When You Ride Alone You Ride With Heidi
Villars sur Ollon is part of the 'Domaine Skiable des Alpes Vaudoises' which includes the resorts of Leysin, La Lecherette, Les Mosses, Les Diablerets and Gryon. This article will focus on Villars sur Ollon, Les Diablerets and Gryon as these resorts are interlinked by ski lifts and can be seen as one single ski area.
From the city of Lausanne all villages are at about an hour's drive with Villars being the most centrally located in the ski area itself. Villars, Les Diablerets and Gryon can also be reached by public transportation from Lausanne and will take you somewhere between 1 hour and 10 minutes and 1 hour and 30 minutes depending on the choice of train or bus from the town of Aigle.
If you choose to take public transportation I recommend taking the train from Aigle to Bex from where you can take a train up to Gryon (1114 meters / 3654 feet) and Villars (1300 meters / 4265 feet). Switzerland is famous for its mountain trains with breathtaking views so make sure to take this train at least once, ideally on a sunny day.
Once you arrive at the train station in the town of Villars you have the option to take the train further up all the way into the heart of the ski station at Col de Bretaye (1800 meters / 5900 feet) or to take a ten minute walk to gondola 'B' which will take you up to Roc d'Orsay just above Bretaye. Your ski pass will also be a valid train ticket for the Villars-Bretaye route so it is much easier to take the train all the way up.
Villars-sur-Ollon, 1884, Switzerland
Do Like Me
When you look at the resort map of the Villars-Gryon-Les Diablerets ski area you will notice that the lifts are identified with letters and numbers. For example the gondola up from Villars to Roc d'Orsay has been baptized 'B', the train from Villars to Bretaye named 'A' and the two-seater chairlift that connects Villars with Les Diablerets has been called '27M'.
Normally when I go snowboarding in this ski resort I park my car in the town of Villars at the bottom of gondola 'B'. Here you can also buy your ski pass at the ticket office. Choose the Villars-Gryon-Diablerets ski pass which will give you access to 3 gondolas, 8 chairlifts, 22 drag-lifts and the train up to Bretaye.
Gondola 'B' takes you up to Roc d'Orsay from where I usually take the red slope down through the Bretaye village in the direction of chairlift 'H'. In order to reach chairlift 'H' without having to take off your snowboard you need to stick to the left side of the red slope, choose the path that goes above the train station and take a sharp left turn into the little village of Bretaye. Here you will find a blue slope that takes you past some farms and restaurants to chairlift 'H'. This slope is used by ski teachers so beware of children and beginners.
When there are copious amounts of powder snow feel free to put the 'I' in the drag-lift named 'I' on the right side of the slope by selfishly making a couple of power turns in the snow that has accumulated on the side to share the fun. I am sure the people going up the drag-lift will greet their snow facials with gratitude.
I usually do a couple of rounds with chairlift 'H' and take the different red slopes back down to the start of the lift. When there is fresh snow all the out of bounds areas in between the red slopes are fair game for free-riding. Early in the season there may still be branches of bushes sticking out above the snow but later in the season everything should be smoothened out nicely. When going out of bounds beware of the cliff at the end of the run right before returning at the start of chairlift 'H'.
In The Category 'Things That Sound Evil but Are Actually Quite Heavenly': Les Diablerets
After these warm-up runs it is time to go in the direction of Les Diablerets by taking the '27M' chairlift. As already mentioned in my article about the Top 5 Unknown Snowboard Destinations in the European Alps the name '27M' does not do this chairlift any justice as it is one of the quaintest and most adorable chairlifts I know, bringing you from Villars to Les Diablerets and back, horizontally and at a leisurely pace. For about ten minutes you can enjoy the tranquility of the Swiss Alps as it passes a flat area where no person ever sets foot in winter. I always take this chairlift early in the day to avoid getting stuck on the Diablerets side at the end of the day. Missing this last connecting '27M' chairlift back to the Villars side of the ski area means you will be riding the bus back to Villars instead of your snowboard and that will set you back at least one and a half hour.
Once you are on the Les Diablerets side of the '27M' chairlift the first thing you can do is to take drag-lift '26M' up and go left on top onto the flat track that is only being used by slope groomers. From this track you can drop in pretty much anywhere you like on the left side for a couple hundred meters. They may not be the longest free-riding lines you have ever done but they are a lot of fun and your leg muscles won't start complaining somewhere half way. On top of that this mountain face can easily be exited when reaching the red slope at the bottom. The red slope will bring you back to the start of the same drag-lift for when you want to go for another round or to the adjacent '21M' drag-lift to continue in the direction of Les Diablerets.
If you have chosen drag-lift '21M' up then go straight and left after reaching and follow the blue slope down. Before it joins the red slope you can do some free-riding in the powder field and forest on your left. The first time you reach here wait with dropping in until you can see the blue slope, that you are on, meet the red slope in front of you. Now you can drop in and go straight down, parallel to the red slope that is only meters away from you to your right. Whenever things get a bit too hairy for you take a right turn and you will exit the forest onto the red slope.
By taking the '20M' chairlift back up you can make a couple of laps here. Once you get more familiar with this part of the mountain try dropping in a bit earlier every time to discover something new. Because this part of Les Diablerets is facing north the snow remains fresh and powdery for a long time.
As you can see on the map Les Diablerets also has a south facing part which can be reached after a ten minute walk to the '11I' gondola in the centre of town. In my opinion this side does not have a lot of interesting things to offer and due to its sunny positioning the snow gets slushy pretty quickly.
The '27M' chairlift forms the connection between Villars and Les Diablerets and can be taken in both directions.
To Gryon and Back
After taking the '27M' chairlift back to the Villars side you need to take the red slope back down to chairlift 'H'. I usually climb up the red slope a bit after reaching this side in order to get enough speed to negotiate the flat part that follows. If you are a skier this is not necessary as you can poke your way to freedom. After the flat part it gets steeper again and from this point you will be able to spot chairlift 'H'.
Instead of going straight down to chairlift 'H' you can choose to go right to chairlift 'M' which will take you up to Pointe Chamossaire. While you are in this chairlift you can check out the free-riding possibilities below and take the line you feel most comfortable with when coming back down. If you choose the out of bounds route down please beware of the high cliff that you can already spot from the bottom of the chairlift. If you take the groomed slopes down and your friends have chosen to free-ride through the forest make sure to go left whenever you have the choice to make sure you all end up at the start of chairlift 'M' again. To reach chairlift 'H' from the top of Pointe Chamossaire always take a right whenever you find yourself at a crossroad.
When you want to check out the Gryon side of the ski area then take chairlift 'H' up and follow the blue slope down to the centre of Bretaye. Go past the train station, continue down the blue slope and take a left where possible in order to end up at La Rasse. Here you can take drag-lift 'U' and chairlift 'T' up to Croix des Chaux (2020 meters / 6627 feet).
From chairlift 'T' you should be able to spot a couple of nice free-riding options through the forest. If free-riding is not your cup of tea then I recommend taking the blue slope down all the way into Gryon. This is only possible when the snow level reaches down to at least 1100 meters (3600 feet). The blue slope itself is nothing special but the last part goes through a residential area where you can 'olly' a couple of roads that cross the slope and jib people's backyard fences. Keep on the lookout for passing cars when crossing the roads though, especially if they are on your list of possible jibs.
After reaching the end of this blue slope you will have to take off your board, take a left turn and walk for about five minutes to reach gondola 'C' back up to Les Chaux (1750 meters / 5741 feet). This is one of those moments that you can rejoice being a snowboarder because snowboard boots are so much more comfortable to walk on than ski boots. If you are an experienced snowboarder you can also take the little trail on the left shortly before reaching the end of the slope. This little trail leads to a staircase that will bring you to gondola 'C' directly.
To get back to Villars' Bretaye you will have to take gondola 'C' from Gryon to Les Chaux and descend in the direction of La Rasse from where you can take chairlift 'P' up to Chaux Ronde (1984 meters / 6509 feet). From the top of Chaux Ronde it is easy to ride down into Bretaye.
At the End of the Day
If you have missed the last chairlift 'P' back to Chaux Ronde there is nothing left to do but to take drag-lift 'U' and chairlift 'T' back up to Croix des Chaux and take the blue slope back down into Gryon through the residential area again. You will find a train-stop opposite the parking at the end of the slope. Here you can catch a train in either the direction of Villars or Bex. Again your ski pass will be valid as a train ticket.
If you managed to get back to Bretaye at the end of the day you can choose to take the train back down into the town of Villars. When your car is parked at the parking of gondola 'B' it is probably easier to take the blue slope down but make sure you navigate correctly. This time instead of keeping to your left to end up at La Rasse make sure you go right. This will bring you past the train station of Col de Soud where you need to go right again through the little tunnel in order to end up at the parking at the bottom of gondola 'B'.
If you go left at the train station of Col de Soud you will end up in the centre of Villars close to the main train station from where you can take a train back to Bex and Aigle.
If you don't feel like doing any more snowboarding then another option to reach the parking at the bottom of gondola 'B' is to take drag-lift 'F' up from Bretaye to Roc d'Orsay and take gondola 'B' down to the parking. If you have a sudden change of heart and decide you want to take one last run then abandon drag-lift 'F' at about three quarters where a black slope goes straight down to the town of Villars. This black slope is only open when there is plenty of snow though. After a steep first part the black slope will join the blue slope that comes down through the little tunnel from the Col de Soud train station in the direction of gondola 'B'.
At the end of a sunny day you should stop to have a drink on the terrace of the bar on top of Roc d'Orsay before cruising down one last time or taking gondola 'B' back to the parking. Gondola 'B' continues to go down long after all the other lifts are closed to make sure nobody gets stuck on the mountain. From the terrace you will have a nice view on the Rhone valley below and the sun setting behind the mountains of the Portes du Soleil ski area on the opposite side of the valley. It will be the perfect ending to a perfect day snowboarding in Villars sur Ollon.
Col de Soud with the train station on the right. After passing the train station you can go right through the little tunnel in the direction of cabinlift 'B' or left in the direction of the Villars train station.