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My relationship with skiing has been an accidental one. From a chat over a few beers with friends in my last year of university in Dublin, the plan was to move over to Melbourne, but somehow we ended up on the other, colder, side of the world in Whistler, Canada instead. Landing in the resort in winter, one ski season turned into two and, in what felt like a blink of an eye, I was still there six years later. I lived the quintessential ski bum lifestyle, where all my time, money, and effort went into staying in the mountains. Never did I consider that I would one day get to ski in Switzerland.
Over the years I used a sauna as a bedroom, slept behind a curtain in a hallway, and even had a stint sleeping on top of a hot tub – far, far away from the luxuries normally associated with skiing. I’ve paid my dues and wanted to experience the finer things in life, so I headed to the most luxurious place to ski in the world – The Swiss Alps.
Arriving into Adelboden, outside the city of Bern, long after sunset, I woke up the next morning to views of a great mountain wall, with alpine peaks towering over the slopes and crevices below. The sheer size of the ski area in front of me was astounding – I had to get up there. Hopping on the hotel shuttle, I made my way up the network of gondolas to the runs, and despite not having been on skis in three years, I soon found myself back in the flow and was sweeping down trails as if I had never taken my ski boots off.
That sensation of playfully gliding down rolling runs that ebbed and flowed from alpine heights to the villages below was a constant during my trip. The ski runs in Adelboden are perfection for intermediate skiers with blue and red runs darting off in all directions. For absolute beginners, you may find other regions better suited to learning the basics, but despite it being best for intermediates, even expert skiers will enjoy the lively terrain here.
There are plenty of black runs here, a park with a decent-sized jump line, and there’s even the downhill Ski World Cup stage to keep things feeling challenging. But if that’s not enough, you can strap on a set of touring skins and go in search of some off-piste powder – the ski-touring in the surrounding valleys is some of the best in Switzerland.
Most of the luxury aspects of a ski trip happen off the slopes. I stayed at The Cambrian a four-star superior hotel, where they take a modern approach to lavish stays. Luxury once meant formal, grandiose, and sometimes over the top, but here, the quality is understated and lies in the details. As the hotel manager Lorenz Maurer explained, “We try to do everything as local as possible. We employ local tradespeople, so if something goes wrong, the person who built it is down the street. We buy our food locally, our wines, and everything else that we can find nearby, we use. It creates a connection with the town so that they’re happy to have us here and that we become part of the community.”
On a ski holiday like this, every run matters, especially when you’ve got a pass for Adelboden-Lenk with a dizzying six ski areas, 70 lifts, and over 200km of trails to choose from. So I met with Christian Rubin, a ski guide who grew up in the area to show me his favourite places to ski. A ski tourer at heart, Chrisitan’s love for Adelboden as a hidden pocket of paradise in The Alps is obvious. It’s easy to follow him down the mountain, he’s the one with the biggest smile. We spent the day zipping across traverses, bombing down runs, and hiking to hidden lookouts that few others know about.
During the winter months, a man from Adelboden works in The Cambrian as an electrician, but when the warmer months come around, he hangs up his toolbelt and tends to his cows. He leads them up mountain passes to lush expanses of green grass where he stays with them for the summer. Using the milk from the cows, he makes his own cheese which the hotel buys from him and serves in the restaurant. Touches like this that create a connection with the town, the people, and the land are what makes a hotel a luxury hotel.
It’s rare to find a ski hill full of people from the area, normally they’re very multicultural places with people from around the world living and working there. The fact that Adelboden is made up mainly of locals and Swiss tourists goes to show you how under the radar this place is. One of these locals, Nadja Wittwer, brought me to ski in Engstligenalp, Switzerland, a small, yet gorgeous area that has some of the most enjoyable skiing in all of Adelboden-Lenk.
The gondola dropped us off on a massive plateau – a rare place to start your day skiing from – where we skated across the flat and hopped on T-Bars to get far away from the handful of others around us. We had the mountains all to ourselves. As we stopped to take in the views, Nadia told stories of how her family still farm this land, she gestured to show how the landscape transforms during summer into a hiking paradise, and I heard how her husband practices Schwingen, a form of traditional Swiss wrestling.
After three days of skiing my legs were feeling heavy and my feet were getting bruised. Slipping into the spa at The Cambrian was an instant revival. The heated outdoor pool soothed the mind and body with bubble jets and endless mountain views. Reaching into the poolside drinks cart, I pulled out a can of Axe Ale, a beer that perfectly suited the moment. It’s made and canned exclusively for the hotel by a local beer sommelier specifically for weary skiers to enjoy by the pool. No local brew comes in a can so The Cambrian made their own. Every detail here is considered.
As I packed up my bags, I realised that Adelboden isn’t a ski resort, it’s a ski town. You share the gondola with kids on a half day from school, you see parents teaching their little ones to ski, and you end up in the middle of conversations between friends on the chairlift. As Lorenz says, “It takes 10 minutes to walk from one end of Adelboden to the other. And you add another 10 minutes for every year you’ve lived here.” It’s a living, breathing community that just happens to have some of the most luxurious and enjoyable skiing in Switzerland. Get here before everyone else does.
Why Interlaken, Switzerland Should Be On Your Bucket List
Cian was a guest of Switzerland Tourism during his stay and flew from Dublin to Zürich with SWISS.
For more information on Switzerland, visit MySwitzerland.com
SWISS connects Switzerland with the world, offering regular flights from Dublin to Zurich and Geneva and twice weekly flights from Cork to Zurich.
One-way fares start from €35 to Zurich and from €45 to Geneva, and include all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of checked luggage weighing up to 23kg and one piece of hand luggage.
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