Justine Tyerman is captivated by the scenery of Valais' alpine skifields.

The dull thud of explosives penetrated my dreams, peeling away the layers of sleep. I floundered my way out of feather duvets and pillows so deep, they must have placed the entire Swiss goose population in serious jeopardy.

I wondered whether I had accidentally been spirited away to a war zone in the night. My heart pounding as the muffled blasts intensified, I stumbled over a mountain of pillows and peeked out the window to see a blizzard of epic proportions raging outside.

High up in the mountains above our cosy chalet, I visualised the heroic ski patrol bombing the steep slopes and wind-blown cornices above the pistes, releasing controlled avalanches before opening the ski area.

We had arrived the previous day at the exquisitely-beautiful alpine village of Grimentz, one of a cluster of small settlements in Val d'Anniviers in Switzerland's Valais region.

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Negotiating the half-hour, narrow, windy road by car from Sierre was an adventure in itself and reminded us of the spectacular but hair-raising Skippers Canyon road near Queenstown. We discovered on the return trip that we had taken the wrong turn-off and driven on a secondary route rather than the main one, but it was worth it for the sheer thrill factor.

There was a high degree of trepidation and anticipation as we unlocked the sturdy wooden door to Anne's chalet, booked from New Zealand via the international home swap website, Love Home Swap. We had suffered a few scam attacks (not on the Love Home Swap website, I hasten to add) en route to securing the perfect Swiss chalet so it was a relief to find ourselves ensconced in the most stunning of homes.

The luxurious, spacious, five-bedroom, two-bathroom holiday home on the top two floors of a traditional Swiss chalet-style complex was even more gorgeous than portrayed on the website. Elegantly-designed with oak floors and enormous cathedral windows in the apex of the steeply-pitched roof, the chalet overlooked the magnificent Val d'Anniviers.

We booked Anne's chalet in Grimentz through the international home swap website, Love Home Swap. Photo / Justine Tyerman
We booked Anne's chalet in Grimentz through the international home swap website, Love Home Swap. Photo / Justine Tyerman

What's more, it was just a few steps from the speedy bubble télécabine to the Grimentz ski area, the brand new high-speed cable car linking Grimentz with the neighbouring Zinal ski area ... and Florioz' legendary Après Ski bar owned and run by Claudio Florey, an Italian woodcraftsman loved by all.

As I stood on the balcony drinking in the sweet alpine air and the breathtaking mountain and valley panorama, a few wispy snowflakes began to drift down from the silver-grey heavens.

Later in the afternoon, as we wandered through the picturesque village, with its sun-blackened wooden granaries on stone stilts, a serious blizzard set in, delivering much-needed fresh snow to the slopes.

We took shelter in Restaurant Claire-Fontaine where we feasted on scrumptious raclette (a traditional Swiss tummy-warming potato and cheese dish) and spicy vin chaud (hot mulled wine).

By next morning, the weather had miraculously cleared and we had the best blue-sky powder day of our lives. The snow was the lightest, driest fluff you could dream of. We skied every on-piste and off-piste run on the entire mountain until the lifts closed.

It was a heady thrill to ski the wide, open, uncrowded, sunny slopes with our adult offspring who can now ski faster and better than their ageing parents ... all those years in ski school finally paid off.

Having first-class, new ski equipment also made a huge difference to our skiing. The charming young Benoit at Val Sports in Grimentz assured us the Dynastar Neva skis he picked out for the females in the family would be perfect ... and they were. A versatile ski designed especially for women, they were soft, light, forgiving and easy to manage. We fell in love with them.

In addition to an excellent, efficient, logically-designed network of chairlifts at Grimentz, we were astonished to ride poma and T-bar lifts that turned corners and carried on even further up the mountain just when you expected to unload.

And nothing ever breaks down on a Swiss ski field. It would be considered a national disgrace ... unlike elsewhere on our month-long family ski tour.

From the top of the Grimentz field, we could see the majestic Matterhorn in the distance, standing aristocratically apart from the dozens of other 4000m-plus peaks.

Jets from the Swiss Airforce thundered over us during the day, leaving the sky crisscrossed with vapour trails.

Rosy-cheeked and deliriously happy, we stopped off for a glass or two of local wine and beer at Florioz before heading home to our cosy, warm chalet. It was such a novelty for us, as Kiwis, to be within strolling distance of the lifts, supermarket, restaurants, butcher, boulangerie, pâtisserie, ski shops and the best après ski joint in the village.

After luxuriating in hot baths (there were two in the chalet) and cooking dinner in the superbly-equipped kitchen, we fell into our sumptuous beds and slept soundly until the boots of the first skiers walking down to the lift woke us from our blissful slumbers.

We had five unforgettable days' skiing at Grimentz, Zinal and neighbouring St Luc in bright sunshine, with few people and the best snow conditions in the alps, thanks to the high altitude.

Riding the shiny new cable car linking Grimentz and Zinal was an exciting scenic experience. The huge rectangular capsules can transport 125 people at a time over the steep mountain between the two resorts in just eight and a half minutes. It is the pride and joy of Grimentz-Zinal lift company director Pascal Bourquin.

He said the cable car took two years to construct at a cost of $32m Swiss francs, a huge vote of confidence in the future of tourism in the region.

The new cablecar linking the Grimentz and Zinal ski areas. Photo / Justine Tyerman
The new cablecar linking the Grimentz and Zinal ski areas. Photo / Justine Tyerman

For variety, we also rented snow shoes from Benoit and spent half a day hiking the tracks above the village, lunching at the up-market Marais Restaurant, one of many on the mountain. It was a warm zero degrees so we snow-bathed outside in deck chairs until the sun went down.

As soon as the skiers and snowboarders headed for the bars or their beds, the mountains became the domain of the snowcats. I loved watching the groomers at work just above our chalet, preparing the pistes for the next day, pushing mounds of snow ahead of them and creating smooth trails in their wake.

I had never heard of Grimentz before I came across Anne's chalet on the Love Home Swap website, and neither had many of the Swiss people we talked to. But this remote, relatively-unknown jewel of a resort turned out to be a highlight of our ski touring adventure in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps.

Rather than a house swap which did not suit Anne, we negotiated a points swap whereby she earned points or credits for our week that she can use at other Love Home Swap members' homes anywhere in the world at any time.

At the end of our week-long stay, I wandered around the lovely chalet, imagining how it would look in the summer with the light streaming through the cathedral windows, and the doors open wide to the mountains and the valley.

The name Grimentz does not express the mesmerising effect of the place. Far from being grim as the name implies in English, it is enchanting. It played with my heart and my head, fooling me into a fantasy that it was not really 30-plus hours from New Zealand and that we could pop back in the summer to go hiking and biking ... and sip chilled wine in the sunshine.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers flights to Zurich via Hong Kong. From there, you can take advantage of Switzerland's extensive public transport network to travel almost anywhere in the country.

Accommodation: Anne's chalet can be booked through the Love Home Swap website.

Ski rental: Visit Valsport on Rue du Télésiège, Grimentz.

Ski wear: Check out Mons Royale and Nivose for fine merino wool ski wear and top-of-the-line mittens.

Further information: See anniviers.ch and myswitzerland.com.

Justine Tyerman flew Cathay Pacific to Europe. She skied courtesy of Remontées Mécaniques de Grimentz-Zinal SA and travelled in Switzerland with a Swiss Travel Pass courtesy of Switzerland Tourism. Love Home Swap assisted with accommodation.