Tag Archives: Bernese Oberland

5/10/12 – Chop ’em straight, stack ’em strong: the art of building an Alpine wood pile

This beauty is in Ischgl, Austria

This beauty is in Ischgl, Austria

Autumn has set in, it’s not long till the clocks go back and the blackberries (such as they were) are over. It’s the time of year when I light a fire in the evening – and that means it’s also time to get my wood pile in order.

It’ll be no surprise to skiers that the countries that lead the way in the art of building a successful wood pile are the mountainous ones.

The bars were traditionally used for drying hay, but this Alagna house also has lots of scope for wood storage

The bars were traditionally used for drying hay, but this house in Alagna, Italy, also has lots of scope for wood storage

From the villages of the Valais to the towns of the Tyrol to the dwellings of the Dolomites, householders across the Alps are masters in stacking them neat, stable, dry and, in some cases, high.

I have been photographing these labours-of-logs (sorry…) during my travels in the mountains.

We sledged past this Swiss super-stack in Gimmelwald, a lovely farming village just below Muerren in the Bernese Oberland

We sledged past this Swiss super-stack in Gimmelwald, a lovely farming village just below Muerren in the Bernese Oberland

As you can see, there are regional variations. Now I’m no expert, but what I think they all have in common is the following:

1. To make a good pile, logs need to be cut to the same length.

2. Larger logs are split to similar widths.

Here's another goodie in Gimmelwald

Here’s another goodie in Gimmelwald

3. Smaller unsplit logs – almost kindling-sized – are stacked all together, sometimes in their own section of the pile.

4. A good stacking place must be found.

5. Sometimes this place will have support at one or both ends, but often it doesn’t.

Freestanding stacks in Pontresina, in the Swiss Engadine, with perfect criss-cross ends

A store in Pontresina, in the Swiss Engadine, with effective criss-cross ends

6. To build an ‘end’, some sort of criss-cross system is used, such as two logs one way, then two at 90 degrees, on top; repeat up to desired height.

7. The pile does not necessarily need to be under cover – only the top layer gets wet or snowy – and if you leave any bark facing the elements, this is minimised.

Not as neat but it does the job. A wood store in a fjord-side hamlet in Steigen, Arctic Norway

Not as neat, but it does the job. A wood store in a fjord-side hamlet in Steigen, Arctic Norway

8. But most piles are next to a building with an overhang, such as most chalets have. In fact, it looks like many houses have been designed with a wood pile in mind.

9. The logs are usually very easily accessible from the dwelling.

10. Many households have a second, messier, pile of unsplit/chopped or partly split/chopped logs, which are being seasoned.

My dad has always kept a very organised, well-seasoned wood pile, and my parents installed a wood stove long before they became fashionable – which is probably partly why I started noticing other people’s ones.

The industrial wood-burner that heats half the ski village of Anzere, in the Swiss Valais

The industrial wood-burner that heats half the ski village of Anzere, in the Swiss Valais

And the village where I’ve done most of my skiing – Anzere, in Switzerland – now has a giant log-burner heating virtually the whole village (read about it in my Telegraph article here).

I, however, have only recently got the hang of dealing with wood. Or have I? Judge for yourself by looking at the little stack at my back door in Surrey – I know it’s not up to Alpine standards.

Peaslake, Surrey. How does it rate?

Peaslake, Surrey. How does it rate?

I confess that although I did the stacking, it’s my house-mate, Alex, who has been responsible for the sourcing and splitting.

Readers who know me won’t be surprised that I also have a box of easily ignitable material so I don’t have to waste money on smelly, synthetic fire-lighters.

As well as newspaper I’ve taken to hoarding loo rolls and egg boxes.

Amazingly, this is on the Isle of Wight. Its builder, Gert Bach, who runs the excellent Hillside b&b in Ventnor, is Danish

This is on the Isle of Wight. Its builder, Gert Bach, who runs the excellent Hillside b&b in Ventnor, is Danish

My uncle and aunt get their fire roaring – and fragrant – by adding orange peel, dried in a warm oven or on top of a Rayburn or Aga. I’ve tried it, and it works.

So I’m ready for winter. Bring round your loo rolls, egg boxes and orange peel, if you like – I can use unlimited amounts.

And finally, one of my favourites - another Gimmelwalder

And finally, one of my favourites – another Gimmelwalder

Meanwhile I think I’ll just go into the woods to fetch some kindling…

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Filed under Austria, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Switzerland

18/1/12 – Inferno 2012: the skating has started

This is the latest Inferno info: the last time it went 'all the way' was 2006

I’m in Muerren, Switzerland, this week for the Inferno ski race. The big news this year is that the full course – from the top of the Schilthorn all the way to Lauterbrunnen (14.9km and 1,990m of vertical) – is skiable and being prepared for Saturday’s downhill.

Whether we’ll really be going all that way I’m not sure, as the forecast is for snow Friday and Saturday. In the past, when conditions at the top have been too snowy or windy, it has begun lower down.

The langlauf is under way. By the time I do it, it'll be dark

More pressingly though, right now the langlauf (cross-country) leg of the race – entered by 470 of the 1,850 who do the downhill – is under way as I write. I have a prime viewing spot from the living room at Chalet Fontana, great-value self-catering lodgings in the centre of Muerren.

The speed and stability of the early starters is astonishing – a far cry from my own tentative style. There’s hot wine at the “bumps” – designed to make the beginners fall over – and plenty of bystanders shouting “hoya, hiya!” and ringing cowbells to spur racers on.

You’ll see from my start number – 315 of 470 – that my record in this race isn’t brilliant.

My practice last night: not the most dynamic look

But it’s a fun challenge to do the “combined” Inferno, which also includes a giant slalom, rather than “just” the straight downhill – if only for the relief you feel when the langlauf is over.

Muerren is looking its beautiful Alpine best this week, with chalet roofs piled high with snow, pistes in wonderful condition and deep blue skies soaring over the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau summits opposite.

View from the Gimmeln yesterday morning

You can see by tracks that off-piste conditions have been good lately; however, on many south-east to south-west facing slopes – at all altitudes – there are giant, gaping cracks right down to the ground: a legacy of the 2m of snow that fell all at once within a few days on warm, snowless slopes in mid-December.

Some of the cracks have avalanched – some in harmless places, some in more threatening locations.

The snow-cats have been working hard to plough several layers of “steps” below such hazardous slab-fields, protecting pistes from the kind of wet-snow avalanches described in a recent “Ezine” I received from Henry’s Avalanche Talk.

This crack under the Kandahar lift turned into a wet snow avalanche

The cracks really show the sheer quantity of snow here – as does the towering wall of snow, 3m high in places, next to the second long traverse/schuss in the downhill, in the Engetal.

Talking of schussing, it’s time for me to gear up with those flippy, lightweight planks for the most knackering part of the week – I’m due to wobble onto course at 6.15pm. Wish me luck!

P.S. 19/1/12: Here are the results so far… http://services.datasport.com/2012/winter/inferno/

P.P.S. To read about last year’s race, see blogs from January 2011 and to read my article in Country Life about the Inferno 2011 click here.

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Filed under Off-piste, Racing, Switzerland

15/12/11 – Interlaken’s yodel festival in Songlines magazine

They sang by night...

Regular readers of morethanskiing may recall how overexcited I was in June about visiting Switzerland’s biggest yodelling festival – an event that takes place every three years and draws crowds of 200,000 – more than Glastonbury.

They sang by day...

This excitement turned out to be thoroughly justified: the trip my sister and I took to Interlaken for the festival was one of the best weekend breaks I’ve had – and that includes ski breaks.

...and they practised in the back-streets

The Jodlerfest was directly responsible for June’s higher-than-usual blogcount on this site – and now you can read more about it, in the January/February issue of Songlines, the world music magazine.

Buy the issue to see it on paper, or click the link below to take you to a pdf of a ‘Postcard from Switzerland’ describing the amazing experience of spending a weekend at the world’s biggest celebration of Swiss mountain music.

Postcard from Switzerland in Songlines magazine, Jan/Feb 2012 issue

To read more – and for more pictures, go to June posts such as these:

http://tinyurl.com/3rph4a3

http://tinyurl.com/6zhekyr

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Music, Switzerland

27/5/11 – Why energy bars just don’t cut it

If, like me, you are one of those people who has one perpetual eye on your next meal, the prospect of the long stretch between breakfast and supper during a hut-to-hut ski tour may seem alarming. What sort of provisions will you pack to sustain you between huts? Will there be room in your rucksack? Will you get terribly hungry? And most worryingly, will your companions’ picnics be nicer than yours?

Viande sechee for 14, carried to the Konkordia Hut

A year ago, when ski touring in the Bernina region, I was the only one to pack ‘energy’-type bars. Nobody wanted to share them with me because they were so unappetising, despite probably ‘doing the job’. Thankfully most days we arrived at the huts early enough to feast on pasta (on the Italian side) or roesti (on the Swiss side) at about 2pm before sitting down to supper at around 6pm.

A much better bet for the rucksack, I have since discovered, are mixed nuts and dried fruit, such as raisins, sultanas and apricots. I buy mine at home from Julian Graves, which seems good value, mix my favourite types together and bring them in a carrier bag. They are delicious and easy to hand around; they provide good energy compared to their weight; they don’t freeze, melt or smell, and unlike individually wrapped energy bars, they aren’t bristling with packaging.

A lump of hard cheese is another satisfying snack, which provides a gratifying opportunity to use the Swiss Army knife that weighs down the lid of my rucksack. I like the harder types of Gruyere best, but a word of advice: don’t unwrap it in the dorm room three days into the tour.

Dried or smoked meat makes tasty Alpine fare, and most mountain guides worth their salt will have a slab of some kind in their rucksack, whether a blotchy, gnarled salami sausage or a slab of smoked ham. One of my favourite mountain meats is the good-value, square-edged Landjaeger, available in bunches of two or four in Austria, Switzerland and probably Germany: the skin is thin enough to eat and you can break off pieces to hand around without the Swiss Army.

Snake snacks - we could have got through several packets

Wafer-sliced, delicate viande sechee is wonderful too, but you may have to carry packaging to keep it fresh: on a recent Berner Oberland tour, one of my friends, a chef, heroically carried enough for 14 of us to feast on with our afternoon shandy aperos at the Konkordia Hut.

And what’s for pudding? Chocolate is the obvious choice, available to buy daily in huts so you can avoid lugging it throughout the tour. But it tends to freeze or thaw, and I find that one bar leaves me wanting a second, whether I’m up a mountain or not.

My suggestion is to take sweet/sour shoelace-type confectionary. Between Alagna and Zinal in March I carried a bag of Haribo strawberry sherbert-covered ‘snakes’. They were so popular among my companions that I had to ration them towards the end. I took a similar packet, from Migros, to the Berner Oberland, with similar results – though oddly, the boys liked them more than the girls did.

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Italy, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland

9/5/11 – Bernese Oberland in pictures

The Konkordiaplatz from the Konkordiahuette (2,850m)

With good reason, the Bernese Oberland is a popular and busy spot for ski touring.

Two of the three huts we stayed in were virtually fully booked this weekend, and nearly every slope we skinned up or skiied down was tracked to some extent.

En route to the Hollandiahuette, with part of the Aletschhorn behind

But as you can see from these pictures, even when it’s crawling with tourers and climbers in the high mountains, there is no shortage of space.

View to the Konkordiaplatz from the Hollandiahuette at 6.30am

You still only see a dozen other people on each day’s journey.

The Loetschental, with the Hollandiahuette a speck on the horizon

Enjoy these pictures of some of the wonderful views we enjoyed during this tour – although remember, the weather this spring has been exceptionally brilliant for ski touring. On my first hut-to-hut tour, in the Silvretta region a few years ago, it was thick fog every day…

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8/5/11 – What are these snow-bound insects?

Yesterday morning we were skinning up from the Konkordiaplatz towards the Kransberg, on the way to the Hollandiahuette, our last overnight stop on this four-day Bernese Oberland ski tour. There had been a light wind overnight and the sun was beating down from a clear sky.

These insects covered a vast area from about 2,900m to 3,300m

All over the snow around us were millions – or possibly billions – of tiny insects. At first I thought they were bits of dust. But in fact each speck was squirming. They were spread evenly on the surface, each inhabiting a little space, with few touching another. For more than an hour they were around us: from around 2,900m to 3,300m, when, after a steeper pitch that made me forget to watch them, I realised they were no longer there.

I have heard of the Gletscherfloh (glacier flea), but am doubtful that’s what these little specs are. Can anyone identify them?

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5/5/11 – ‘Peeeepah’: the hot topic in the Bernese Oberland

Even though it’s May, I’ve been skiing today. Or rather, walking uphill on skis, and making the occasional downhill slide. If you’ve read previous posts – such as this https://morethanskiing.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/23311-from-alagna-to-zinal-on-skins/ – you’ll know I love ski touring – an ever more popular activity in the Alps, both among locals and and the likes of Brits.

Out of the tunnel, onto the mountaintops

This time, I’m joining a Swiss group assembled by an old Anzere Ski School friend of mine, Caroline Ogi, who now runs the excellent Hotel Walliserhof in Zermatt. Among the group of 12 are a hairdresser, a railway station manager, a chef, a ski shop owner and several colleagues from Switzerland’s very well organised tourist board. Our mountain guides are Fred, a handsome Valaisan, whose fighting cows are headed for stardom in the upcoming Combats des Reines, and a kindly, bearded, Nendaz-based Belgian who goes by the reassuringly Alpine name of Helmuth. Our destination: the huge glaciers that spread out across the Bernese Oberland, behind the Eiger.

Last time I toured with Caroline & friends we were weathered off the Haute Route and spent three days stuck in Arolla. This weekend, by contrast, is forecast to be sweltering and sunny. I’ve packed as lightly as possible, leaving behind quite a few items compared to last time (https://morethanskiing.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/6411-packing-for-hut-to-hut-touring/). Last night I stayed in a dorm room at a backpackers’ hostel in Basel (32 Swiss francs) after flying in late from Gatwick. (Since I’m sleeping alongside a dozen people for the next three nights it didn’t seem worth booking my own room on the way.)

Tikka at the top: sadly it wasn't quite lunchtime

Hundreds of Asian tourists accompanied us to our starting point this morning at Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch (3,454m). While they made for the Bollywood curry house on the first floor, we skated off down the Jungfrau glacier to the Konkordiaplatz, where the ice beneath the Aletsch glacier is said to be up to 900m deep, then hung a left to climb to the Gruenhornluecke (a col on the way to tonight’s hut).

To my surprise, at our picnic break, chat revolved around the Royal Wedding. Most of all, the Swissies were interested in “Peeeepah”. Getting Suisse Romande and Schwyzerduetsch speakers to pronounce Pippa correctly – which was their chief preoccupation – is quite a challenge.

Guide Helmuth and punter Pierre-Cedric during today's first gentle climb

Talk was also of the acclaimed Swiss mountain guide Erhard Loretan, who died on his 52nd birthday a week ago. Loretan was one of only four climbers to have summited all the world’s 14 peaks that exceed 8,000m. This afternoon we passed the Gruenhorn (which is just over 4,000m), where he fell while leading a client a week ago (read his obituary here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/sport-obituaries/8484065/Erhard-Loretan.html).

View from the Finsteraarhornhuette

The Finsteraarhornhuette, which we reached at 5pm, has large individual bunks, impressive indoor loos and sensational views from its terrace. No wonder 98 of its 106 beds are taken tonight. Loretan stayed here the night before his fall: I hope the last night of his amazing life was a peaceful and comfy one.

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Filed under Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland