Discover your inner Eddie the Eagle in Kandersteg, Switzerland
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I didn’t quite
know what to make of it when the invitation dropped through the door to ‘Fly
like an Eagle’ in a delightful Swiss village.
But it was
not so much flying like an eagle as jumping for joy, delighted to be in a
glorious little corner of Switzerland which isn’t a slave to full-on,
wall-to-wall Alpine skiing and all the ersatz glitz and glamour that can often
go with it.
If you put
your mind to it, you can fly in Kandersteg for a fair distance, as Eddie the
Eagle found when he stayed there for a while back in the day (1987!) although I
chose not to follow the great man’s example.
He’s fondly remembered there for turning up in his pre-Winter Olympic days as just plain Michael Edwards with not two ha’pennies to rub together, staying at the world-famous local Scouts centre, and grafting to pay for his accommodation and food so that he could practice on the village’s ski jumps.
which served him so well in the Nordic Arena at one end of Kandersteg make use
of natural mountainside contours rather than looming over the place like a
concrete tower block and spending time there is a world away from the frantic
snowsports image served up on the much-hyped TV embarrassment called The Jump.
home-grown Eagle, who is now the hero of a heartwarming Hollywood film, was
axed from Channel 4’s 2017 show as a commentator after he raised safety
concerns, but after seeing the tacky, injury-plagued series, I’m sure he’d
agree that he was well out of it!
of Alpine skiing, with just one gondola and a couple of smaller lifts serving a
limited number of pretty gentle runs, is not really an issue when it comes to
exploring this Nordic haven and ice-climbing centre, set amid glorious scenery
not far from Interlaken and within easy reach of resorts with all the downhill skiing you
indeed, a brilliant place to bring young grandchildren for their first taste of
‘real’ downhill in the mountains, as opposed to a dry slope or indoor ski
centre back home, but an improver or intermediate skier would probably soon get
bored and need more challenges.
there’s no shortage of challenges for downhill skiers wanting a change of scene for a while, starting with those jumps!
The jumping hills fell out of favour a bit after Eddie’s heyday and neglect and
lack of investment took their toll, but the villagers appreciated the value of
what they had and were determined not to let it go. As well as recognising it
as a great playground for their youngsters, they had a canny eye on the 2028
Winter Olympics and there’s now an 11-year project on the move costing 7.2
million Swiss francs and an army of volunteers helping out.
measure of commitment and support, locals in this lovely corner of the Berner
Oberland voted to pay an extra 1,000 Swiss francs in taxes to help fund the
ambitious project, and the jumping hills are already upgraded more than
somewhat since Eddie first clapped eyes on them, with more work in the
what? Yes, you can have a go, with expert tuition on how to get started and
maybe try out the small training jump, although you don’t have to really look
the part and climb into a shiny, brightly-coloured onesie (unless you really
want to, that is).
standard of skier brought up on the mantra that if your skis are off the snow,
you’re likely to be in real trouble, it’s difficult to accept that being in the
air for more than a couple of seconds will not be life-threatening, but those
long, long skis do provide a degree of stability and some intrepid souls did
manage to clear a metre or two.
delightful village guide Doris Kallen told us local youngsters do it as a
matter of course and it’s seen as a fun thing to do after school on many days,
rather than just hanging out around the village centre.
you don’t have a go yourself, it’s quite an experience to tag along with the
jumpers as they make their way to the top of their launch pad. It’s a stiff
walk to the top of the smaller hills and you can be breathless enough just
doing that, but the trek to the top of
the big hill is a challenge and the experience of being poised above the
village far, far below is really breathtaking.
purpose-built mini-funicular takes you a good way up, but the final, short
stretch to the very top is on foot, along a twisting narrow path that defies
you to look back until you have reached the start ramps, where you can cling on
and pretend to look nonchalant.
the pleasure of meeting Eddie a few times and I know he’s splendid chap, but he
soared even higher in my estimation as I perched at the top of the jump and
looked down, knuckles turning white as I clenched my fists and face turning
green as I registered the fact that the jumpers disappeared from view after
hurtling down and taking off from the ‘table’, only reappearing after landing a
seemingly impossible distance further down, hopefully still on their skis and
not spreadeagled on the snow as they hurtled into the finish arena.
If a foray
into flying isn’t for you, put the mega-long skis to one side and grab some
that are just extra-long to indulge in another side of Nordic fun with a spot
of langlauf, or cross-country skiing.
one thing you can do around the village with locals of all ages, because there
are signposted, dedicated routes to follow as well as numerous other paths you
can explore. It’s a great way to just get around as well; and it needn’t be too
taxing to glide around the place as the valley floor along the River Kander is
It can be
as taxing as you want, for a good many people use cross-country skiing as the
perfect antidote to jogging, because although I find it quite easy to fall down
at times, it is a lot safer than trying to run on an icy or slushy stretch of
road or footpath and it is acknowledged as about the most comprehensive
full-body workout you can get.
There is no shortage of marked routes to follow, for both classic and skating techniques, from dead easy to pretty difficult, ranging from a 3km ‘blue’ to a 14km panoramic trail with great views and even a 6km floodlit night trail; plus a high-altitude 8km route reached by the Sunnbuel cable car at more than 1,900 metres, giving access to the flat, pine-forested Spittelmatte area.
is a lot lighter than downhill equipment, too, of course, so it’s no problem at
all to stop at a village cafe, click out of the light bindings and just walk
inside in the very comfy, trainer-style langlauf shoes or boots without risking
either slipping on your back thanks to clunky downhill boots, or risking the
wrath of the cafe owner by ruining his rugs or polished floors.
great way to link up with the locals, perhaps under the guidance of Urs
Niedhart, a former Olympic athlete and owner of the local Nordic ski school and you may well meet up with one or more former
professional athletes in any of the restaurants, coffee shops and hotels used
as meeting places around the village, where there is no big, raucous ‘apres’
wasn’t much time for ‘apres’ either, with the attraction of a superb spa at our
base in the Waldhotel Doldenhorn, where you could relax under the
stars in the outdoor jacuzzi section of
its main pool and then be spoiled for choice with a splendid menu. The
food was excellent and the nearby historic Landgasthof Ruedihus, owned and run
by the same family team of René and Anne Maeder and son Patric, offered us an insight into regional cuisine
at its finest.
good, too, at the Chalet Hotel Adler in the centre of the village, but
here was another twist on fun at altitude, with fun-loving owner Andreas Fetzer
showing off his ‘loverooms’, featuring whirlpool baths made for two which glide
outside onto private balconies at the touch of a button.
food at the Hotel Ermitage, where Rosemarie Bieri rules
supreme in the kitchen and husband Karl runs front-of-house, in a handy setting
next to the gondola which you take to reach the easy downhill slopes and the
beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of Oeschinensee, with walks and even ice fishing on offer as well as
stunning scenery. There’s also a super lunch spot at a remote,
fifth-generation-owned restaurant by the lake, reached by skiing, sledging or
taking a half-hour hike, before you either take a return gondola trip or bomb
back to the village on a dedicated sledge run.
the village for a coffee in the popular Hotel Blumlisalp, where one morning we found the
Swiss Ski youth team loading up with carbs before training; and where one
evening we had dinner and also found why Master Chef Christian Wyss-Wandfluh
and his wife Madi have Swiss Gilde credentials for their brilliant cooking and
a key part of skiing, ski jumping, sledging and even ice-climbing, but it’s
also one heck of a job trying to balance any of those with great food and
self-indulgence in such a marvellous setting as Kandersteg.
you’re tempted to go there, do what Eddie the Eagle did, jump at the chance!
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