Michael Cranmer indulges in some heavenly skiing in Adelboden in the Bernese Oberland.
Remember the Belinda Carlisle song…‘Ooh, Heaven is a Place on Earth’? Well, I’ve found that place, and it’s called Adelboden. You don’t arrive there borne aloft on the wings of angels, but on a No 230 bus (via train from Zurich).
I know that’s a big claim to make, Heaven on Earth, but they stick with me. The town has all that’s needed for a contented afterlife: a bakery, cheesery, small supermarket, winery, traditional cafés, ski gear, museum, and historic hotels. I should mention the church too I suppose, as this story is predicated on some sort of belief system.
Switzerland tops the ‘pretty-as-the-picture-on-a-chocolate-box’ league with Skiing in Adelboden vying for the crown. At 1,350m with 3,000m-plus peaks surrounding a gigantic bowl of loveliness, there’s dozens of small farms, summer dwellings and pastures higher up. This is a traditional community that has clearly found the perfect balance of farming and tourism reaching back to 1902 when Arnold Lunn first brought organised ski tours from England.
We Brits loved it and kept coming, with hotels like The Parkhotel Bellevue and The Cambrian catering to them summer and winter. Both original buildings remain but extensively restored. Mine, the Cambrian, has retained the fabulous Belle Époque style of its previous iteration as the Grand Hotel Regina, whilst transforming into a four-star superior Design Hotel of the World.
So exactly what makes skiing in Adelboden my Heaven? We’ve touched on the beauty, the simplicity of the town, and the quality of lodgings. What about the skiing? I’m a quiet, contained skier. Not for me the drug of speed. I get my kicks from the search for the perfect turn; by being open to sensations…sound, smell, sight, feel. It’s my Zen place. Not for me the aggressive, macho posturing of the mega-resort, where people ski to been seen. No whiff of testosterone in Adelboden, just folk being themselves and living and loving every minute.
When skiing in Adelboden there are four sectors, Tschentenalp rising from the centre, the others, Chuenisbargli, Engstligenalp and Sillerenbühl accessed by regular-as-clockwork buses. Don’t expect heated 8-person high speed lifts. The system is efficient (this IS Switzerland) and, yes, there are some t-bars but this is Heaven remember. What’s the rush?
Christian Rubin from the Ski School Adelboden took me on a tour of the Chuenisbargli and Sillerenbühl areas. The pistes were impeccable, uncrowded corduroy, the sun shining, the sky a duck-egg blue, nary a cloud for St Peter or any angels to perch on. At the furthest point, we paused and chatted. “See the little valley down there,” he said, “that’s Simmental, where the famous breed of cows come from”. Being a Devonshire boy, I understood.
We got to discussing everyday life (or should it be afterlife?) here. Christian’s family are many generations of farmers. Instead of accepting the obligatory annual military service for all young men, he discovered an alternative loophole allowing him to make cheese in the summer, moving with the herd up the mountain to the flower-rich meadows where they live until September. “Better than shooting a gun!” he said. Hallelujah!
We rounded off our circuit with the famous Chuenis World Cup Giant Slalom racecourse where, only weeks before, 20,000 fans went crazy as Swiss skier Marco Odermatt took victory. Just days before the race there was no snowfall; pictures of the white snake of artificial snow surrounded by green meadows went round the world prompting the usual kneejerk doom and gloom reaction. But this is Heaven, remember? A huge dump arrived in the nick of time. Somebody…the Lord…the Gods of Snow…had provided.
The Engstligenalp is closest to Heaven at 2,360m. A chair deposits skiers on the lip of a wide plateau dotted with all manner of oddities. A children’s area presided over by Globi, a cartoonish blue bird with yellow beak, beret, and red and black check trousers. I decided that Globi is the work of Satan, sent with his beady eyes and pecky beak to tempt innocent kinder away from heaven. The eyes followed me everywhere. Ugh! There’s an Igloo Hotel where you can sleep in an ice bed at around -3 ͦ for CHF395 a night. Brr. Hope you have a strong bladder.
Way, way across the plateau are a couple of blues, reds and blacks. Mmm. Looks a long way to schlepp but wait! Heavenly help is at hand in the shape of a Monkey’s Tail lift. WHAT? In thirty-plus years of skiing, I’ve never pulled the Monkey’s Tail. It’s a continuous overhead line with plastic cables attached. You grab a tail and hang on. At this elevation, the snow is real and absolutely beautiful. There’s no one on the runs, which are wide, swooping and 99.9999 re-occurring perfect. Just writing about it now makes me smile.
There was a last Heavenly surprise to discover above the town on the Tschentenalp, a mad idea of the Tourist Office. 1,950m up, on the edge of a steep drop-off is a swing, just an ordinary kid’s playground swing. But if you have the nerve to ride it (and I hadn’t, but my new bestie Claire did) you hang out in space with your feet touching Heaven.
Back to my lodgings, The Cambrian. Never was the mantra ‘Location, location, location’ truer. Unwinding in the infinity pool looking directly across at the sweeping panorama was a divinely celestial experience.
Tell Me More About Skiing In Adelboden
Swiss International Air Lines to Zurich:
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days across the Swiss rail, bus and boat network:
The Cambrian Hotel family suite from CHF650 per night
Adult 5-day lift pass CHF281