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Visiting Pierre Gerondal, who manufactures wooden skis in Malmedy

“Winter sports in East Belgium, that’s always special!”

Pierre Gerondal is the only maker of wooden skis in Belgium. Raised in Brussels, he moved to Malmedy to be closer to the wood, to nature – and of course to the snow.

Text: Ostbelgien.eu Photo‘s: ostbelgien.eu

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Sustainable skis

A quiet techno tune playing in the background… wooden skis on the walls… a friendly four-legged friend who immediately comes to greet you… and of course the smell of trees in the air. Pierre Gerondal's workshop looks modern, hip and creative. You wouldn't expect anything else from this Belgian carpenter, the only one in the country to produce wooden skis. “I haven’t reinvented skis,” he says. “If you cut in half any pair of skis you would find wood inside. I simply left out all the excessive and unnecessary plastic.”

The result? Unique wooden skis of superior quality. It therefore comes as no surprise to hear that top athletes also appear to be fans of this East Belgian brand. For example, Pierre has collaborated with Belgian snowboarder Seppe Smits, a Red Bull athlete and double world champion (Big Air and Slopestyle). Together they designed a splitboard, a snowboard that can be divided lengthwise into two ski-like halves.

What makes Pierre’s skis even more attractive is that they are extremely durable. “The lifespan of our skis is estimated to be about eight to ten years. If a plastic ski breaks or gets scratched, you often can’t repair it. But it’s possible with wood,” Pierre explains. “Then when it’s time for a new pair of skis, we can use the old ones as decoration! This way the skis get a second lease of life.”

Respect for – and love of – nature is close to Pierre's heart. The different types of wood that he uses he selects himself within a radius of only 200–250 kilometres from his studio. On his invoices you can see the source of each tree used for the product in question, and which types of wood are involved. It was in order to be closer to all this wood that this native of Brussels moved to Malmedy a number of years ago.

“The door is open! Everyone is welcome in our little universe!” laughs Pierre Gerondal as I come though his large open door somewhat hesitantly – and without knocking. We are in his specialist workshop in Malmedy, a town of 12,000 inhabitants on the edge of the High Fens. Pierre has lost his heart to the region, after his earlier peregrinations in Flanders and Brussels.

Visiting Malmedy: culture, nature and folklore

Malmedy is a beacon of tranquillity. The rivers Warche and Warchenne converge here on the edge of the High Fens. Normally the town is surrounded by greenery: green hills, green forests – but today everything is white. It has snowed! Winter sports are just one of the many activities that the town has to offer.

“Our beautiful surroundings make walking and cycling very popular,” says Pierre. “More people should take advantage of the wealth of things that Malmedy has to offer. For example, the town is the perfect starting point for a walking tour through the High Fens. If that’s what you’re doing, the Rocher de Falize should definitely be on your route: it provides a magnificent viewpoint over the Warche valley.”

But we are not going to be walking through the High Fens today. Instead, we will follow the Calvaire (Way of the Cross). This walk has a rich history: from the 17th century onwards, people started placing wooden crosses here on one of the steepest parts of the old road to Chôdes. We follow the path up to the Belvédère, a beautiful place with a stunning view over the entire town and its surroundings.

Afterwards we visit the Malmundarium and its collections and exhibitions. Housed in a former Benedictine monastery, the Malmundarium is the cultural heart of Malmedy. With an audioguide at the ready, we explore this fascinating visitor centre, where the history, art and culture of the region are brought together. We walk through the tannery and the paper workshop and learn more about the importance these products had in the region. We can even make some paper ourselves.

Skiing in East Belgium

There is something special about winter sports in East Belgium. When there is enough snow, East Belgium and the High Fens attract thousands of visitors. “Here we ski the Belgian way,” laughs Pierre. “I even have friends from France and Switzerland who come to ski here. They know that in Belgium skiing also means a delicious meal and plenty of excellent beer afterwards!”

When it snows in East Belgium, many people head for the High Fens – for a day’s skiing, or a multi-day skiing holiday. The highest part of Belgium, it has 15 ski centres, offering cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, sledging and snowshoeing. One example is Ski Alpin Ovifat, a perennial favourite for many skiers. Situated on a slope surrounded by trees and meadows, it has been a firm feature of the region for 70 years. With its three slopes for alpine and cross-country skiing, and a sledging run, this resort guarantees fun for all the family. Rent ski equipment on site and you’re one step away from that sensational adrenaline rush of hurtling down a hill at full speed. As you head back up the hill on a ski lift, you can take in the beauty of the views over the slopes and the forest in the valley, soothed by the music that enhances the feeling of relaxation and tranquillity.

The Herzebösch ski centre is located just outside the village of Elsenborn, near Bütgenbach, and surrounded by woodland. Cross-country skiing and hiking are the main pursuits. Because of their extensive cross-country ski trails, biathlons (cross-country skiing competitions combined with on-course rifle shooting) are regularly on the agenda.

East Belgium: a winter wonderland

But even if there is not enough snow for winter sports, there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained during a winter stay in East Belgium. For example, just a sprinkling of snow will endow the landscape with an enchanting beauty: time to take a magical walk through a forest or around a lake. Go out with all the family: take a sled for the children. Smell the cool, moist air; listen to the muffled silence of the landscape. Afterwards, reward yourselves with a cup of hot chocolate in one of the ski huts or bistros – where you could also enjoy a hearty, warming meal.

On Mont Spinette, a south-facing slope in the High Fens just above Malmedy, at an altitude of 580 metres, there is a network of trails that thread through the forest and across the moorland – perfect for cross-country skiing or snowshoe walks. At Mont Spinette (and at the Manderfeld ski centre, and in Schönberg), you can join guided snowshoe hikes. Relax and clear your mind amid the pristine beauty of the snow fields.

Other winter-themed events also take place in the colder months, such as the spectacular dog sled races in Rodt, near Sankt Vith – a two-day meeting, which attracts international competitors. This will take place even without snow, using adapted dog carts. Come and admire the Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes and samoyeds enthusiastically vying with other in teams of up to 12 dogs in 12 categories.

More Information

As one of Belgium's most important regions for winter sports, East Belgium offers numerous opportunities for alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledging.

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