Ski the Stockhorn

I was reading an article in an online version of an Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, which was addressing the issue of global warming and its impact on the Alps. Apparently “a recent Austrian climate change report found that the country’s temperatures had risen twice as fast as the global average since 1880, with the number of sunshine hours in the Alps increasing by 20 per cent.” I have certainly seen the impact of climate change on glaciers I have visited over the years, and there is no denying it will have an impact on the Alps.

Anyway, one of the more interesting observations was that a “ski region” called Stockhorn has dispensed with its ski lifts to concentrate on snowshoe walkers and such like. Now, as a self-declared expert on skiing in Switzerland, I feel a little ashamed to say I didn’t even know there was a place called the Stockhorn which had dismantled its ski infrastructure, and don’t have it in my winter sports website. Certainly the Stockhorn (3405m) in Zermatt is not suffering from global warming or lift closures, at least not last time I visited earlier this year! But as is often the case, several mountains often share the same name in the Alps.

So I did a little research.
Ski the Simmental valley
And I found another Stockhorn. The website for the resort states “Erlenbach in the Simmental lies in the Bernese Oberland at the start of the Simmental, in the direction of Lenk and Gstaad. The valley station of the Stockhorn cableway can be reached easily in approx. 30 mins by car from Bern, and in approx. 15 minutes from Thun. The timetable of the Stockhorn cableway has been coordinated with the train timetable.” Yes, this is Switzerland, there is a railway station in Erlenbach im Simmental with lifts timetabled to connect with the train timetable. I know Erlenbach – it is a small sleepy village in the Simmental valley and at a 700m elevation never a great candidate for ski-in, ski-out facilities. Could it have once been the throbbing heart of a ski region whose fame stretched across the planet as far as Australia?

The top of the Stockhorn is 2190m, but it seems skiing off the summit is not feasible. If there ever was skiing here, it would have been from the mid-station at Chrindi at a modest elevation of 1642m or possibly from local facilities in Erlenbach, but the village is very low to sustain a decent piste for any duration – in fact I know of NO resort with runs that low.

So it does have a cableway, but appears to have no other ski facilities. But surely, then, you can ski down still? And it does appear you can. As well as snowshoe walks, winter walks, an igloo village, fabulous views and fine dining, there are ski tours you can do in the area, organised by a local ski school. Starting at 9.50am on 30th December 2014, 3rd January 2015, 17th January 2015, 1st February 2015 and 28th February 2015 for between CHF140 and CHF290 Alpinschule Bergfalke (+41 (0)795025080/info@bergfalke.ch) take guided ski tours in the area. No touring experience is necessary, just that you are a reasonably good piste skier or snowboarder and in good physical condition. It looks like you have a three hour ascent from the lifts to start the downhill section of the tour. The claim is the tour suits both beginners and connoisseurs.

And it doesn’t look like you ski the Stockhorn anyway – the area you ski is the Lasenberg (Laseberg) which peaks at 2019m and the Cheibenhorn at 1952m, but you use the Stockhorn lift to get there, getting out at the Chrindi mid-station.

The Simmental is a fabulous region, renowned for its food, at least in Switzerland, and probably best known for the ski resort at Lenk and its access to Gstaad Mountain rides from Zweisimmen. Locals also often ski the small resorts at Diemtigtal and Beatenberg.

Were there ever ski facilities at the Stockhorn? I can find no evidence it was graced with as much as a drag lift at any period, but I suspect competing resorts in the Bernese Oberland rather than global warming did for the facilities if they ever did exist. It may have been that the locals tried out a drag lift for a period, but these are usually dismantled in the summer, and hardly constitutes the making of a ski region. Sometimes it is simply not economic to re-assemble and repair, or replace, an old and little-used lift. And if there were any ski facilities in the area once I doubt if anyone other than the good citizens of Erlenbach ever used them.

But there is another more prosaic explanation for this new story. Back in 2007, a cable car system, initally constructed in 1958 linking Gornergrat (3089m) to Stockhorn (3405m) above Zermatt (1620m) was dismantled and replaced with a new lift. Could this be the origin of the news story? Possibly not, since the story cites a “refocus on winter hiking and snowshoeing” as the replacement activity to skiing. Any readers ever seen somebody snowshoe walking the Triftji Jumps? No, nor have I. But possibly the intrepid newshounds from AFP,a French news agency that seems to have originated the story, got confused and linked two events about two different mountains and came up with a whole new angle.

So hitting my inbox and that of many other people round the world, and syndicated across a whole bunch of Australian, Asian, American and European newspapers and journals (including the famously gaff-prone UK Daily Mail), is a story entitled “Dismantling ski lifts in Europe as world warms up”. And they cite the Stockhorn as their sole justification, and there is no evidence to support any mountain in Switzerland called the Stockhorn had a lift dismantled in the face of global warming. Oh well, why let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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New Alpine Superpass for Vaud and Bern

Superpass for Adelobden-Lenk, Gstaad Mountain Rides and the Alpes Vaudois
A new pass is on offer this season, covering the major resorts in the Bernese Oberland and Vaud. The Superpass allows you to ski Gstaad Mountain Rides, Adelboden-Lenk and the Alpes Vaudois (which includes Leysin, Villars and Les Diablerets). That’s 188 lifts and 630km of piste, and includes runs as high as 3000m at Glacier3000 (and, incidentally, Glacier3000 has opened up a new walkway between a couple of peaks for a spectacular panorama view from this season). The prices are as follows:

Consecutive days
Full-price for Adults
Youths (1991-1998)
& Seniors (m: 1949, f: 1950)
Children (1999-2005)
4 CHF 242.- CHF 219.- CHF 143.-
5 CHF 290.- CHF 262.- CHF 173.-
6 CHF 333.- CHF 301.- CHF 202.-
7 CHF 377.- CHF 341.- CHF 228.-
8 CHF 421.- CHF 380.- CHF 252.-
9 CHF 456.- CHF 413.- CHF 274.-
10 CHF 488.- CHF 441.- CHF 294.-
11 CHF 517.- CHF 467.- CHF 311.-
12 CHF 542.- CHF 489.- CHF 327.-
13 CHF 565.- CHF 510.- CHF 341.-
14 CHF 585.- CHF 528.- CHF 354.-
15 CHF 605.- CHF 546.- CHF 365.-

 

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Adelboden-Lenk – In-depth

Adelboden-Lenk

In Summary

The traditional Swiss villages of Adelboden and Lenk both make good bases for the excellent slopes of an area often overlooked by overseas visitors. The area lying between the two villages has around 60 pistes catering for all abilities and has an excellent snowpark, but there are a number of other mountains nearby providing a wide range of varied on and off-piste runs.

Ski Area Adelboden-Lenk
Resorts Adelboden, Lenk, Frutigen, Elsigen, Metsch
Region Bernese Oberland (Canton Bern)
Language Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch)
Piste 210 km
Top run 2671m
Bottom 929m
Max Drop 1742m
Black runs 22 km
Red runs 85 km
Blue runs 78 km
Lifts Capacity/hr 52420
Free Ride Y
Snow making Y
Fun park Y
Snow park Y
Lifts to snow park Y
Snow cross N
Snow tube Y
Half pipes N
Tobboggan runs 6
Spa Y
Snow’n’Rail Y
Alpine 5 – Excellent
SnowPark 4 – Very Good
Nordic 3 – Good
Hiking 4 – Very Good
Family 5 – Excellent
Apres Ski 3 – Good
Eco-Rating 4 – Very Good

Overall

The pretty Alpine villages of Adelboden and Lenk lie in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, something like halfway between the the ski areas of Gstaad Mountain Rides and the Jungfrau. Despite inhabiting two separate valleys, possessing very different characters, and lying six miles apart, they are linked by the huge ski and snowboard playground that rises above and between them. Altogether the patchwork of pistes covered by a single pass amounts to 210km, but Adelboden and Link are little known by overseas skiers and snowboarders. It’s not a secret lost on the Swiss and expatriates, who can make this a busy resort at half-term – although off-peak the slopes are eerily empty and the lifts working at a fraction of their capacity. With over 80% of visitors to the resort Swiss or German, you won’t hear many English accents (although English is widely understood).

There is much to like about Adelboden. The well-groomed runs and modern lift system are excellent for intermediates, but there are some pleasant off-piste and ski touring opportunities in the area. Even the experts come here – in January the World Cup circus comes to town for Slalom and Giant Slalom on the Chuenisbärgl. The resort was so attractive to Sir Henry Lunn (of Lunn-Poly fame, now part of Thomsons) that he organized the first winter package holiday in the Alps here in 1903, also the year in which the very first organized competitive Alpine ski race took place here.

There is a good range of hotels in both Adelboden and Lenk, although no low-end hostels. Both resorts cater well for families and parties which include people who don’t want to ski or snowboard. As well as a range of other winter sports activities, both Adelboden and Lenk have spas and provide reasonable bases for exploring the Bernese Oberland. There are some good bars and restaurants available, particularly in Adelboden, but après-ski is a relatively muted affair and neither resort is recommended for hard-core party animals.

Overall both Adelboden and Lenk come best recommended for mixed-ability parties, intermediates and families. It caters as well for snowboarders and skiers, with few long schleps or unavoidable T-bars as well as an impressive park. The season is reasonably long, and the variety of slopes and increased number of snow cannons generally ensures that there is good snow cover throughout the area from mid-December through April, although the best of the on-piste skiing is from mid-January to March, with good ski touring opportunities through April.

Piste Map: http://ski.intermaps.com/adelboden/index.swf

Adelboden Tourism: http://www.adelboden.ch/en/index.cfm

Lenk Tourism: http://www.lenk-simmental.ch/en/welcome.cfm

The Slopes

Despite lacking a lot of steep runs, Adelboden has a long tradition of ski racing, with the first ski race in Switzerland taking place here in 1903. The tradition of racing is strong in the area, with the FIS World Cup slalom and giant slalom races held here every January. These are reputedly the toughest races on the World Cup circuit and attract tens of thousands of spectators.

In total the ski region has 72 cableways & lifts, 210 km prepared pistes which are amongst the best prepared in Switzerland . 60% of main pistes have artificial snow, and the season runs from November to May. Despite being lower than many other Swiss resorts, the area has a good snow record and a number of snow-sure North-facing slopes. There are 36 mountain restaurants and bars, the highest density in Switzerland.

Although there are eight ski areas covered by the “Adelboden-Lenk…dank” ski pass, in effect two comprise a linked network between Adelboden and Lenk, two are adjacent and the other 4 require a bus or a car to get to.

Typically the rates for 2010/2011 are as follows (CHF):

Days Adults Age 6-15 Age 16-19 Seniors Family
Adults
Family
Age 6-15
Family Age 16-19 Family
Seniors
1 59 50 32 54 56 46 29 51
2 109 92 59 98 102 83 53 89
6 264 221 143 238 239 201 133 215
13 443 378 245 402 402 335 219 365

Chidren under 6 are free; Families comprise 2 or more people aged 6 or over; KeyCard deposit is 5CHF; Photo at point of sale for purchases of 9 or more days; Other passes available, including limited area, season and partial-day passes.

Ski passes for Adelboden-Lenk entitle holders to reduced rates on Gstaad Mountain Rides and Glacier 3000 at Les Diablerets, and unlimited free use of the Fribourg ski areas.

The 2010-2011 season starts with very limited lift runs on 20th November , most lifts running from 11th December and, subject to weather, all lifts working from 18th December. For most of the area, the season finishes 25th April with some limited skiing until May.

Chuenisbärgli-Silleren-Hahnemoos-Metsch

(1100m-2400m)

  • 9 black runs, 28 red runs, 22 blue runs, floodlit skiing
  • Snowpark, Children’s area, Snowcross, Racetrack, 28km winter walking, 2 sled runs
  • 18 bars/restaurants

Accessible from the centre of both Adelboden and Lenk, this impressive area has been substantially improved and extended over the years to provide one of the very best ski and snowboard resorts in Switzerland. At peak periods and weekends it can get busy at the bottom station, particularly in Adelboden, but for most of the time this huge area provides queue-free lifts and uncrowded slopes. For intermediates there is enough to entertain, but advanced skiers may want to explore some of the many off-piste opportunities around Geils once they have mastered the black runs from Luegli and Lavey, but caution is required not to stray into the many designated wildlife reserves. The run from the  Lavey down to Adelboden is quaintly referred to as “a grand tour for skiing ladies” in Walter Pauses’s famous 1961 guide to the best hundred ski runs in the Alps.

For boarders there is the outstanding GMP snowpark (Gran Masta Park). The 600m long SW-facing slope at 1850m has it’s own lift and beginners area, and a range of kickers and rails… and a bar. Note, however, there are some flatish areas around, so always keep your speed up if the terrain looks flat up ahead – it probably will be!

Recommended for mountain eating is Restaurant Aebi on the Aebi-Oey piste. A good place to rendez-vous is the Wunderbar on the Hahnenmoos-Geils piste.

Elsigen-Metsch

(1250m-2288m)

  • 2 black runs, 11 red runs, 5 blue runs
  • Children’s area, snowpark, 26km winter walking, 4km sledge run, 2km langlauf
  • 6 bars/restaurants

Elsigen-Metsch are particularly convenient for Frutigen and provide the closest slopes for people driving into the area. The area has roughly 30km of pistes and a larger drop than that at Adelboden itself. The runs at Elsigenalp (2344m) and Metschalp (2142m) are accessible from the lift at Elsigbach which also has ample free parking. The bus runs from Frutigen to Elsigbach during the winter every hour, arriving and leaving the lifts on the hour and taking around 25 minutes to complete the trip. Sometimes the buses also drop and pick up at the lift at the bottom of the Metschalp, but the trip is longer and the mountains are connected. Recommended run is the 950m drop from Elsighorn down to Elsigbach.

Engstligenalp

(1405m-2362m)

  • 2 black runs, 3 red runs, 2 blue runs
  • Children’s area, snowtube, racetrack, dog sledding, ice-climbing, 5km winter walking, 3 sled runs
  • 2 bars/restaurants

A bus runs regularly on the half hour from Adelboden bus station to Unter dem Birg in about 20 minutes and there is ample free parking at the bottom station. With a designated free-ride area (which has it’s own facebook group!) and the longest season in the area, the Engstligenalp plateau is well worth visiting. It is also a fabulous area for ski touring, off the Wildstrubel for example,  or off-piste, with a run down to Kandersteg possible – there is a bus back to Adelboden. The area is never crowded, the only real drawback being you need to take the cable car back down at the end of the day. Particularly recommended for snowboarders of all abilities.

Incentive Adelboden (http://www.incentive-adelboden.ch) offer the opportunity to have a fondue in an igloo on Engstligenalp or to stay overnight in an igloo (but bring your own sleeping bag).

TschentenAlp

(1353m-1950m)

  • 6 red runs, 1 blue run, one marked trail
  • Free racetrack, 5km winter walking, 3 sled runs
  • 2 bars/restaurants

When the main sloped get busy, Tschentenalp makes for a pleasant diversion, with lifts from Adelboden, a few easy off-piste runs and a marked trail back down to the village. The restaurant on the Tschenten is open in the evenings, and there is a floodlit toboggan run down to the village.

Betelberg

(1068m-1943m)

  • 1 black run, 6 red runs, 10 blue runs
  • Chidren’s area, snowcross, racetrack, 16km winter walking, sled run, 5km cross-country
  • 7 bars/restaurants

The other side of the valley in Lenk from the main Adelboden-Lenk area, Betelberg is an excellent area for intermediates, beginners and children. The impressive 7km red Tschuggen run is recommended.

Jaunpass-Boltigen

(1400m-1683m)

This small area lies between the Simmertal valley and the Gruyere region. It is about half an hour by bus from Boltigen station, or an hour from Lenk by train (changing at Zweisimmen) and bus. It is covered further in the Fribourg section.

Kandersteg

(1199m-1960m)

This small but charming family-oriented area with 18km of pistes is covered in a separate Kandersteg section. It is not connected to the other ski areas, although it can be reached off-piste using the lifts covered by the area pass to get sufficient elevation for the descent. The delightful return journey to Adelboden by bus takes about an hour.

Ski/Snowboard School, Equipment Hire, Guides etc

The Swiss Snow Sports School has English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese speakers at the last count and takes children from 3 (http://www.skischule-adelboden.ch). There are a number of other schools including Alpineschule Adelboden (www.alpinschule-adelboden.ch), the Official Snowboard School, Crazy Sports and Timeless Snowboard School (http://www.get-timeless.ch). Schneesportschule Adrenalin is in Lenk. All schools will provide private tuition and off-piste and tour guiding.

There are numerous ski hire shops, including the ubiquitous Intersport on Dorfstrasse in Adelboden at Talstation Silleren, Oey and in Oberriedstrasse, Lenk.

In addition to guided ski and snowboard tours Alpineschule Adelboden (www.alpinschule-adelboden.ch) provide snow-shoe hikes, overnight stays in igloos, ice-climbing, avalanche and deep-snow courses. Hang gliding courses are also run in the area (www.cloud-7.ch). For group activities Incentive Adelboden develops suitable programmes (www.incentive-adelboden.ch).

Tour Operators

Include Thomson, Interhome, Kuoni, Swiss Travel Service, Crystal

The Resorts

Adelboden

(1350m, population 4000, guest beds 15,000)

Adelboden, meaning roughly “The Noble Floor” lies on a terrace overlooking the 600m drop of the Engstligen waterfalls, at the top of the valley of the Engstlige river and beneath the Engstligenalp plateau. A number of other valleys fan out from Adelboden, but the only practical route to the town is along the route of the Engstlige by road from Frutigen.

Adelboden was the first “Alpine Wellness” resort, reputedly located at a medically optimal altitude and blessed with pure spring water, a mild, invigorating climate, fresh air and an attractive setting. A number of hotels provide spa facilities, including the Parkhotel Bellevue and the stylish Cambrian.

The village church, consecrated in 1433, is worth a visit with its excellent frescoes by the entrance and stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti. The village has quite a lot to offer if you’re not skiing or snowboarding – a skating rink, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a swimming pool and a cinema (which shows many movies in English). Adelboden is also home to the Adelbodner Skibock, a simple ski and seat arrangement for getting down the slopes, tuition in which is provided at ski school if you so wish!

Contact the Tourist Centre for a range of children’s activities including a nursery for 3-6 year olds (+41 33 673 80 80).

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Eating & Drinking

Most of the action happens along Dorfstasse, often in the hotels. For eating there is:

  • Nova (+41 33 673 8383), the Cambrian Hotel’s stylish Italian restaurant.
  • Sporthotel Adler (+41 33 673 4141) is recommended for Fondue.
  • Hotel Bären (+41 33 673 2151) is recommended for Raclette.
  • Thai Mandarin (+41 33 673 8888), attached to the Viktoria Eden Hotel.
  • Café Haueter (+41 33 673 12 34) for pastries and home-made chocoloate.

Amongst the various bars Scott’s Bar at the Cambrian, the Arte Bar & Kunst, the Berna Bar and the Time Out pub are recommended.

Accommodation Recommendations

Adelboden has two highly rated superior hotels:

Other well-regarded hotels include Hotel Steinmattli , Hotel Baren, Sporthotel Adler, Hotel Bristol and Hotel Waldhaus Huldi. Many hotels feature spas. You can stay on the slopes at Berghotel Hahnenmoospass (www.hahnenmoos.ch).

Lenk in Simmental

(1068m, population 2000, guest beds 7,000)

Lenk lies in on the Simme river at the foot of the Wildstrubel massi, and is the highest municipality in the Simmental valley. It is linked by rail and road with Zweisimmen, 20 minutes away, where you have easy access to the largest area of the Gstaad Mountain Rides – 105 km of pistes spread over two mountain chains between the Simmental and the Saanenland. Some ski passes provide for access to this area, and it is strongly recommended that, if you choose to stay in Lenk for a week or or more, you visit this ski area. You can also change at Zweisimmen to visit Gstaad itself, a further 30 minutes away.

Lenk is one of only a couple of dozen resorts with the Swiss Tourist Federations “Children Welcome” designations.

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Eating & Drinking

Antica Posta, attached to the Parkhotel Bellevue, on Rawilstrasse makes great pizzas from a wood stove +41 33 733 11 10). The Anker on Rawilstrasse is well regarded (+41 033 733 04 40).

Recommended bars include the Tipi-Bar on Flöschtrasse and Andy’s pub on Oberriedstrasse.

Accommodation Recommendations

At the top end is the:

Budget hotels include the 3 star Hotel Sunnestubli , and the child-friendly Parkhotel Bellevue (www.bellevue-lenk.ch)‎ and Hotel Krone, which offers childcare for all ages (www.krone-lenk.ch).

Frutigen

(800m, population 7000, guest beds <1000)

Frutigen, at 800m, lies on the banks of the Kander river, which runs into Lake Thun. It lies at a railway junction where the longest land tunnel in the world, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, separates from the railway line that leads to the older Lötschberg Tunnel, with both lines re-uniting in Brig, in the Rhône valley.

Frutigen is a small town, with some hotel accommodation. It has bus links to skiing on the Elsigen and main Oey lift in Adelboden, and the rail line runs to Kandersteg, from where there is access to the attractive pistes at Kandersteg and Wiler/Lauchernalp.

The church dates from 1421 but was reconstructed in the Eighteenth century from the old parts following a fire, with some baroque flourishes added for good measure. The tropical hothouse in Frutigen is worth a detour, utilizing as it does the warm spring water that flows from the Lötschberg base tunnel.

Accommodation Recommendations

It’s unlikely you would choose to stay in Frutigen as opposed to one of the nearby resorts, but the Hotel National is conveniently located and well regarded. If you fancy staying in the mountains, try the Snow Beach Lodge at the nearest ski area, the Metsch (www.huettenzauber.ch).

How To Get There

By car to Adelboden

From Calais to Basel 7hrs, 755km

From Basel to Bern 1hr, 100km

Bern 30mins to Spiez, 40km

From Spiez to Frutigen 17mins, 16km

From Frutigen to Adelboden 18 mins, 15km

For the main slopes take left turn before Adelboden to Oey car park

By car to Lenk

As above to Bern then:

Bern to Zweisimmen 60mins, 70km

Zweisimmen to Lenk 15 mins, 13km

All bottom stations have car parks and ticket offices.

By rail

Rail provides the most eco-friendly option for getting to Adelboden and Lenk. Although the last part of the journey to Adelboden requires you to take a Post Bus to Adelboden, the service is fully integrated and the bus terminal is adjacent to the station. Most routes via Paris will require a change at Basel, then a change at a regional rail hub. The approximate travel times from several Swiss stations are as follows (inc. the change to Post bus at Frutigen for Adelboden):

City To Adelboden To Lenk
Basel 2.5-3 hrs 3 hrs
Bern 1.5 hrs < 2 hrs
Geneva Airport 3.5 hrs 4 hrs
Lausanne 2.75-3.25 hrs 3 hrs
Zurich Airport < 3 hrs 3-4 hrs
Zurich 2.5-3 hrs 2.5-3.25 hrs

For day-trippers, note that on the Post bus to Adelboden the nearest bus stop to the main ski area is just before the village, Adelboden, Mineralquelle (Not Oey), from where you cross the road for a three minute walk to the Oey gondola station. At Lenk the main ski area is accessible using the cable car at Metsch-Rothenbach (Metschbahnen) This is just under a kilometre from the train station to walk, along Oberriedstrasse, or four minutes by bus. Similarly the gondolas at Talstation Betelberg are a walk or short bus journey away from Lenk station.

By air

Geneva and Zurich airports have direct trains to most regional rail hubs. Basel has a very good bus connection to the main rail station. Other airports provide infrequent bus services, but Bern is the closest airport and has a bus connection to Bern SBB railway station. Flybe operate weekly flight from Southampton ot Bern.

Car hire is available at airports – book in advance and ask for ski racks, snow chains, and winter snow tyres as necessary.

Ecological Footprint

Adelboden does well in ratings from both the Ski Club of Great Britain and Mountain Riders. The Mountain Riders rate the resort as follows (click to go to the site):

Information on Adelboden in Dutch is located at the Swiss Winter Sports web site.

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