Building a terrible nights sleep in Adelboden

Adelboden sits at 1350m at the end of the Engstlige valley and handily lies within a 3 hour drive of Bern, Basel, Zürich and Geneva airports. Despite its’ claim to fame of being the location of the first package winter sports holiday in 1903 organised by Henry Lunn, of Lunn Poly fame, it remains quintessentially Swiss. Cow bells and chocolate box houses litter the valley floor and the location is gloriously untouched by the hordes who arrive at Geneva airport every weekend.

After marvelling at the efficiency and comfort of the Swiss rail system, seamlessly navigating a change at Spiez and taking in the views across the Thunersee, we arrived in Adelboden.

View of Adelboden

View of Adelboden


We were greeted at The Cambrian hotel by Anke – the wonderfully efficient and charming Manager. The hotel is stunning and features great modern design touches such as a large foot sculpture (bigfoot) by the lifts and a piano painted like a Fresian. However, the main attraction is the utterly breath-taking view across the valley to the imposing jagged peaks opposite which can be admired from practically every room in the hotel. I can definitely confirm however that it is best enjoyed from the outdoor infinity pool!

Cambrian infinity pool

The Cambrian infinity pool

Dessert at Hohliebestubli

Dessert at Hohliebestubli

After swapping our spa robes for warm layers we embarked on our first adventure; snowshoeing to Hohliebestubli restaurant. The snowshoe was an epic 90 minute moonlit hike, followed by a local taster menu including delights such as a blue cheese ice cream and butternut squash & horseradish soup served in test tubes all paired with local wines. The set menu changes every day depending on which local ingredients are available and want the chef fancies cooking!

After stuffing our faces and getting plenty of rest we were ready to stretch our legs on the 210km of skiing in the Adelboden-Lenk ski area.

Expertly guided by our instructor Steffan we flew down virtually empty runs beneath the watchful gaze of the Plaine Morte glacier, the Wildstrubel and surrounding peaks. I have visited a lot of ski resorts, and Adelboden takes the crown on the beauty front; it’s impossible to ski for more than 2 or 3 turns without stopping for another photo. The skiing and scenery are akin to the Dolomites with lots of trees and pistes which twist and turn with numerous rollers to get some air off, if you dare.

The Hoi Turm high ropes tower

The Hoi Turm high ropes tower

Scenery aside, Adelboden boasts an extremely varied ski area – from nursery slopes to the World Cup run – it also features a brand new gondola up from Lenk and will enjoy a CHF10 million cash injection this summer to replace a slow 2 man chair and drag lift with a high speed 6-man chairlift. Another unique feature is the Höi-Turm, a high ropes tower standing at 1974m on the Sillerenbühl peak which includes a viewing platform affording 360 degree views of the stunning Swiss countryside.

After tucking into a traditional lunch of Spätzle (tiny dumplings with cheese and herbs) and a local beer (aka Dutch courage) at Restaurant Geilsbrüggli 2 of us set off to chance our luck on the Weltcup run, the Chuenisbärgli. The piste is exhilarating and I can see why it is regarded as one of the more challenging on the world cup circuit. Sadly I don’t think my footprint will be added to those of past winners on the rock memorial in the centre of town…

Footprints of past World Cup champions

Footprints of past World Cup champions

The main reason we were in Adelboden was to participate in the fourth annual Igloo Festival where teams of enthusiasts and novices gather at an altitude of 2,000m on the Engstligenalp – the biggest plateau of the western Swiss Alps, to spend their Saturday competing to see who can build the best igloo. The cable car top lift station clings precariously to the clifftop above a 600m frozen waterfall (2nd highest in Switzerland) the scene is reminiscent of something from a Seventies Bond movie, with no pylons supporting the cables stretching up 2,000 feet.

Engstligenalp cable car

View from the top of the Engstligenalp cable car to the valley floor

The legend goes that the Engstligenalp was won by the people of Adelboden in a card game called Jassen (still popular today in Switzerland) against an over confident Bishop! Nowadays the lunar-like landscape boasts incredible alpine and cross country skiing in winter then in late June about 500 cows replace skiers after they make the precarious ascent from the valley floor up to the plateau for summer grazing – visitors can take the cable car up from 5am to watch. Once the cows leave in September an 18 hole pop-up golf course with a Raclette-serving club house takes over the Alp – a truly year-round destination!

We dropped our bags at the Berghotel and made the 20 minute trudge to the igloo area where, after a quick demonstration by the organisers, we were given shovels and saws and shown our pitch where we got to work along with 21 other teams from all over the world.

The Berghotel at sunrise

The Berghotel at sunrise

We used a giant compass made from a stick and string to mark the outside edge of the igloo and cut blocks of snow about 20cm thick and a foot square. The first layer is built with the blocks leaning inwards and the tops are sawed into a diagonal slope so that the igloo is built in a spiral. Once the igloo reaches a certain height I passed the blocks to Bruno who essentially sealed himself inside. The last block is shaped like a plug to fill the remaining hole at the top of the igloo.

Igloo Blocks

Sawing the blocks to size for the second layer

Next was the tiring job of digging an entrance tunnel to both allow access to the igloo’s interior and to free Bruno! It seemed we were digging in different directions… but after a lot of shouting through gaps between the blocks we were back on course. Surprisingly we were later complimented on the accidental bend in the entrance passage as it stops the cold air entering so easily.

Digging the entrance tunnel

Digging the entrance tunnel

In order to get points for our ‘creativity’ we fashioned a head from a block of snow to turn the igloo into a giant snow man, however I suffered from a case of butter fingers and dropped the head through the igloo causing a gaping hole… as we burst into hysterics the rest of the teams fell silent and gradually wandered over to observe the damage. However me and Bruno swiftly patched up the hole and all was forgotten…or so I thought.

Inside an Igloo

Inside the finished igloo

To warm up and reward our expert building skills we headed to the fondue-iglu, a huge multi-roomed igloo including a private dining ‘Royal Room’ which features flowers frozen in blocks of ice as decoration. We tucked into a cheese fondue and Glühwein and regaled the tale (a few too many times) of how I broke the igloo, now renamed ‘head gate’.

We headed back to igloo city at 5pm for the judging, my bets were on the monster-shaped igloo ‘Buu’ or the double igloo – 2 igloos joined by a corridor. We then enjoyed some Alpenzeller (a more herby jägermeister) before myself and 1 teammate settled down for the night in the igloo whilst my fellow teammates (lightweights) went back to the Berghotel for beds and comfort..

The finished igloo

The finished igloo

Despite being wrapped in a 3 layer Swiss military sleeping bag – fleece inner, down outer and a body bag style plastic outer shell and having been promised we would be toasty warm we had to ditch the igloo just before 4am as we were frozen to the core and made a starlit dash back to Berghotel. Let’s just say that judging by the quality of sleeping bag you can tell the Swiss haven’t been engaged in much military action of late!*

After an hours fitful dosing in the bar (we didn’t want to crash in to the room and wake our team mates) we trekked up to the edge of the plateau with only the moon and a couple of horses as companions and watched the sunrise over Adelboden and the Fruitigen valley. Breath-taking is an understatement.

7am couldn’t come soon enough as we sat and gradually thawed over breakfast in the Berghotel recounting our interesting night to our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed team mates. Slowly teams who lasted the whole night came trudging back looking as tired as we felt. Next came the all-important prize-giving where we came a respectable 14th out of 22 teams – not bad for a bunch of beginners, most of whom only see snow for 1 or 2 weeks a year!

Morning on Engstligenalp

Morning on Engstligenalp

All in all Adelboden is a hidden gem with many surprises – incredible scenery, great hospitality, a rich history and a jammed packed events calendar which makes it stand out from the rest. Despite the traumatic night I am already drawing blueprints for next year’s igloo…

Rachel Rosser – Events Marketing Executive

*Shoddy building skills are probably to blame rather than Swiss army sleeping bags for our early departure from the igloo!

Rachel flew with SWISS from London City to Zürich (0845 6010956; swiss.com) and travelled by railway to Frütigen (0800 100 20030; swisstravelsystem.co.uk).

Rachel stayed at The Cambrian (+41 33 673 8383; thecambrianadelboden.com) and Hotel Waldhaus – Hudli (+41 33 673 85 00; waldhaushuldi.ch)

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