Sunday 19 February 2012

Get your skate skis on...

Skiing downhill is wonderful but not the best for keeping in shape. The answer during the winter months is to do a bit of skate skiing - a fast, dynamic version of cross country skiing. Just an hour and a half from us in Zinal is a mecca for the sport - Goms in the upper Valais.

It's well worth taking a lesson to get to grips with the basic technique. Damian Hischier (in blue, just in case you can't tell the difference between me and him) worked miracles, getting us up and running in no time. He's not quite your standard instructor - in the summer he's not a carpenter but a test pilot...

Damian teaching some tricks to skate skiing.
Just don't over-exert yourself before heading off on one of the wonderful routes that stretch down the valley:
between Oberwald and Niederwald the shortest route is 22km, a journey taking you through ancient villages, across meadows and past chapels. There are lots of alternative trails, twisting and climbing above the valley floor into the forest. But don't forget that what goes up must come down, which is no joke on these skis... There are also plenty of restaurants and bars - some serving the unlikely sounding dish 'cholera' (a sort of Swiss Cornish pastie with onion and apple); and you're never far from a railway station, so when you've had enough (cholera or skate-skiing) you can jump onto a warm train and trundle home. We stayed in the lovely Hotel Tenne, where they serve award winning food and have very comfy beds - perfect after a day's skating.

For our last day we headed down the road to the local downhill ski area of Fiescheralp where we enjoyed the views over the Aletsch glacier and explored with local hero Kilian Volken, a guide who is off to climb K2 this summer. After 30 + years of guiding, it's wonderful to find he's still as keen about skiing the local area, even in perishing cold and with the powder quite wind-blown. One of those inspirational characters you feel better for meeting and a huge pleasure to ski with.

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