Trip Reports: Bernese Oberland Ski Hut Tour, Switzerland - April 2011

In early April I went on a ski hut tour in the Bernese Oberland mountains of Switzerland. This is the heart of the Swiss Alps, and during the course of 6 days we skied a variety of routes across the largest glacier system in the Alps. Each night we ate and slept in Swiss alpine huts along the way.

Jungfraujoch, train, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Our ride into the mountains - the Jungfraujoch train which climbs up through tunnels inside of the Eiger mountain.

Jungfraujoch, panorama, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Jungfraujoch View

Panorama from a viewing window along the Jungfraujoch tunnel railway. 

The trip started with a ride up the incredible Jungfraujoch railway, which actually travels up through a tunnel blasted through the Eiger mountain! The top railway ends at a station situated on a high saddle on a shoulder of the massive peak of Jungfrau, and to start our tour we simply strapped on our skis (splitboard for me) and off we went. Pretty impressive way to start a trip!

glacier, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Skinning up past a large glacier ice block.

Hardly 10 minutes after leaving the Jungfraujoch we were already immersed in serious glaciated terrain.

Jungfrau, Jungfraujoch, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Looking back at Jungfrau, where we started from the Jungfraujoch - the highest train station in Europe.

Kransbergfirn, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

The group heads down the Kransbergfirn.

Kransbergfirn, Aletschhorn, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skiing, photo

Skiing down the Kransberg Glacier with the massive Aletschhorn (4193m) behind.

The scale of these mountains and glaciers is immense, and traveling through this kind of terrain felt unreal the first day!

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skiing, photo

Skiing past some cracks.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Konkordia, hut, photo

Skinning to the Konkordia Hut (if you look closely, you can see the hut on a bench about halfway up the rock wall, along with the giant zig-zagging staircase that ascends from the glacier to the hut).

The beauty of touring in the Alps is that you can stay in alpine huts the whole time, so you don’t have to bring any food or camping gear. The huts are quite elaborate affairs, more like mountain hotels than huts! They serve you full dinners and breakfasts, and you can buy beer and wine and lunches if you so desire. Deluxe!

Konkordia, staircase, ladders, hut, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Climbing the ladders up to the Konkordia Hut. The hut was originally built in 1877 at a level of 50m above the Aletsch Glacier. Since then the glacier has since receded over 100m more, so over the years an elaborate series of metal staircases have been built downwards to scale the 150m (~500 ft) vertical cliff between the hut and the shrinking glacier!

As you hike up the staircase there are plaques along the way that mark where the glacier level used to be at certain dates in the past.

Konkordia, moonlight, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Aletsch Glacier, Bernese, photo

Konkordia Moonlight

Moonlight and stars at Konkordiaplatz, the main junction of glaciers flowing into the Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in Switzerland and the Alps.  As seen from the Konkordia hut.  At the saddle on the right side of the photo, you can see the lights of Jungfraujoch train station and observatory, where we started our tour.

I had brought my big dSLR camera with me, along with the tripod and a couple lenses. Though the extra weight was a bit of a drag for touring, I went on this trip just as much for the photographic opportunities as the snowboarding and touring. In addition to the Canon dSLR, I also brought along my little Panasonic GF1, which is what I took all of the touring/skiing photos with.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Konkordia, photo

Leaving Konkordia, heading to the Hollandia hut as a storm starts to roll in.

Konkordiaplatz, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo

Skinning across the Konkordiaplatz on the Aletsch Glacier.

In our group there were 7 people and 2 guides. Josh was another splitboarder on the trip, so luckily I wasn’t the only “knuckledragger” out there.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, Dreieckhorn, photo

Skinning up the Grosser Aletschfirn glacier, with Dreieckhorn (3810m) above.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Hollandiahutte, photo

Dawn at the Hollandiahutte, which is perched on the edge of a sheer cliff, surrounded by glaciers.

The huts here are located in the most improbable locations, usually perched up on high cliffs – the only spots without glaciers on them. The huts are stocked by helicopter, and so the prices for food and drink usually correlate with weight more than anything.

Hollandiahutte, sunrise, panorama, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Hollandiahutte Sunrise Panorama

Sunrise as seen from the Hollandiahütte, situated on a sheer cliff at the head of a deep rugged valley.

hollandiahutte, skiing, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo

Skinning away from the Hollandiahutte on a bluebird morning after about 30cm of fresh powder had dumped the night before!

Before our trip, it hadn’t snowed in over three weeks, so the snow conditions the first two days were pretty horrid. We were very fortunate to get a big dump of snow the second night, which totally refreshed the snow surface conditions!

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo

Very cold on the way up Äbeni Flue.

Skiing, , photo

Skiing fresh powder down the Äbeni Flue glacier.

We didn’t make it all the way up to the summit of Äbeni Flue because our lead guide was in a pissy mood (unfortunately a common condition for him during our trip), but anyhow I didn’t mind too much because the frigid wind was cranking up there. We had one short mellow descent here, then a long, gentle, mostly flat glacier descent that was not particularly suited for a snowboard. In fact, the entire Hollandiahütte area doesn’t really offer much in the way of quality descents. Still, it was a good experience to cover some ground in such amazing glaciated surroundings.

Skiing, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, , photo

Skiing the lower part of the Äbeni Flue glacier, with Konkordiaplatz in the background.

Konkordiaplatz, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo

Skinning back across Konkordiaplatz, back to the Konkordia hut for another night.

Konkordiaplatz, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Looking back across the Konkordiaplatz as Gil makes it to the home stretch.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Gr, photo

John, Michael, and Kari on top of the Grünhornlücke pass, about to go for an afternoon ski back down to Konkordia.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Gr, photo

Skiing down from Grünhornlücke.

So, after a total of two nights in the Konkordia hut and one at the Hollandiahütte, we headed over the Grünhornlücke pass toward Finsteraarhorn. That morning we were greeted with another dusting of snow and misty weather – but no wind this time!

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo

More snowy weather as we skin back up and over the Grünhornlücke on our way to the Finsteraarhorn hut.

We all wore harnesses the entire time, so that in the unlikely event that someone fell into a crevasse, the guide would be able to pull us out. Fortunately that never happened!

Finsteraarhorn, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, ski, photo

Skiing down to the Finsteraarhorn hut.

I was excited to get to the Finsteraarhorn area, because I could see on the maps that this area offered much better possibilities for solid, steeper descents, which are better suited for splitboarding than the mostly rolly, cruisey, flat glacier descents around Hollandia and Konkordia.

Wyssnollen, Fiescher Gabelhorn, skiing, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Jason skins to the summit of Wyssnollen (3590m), with the Fiescher Gabelhorn (3876m) looming in the mist overhead.

After getting to the hut, some of us went out for a descent of Wyssnollen, which was the first solid, good-snow descent for me on this trip. From here on out our descents would all be longer, steeper, and with great snow as well. Nice! If I ever do another Berner ski trip, I will probably head straight for the Finsteraarhorn area and stay there for the whole time.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Four skiers skin across the vast Walliser Fiescherfirn glacier.

Wyssnollen, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, clouds, glacier, photo

Wyssnollen Clouds

A lifting storm streams past Wyssnollen and the Walliser Fiescherfirn glacier. 

Grünhorn,  Walliser Fiescherfirn, glacier, Berner Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Grünhorn Clouds

As the storm breaks, clouds sweep across the Walliser Fiescherfirn glacier below Grünhorn (4043m).

Grünhorn, moonlight, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Grünhorn Moonlight

Moonlight illuminates the Grünhorn (4043m).

Galmihorn, skinning, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Skinning up towards Galmihorn.

By the fifth day, I was feeling pretty beat overall, though paradoxically I also felt like I was really just starting to get my legs under me… feeling stronger with the hiking. I think a combination of too many hefeweisens and not enough touring this winter has left me a bit out of shape, which I realized quickly on this trip! I was not the skinning powerhouse I figured I’d be! But, nothing else to do but keep on truckin…

Finsteraarhorn, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo

Skinning up Galmihorn, with a spectacular backdrop of the Finsteraarhorn (4273m).

Finsteraarhorn, skiing, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Skinning up with a dramatic backdrop of the Finsteraarhorn (4273m).

We skinned up to the top of Galmihorn and were awarded with the best views of the trip, in particular with a stunning profile of Finsteraarhorn – a standout peak in an already impressive range.

Galmihorn, skiing, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Kari skis the Galmihorn (3517m), with the Grosses Wannenhorn (3905m) and Fiescher Gabelhorn (3876m) in the background. Also you can see our previous day's descent route of Wyssnollen, the snow covered lower peak on the right.

Great spring powder snow over here, and I finally got to open it up for a high speed descent.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, Oberaarjochh, photo

Chilling on the deck of the Oberaarjochhütte.

The Oberaarjoch hut is a smaller, more rustic hut, which was a nice change of pace for our last night of the trip.

Oberaarjoch, sunset, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Oberaarjoch Sunset

Sunset alpenglow as seen from Oberaarjoch.

Oberaarjoch, sunrise, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Oberaarjoch Sunrise

Sunrise alpenglow at Oberaarjoch. 

Bernese Oberland,Europe,Switzerland, Matterhorn, panorama, photo

Berner Panorama

A panoramic view from a glacier deep in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. The Matterhorn is the jagged mountain visible in the far distance.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, skinning, photo
skiing, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Mark and Gil shred it.  Perfect snow.

Our last day gave us some of the best turns yet, with some perfectly preserved powder slopes on the way out. It was hard to leave so much good snow behind, but I think 6 days out here was enough afterall!

snowboarding, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Josh carves in front of the Ritzihorn.

snowboarding, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Rider: Josh.

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, photo

Back on dry ground after our last descent out of the mountains! Here's me, Mark, and Josh.

All in all, this trip was not so much about the pure ski descents but rather the incredible experience of traveling through the glaciated heart of the Alps. This was my first time traveling across such large glaciers for an extended period of time and it has left a stamp on my soul that I won’t forget any time soon! This trip was a fitting grand-finale of my winter in Europe!

Related Galleries

A Winter in the Alps
Winter 2010-11