After some more time spent on the M6 and also in the office, I escaped again on the evening of Tuesday 19 December. I was free now until the new year. Mrs IS had gone to see family in Lancashire, but would join me in Wengen in a few days.
The journey was a repeat of the one ten days previously and for a while seemed set on the same disasterous course. The train was late at Zurich airport by eight minutes (those weather gods again) and I seemed set to miss my connection at Berne. That would have brought into play all the complexities from ten days earlier. However, the gods relented and my train screeched to a halt at Berne station with three minutes to spare. The Interlaken train was just over the bridge and when I sat down in the carriage of that train, I knew I was home and hosed. I sent a celebratory text to Mrs IS to that effect.
Sure enough, I caught the 23.30 from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen and my head hit the pillow before midnight.
The next few days encapsulated all there is to love about Wengen. The snow was crisp and plentiful, powder trails snaked down the off piste routes, skiers were few but almost all lifts were open, the sun shone brightly and the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau presided over the scene with benign good will.
It would be difficult if not impossible now to summarise each day; they passed in an endless loop, each the same but fantastic anyway. It was as if we skiers were locked into a version of Groundhog Day, but without the need for redemption which haunted Bill Murray.
I do remember two particular skiing red letter days though. The first was Saturday 23 December. The Inner Wengen chair lift opened for the season. It’s not a long lift. For many years, it was an ancient two man chair until upgraded to a fast quad for the 75th running of the Lauberhorn race (of which more later). However, it does two things that I at least value. Firstly, it allows skiers to ski from the top of Wixi to Mary’s Cafe at Inner Wengen, either on the World Cup downhill course or using some red variants to that route. Secondly, it allows the World Cup slalom course to be skied; which is something to raise the heart rate on most days.
The Lauberhorn is the longest World Cup downhill race by some distance. The thing is to ski it in one go – at a much slower pace than the racers of course – to arrive at the finish breathless and deafened by the change in pressure from the considerable vertical drop. Each point on the course has a memorable name and often an equally memorable incident to go with it.
The second was just a day later. Blackrock and Oh God! were open. They might have been open earlier of course, but I hadn’t noticed. The truth is they have hardly been open at all in recent years and certainly never in December. I celebrated by skiing Blackrock.
Inevitably though, the crowds arrived and the weather became duller. The skiing was still enjoyable, enormously so, but those of us who had been in the village before Christmas had the smugness of having skied a well kept secret.
It was one of those days around new year that I discovered coffee and skiing do not mix, at least for the over 50s. Mrs IS suggested a coffee stop. I don’t drink coffee often, but we sat at the bar of the Mannlichen restaurant and enjoyed a cafe creme each. Afterwards, Mrs IS headed off for one last run on Mannlichen and I headed for Kleine Scheidegg, via four visits to the loo. Diuretic indeed.