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.
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!
Hardly 10 minutes after leaving the Jungfraujoch we were already immersed in serious glaciated terrain.
The scale of these mountains and glaciers is immense, and traveling through this kind of terrain felt unreal the first day!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
Great spring powder snow over here, and I finally got to open it up for a high speed descent.
The Oberaarjoch hut is a smaller, more rustic hut, which was a nice change of pace for our last night of the trip.
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!
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!