In the Roman era, the region was called “civitas vallensium”, and was under the authority of the Emperor Claudius who had a road constructed from Milan to Mayence, which passed through the Grand-St-Bernard, Martigny, Saint-Maurice, Massongex, StTriphon, Aigle, Yvorne and along the lake. In the 5th century the Burgundians, who came from France, settled between Lyon and Martigny and intermingled with a Gallo-Roman population that had already been decimated by invasions. A Burgundian king, Saint-Sigismond, founded the Abbey of St-Maurice in 515 and granted it a large territory between the Valais and the lake.
The name Chablais appeared for the first time in 814, under the reign of Louis the Debonair, successor to Charlemagne. Between 888 and 1032 the County of Chablais extended from the lake to Thonon and Vevey and as far as the Trient River on the Valais side.
During this period the Abbey of St-Maurice had total control of the Grand-St-Bernard mountain pass, and owned numerous lands on the plain in the mountains. Gryon, Ollon, their lands and their high mountain pastures were all part of these territories. As of 1032 there were continuous conflicts between the realm of the Bishop of Sion and the Counts of Savoy, who seized the entire territory and extended it farther into Vaud.
During these very unstable periods, a number of communities little by little gained their independence and obtained various rights. The Bernese conquest began in 1475 and was supported as of spring 1476 by allies from the Upper Valais. The Roche castle in Ollon and the St-Triphon castle were burned. In spite of this offensive, the Abbey of St-Maurice retained ownership of its lands and some of its rights until the 18th century. The town of Ollon purchased its rights from the Abbey in 1636 for the sum of 16,500 florins. It remained governed by the lords of the region, only the governor of Aigle was Bernese.
As for Villars, the first traces of activity go back to the 12th and 13th centuries. An intense demographic upsurge motivated the monks from the Abbey of Saint-Maurice to help the peasants who had undertaken a systematic conquest of the mountain pastures. It was precisely at that time that they had considerably expanded the high alpine grass lands. Every mountain pasture conquered and cleared in this manner turned into a real treasure that the peasants passionately defended against the encroachments of their neighbours. Legend has it that the peasants of Ollon were as fierce in defending their mountain pastures in the courts of justice as they were in eradicating invasive alder trees on the pastures. In 1750, the mountain “dixains” (Villars, Chesières, Huémoz) requested to form a separate town, this idea was opposed by the Bernese lords. In 1889, the municipality claimed the archives of the “dixains” in order to add them to those of Ollon; the town became henceforth one indivisible entity
THE SKIING YEAR
Long ago, the mountain dwellers considered the snow, to be sad, cold, dismal and hostile, which is why the hotels in Villars-Chesières, which had opened as early as 1870 welcomed tourists only in the summer and kept their shutters closed when it snowed. It was in 1905 that the owner of the Villars Palace introduced the winter season in Villars. To accomplish this, he developed a winter leisure activity infrastructure around the hotel. In 1907, he constructed a large ice-skating rink, installed curling lanes and an ice hockey area and built a sledge and bob run in 1908
When did skiing begin in Switzerland?
It is known that in 1873, a physician from Davos, Dr Spengler, received a pair of Lapp skis from one of his Norwegian relatives. The first attempt was a disaster and there was no next time. Other precursors made attempts but were quickly discouraged by the difficulties encountered, until a book was published in Berlin by the explorer Nansen, who recounted how he had crossed Greenland on skis and provided much information on the techniques of the sport. Immediately, in various parts of Switzerland, enterprising young people set about making skis based on the indications given by Nansen and rushed to the slopes.
THE BEGINNING OF SKIING IN VILLARS
The slopes of the Bretaye region were quickly perceived as ideal for exercising this activity. In Villars, as of 1906, horse-drawn sleighs transported the most seasoned skiers to Bretaye each day for 13 francs, but the area had to wait until the inauguration of the Bouquetins train in 1913 for skiing to develop seriously. The skiers then had to walk up to Bretaye (approximately 600 metres).
In 1936, the first ski lift was built in the combe at Chaux Ronde. A Swiss first, this was a ski lift onto which the skiers were obliged to fasten themselves with a large leather belt in order to be pulled back up the mountain. On 13 December 1936, the Orient Express made a special stop in Aigle for the monster slalom called “Kingdom of the great joys of winter skiing” organised at Bretaye.
That same year, a ski lift was built in the form of a sledge that could accommodate 12 people for transporting tourists to the peak of the Grand Chamossaire. These
sledges were in use until 1953. The stone ramp that formed the path of this ski lift is still partially visible today, just above the Col de Bretaye restaurant.
Ski lessons were given behind the Palace Hotel, on the old golf course. There were over 50 persons per class. Half-day group lessons cost CHF 5 and private lessons were offered at CHF 7. Sometimes, by the time the last student managed to get his skis on, the lesson was already over!
It was only in 1937 that the train line was extended to the Bretaye plateau. In 1938, Villars was classified as one of the top resorts in Europe. Given its advanced conditions, many Swiss ski clubs came to practice in our resort. Villars became number one among winter sport resorts... unfortunately nine months later, war broke out and had as its immediate consequence a catastrophic number of empty rooms in the grand hotels of the region
The new generation
Fortunately, brighter years followed this difficult period. Villars, through its ski club founded in 1920, saw the blossoming of champions as early as the 1930s. Local skiers Olivia Ausoni and Roger Gysin were champions in the years between 1940 and 1955, Jean-Daniel and Michel Dätwyler (between 1965 and 1973), Céline Dätwyler and Annick Bonzon in the 1990s to 2000s. Fanny Smith, the local skicross champion, won 13 World Cup victories, 32 World Cup podiums, 3 Olympic diplomas and the bronze Medal at the 2018 Olympic Games