Spectacular Kandersteg – Where The Eagle Dared

Dave Graham follows in the tracks of our ski legend Eddie

Written by  The Confidentials | Follow @ | Sunday, 5 March 2017 16:25

FANCY climbing into a shiny, multi-coloured onesie, strapping on some mega-long skis and having a bash at The Jump?

It’s a heart-in-mouth situation to see a jumper set off down the ramp

You, too, can learn how to pose like a celeb you’ve never heard of in a wonderful part of the world, where Nordic-style skiing, jumps and all, is a way of life.

We’re not talking a bleak, minimalist spot in Scandinavia, either, and you can also forget the tacky, ersatz trappings of the in-your-face TV show.

For the place to be is Kandersteg in Switzerland, where the only cheesy part of the deal is a Raclette or fondue at the end of a day of laughs and launching yourself into the air.

Mind you, you won’t be leaving the snow for too long as a learner, but you can certainly feel as though you’re flying like an eagle . . . especially Eddie the Eagle.

Our favourite Winter Olympic star — real name Michael Edwards — arrived in Kandersteg back in the day (1987!) with empty pockets and a head full of dreams, staying at the renowned Scouts centre and doing all manner of jobs to subsidise his accommodation and food so that he could practice on the village’s three jumping hills at the Nordic Arena

 

SteepSteep

The huge jumps follow the natural contours of the land, so they don’t intrude on the scenery like the huge concrete tower blocks in some jumping centres, and the 1,200 or so villagers are rightly proud to have one of the best facilities in the Alps, along with a homely, welcoming feel. 

The jumps closed and fell into disuse for a while after Eddie’s days, but locals were determined not to give up and with an eye on the 2028 Winter Olympics for Switzerland, there’s an 11-year project in hand costing 7.2m Swiss francs, with an army of volunteers weighing in.

It’s hard enough walking to the top of the small-ish practice jump and looking back down, but to experience the biggest hill is simply epic. Back in Eddie’s heyday, there was no uphill transport at all — if you wanted to  do the business and fly down, you first had to footslog upwards, carrying your massive planks on your shoulder.

 

Now, thankfully, there’s a purpose-built mini-funicular  to take you most of the way, but then there’s a daunting final few metres’ walk across to the jumpers’ starting bench  and an even more daunting moment when you take a first look down the slope.

To the uninitiated, that first look literally does take your breath away, even with an expert like former Swiss national team member Gérard Balanche on hand to reassure you, and it could well be sound advice to visit the loo before you set out. It’s a heart-in-mouth situation as well, to see a jumper set off down the ramp, for after they explode off the end — the ‘table’ — and begin their flight, they vanish from view until they’re on the final run-out, goodness knows how many metres further down.

Scary stuff, and it’s closed eyes on the way back down before trying the special  boots and skis for size on the level, and then sliding down a gentle slope in the ‘flying’ position, with arms stretched out behind. Balance credentials established, it’s time for the intrepid members of our select party to head for the smallest training hill, which we are told is a cinch for the youngsters in the local primary school when they’re only about five or six years old.

There is, of course, more to Nordic skiing than flinging yourself off the side of a mountain, and our delightful village guide, Doris Kallen, showed us another, much less scary aspect, with a leisurely introduction to langlauf, or cross-country skiing.

Known as the most complete all-body workout known to man, it doesn’t have to be exhausting, just take it nice and steady, perhaps under the guidance of Urs Niedhart, a former Olympic athlete and owner of the local Nordic ski school. One of the beauties of Kandersteg is that with not much ‘regular’ Alpine skiing terrain to go at, locals have made the most of their position on the valley floor to lay out  more than 100 kilometres of cross-country trails, from short and easy along the River Kander to more challenging and sometimes panoramic routes through the trees, and the high-level Sunnbüel area reached by a cablecar.

Both classic and skating styles are catered for, and one real treat for beginner and expert alike is the illuminated night track in the heart of the village, where you might well meet up with one or more former  professional athletes who call Kandersteg home. You’re also quite likely to come across them in any of the restaurants, coffee shops and hotels used as meeting places, because there is no big ‘apres’ scene and you quickly become part of the village yourself.

 

Pool at the Doldenhorn spaPool at the Doldenhorn spa

No real time for any ‘apres’ shenanigans, either, what with the amazing spa facilities at the Waldhotel Doldenhorn, including an outdoor jacuzzi section to its pool, and being spoiled for choice when it came to food.

The kitchen at the Doldenhorn was pretty special to start with, and the nearby, historic Landgasthof Ruedihus, also owned and run by the same family team of René and Anne Maeder and their son Patric, gave us a superb introduction to local cuisine with a very fine touch indeed.

A taste of the Oberland was also the order of another day at the Chalet Hotel Adler in the heart of the village, again family owned, with genial boss Andreas Fetzer also introducing a romantic novelty for guests . . . ‘loverooms’ with whirlpools built for two which glide outside on the balcony at the touch of a button. Who said the Swiss were staid!

 

Fish and chipsFish and chips served Alpine style

One popular meeting place not to miss is the Hotel Blümlisalp, where we popped in for a coffee one morning after visiting the local ski shop, and later called in to find the Swiss Ski youth team loading up with lunchtime carbs. We returned for dinner and imaginative Master Chef Christian Wyss-Wandfluh and his wife Mädi amply demonstrated why they have Swiss Gilde credentials by serving us with a brilliant dinner. I tried a novel Swiss take on fish and chips… and it was reet gradely.

A ringing endorsement of village togetherness — and Christian’s excellent food  — was that also tucking in was Christof Wandfluh, who had earlier  served us lunch in the remote fifth-generation-owned hotel/ restaurant at the glorious UNESCO site of Oeschinensee, reached by gondola and then a sledge run or half-hour hike.

Fly if you want, ski if you want, or even go ice climbing, but most important, just chill out and enjoy a slice of REAL Switzerland. Especially on a plate.

Fact file
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre on freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail info.uk@myswitzerland.com; for packages, trains and air tickets sales@stc.co.uk.
SWISS offers more than 180 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal) and Dublin to either Zurich or Geneva. All-inclusive fares start from £54 one-way, with first set of ski or snowboard gear and boots carried free.Visit swiss.com or call 0345 601 0956.
The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination: £116 in second class and £188 in first class. For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.