In addition, depending on the snowfall the year prior, some of the passes and hiking trails may not be passable.
If the weather does not look favorable, it's OK to change your plans. Remember, staying safe is paramount in the Alps and the sun will return making your next adventure all the more enjoyable.
2. Know the route and understand how to read trail markers.
If you are planning on hiking a new or unknown route, please do your homework before you hit the trails! That includes understanding all of the details regarding the hike.
Consider and be able to answer the following questions before starting your journey:
- How long is the route in time and kilometers?
- Do you have a map and/or directions for the route? We recommend the app Swisstopo for hiking, cycling and snow sports. It is free and offers detailed maps of all locations in Switzerland.
- What type of hike are you participating in? An easy, moderate or challenging route?
- Do you understand the skill level required of you for this route?
- Are there restaurants, toilets, lift stations, etc. along the route should you need to stop?
- Do you know the gondola/lift station timetable if you are relying on that mode of transportation for your return?
- If you are hiking with your children, are there special precautions you need to take? For example, is this a stroller-friendly route? Should you bring a carrier for your child or a harness in the event there are dangerous areas along the route?
- Is this a
- Yellow trail - the easiest to navigate and the safest for families
- White-red-white trail - mountain trails, requiring more hiking experience, skill and ability, or
- White-blue-white trail - Alpine trains
We never recommend Alpine trails (white-blue-white) trails for families with children as the skill level required to safely hike those trails is high. Alpine trails often require special equipment and mountaineering experience. Here you can learn more about signalization in Switzerland.
- If you are looking for a thorough explanation on how to read Swiss trail markers, they are also described in detail in Fresh Air Kids Switzerland or Fresh Air Kids Switzerland - Hikes to Huts. You can also have a quick general overview here. All information is available in English, French and German.
3. Be prepared with all the essentials!
Wearing the right gear for any hike is important. Hiking pants, t-shirts, and layers are key! Always wear a hat for sun protection or warmth and sunglasses. Never attempt to hike on trails without proper hiking boots. That includes your children too.
Food - Pack enough water for everyone in your group and food for your day.
First Aid - Bring a well-stocked first-aid kit, money, identification/health insurance cards, sunscreen, sunglasses and extra layers, including raingear should the weather change.
Orientation & Communication - Don't forget a cell phone with a charged battery or a battery pack, a map of the area, directions or way points, and gondola/ public transportation timetables. A compass and a Swiss Army knife are ideal and serve multiple purposes.
Rega - Finally, considering becoming a Rega patron, the Swiss Air Rescue service that provides life-saving rescues in the Alps. It is worth the nominal fee to become a patron if you and/or your family frequent the Alps. The cost is small considering the services they provide. Know the Rega emergency number for Switzerland (1414) and abroad (+41 333 333 333). For more information visit: www.rega.ch
Please know this list is not exhaustive. Venturing into the Alps has inherent risks, so while this article provides some helpful information, each individual must properly prepare for adventures and enter the mountains at their own risk. This year alone, according to SwissInfo, Rega completed a staggering number of rescue missions (2,000+) in the month of July. Being prepared is invaluable.
Hiking and adventuring in Switzerland is a remarkable experience. With over 65,000 kilometers of well-marked trails, Switzerland is a paradise for those that love the outdoors. Families and kids of all ages can enjoy the mountains year-round, but in order to do so, it is important to be prepared. The mountains are waiting!
As we are approaching the winter months, winter recreation requires special clothing, equipment and knowledge, including understanding avalanche risks. Though not experts, we do provide detailed information on how to safely enjoy winter activities in Switzerland in our latest book, Winter Kids Switzerland, which will be available in November.
About the Author
Melinda Taylor Schoutens is a wife, mother, educator and author. Born and raised in the United States, she moved with her husband to Switzerland in 2007. Their initial contract of two - years quickly morphed into 15. Learning to be flexible and open to new possibilities has taught her a great deal. Now, as the mother of two children, Basel feels very much like home.
Melinda holds a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and an undergraduate degree in Communications. She is the co-author, with her husband, of the Fresh Air Kids Switzerland book series, which you can oder here.
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