Heart pounding like a little girl about to be reprimanded for not doing homework, I reluctantly stepped out of the famous cogwheel train at Alpiglen station. The massive north face of Mt. Eiger loomed large above the frozen landscape. It wasn’t until my guide told me she’d let her 4-year old daughter go sledding alone did my frayed nerves relax a bit. What followed after the initial scare is a ride I’ll never forget!
Earlier that week, the cold winter winds cut through my barely sufficient Himalayan hiking attire with a vengeance no sooner I stepped out of Zurich airport one winter. Given that I do not ski, despite the dreamy whitewashed scenery I was worried I might be bored even. But thankfully, there are lots of other fun ways to enjoy the frosty winters beyond skiing. Here are some of the fun things I tired during my time in Bernese Overland one winter.
If you don’t know how to ski, I think tobogganing is the next most fun thing you can do! I was super wary of careening downhill like Calvin, unassisted and especially not without some sort of training but I was persuaded that’s how it’s done. Reluctantly I got on to the delicate sled on the icy slopes below Eiger mountain and it was so much fun letting go of any semblance of control and give in to speed that I couldn’t believe I was about to miss this opportunity due to fear. Fear that wasn’t completely unfounded to be fair, because sledding is one of the major sources of accidents and injury during winters. Given that the barrier to entry is practically non-existent, anyone can try it. That combined with our “Fast & Furious” proclivities often creates a strong case for crashing. However, with due diligence, the thrill of sliding down smooth slopes relying on nothing but your legs for steering and breaking is incomparable and unmissable.
Overlooking the fairy tale houses of Grindelwald and right under the nose of massive Eiger, a 3 kilometer track spanning over a mild altitude difference of 116 meters, Eiger Run offers a perfect trial run for beginners hoping to test the waters. But the thrills are generously sprinkled on this toboggan route of medium difficulty in the form of gorgeous downhill curves at the beginning and a long stretch without obstructions where you can go full throttle if you so wish!
Make it happen:
Swiss being perfectly organized even when it comes to having fun, have made full arrangements to conveniently hire and return sleds at the starting and ending stations. You can do this either as a side trip from Grindelwald or on your return journey from Jungfraujoch.
Now this one is a bit of head-scratcher. I’ve never really understood how fishing could be a game of skill given it seems like it’s luck that decides when and who gets the biggest fish, or any fish to begin with. The guide didn’t even try to quell my skepticism but he insisted I should learn to see the joy in uncertainty and the wait. He went as far as saying there are modern sonar units these days to help in scanning a particular location before drilling a hole and lowering the fishing line but that apparently kills the spirit of ice fishing. He said that jokingly of course, it’s no fun freezing on a frozen lake and catch no fish!
Towards the west of Interlaken and on the other side of Lake Thun, there’s a sylvan valley called Simmental where two beautiful Stockensee lakes and Stockhorn peak attract hikers and day trippers during summers. In winters, the lakes freeze over and act as fishing grounds where you could try your hand at fishing like the Inuit! After drilling the two feet ice cover with an ice Auger and scooping out the leftover ice using skimmer, a bunch of us set up shop next to fishing holes with a baited fishing line dangling inside the chilly waters. Few of us got lucky, but most of us were busy keeping warm and/or lost in the stunning beauty of the winter scenery around us. From experience, I can tell that fishing is super boring until you catch one. And when you do, it feels like the most exciting thing that could happen to you, for some strange reason. So yeah, it’s boring but put up with it and it can get super exciting unexpectedly!
Make it happen:
Reach Erlenbach station from where you can take a ski lift to Chrindi mid station. Hinterstockensee Lake is below the station where an Igloo is set up every winter. Snowtubing and ice fishing also happen at the same location. Permissions can be obtained from Stockhorn AG/Erlenbach stations and equipment can be hired from Chrindi station.
Dismissing it as a childish game, I walked away from the slope despite the joyful shrieks of my fellow travellers at Hinterstockensee at first. But when I ended up sliding on an inflatable tire that delightfully cushions any blows or shocks, I knew I could keep doing this all day long! Safer than sledding and much much easier than skiing, I’d pick snowtubing any day for a fun day of relaxation in the snow.
Right up there with universal childhood dream of living in Treehouses must be the fantasy of staying in Igloos. I’d always imagined I had to go as far as Scandinavia or Iceland to see an Igloo but one man’s passion to see the first light fall on the mountains conveniently led to the creation of Iglu-Dorf, a company that now specializes in setting up Igloos for commercial purposes every winter across Switzerland among others.
I visited the Igloo-Village at Stockhorn, right by the side of frozen Hinterstockensee Lake, where we had a lovely fondue lunch session inside a creatively decorated Igloo restaurant/bar. The walls were adorned with ice sculptures that were clear like glass but slowly dripped water, one drop at a time. It is also possible to camp one night inside the igloo, bundled up in layers inside a sleeping bag but I’m guessing it will be worth the trouble when you can go back and brag about having spent a night in an igloo! It also helps that the Stockhorn region and Simmental valley is incredibly beautiful so you’ll have the dreamy views to compensate for any discomfort.
If paragliding in summer is too mellow an adventure for you, take it up a notch to enjoy a bird’s eye view of snow-covered Swiss landscape in stark winters. Paragliding can be done from either Grindelwald or from Harderklum in Interlaken to soar above the picture-perfects valleys of Bernese Oberland.