The Ormonts valley is surrounded by the Vaudoise pre-alps, steep mountain escarpments tower above. The valley runs into the upper Rhone river plain, in a dog-leg configuration, carved out by the Rhone glacier during the last Ice Age, (the remnants of which are receding very rapidly due to global warming).
Dense forests started to grow in Switzerland since the end of the Ice Age, the last great melting of the ice sheets that covered the mountains, reaching from the snowline all the way along La Grande Eau, the stream flowing rapidly over the moraine from one end of the valley to the other. The earliest colonization of the Ormonts Valley may be shrouded in mystery, however over the millennium and a half since the Tauredunum event, when a huge earthquake caused massive rock falls from Les Dents du Midi, human activities have slowly changed the landscape in the Ormonts Valley as settlers cleared the forests with hand tools.
The character of the valley is determined by the geological structure. Ormonts is composed of sandstone and shale, easily weathered, allowing for more cultivated land on the gentle lower slopes where the mountains meet the valley floor, carved out over millennia by ‘La Grande Eau’. The Ormonts Valley has a length of 25 kilometers, born at the Col du Pillon, the pass to Gstaad, and spilling out onto the Rhone plain at Aigle, ten kilometers from the head of the lake at Villeneuve.
Traditional Mountain Farms
Even up to the nineteenth century, the mode of exploitation of the terrain was highly specialized, and developed to make best use of the local conditions. Land prone to avalanches in winter provided the best grazing in summer. Every family had different properties that they used according to the season. Gradually the mountain farmers cleared forest from the steep slopes for pasturage. Hay meadows of natural alpine grasslands were harvested in late summer.
This hidden valley was off the beaten track, far from the roads of Rome. The first historical mention is the gift of the territory to the Abbey of Saint Maurice in 515, albeit in a vague way as part of all the Alps from the head of the lake to Martigny, found in a document from 1400 by historian Corthesy. Bears, wolves and lynxes roamed the slopes, and the chamois, marmottes and bouquetins occupied the highest terrain. The clearing of the valley for pasturage was a long, slow process that continued up to the end of the nineteenth century.