Words Eric Kendall Photos Penny Kendall
A ski journal from Lenk-Simmental
07.30 I’m in a little creaky bedroom, in a proper Swiss chalet, with shutters freshly thrown open. I arrived last night in the dark so haven’t a clue what my surroundings look like until this moment. I like what I can see: the centre of Lenk is below me in a wide snowy valley, with some lifts up the mountains beyond, though I think that’s just the second of Lenk’s two main ski areas, the Betelberg. Friends Richard and Amanda, who’ve based themselves here for the season, were explaining last night that the Adelboden-Lenk ski pass apparently gives you access to70 lifts and more than 200 kilometres of piste: not all linked, but still one of Switzerland’s larger ski regions, even if you’ve never heard of it.
08.29 Full of breakfast and raring to go, we’re heading up to Metschstand in the main part of Lenk’s domain, which connects with Adelboden’s slopes the other side of a ridge. It doesn’t sound as though there’s anyone here who’s come further than just down the road, to judge by the broad Swiss German babble of our queue for the Stand-Xpress gondola from Rothenbach, just south of town.
08.30 Bang on time, we’re off – that’s Switzerland for you. First impressions as we glide up the hillside are of wide, rolling pistes; they’re well groomed, with lots of trees – it’s starting to sound like Sunday afternoon at a stately home with your granny. These lower slopes would obviously be great in a snowstorm, though today we’ve got to make do with bright sunshine which is, of course, lovely for getting your bearings in new terrain. But I still wish it was snowing, just on principle.
08.53 This part of the Lenk domain is all west facing, so it’s obvious we need to head east from top station at Metschstand into the Adelboden side of the domain. So much to choose from…
08.55 Just a bit distracted by the view right at this moment. Up to the right, roughly south, are some whopping mountains, with 3000m summits towering a good thousand meters above us, some of which have a few tracks on – must find out more. I can’t see Adelboden itself from here, but I can see plenty of skiing and quite big lifts – a couple of chairs and a gondola.
08.57 Not much of a decision for our first turns: the Blatti piste, straight down from the lift top, is appropriately named, for blatting, obviously, and ideal for getting the legs burning. This is good stuff – wide open, rolling and soon down into tree line, so it’s all very nice to look at.
10.25 Since I’m not carrying a GPS tracker, I’m not 100% sure where I’ve been for the last hour or more, but it was great. Really enjoyed the trees down towards Berglager and the World Cup piste under the Boden-Chuenisbargli chair (try saying that without a drink inside you) is as steep as you’d expect, with good views over the village of Adelboden, except I was going much too fast to appreciate them. This is as close as we’ll come to one not-quite-connected bit of the system – we’d need a shuttle bus to the lift up to Engstligenalp where there’s a couple of lifts and a few short runs, but you’d mostly go there to cross-country ski – the ‘alp’ is a high, flattish bowl directly below the 3242m peak of the Wildstrubel. So it’s also quite a good jumping off point for that – a bit of a climb, but you can ski all the way back down into the Lenk valley from the top, so definitely one to come back for if, as seems likely, we don’t manage it this time – there’s just so much else to do.
11.08 A quick coffee stop at Hul’s Saagibar at Berglager – a sort of Teepee and log furniture affair – before the lunch-crush arrives. A good moment to get our bearings on a map: it turns out the Wildstrubel is quite unusual as mountains go. It has three peaks, spread along a 3km ridge, all within a couple of vertical metres of each other – the highest is 3244m and the other two are 3242m. They all count but it’s the most easterly one that you can best get to from the north, while the other two are easier to reach from the east, up the big Wildstrubel glacier. Anyway, back to the piste map: the plan is to head back the way we came, towards Lenk, branching off to a place called Aebi – the routes that end there are favourites of Richard and Amanda’s, both the red pistes and easy side-dabbles in the Augstchumi bowl.
12.18 I can see why. The terrain here is even more playful then in the rest of the domain, with lots of spots for ducking off between the trees, and steep sided gullies – not like couloirs from peaks and ridges, but halfway down the slope. We need a geologist to explain what’s going on, but in the meantime simply make the most of it. I feel like I’m about 12 years old, and though I won’t be doing any backflips or other aerial manoeuvres if I can help it, I’m there in spirit.
13.43 Heading up to Hahnenmoos, back on the ridge between Lenk and Adelboden, we can see the GMP (Gran Masta Park) snowpark, which even I can tell is a bit special; it’s mobbed with cool-looking nippers sunbathing in their ski goggles between runs, enjoying music to match.
14.20 It’s warp-speed time, down the Holzegg, which translates as ‘wooden egg’, though as we enter the steep trees section ‘balls of steel’ might be more appropriate. Rolf Marmet at the tourist office said it was his favourite, but I failed to factor in that as a member of the Swiss Snow Demo Team he might appreciate slopes in a different way from the rest of us. It’s a blast but what I need now is a lie-down in a darkened room.
15.35 After a bit more exploring on the Lenk side – the lovely, wide, rolling ‘Metsch’ carving pistes – we’re back up the top for a final black run, the Klusi, down from Luegli to Geils. There’s a bit of everything, including ambience in spades – it feels more like an off-piste itinerary than a piste.
15.56 Back to the top, the timing’s right to head home on one of the region’s classic off-piste routes down Am Bummere, which is much better than it sounds and a great way to end the day: along an easy spine to descend past little huts-on-alp down into woods, coming out by a restaurant and bus stop. Perfect.
08.35 Almost first lift, straight up from the edge of town into the Betelberg side of Lenk’s domain. The two-stage gondola brings us up over 800 vertical meters and it’s quite tempting simply to blast down the Tschuggen, a red run that dives down through the trees back to base. There’s ski cross here as well, though generally this is the family side of the resort, with lovely bars and cafés to stop at in picturesque spots. But never mind all that: Rolf from the TO has a cunning plan (he didn’t take much persuading to leave the office for the day) to explore a classic little edge-of-domain tour.
08.50 Just the final flattish T-bar to reach the lift highpoint on this side (just 2000m) and now we’re traversing southwest. It’s all looking most promising. A bit of a ski down and it’s obvious – if we want to reach a nearby hilltop – that we’ll have to put skins on; it would be a long boot.
09.48 Not the quickest transition (we’ve got a splitboarder in tow…); as my nephew would say, “I have seen it done more slowly…”. But it’s not a race, other than to make it back before dark. Anyway, we’re underway for the gentle, short skin to the ‘summit’ of nearby Rothore – more hill than peak. The idea here is that it gives us access into a lovely valley just south of the ski domain, with great skiing all the way to the end of the road south of Lenk and a handy ski bus.
11.32 Though not massive, the 2275m summit gives great views in all directions. We could ski down to the west into Gstaad from here, but the obvious thing is east, briefly quite steep and with an epic windlip off which Rolf sets a ski jumping distance record, beaten only by his goggles, which go flying even further. We’re now into brilliant terrain – playful, lumpy bumpy gullies and light tree cover. We can go where we like, within reason – it all drains down to an obvious point down-valley from where a skin track climbs a few meters.
12.55 Oof. More like 200 metres, on a very warm face. But we’re there – a little col, from where it’s downhill all the way.
13.42 The snow’s getting heavier with each turn and every metre descended but I don’t care – there’s still lots of it even if it takes a bit more leg power to drive through. We’re so close to the big face of the Hohberg immediately to our south that half the valley is in shade, so there’s a magic line of quite tricky stuff, slowly re-freezing, which you cross at your peril. It’s all good practice.
14.15 No rush now as we drop through proper forest. This would be brilliant in a foot of fresh powder but is still fun chopping through, finding the best way, slip-sliding backwards, then forwards, through the narrower gaps. It’s just occurring to me that a bit of time spent practicing on moguls wouldn’t be wasted. Rolf has vanished.
14.35 Suddenly we’re there, or rather, here. Just a bus stop near the end of the lane south from Lenk for a short ride home. Proper adventure but nothing too scary and lots of good skiing, and I reckon if there’s one of these runs, there’s 20, so I can’t wait to come back.
The Albristhore (2762m), just north of the domain, is the connoisseur’s choice, with a pretty hike-in followed by a steep finish to a proper peak that affords great views of much of the Adelboden-Lenk domain. The descent is packed with just-steep-enough big skiing.
STAY Nearly 200 self-catering ‘apartments’, mostly in charming chalets, are offered through Lenk’s tourist office website, along with a handful of B&Bs and 19 hotels. Price from CHF 44 per night for a studio apartment.
TRAVEL From Zurich and Geneva there are train transfers to Lenk station in the centre of town (Zurich 3hrs 15mins; Geneva 4hrs) – see Swiss Rail’s website for times and prices.
SKI One-day ski pass in Lenk costs CHF 68. For a list of recommended ski guides visit Lenk-Simmental website