Forgotten slopes: Why has Adelboden has drifted off the British radar?
Saturday 16 January 2010
While many of us head to Switzerland each season, somehow the pretty village of Adelboden in the Bernese Oberland has remained off the mainstream radar, despite an impressive history for British skiers.
Back in 1903, Sir Henry Lunn (who went on to establish the Lunn Poly chain of high-street travel agents, and whose grandson is profiled on page XVI) led a group of Brits on the first ever ski package holiday, taking them to ski the slopes around the Silleren area, just above Adelboden. These days, it's the venue for the annual World Cup giant slalom event, which took place last weekend.
Back in 1903, there was no scramble for the first lift to bag fresh tracks, the only people bonkers enough to strap themselves to two planks of wood were Sir Henry and chums. They had the whole mountain to themselves. Although the experience wasn't quite so exclusive on my trip last month, there were still occasions when I had the slopes to myself. In part this was due to a bitter wind that whipped across the snow as I made my way to the top of the Luegli chair at the edge of the resort. After I'd jumped into the main Oey-Berläger cable car for the 30-minute ride from the village up to the slopes, I warmed my legs up on a mellow blue run, then tried a long, thigh-burning traverse along a "cat" track to inform my out-of-shape limbs that the new season was officially under way.
There's a good mixture of blues, reds and blacks dangling their way down the mountains here, making it ideal for racking up the miles. And the best thing of all is that it's refreshingly easy to find your way about. I often spend whole days fumbling my way around resorts, stumbling across the right pistes by luck rather than judgement. Here, however, many of the slopes are arranged around a natural amphitheatre, allowing you to see huge sections of the ski area in a single glance. The layout is more than functional. From the top of the Geils-Hahenmoos chair I got a spectacular view of distant peaks such as Wildhorn (3,248m) and Wildstrubel (3,244m).
Even when I'd adjusted to the grand scale of the place, it still took a few seconds to realise that the black specks scattered along the valley floor were actually chalets in the village of Lenk. From where I was standing, nearly 2,000m up, they looked like cress seeds sprinkled on cotton wool. Lenk, too, is relatively uncharted territory for Brits, with yet more pistes where crowds are uncommon.
Both resorts are lift-linked, and for just SFr250 (£150) you can buy a week's pass allowing access to both Lenk and Adelboden, which offers a whopping 210km of groomed snow to play with in total. With a long weekend at my disposal, Adelboden alone was enough to keep me occupied.
Along with my guide, Fredu, I spent the first part exploring run after run of freshly groomed corduroy. However, I couldn't resist ducking off piste later to get a quick powder fix. At the big European resorts such as Les Arcs and St Anton, virgin snow gets defiled within hours, but everyone here seemed happy to leave it all to me. And I was happy to oblige. After heading back up the Lavey lift, Fredu and I peeled off the run down to Hahnenmoos and helped ourselves to a stretch of fresh fluff that funnelled us back on to the piste. This season has already been blighted by fatal avalanches in Europe, raising safety concerns about off-piste skiing. So it's reassuring that you can access powder here without leaving the resort boundary.
We notched up an impressive number of miles through the day, with hunger eventually driving us to one of the many on-slope eateries dotted around the ski area. We opted for the Hahnenmoos restaurant, close to the Hahnenmoos-Geils cable car, where live entertainment was provided by snowboarders attempting huge aerials in the terrain park nearby.
If you can't face the hassle of riding the cable car back to the village at the end of the day, there's a much more exhilarating route in the form of various reds and blues that lead you down along the valley, through a forest of majestic pines. And once you've made it to Adelboden, the perfect place to relax is the Cambrian Hotel, the swankiest joint in town, all textured slate walls and floors. I swapped my ski boots for the fluffy slippers handed out at reception and shuffled through to the lounge, where a glass wall overlooking the lower slopes meant I could sit back and watch the stragglers snaking their way back to the resort.
In contrast to many other Swiss resorts I've visited, Adelboden is not the place for wild après-ski action. Fans of hearty food will, however, be in their element, with the igloo village and ice bar at Engstligenalp, only 10 minutes' drive away, serving up traditional cheese fondue. Meanwhile, the Tropenhaus at nearby Frutigen specialises in sturgeon and caviar farmed in naturally occurring warm water taken from deep inside the surrounding mountains. For me, the best meal came from the Hohliebe Stübli, a 300-year-old farmhouse tucked into the mountains. Chef Andy Schranz concocts some of the most creative – and delicious – dishes that I've ever tasted.
After gorging myself on five courses, I borrowed a toboggan for the slide back to town down the quiet back roads, then caught a taxi at the bottom. On the way I passed the chalet built by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 1932 and still used today for introducing youngsters to the slopes. The British once knew a thing or two about Adelboden. It's only a matter of time before we drift back.
*Adelboden's closest airport is Bern, with a single weekly flight from Southampton on Flybe. Basel and Geneva offer many more flights. Adelboden is accessible from either city by rail. The Swiss Transfer Ticket from the Switzerland Travel Centre (0800 100 200 30; swisstravelsystem.co.uk ) offers a return rail trip to anywhere in the country from any Swiss airport, from £75.
*The writer stayed at the three-star Hotel Waldhaus Huldi (00 41 33 673 85 00; waldhaushuldi.ch ), which offers seven nights' half-board accommodation, including a six-day ski pass, from £600 per person (based on two sharing).
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