Thursday 7 December
It was early season of course and the village was very quiet. As a consequence, the number of lifts open was small and the cable car was closed until Saturday. There was only one train an hour to Kleine Scheidegg. To make the most of the day, I needed to be on the 8.54 train. Before catching the train, I needed to find some breakfast, buy season passes for Mrs IS and me and retrieve my skis and boots from their locker at Central Sport. Oh, and find the rest of my ski gear which had been packed away at the end of last season.
I don’t find it hard to wake up on a skiing day and all this was achieved with time to spare. By 8.40 I was on Wengen station. The sun was shining behind the mountain peaks and it was cold in the shade. The day promised well.
The day delivered as it promised. The snow was wonderful; it remained cold but sunny; there were about 1.5 skiers per square kilometre. Skiing doesn’t come better than this. Skiline.cc tells me that I used the Wixi and Eigernordwand lifts principally, taking a total of 29 lifts to ski 12,937 vertical metres and a distance of 60 kilometres. The piste back to Wengen was closed, but was prepared and I skied it anyway. Sometimes in early season that is not possible as the piste bashers leave enormous lumps of snow about a metre square. Definitely more than death cookies.
I reached the village late in the afternoon and felt an apres ski beer was needed. Wengen hosts many season regulars. Some come to ski; some come to work; some come to party. Some try to do all three. So the bar contained familiar faces, people who had drifted into town over the previous few weeks. I always think there is something uplifting about the start of the ski season. The enthusiasm is something you can touch almost and people are pleased to see each other, happy that everyone has survived another summer away from the snow and the mountains.
Friday 8 December and Saturday 9 December
It snowed for two days. That was great. I have never minded skiing in bad weather – it is all part and parcel of the sport – and more snow is always welcome. I am though slower than the locals (and many ex-pats for that matter) in those conditions; the two days combined brought a further 17,208 vertical metres from 42 lift rides and 90 kilometres travelled.
Saturdays are often busy in the Jungfrau as local people come to ski. Children ski for free and the ski clubs arrive en masse, with a small number of adults skiing with a large number of children. From those children will come the next Didier Cuche.
However, the weather kept people away by and large and my memory of those two days is the stillness that falling snow brings. Sound is muted and the snow blurs the hard outlines of rocks and trees. The mountains at their absolute best.
Sunday 10 December
Sunday was less lyrical. In fact, it was blowing a gale. I was under time pressure from the start. Being off season, the trains were less frequent. To reach Zurich for my flight, I would need to leave the village shortly after mid-day. I had planned a short day, but the weather made it shorter still. The cable car was open, so I took that. I set off from the top with words of caution in my ears from a couple of local people – be careful out there. It was like the start of Hill Street Blues.
With good reason. Visibility was poor and the wind was strong. I cut out all the lifts on Mannlichen and went straight to Gummi. From there I went to Arven and from the top of that lift I skiied to the village. This produced a paltry total of three lifts, 1,384 vertical metres and 11 kilometres skiied. Still, it meant I was showered and on the 12.03 train with ease. Home on time for dinner with Mrs IS, or so I thought.
I don’t want to seem like I am complaining – after all I was lucky enough to have a few wonderful days in the mountains – but sometimes it seems the weather gods are working against you. I think it is the Hollywood version of Jason and the Argonauts (one of the films of that ilk anyway) where the Greek gods are looking down from a gap in the clouds at man’s puny attempts to cope with what is thrown at him, presumably before they pop over to the dining table to see what Artemis has speared for them. I think often of that scene when struggling with trains and planes and the effects of weather.
I arrived at Zurich airport in good time. The concourse seemed unusually busy, but my flight was listed as being on time. I tried to use the electronic check in and was referred to a supervisor. Who told me that City airport was closed due to snow. I had to spend the night in Zurich. Swiss are well geared for this eventuality and dispense hotel rooms to its stranded clients. However, so many people were stranded, they had run out of rooms and I made my own arrangements. This turned out to be a good thing. Most of the airport hotels are a mini bus ride away and entail a ridiculously early start for the first flights. Instead, I managed to book into the Radisson, which is a full fifty metres from the terminal. Swiss picked up the bill kindly.
A quick shopping expedition for that essential tooth brush and some other things saw me pretty much at a loose end by early evening. So what to do? I have been through Zurich many, many times but have never seen the City. By repute, the old town is beautiful. A quick train ride back to the main station and a few directions from a passer-by set me up to find out. However, there was a Christmas market next to the station and an hour was spent there. Interesting enough, but pretty much like the Christmas market Mrs IS and I had visited in Basel the previous year.
I also idled some time in a bar of Art Deco spleandour and by the time I set out for the old town, it was raining the Swiss German equivalent of stair rods. My coat was one of those padded jobs which act like a sponge in rain, so exploration of the old town was cancelled. Instead I had dinner in an Italian restaurant in the airport shopping area.
The following morning, everything worked. A 6.40 flight and the hour’s time gain saw me in the office before anyone else. So ended the first skiing expedition of the season.