Adelboden is a ski town yet manages not to be dominated by the sport. The main street is lined with shops, bars and traditional hotels yet the main ski area doesn’t touch it. Take the Dorfbahn gondola, neatly tucked away down a side street, and the horizontal ride across trees and meadows will get you to the main lift.
This is the start of 86km of piste, a region that straddles peaks to reach the village of Lenk. And the piste km total leaps to 200 when you take in five smaller unconnected areas for which you’ll mostly need a bus.
This is where so much skiing started for British tourists. In 1903 Sir Henry Lunn, founder of the now-gone Lunn Poly holiday chain, organised the first winter sports packages in Adelboden and it retains its heritage with even the Cambrian hotel having Welsh owners and decorations. It’s a place for all-round skiers rather than experts – only 6.5km in the main area is rated as difficult with the rest pretty much split between easy and medium runs, although edging towards the former, all in grand, rugged scenery.
From the top you can glimpse the jagged peak of the Eiger in one direction, the back of the swish resort of Gstaad in the other. The pistes leapfrog several peaks and ridges taking you to slopes above Lenk from where there’s a sweeping panorama along the valley.
Skiing starts for most people with the Dorfbahn that keeps close to the ground as it heads to the Oey-Bergläger gondola.
From the top there are varied cruise ways down, or you can cross to the chairlift that rises from Boden, Adelboden’s secondary base area. From here there’s the delight of the long World Cup run down Chuenisbärgli, but keep your speed down near the bottom as there’s a cliff-like jump (hopefully roped off) which entertains spectators on race days.
This is an place where you simply want to put on your skis and put some distance in, whether on great open areas above the trees or on runs that dash down into the forests – the skiing heads off in all directions and it’s hard to keep track of which way you’re going.
There are a couple of decent blacks above Geils and some great open pistes above Buhlberg. One of the best of the longer runs is the red (with the option of a black for part of it) that goes for almost 6km, dropping 700m drop from 2,200km Lavey above Lenk to Aebi. There’s also a terrific powder-filled off-piste adventure above this that pours down through gulleys, woodland and across an area of tiny pine trees – growing through after the big ones were wiped out by an avalanche a couple of decades ago.
Both options pop out at Aebi, which most people pass through as it’s the start of the exit path on the Bergläger side, heading back to the Dorfbahn. The Hotel Aebi’s enclosed umbrella bar gets packed – but the open-air ice bar is where we sip a warming Jagertee before skiing the long, calm riverside path all the way to the bottom.
Of Adelboden’s self-contained areas, Tschentenalp is easy to try. It sits above town, served by a gondola behind the church. Only a handful of runs and one chairlift – but it does offer an off-piste route all the way down.
Why go there?
The peace: The Alps as they used to be, quiet and relaxing, a town without too much fuss and skiing amidst might, jagged Swiss scenery.
The journey to get there: A glorious journey by two trains starting almost where you pick your luggage up at Zurich airport and finishing with a bus ride up a narrow valley, taking in mountains, lakes and the elegant city of Bern – all in less than three hours.
The choice of skiing: While the main area is very moreish if you put your mind to it you can also explore the district on the self-contained areas. There’s Engstligenalp, reached by a dramatic cablecar down the road from Boden where a clutch of drag lifts reach Adelboden’s ski peak of 2,362m. And pretty Betelberg, just across the other side of Lenk, a haven for beginners and low intermediates.
Where to eat on the slopes
Chumihütte: Cowshed by summer, a simply and extremely rustic eatery in winter. Run by Hansueli Hari (whose family opened the resort’s Hotel Hari in 1873), it’s an offshoot of his farming business, and somewhere his shaggy Highland cattle hang out in summer. Makeshift grills cook Highland burgers, bratwurst and jacket potatoes, all eaten on the terrace or in the barn-like interior.
Skilehrerhütte: A modern hut by the Geils lifts and at the bottom of the beginner area, where parents can watch youngsters ski, families can lunch – and everyone is welcome. Run by chef and ski instructor Luke, the soups are king – I had the organic barley soup with smoked local bacon, served with a chunky sausage made on another instructor’s farm. A Schweitzer ski school family affair with the finale of hazelnuts in crispy chocolate the speciality of yet another instructor.
The X Factor: The cows! Hansueli who runs the Chumihütte mountain restaurant keeps a herd of up to 40 Highland cattle with the flowing coats and meter-wide horns just outside the village – and anyone can pop in to say hello, part of the local farmers’ open door policy. Hansueli might even make you a coffee…
Budget: This being Switzerland the word budget is relative. Hotel Bristol is quietly traditional in the centre of town. Smart rooms, nice restaurant and spa with views across the mountains. Doubles from SF170 (£130), B&B.
Mid range: Hotel Cambrian, a Welsh-owned property that adds contemporary flair to Alpine style. A glass-walled lounge overlooks the mountains – with steam rising from the open-air pool below. The simple, modern restaurant serves an array of sharing dishes and the hotel is adorned with paintings by Welsh artists. Doubles from SF235 (£180), B&B.
How to get there
FLY: Swiss (swiss.com) offers more than 170 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh to Zurich from £67 one-way including hold luggage.
Getting around: Swiss transport runs like clockwork. A train from the airport to Bern, another to Frutigen and a bus up the valley takes less than three hours, from around £75 return (sbb.ch)
More info: MySwitzerland.com