Cheltenham’s ski jumping star Eddie the Eagle will be coming out of retirement next week to jump on the indoor ramp at London’s Ski and Snowboard show. If you’re looking for your own skiing challenge, Travel Editor ANNE GORRINGE provides a little inspiration with a trip to ski the world’s longest ski run…
THERE‘S a ski run from the top of the mountain just below the Jungfrau in Switzerland the locals call ‘Oh God‘.
It owes its name to the British skiers, whose cries could be clearly heard down the valley, when they got to the top, realised there was no turning back, and saw just HOW steep it actually was!
Fortunately, I saw it from the safety of a chairlift, looking down on the sparkling snow from above. However, I wouldn’t have felt quite so relaxed had I realised I was about to be taken down another famous run – the slope of the world’s longest ski race, the Lauberhorn.
I was spending the day improving my technique with an instructor in the Bernese Oberland region, staying down the mountain in the pretty resort of Grindelwald.
The resort itself is low, at 1,034m, but is surrounded by some of Europe’s most impressive peaks and picturesque runs with unrivalled views of the Eiger in the distance. Access to the slopes is via the regular (and quaintly old-fashioned) train service which run from the centre of town, depositing skiers up the track to Kleine Scheidegg around 25 minutes later.
At Kleine Scheidegg, walking across to the Lauberhorn Chairlift
At over 2,000m, Kleine Scheidegg is one of three ski areas in the Jungfrau region and comes with over 50km of pistes. Here our instructor led us from the station over the track, past the cafes and bars that make this such a good lunch stop, onto the snow.
Slipping on my skis to make my first few turns to get me across the to Lauberhorn chairlift my progress was watched carefully by my instructor. When we stepped out at the top, we were greeted by fabulous panoramic views and a selection of runs. One of these is the Lauberhorn run itself– the actual track of the World’s longest downhill race. (see picture at the very top of this piece).
Started back in the 1930’s the Lauberhorn is also the oldest ski races in the world, so there’s a lots of history around this impressive 4.5km-long track, renowned for its tough corners and legendary huge jump.
Massive crowds flock here each January to see some of the best skiers in the world in action though at other times of the year, as I discovered, have-a-go skiers can try it themselves.
Actually, if you take it carefully, it’s a lovely run on a beautiful sunny day .And, as an added attraction, the track leads down into the picturesque, pedestrian only village of Wengen, an ideal lunch stop. My instructor suggested I should try and, heart in my mouth, I decided to give it a go.
Part of the track on the Lauberhorn Race
The impressive course record for the race is held by an Italian, Kristian Ghedina, who in 1997 skied at an average speed of over 106 kilometres per hour, getting from top to bottom in less than 2 minutes 25 seconds!
My time was, hmm… slightly longer. But then again, I’m no expert, just happy to ski reds, mixed in with a few blues. Having been told that the track is basically a red with a few black sections thrown in, I took my courage in my hands and gave it a go.
Setting off, you can even use the starting gate where the racers set off at staggering speeds. I went for the safer option and simply set off down what turned out to be a wide, empty piste. On the way interesting information boards can be found at key points at the side of the run and provide a great excuse to stop.
The first marked the Hundschopf (or dog’s head), an impressive 40m jump over a rock nose for the experts. Other points include a difficult S bend which forces skiers on the race to slam on the brakes
One of the racers in action, at the annual January Lauberhorn Race, going over the Hundschopt
Naturally, I took it carefully but along the way a momentary loss of concentration caused me to hit a snowball of ice which sent my skis spinning and me sliding head first down the slope for what felt like 100metres. Thankfully, a friend was on hand to retrieve my skis… and only my pride was hurt.
At the station in Grindelwald you can take advantage of the huge piste map on the platform to plan your ski route
Back in Grindelwald I walked back from the station to our nearby hotel, the 4.5* Hotel Belvedere, an established family-run hotel where my south-facing room had a spectacular view of the Eiger. It also had a nice terrace and as the sun set on the nearby mountains and the sky turned pink. Beautiful.
View of the mountains at sunset in Grindelwald
Best of all was the outdoor hot tub, leading out from the pool area of the hotel, and perfect for soothing aching muscles. The hotel also offered something I’ve not come across before – a pillow menu. You can choose from soothing herb pillows, to a selection of thicknesses to help you get a good night’s sleep. A great idea.
The food in the restaurant was good too and the half-board option organised by Inghams was ideal as meals out in Switzerland, as in all ski resorts, add to the cost. The strength of the Swiss Franc means that a lunchtime beer cost around Euros 5 or about Euros 15 for spaghetti bolognaise. But the view from some of the bars is priceless.
Deck chairs to relax at one of the bars on the slopes
Anne went to Grindelwald with Inghams. Seven nights half board at the 4.5* Hotel Belvedere starts at £1104 per person, including flights from Heathrow to Zurich and transfers by second class Swiss rail. Regional airports flights also available. More info from www.inghams.co.uk
, or contact 01483 791 114.
• A 6 days lift pass for the whole of the Jungfrau region starts from £235, or £209 for Grindelwald and Wengen only.
• Three days of ski lessons (4hrs a day) cost £197
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com
or call the Switzerland Travel Centre, freephone 00800 100 200 30
Swiss International Airlines have 36 daily flights from London Heathrow or City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich, Geneva or Basle. Fares start from £90. Call 0845 6010956 or visit: www.swiss.com
• The Lauberhorn Race will be held on January 18-20, 2013