Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Few Tours Filling Quickly

Just a quick heads up.

The Jubilaum 25th Anniversary Tour is almost full. Please contact us immediately if you're interested in this trip.


The Otzi Trek is already sold out.

Please check our Guided Tour Schedule for regular updates.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

From all of us at Ryder-Walker.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

See Them Now Before They Disappear

The BBC World News published this article on Friday. It just fuels the conversation that we've been having for years.

Swiss glaciers 'in full retreat'

Photo: Hikers walking along the edge of Switzerland's Aletschgletscher during last summer's Secret Swiss Valleys tour. By Porter Teegarden, Copyright Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures

Friday, December 19, 2008

What's the problem?

My friend Mark Saurer shot this photo on the top of the Jungfraujoch.

Think about it.

Only 3 Days Left to Save!

Our Jungfrau Special Offer expires on Monday. Click here to register or to request more information.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Might Like a Self-Guided Tour

This is part 2 of a 2 part series to help you decide if a guided or self-guided tour might be right for you.

What follows are 10 talking points in favor of a self-guided hiking tour.

You might like a self-guided tour if:

1. Your schedule doesn't allow a guided tour. Some people simply can’t travel during the period that we offer the guided version.

2. You like to design every step of your dream vacation. Self-guided tours resemble Choose your Own Adventure books. We can completely customize any self-guided itinerary. We can make it longer, shorter, simpler, more luxurious, easier, harder, good for kids, great for honeymoons, and more. Our longest self-guided tour is a 54 -day hiking extravaganza from the Italian Tyrol to the French Alps. We can design hiking tours that keep you up high so that you wake up to the sun in remote mountain refuges above tree line. We can build a tour that samples only the finest restaurants and hotels. Just tell us what you’d like. We are also happy to provide easier and harder options for each day. We provide custom tour proposals, and we don’t charge one penny until you decide that you like what we’ve proposed. We’ll keep amending the proposal until you’re satisfied.

3. You’re independent. Guides like to deliver their guests on time, which means that they usually follow a schedule of some sort. You’re on your own schedule when you follow a self-guided tour. This means that you are in complete control, but you’re also completely responsible for your decisions. We still handle all of the hotel accommodations and the logistics specific to each tour, but in the end, you wear the big boots out on the trail.

4. You like adventure. Some people find that self-guided tours offer more adventure, simply because you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder, and you don’t succumb to the social “bubble” that some group experiences can produce.

5. You are comfortable with maps and route finding. We provide four-color topographical maps, most of them scaled at 1:25,000, with the hiking routes outlined. Most tours include a larger-scaled overview map as well. There may be some map differences between tours. Please inquire about your specific tour.

6. You like guidebooks. We include written hike descriptions with every map. They have a bit of a guidebook feel, but better. Example, “Walk out of our hotel and turn left. You’ll see a supermarket on your right hand side. Stop in and buy a few goodies for your picnic lunch. The man’s name behind the counter is Jorg. Ask him for the sausage. Hide the sausage in your friend’s pack and see how long it takes before they notice. Continue past the market and head toward the large fountain straight ahead. You’ll see the hiking trail on the opposite side of the fountain.”

7. You like to hike at your own pace. Guides always encourage their guests to hike at their own speed, but it’s never the same as hiking alone or with your own private group of friends.

8. You just don’t like groups. Hey, that’s fair. Our guides don’t either. ;-)

9. You don’t like to be waited on. That’s fair too.

10. You like to save money. This is usually the deciding factor. Self-guided trips typically cost less than their guided counterparts. Consider the Italian Dolomites Trek for example. The self-guided version costs $1,085 less than the guided version in double occupancy. That’s almost $2200 saved between two people. The cost benefit might enable you to buy another plane ticket and go on another tour. You could also use the savings to add more nights to your existing tour. Think of the fun.

Click here to start designing the custom tour of your dreams.

Or, see part 1 of this series, You Might Like a Guided Tour If: in order to compare with a guided tour.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You Might Like a Guided Tour

This is part 1 of 2 in a series to help you decide if a guided or self-guided tour might be right for you.

What follows are 10 talking points in favor of a guided hiking tour.

You might like a guided tour if:

1. We don’t offer the self-guided version of a specific tour. We don't offer every tour as a self-guided option, and some of the self-guided tours differ slightly from the guided versions. A few of the remote guided tours turn into backpacking trips, for example, when offered as a self-guided option. See the section about luggage below.

2. You value your time. Guides take care of everything. This does not mean that they dote on their guests. It means that our guests have more time to focus on the enjoyment of their vacation rather than worrying about logistics. Guides strive to deliver you on time and they make sure that you have everything that you need to be happy, including quiet time.

3. You enjoy flexibility. Guides know the terrain, which means that they can amend an itinerary on demand. Was yesterday’s hike too easy? They’ll recommend a more strenuous option. Would you like to head in early? The guides know all the shortcuts. Do you need a rest day from hiking? They can recommend a fun alternative. Even if you’re comfortable reading maps, you might not always pick the most scenic or time efficient alternative if you try to amend your self-guided itinerary. Our guides know the best options from decades spent exploring the alpine regions.

4. You enjoy meeting new people. Guided group tours are great for this. A number of our guests have formed life long friendships with their group members. We even know of a few romantic forays.

5. You like to have your luggage. Some guided tours use different transportation options than the self-guided tours. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a perfect example. The guided version uses a van to transport luggage but the self-guided tour does not because it’s not cost effective. Therefore, guided TMB travelers see their overnight luggage more often then their self-guided counterparts. Please inquire about your specific tour.

6. You like to learn as much as possible. Our Guides are knowledgeable about the terrain. In some cases, they’re specialists in their chosen region of study. They can tell you about the geography and geology, the culture, and history. Each guide has their strength, and if there’s something that they might not know, they’ll know where to find the answer quickly. If you like to know the name of every peak then a guided tour is for you.

7. You like your vacation to run smoothly. Things happen. If something goes awry, then your guide will address the situation as expeditiously as possible. It helps that your guide can communicate in the local language, whether the language is French, German, Italian or isolated mountain hamlet. (Some remote hamlets really do have their own distinct languages and dialects). Our guides have also run these tours so many times that they know how to avoid potential pitfalls. Long hikes are a great example. A hike might look reasonable on a map, but the reality presents something entirely different on the trail. The guides know when to get the group going in order to have everyone in by dinner. In addition, they can call a taxi, pull up rail schedules, and arrange for private transport on demand in order to keep the tour running as smoothly as possible.

8. You don’t like to get lost. Enough said.

9. You like to have fun. It’s true that guided tours typically cost a little more than self-guided ones. One reason is that our guides like to treat our guests. We don’t mind surprising our guests with local delicacies or fun hiking alternatives if it means that our guests leave the tour with a deeper appreciation for the culture and landscape that surrounds them. Guided participants laugh every night and the hotel proprietors usually join in the amusement that comes from the camaraderie of a group. Guided tours are just good fun.

10. You fantasize about hiring a guide. What is it about a foreign accent that drives people wild? We use a mix of U.S. and European guides and the combination works well. The U.S. guides offer a level of comfort for our English-speaking guests, and the European guides offer the mystery and romance that movies are made of. The reverse happens with our European guests. Kidding aside. Our guides are just wonderful people to spend time with.

Please see part 2 of this series, You Might Like a Self-Guided Tour If: in order to compare with a self-guided tour.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One Path Leads to Another

This week's photo comes from Ryder-Walker Tour Leader, Porter Teegarden. She shot this photo during last summer's Italian Dolomites Trek.

Myriad interpretations filled my thoughts as I stared at this photo. I thought about all of the beautiful places that our hiking boots may carry us. I pondered the growth that we discover within ourselves when we experience new landscapes and cultures. I entertained the thought that despite fresh journeys in life, the indelible marks of past adventures stay written deep within. The composite experiences of former journeys render the life giving nourishment that inspires the blooming of the soul.

Our journeys never really end. Just like summer's bounty prepares us for the leaner times of winter, so does winter offer a time of preparation for trails yet unexplored. The end of one path in life simply leads to another of immeasurable beauty.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holiday Gift Ideas

Gift giving does not have to be difficult. Here are just a few ideas for the person that loves hiking and the Alps.

Happy Holidays!

Ryder-Walker Gift Certificate-This one should be obvious. Help that friend or relative realize their dream of hiking in the Alps. Send them on a hiking tour in Europe, or in the States. Please call the office for more details.

The Fondue Set-An all time favorite. Ceramic is the traditional material for cheese. The metal versions work better for oil and meat fondues.

Raclette Oven-You’re missing something if you’ve never had raclette. Like fondue, this is a great party favorite, but unlike fondue, each person melts their own cheese. Raclette can be an intimate affair or a solo appetizer. We always fire one up during the Ryder-Walker Christmas parties.

Crepe pan-I’ve loved crepes since I was a child. The Staub pans are my favorite, though they tend to be the priciest. The spreader is the key to a good crepe.

-This is a tradition unique to the Val d’Aosta of northern Italy. If you’ve ever traveled with us on our Tour du Mont Blanc or Italian High Route, then you’re probably familiar with this little friendship cup. This is another crowd pleaser.

Grappa-If you buy a grolla then you’ll need grappa. Support your local economy and visit your neighborhood wine store.

Schneider Weiss-I would be a happy camper if I found a few bottles of this beer in my stocking. Schneider Weiss almost single handedly revived the wheat beer tradition from obscurity. They call themselves Das Original for good reason.

Trekking Poles-EVERY Alpine hiker should have a pair of these.

Hiking Socks-I can never have enough of these. Feel free to poke around other products at the Smart Wool website. They’re pricey, but they’re worth it.

-We recommend that every self-guided traveler carry a compass. This is a great stocking stuffer.

GPS-These have really come into their own. I always carry a compass for backup, but I enjoy playing with new technology. This is a great gift for a gadget freak-gear head.

Headlamp-You’ll enjoy this handy source of illumination while trying to find the bathroom in a mountain hut during the middle of the night.

Yodeling Pickle-Enough said.

Henry the Talking Gnome-This is another great stocking stuffer. Just push the secret spot and record your greeting. You’ll enjoy laughter the whole day through.

Gnomes-I’ll admit that I used to be a gnome doubter. Travel to the Alps enough times however, and they start to find their way into your heart.

Sigg Bottles
-Blend in with the locals when traveling abroad. These things have become really trendy in recent years. Always BPA free.

-A classic. Poke around their website for some interesting trivia.

The Swiss Army Knife
-It has to be Victorinox. This was my first knife and it was a turning point in my life. It’s a rite of passage for every young boy. You might want to buy a box of band-aids as well.

Living Language-These guys have everything from basic phrase books to in-depth courses. You can download to your i Pod or listen to CDs. The Ultimate series rivals some school courses.

Bilingual Visual Dictionary-These books are awesome. I have a couple that I keep around for reference. They use real-life photos so there’s no doubt about the translation. They cover everything from food to the environment.

Plant a Tree-It's no secret that a flight to Europe will enlarge your carbon footprint many, many times. Sequester some of that carbon, and offset a few of the effects, by planting trees.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Photo of the week: A different kind of cabin fever.

This week's photo comes from one of our Head Tour Guides, Ken Fuhrer. It seems appropriate, as the new snow begins to fall and many of us turn our thoughts toward skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, crackling fires, hot chocolate, fondue, and more. Our local newspaper, the Daily Planet, recently interviewed a few people around town. One person commented about the recent snowfall, "There is something in snow that makes people really happy. I'm really excited about all the good energy in town."

For myself, I feel like I have more energy when it snows than when it’s sunny. Take this morning for example. I popped out of bed at 6:50. I quickly lit a fire in the woodstove. I was out in the snow by 7:15. Some people think of winter as a time to hibernate and develop cabin fever. I’m proud to admit that I have a different kind of cabin fever. It's called a burning desire to get on snow.

Examine this week’s image carefully, and pay particular attention to the three lone skiers in the middle of the photo.(You can click on it to make it bigger). That’s the sort of thing that we do in Europe with our sister company Alpenglow Ski Safaris. It’s a little known fact that many people in Europe prefer to ski on groomed runs, yet 80% of their terrain lies off piste. The result: A private powdery playground for anyone willing to explore. The best part is that you don’t have to be an expert skier or snowboarder to enjoy it. You’ll find plenty of terrain for all abilities. To add a bit of icing on the cake, a warm glass of glühwein awaits at the bottom of every run. I know that I’m plugging, but I have to. The energy that we feel during this time of year is explosive, and it’s just too difficult to ignore.

Wherever you are, I hope that you welcome the coming snows as much as we do. And for those of you that don’t get snow, maybe you should come out and visit us sometime. We’ll keep a fire in the woodstove for you. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A recipe for choosing a hiking destination in the Alps.

A few years ago, Karen Walker, Vice President of Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures, wrote that choosing an alpine hiking tour was a bit like choosing from a dessert cart: Everything looks wonderful! She added that in Switzerland alone, “There are more villages worthy of hiking than there are coals in proverbial Newcastle." Some are good for a day or two, while others merit weeks of exploration.

Throw Italy, Austria, and France into the mix, and the dessert cart quickly resembles a giant smorgasbord. For those of us that can’t always go back for a second helping of vacation, there’s a bit of pressure to get it right the first time. What follows are the preliminary steps for choosing a hiking destination in the Alps.

Step 1. Shut down the computer and grab a piece of paper. Set the paper aside because you’ll need it later.

Step 2. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself hiking through Europe. Include all of your senses. What would you like to see, smell, do, taste, hear and feel? Think about the buttery aroma of warm, sweet croissants gently wafting through a tranquil alpine village, while the sound of a lone church bell tolls far in the distance. Imagine the cool mountain air, and the feel of your feet on of a soft forest floor as you leave the village and hike toward tall, glaciated peaks bathed in the first rays of morning sun. Every person holds a unique picture and a dream of their perfect vacation. What’s yours? Escape, if only for a moment.

Step 3. Grab your piece of paper and write down everything that you experienced. Don’t just write what you saw, but also include what you felt, what you heard, what you tasted and what you smelled. OK. This might feel like Creative Writing Exercise 101, but I find that it really helps. Research has shown that you are more likely to make something happen if you write it down first. Some people call this the power of intention. Do you really want to go to the Alps? If the answer is yes, then it's worth a shot. If you have trouble, then download our independent tour questionnaire. It might help to get your creative juices flowing.

Step 4. Repeat Steps 1, 2 and 3 as often as you like. You might find that your first list of imaginings gave you fodder for things that you didn't think about originally. This a great escape from reality.

Step 5. Make your temporary escape BECOME reality. Switch on the computer and start browsing our tours. Don’t make any decisions yet. Just have fun. Let the photos and written descriptions carry you away. Research the words and phrases that you don’t understand, words like Gemütlichkeit, Südtirol and Glüwein. This is a great opportunity to learn about another corner of the world. What is the Dom, and can I have it for dessert? Compare your findings to your list from Step 3.

Step 6. Call or email us. This is very important for two main reasons.
  • A. Each person is unique. Some people think about food, and that’s all they think about. Others like culture and history. A prospective guest once told me that words like roman, stone, olives, and togas, "really got him excited." I quickly deduced that he was not a candidate for a hike through the Berner Oberland. He ended up loving the stone houses and Roman architecture of the Engadine, though he discovered that few people wear togas there anymore. In short, writing a tour description that appeals to everybody’s perspective is a bit like a crapshoot, and we only have so much space. We could literally write multiple web pages for each tour, each page written from a particular point of view. A real conversation will allow us to discuss the things that matter to you, and to you only.
  • B. We’ve been talking about this stuff for decades and we can’t stop. We’re addicted and we need you to satisfy our addiction. The Alps are just too much fun, and a good conversation regarding some far off mountain region gives us the opportunity to enjoy our own little Step 2 over and over again. Even better, we get to share all of the wonderful experiences that we’ve had with you. What can I say? We’re Peter Pans.
Step 7. Revisit any of these steps as often as needed. If nothing else, you might discover something that you hadn’t thought about before. Perhaps you need a way to get more helpings of vacation.

A few of our upcoming topics:
A peek at the alpine regions.
Guided or Self-Guided: That IS the question.
Can I hike with my children?
How do I sign up?
Should I buy Travel Insurance?
An Introduction to the alpine lexicon.
Understanding European public transport.
How do the railpasses work?
What do to in case of an Emergency?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Special Offer: Book our Self-Guided Custom Jungfrau Ramble before December 21st and Save!

The Jungfrau region of central Switzerland exemplifies everything that we’ve come to know as wonderful and characteristically Swiss. From enormous glaciated peaks glistening in the morning sun, to the fabled Swiss chalets and their flower boxes overflowing with freshly watered geraniums, the visual treats of this unique corner of Switzerland offer a vivid reminder that fairy tales really do exist.

In an effort to help more people experience their own personal fairytale, we’re offering a custom self-guided exploration of the Jungfrau region at an affordable price. Here’s what the tour includes:

  • Six nights accommodations at simple country B&B’s. Breakfast included. You'll have the option to begin the tour in either Meringen or Wilderswil. You'll visit the memorable villages and hamlets of Grindelwald, Wengen, Trachsellaunen, and Murren.
  • Two nights dinner. You’ll have the flexibility to go out on the town during 4 other nights.
  • Custom route descriptions tailored to your specific hiking style.
  • Four-color topographical maps, with highlighted hiking routes leading through flower-filled meadows, quiet Swiss hamlets, and across alpine passes that skirt some of the most notable, and spectacular, mountain peaks in the Alps.
  • Travel instructions.
  • Luggage instructions as needed.
  • Cultural information and more.

This tour is available from Mid June to Mid September 2009.

The cost for this 6 night/7 day itinerary is $1100 per person double. We’re taking advantage of the current strength of the U.S. Dollar, therefore, we can only offer this special price until December 21, 2008.

Please contact Ryder-Walker to take advantage of this special offer, or to request your own custom proposal. (No cost or obligation required).