With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games behind us and the Paralympic Games well underway, now seems an appropriate time to post about the Swiss love of winter sports.
As you might expect of citizens from a country full of mountains, they love throwing themselves around on ice and snow. And they're pretty good at it too. Despite being a relatively tiny country, Switzerland finished 7th in the Sochi medals table, bringing 11 medals back to the land of cheese, 6 of them gold.
While we Brits may have outdone them in curling, the winter equivalent of crown-green bowls, they were victorious in bonkers, dangerous sports such as alpine skiing. Of course I don't feel too bad about this. In Britain we don't have any alps to practice on. If they made "Milton Keynes snowdome skiing" an Olympic sport we'd probably fare much better.
That said, even for the Swiss, winter sports are dangerous. Between October and March the number of people you see hobbling around Zürich on crutches is astounding. Between 10,000 and 12,000 cruciate ligaments are torn in Switzerland each year. That's about one per hour. And I'm pretty sure most of them are because of winter sports. The cry of Swiss fans as they cheer in their nation's heroes is "Hopp Schwiiz" (roughly translated as "go Switzerland"). But it's equally applicable in the cities after any winter weekend of good weather. Everyone seems to be "hopping" about on crutches. They've all done their knees in skiing and snowboarding.
Zoe and I don't ski. We've tried it but we don't 'do' it. When you tell a Swiss person this they often seem baffled. They will also be baffled if you ask them whether they "ski or snowboard?". This is a perfectly legiitimate question to a Brit. But they are Swiss. They can do both. Probably even at the same time.
We do, however, love being in the mountains. We recently went to the Grindelwald region, home of the Jungfrau and the Eiger, to do a bit of snowshoeing. Check out some of the pics below. It was great fun. Even if it isn't perhaps as thrilling as skiing, being able to walk on giant drifts of snow to take in incredible views was still breathtaking.
While we were in the area we also joined hoards of Asian tourists to head to the "top of Europe". A special train takes you up to the Jungfraujoch - within a stones' throw of the peak of the Jungfrau itself. It was spectacular.
Though as a Brit, and a lily-livered one at that, I may never feel on top of the world when it comes to winter sports, I literally felt atop the world that day. I can really see why the Swiss love their mountains. But I still have no urge to throw myself off one.
Swiss people are proud of their mountains. And rightly so. As peaks go, they have some of the very best.
Then, this weekend, Zoe and I headed to Bannalp, just north of Engelberg – proper mountain territory. And this time it was proper hiking. Meticulously connected public transport got us painlessly to a cable car which took us up to 1713m. And the weather was perfect. Zoe had planned a combination of two routes. A gentle uphill and then a descent on a route classified as “difficult” though I was assured we were skipping out the tricky bit. The climb up to 1951m wasn’t too tough and we were rewarded with a seemingly endless view of the glacial valley below. It was truly breath-taking (probably as we’re not very fit).
The thing is, as we’re not Swiss, we hadn’t quite got our plans right. The descent of almost 1,000m turned out to be THE tricky bit of the route and though we had planned lunch in a quaint little “Hütte” on the mountainside, one never emerged. So, I’m not going to lie, it was tough going. My knees are still sore from acting as brakes the whole way down. But I tell you what, it was worth it. The great outdoors, the fresh air, the incredible views, the repeated “Grüezi”s from passers by – it all made for a great experience and a sense of achievement at the end. If you want to feel reinvigorated then I now know what to recommend: take a hike.
Hope you like the pics,
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.