Sledging with Olle
Posted by Andy Steves in on September 15, 2010.
That night we had a pasta dish with chicken. I’m not sure if it was the altitude…but it was really delicious. We hurried to finish our dinner to meet up with Olle for a “nice evening hike” at about 8pm. There were about 12 of us, all with sleds eager to find out what this hike might be.
Last summer (when I was here helping guide one of my Dad’s “family tours”), Olle offered to take some tour members of mine on a “nice hike” which turned out to be eight hours long, so I had a feeling this was going to be an experience. We rode the gondola back up to Murren, where the ski shop and pool were located. Olle took a left out of the station, and we started up the same slopes we had been skiing down for the last two days. As I looked up to the distant lights of the snowcats grooming the distant slopes, I knew it was going to be a long night. We hiked straight up for the next two hours. Once we got up past the small town, I looked up to the stars and heard absolute silence. It was then when I realized how different of a place I was in from Rome. In Europe, you can change your location with a night train to a completely different culture, language, climate and country. This just isn’t possible in the US. Once we got to our turn-around point, we looked out into the valley, the town of Murren far far below us. We could pick out the ice rink of the community center and the gondola station. Here, Olle distributed his two “lamps” (as he called his flashlights), and said “Ok then, here we go.” Now we got to reap the rewards of our efforts, and sled down the mountain. It was just us on this newly groomed, pitch black mountainside in the Swiss Alps.
Olle, a seasoned “sledger” had been sledging all his life. He pushed off and disappeared into the darkness and so began our hour-long odyssey back to Gimmelwald. I was the designated back-man with one of the lamps. Everybody else hurriedly pushed off and chased our Swiss friend down the mountainside. Since I was a bigger guy than the rest of the group, I tended to reach a higher cruising speed, and would pass my friends, leaving them in the dark to fend for themselves. Until, of course, I bit it. I quickly noticed a pattern to this chaos. I would slowly build my speed up over time until the track from the snowcat took a turn and I crashed, my sled going one way, and me going another. I still hadn’t learned how to steer this thing. As I was pulling together my senses and tracking down the sled, my friends would pass me and I would begin my slow acceleration all over again. We were 12 unskilled drivers of these steel and wooden vessels carrying us at dangerous speeds through the dark and frozen night. I could hear crashes, screams, and laughs ahead of me, but couldn’t see anything until it was too late and I ended up in the tangle of limbs, rope, and sleds. As I approached, my lamp revealed more of a cloud of snow than anything else.
About 30 minutes into our descent, the slopes turned steeper, and the turns got a bit tighter. My friend Joe was feeling skillful in negotiating the turns. I heard an “Oh no! Joe! TURN!” ahead of me. Ten seconds later, I came upon the place where the ski path took an abrupt left, and found only his tracks leading off a drop. I turned my lamp down the hill and saw him in a tangle of orange warning tape 30 feet down in powder next to a tree. He was laughing. It was more of an "I-just-escaped-death laugh," which is the best kind. He tossed his sled back up to where we were and struggled up the waist-deep snowbank for the next five minutes. When he got up and brushed himself off he said, “Alright, let’s go,” and we continued on our journey.
Finally we arrived to Murren, which was a welcome sight, and passed right through it on our way down to Gimmewald. Usually people would take the gondola at this time of night, but we had these nice rides to do the job. We continued on with my little light. Call me selfish, but I wanted to go fast so I ended up leaving my friends again in the dark. We finally descended into Gimmewald, our final destination and slumped off our low sleds and laughed in the snow. I heard my friend say “For the last 45 minutes, I felt like I was eight again!”
We slept well that night and got up early to get full-day ski passes. It was another glorious day. I took more pictures and ate more bread and Swiss cheese like I’d been doing for the past few days for lunch. In the late afternoon, my friend hit a jump too hard and hurt his knee so he retired early and we followed shortly after.
Back at the hostel, we packed our bags and sadly said goodbye to our hosts. It was one of the best weekends of my life and I had such a great time. We capped it with eating a bacon cheeseburger at the Hooters down in Interlaken while we waited for our night train back to Rome and Monday morning classes. Good weekend.
I had such an awesome weekend with my WSA group! Our leader was so great, really cool and nice. We got to see everything and it didn't feel rushed at all.Gerty Flagg, Keene State College ~ Fall 2015
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