Home to all manner of exhilarating adventures, activity holidays in Switzerland range from white-water rafting to mountain biking, bungee jumping into dramatic gorges to sliding down waterfalls and swimming through hidden rock pools when indulging in the relatively modern pastime of “canyoning”.
But one of the greatest of them all, in my humble opinion, is also one of the more traditional: cross country skiing.
While many think the cross country variety of skiing is not as dramatic as its downhill cousin, I would beg to differ. What can be more dramatic skiing, albeit at a slightly more measured pace, but doing so atop pristine, untouched powder – with neither a snowboarder nor a fluorescent bobble hat in sight? No trains of Munchkins worming their way across your path as they attend ski school (or ‘Tourist Takedown Training’ as the local instructors probably call it, using the kiddiewinks as their own weapons in the piste wars of the Alps).
But I digress!
So, my point: cross country skiing affords you something that many crave but few realise, namely a mountainside with snow, lots of snow, and nothing but the snow. While you can achieve a similar result by hopping in a helicopter and getting dropped atop your favoured peak, such things don’t come cheap. And while getting into the winter wilderness of Alpine Switzerland using your own propulsion will still cost you (especially in terms of the effort involved) it is a fraction of the cost of the heli-skiing option; and delivers a much greater sense of achievement.
Head To The Piste
So assuming you agree that gliding elegantly (or not so in my case) through the snow is preferable to hurling yourself off a bridge with an oversized elastic band attached to your ankles by Velcro, where in Switzerland is best for cross country skiing?
Well, we would definitely recommend the Bernese Oberland, with Kandersteg offering an excellent base from which to explore. The Gods of all things ski-related were very kind to the region, not only providing the mountains, but also the aesthetic panoramic delights of beautiful forests and pristine lakes, the juxtaposition of which creates an added level of drama in the psyche. There really is little better than skiing while enjoying some of the best views nature has to offer.
Apart from the quaint and comfortable hotels and fantastic restaurants serving up hearty fare aplenty, it is its location on the northern side of the Bernese Alps that is Kandersteg’s main draw for cross country skiers, from complete novices to seasoned experts.
Newbie or Snow Veteran
If you fit into the category of being new to cross country skiing, fear not, there are lessons available and guides ready and willing to guide you to some of the region’s highlights. And what highlights there are! To get things going a trip up to the relatively easy skiing of Sunnbüel (at an elevation of 1900m) is perfect. Wide expanses of snow carpet this mildly undulating plateau with awesome views of some of the more dramatic peaks of the region: the Balmhorn (3777m) and the Altels (3629m).
Once you’ve found your feet, so to speak, you could venture to the famous high Gemmi Pass (2314m) for more challenging terrain but even more rewarding views. With around 75km of well-marked trails in the region, as well as an excellent network of cable cars, chairlifts and local buses, you can plan – perhaps with the help of local guides – as arduous or relaxing an adventure as you like. But whatever routes you choose, you will certainly feel invigorated physically and mentally as your whole body is given a great workout and your mind is presented with some of the most breathtakingly picturesque views in the world.