As I’ve shared in Part One of our Crash Course in Winter Sports, Justin and I are embracing the Swiss habit of going to the mountains as much as possible. This past weekend was no exception: we spent two nights in the Alpine town of Bergün to go sledding with our dear friends, Katie and Scott Reintgen.
Bergün is an enchanting village tucked into the mountains of Canton Graubünden. With streets covered in snow, buildings adorned with romantic embellishments, and soft glowing windows at night, Bergün is positively picturesque. This tiny Swiss town is so cool, it even has an outdoor ice bar! Besides looking the part of a Winter Wonderland Postcard, Bergün seems to have a thriving tourism industry that revolves around two very different forms of transportation.
One attraction surrounding Bergün is a Swiss engineering marvel, the Rhaetian Railway. Notable for its high-arching stone bridges and an incredible series of corkscrew tunnels, the Rhaetian Railway traverses through significant altitude changes over short distances as it winds through the Alps. The train meanders along the UNESCO World Heritage route and has become a touristic experience in its own right. However, we came to Bergün in search of another type of ride.
The quiet town of Bergün attracts visitors from all over the region with its nearby sledding runs. Simple sleds may not have engines to push them along, but I learned that gravity is a strong force to be reckoned with on this weekend adventure.
Crash Course in Winter Sports: Part II
Sledding in Switzerland
As a kid, I loved the idea of sledding. I say “idea” because my experience was limited to the plastic saucers that are popular in the USA and designed for small hills & wide spaces. Unfortunately, plastic saucers don’t exist in Switzerland, as the Swiss prefer to stick to more traditional sleds – the wooden kind. Before this weekend, I had never zoomed down snow on a “real sled”… but how hard could it be? I love the idea of sledding! Plus, if cartoon characters Türli & Flidari can handle sledding in Switzerland, we shouldn’t have any problems – right?
After a full nights sleep in cozy Bergün, the Domecks and Reintgens were rearing to go. We rented our sleds for the day, hopped on the red train at the Bergün station, and chugged along to Preda. Our Swiss sledding adventure began with the Preda-Bergün Run, which shoots alongside the historic train route and shall henceforth be nicknamed the PBR. #’merica
At first, our American sled gang had to walk along the course until the incline changed in our sleds’ favor. Then, with a glance at the green light, we mounted our noble steeds – I named mine Birch – and took off down the toboggan run! Stretching over 6 km, the PBR claims to be the longest sled run in Switzerland.
Zipping along on our sleds was so much fun! The course was wide enough for sledders to pass one another comfortably, and the PBR was never scarily steep. We wohooed our way down the track, and before I knew it, my sled gang had reached the end of the PBR. We were back in Bergün.
I thought Ok, Switzerland. This sledding stuff is really great, but that was child’s play. Let’s see what else you’ve got! Oh, the lessons I learned from that challenge…
Lessons in Sledding
1. Go over the basics – again – before getting on the lift
With one run under our belts, the gang wasn’t ready to go in for lunch just yet. And since the PBR conveniently ends at the Darlux ski lift, we decided to give the Darlux-Bergün run a go. If I had known that the ski lift would take me 4,000 feet up a mountain (approx. 1200m), I would have suggested another PBR before taking on “four kilometers of pure sledging fun!” [By the way, I have recently decided that sledging is my least favorite word.]
2. Practice turning
The PBR was a great place to begin a working relationship with our sleds. Although it was not proper form, I used my hands like a rudder to steer Birch along the track. Even though I managed fine down the PBR, I still found turning at higher speeds a slight challenge.
Unlike the easy-breezy PBR, the Darlux Run was a narrow, twisted mess. The tight sledding course propels riders down the mountain like a pinball machine. Those hairpin turns combined with my novice commanding skills and a blatant disregard for Lesson 3 quickly turned into a painful learning experience.
3. Go slow and maintain control
As I have shared on Global Heartbeat before, I have a tendency to drive a little fast. In Bergün, I learned that my predisposition for swiftness also applies to sledding. My joy in zipping down Darlux at light speed was cut short by my inability to turn at a critical moment, and my failure to maintain control of Birch at all times was my ultimate downfall.
4. Avoid walls at all cost
As I began slicing down the Darlux track-of-insanity, I picked up speed at a surprising rate. Within the first couple of minutes, I actually rode on a guard wall as I leaned into a right turn, one runner skimming the wall while the other raced through the snow. That was cool! But then, as I rounded out the curve, Birch dipped down an icy patch and I saw my impending doom. I slammed directly into a wall instead of making the switchback turn. Just before the body blow, I threw my feet out in front of me to brace for impact. Mistake.
Birch’s nose and my right foot collided into the wooden wall. Built to save the lives of reckless sledders (like yours truly), I can share from experience that those guard walls are solid structures; they don’t exactly “give” on impact. My leg exploded with pain as I fell off Birch and onto the snow.
My sled gang was quick to hover over me with concerned faces and questioning glances. At the very least, my crash landed me with a sprained ankle. But pain or no pain, I still had to get myself down the rest of the mountain. Let’s just say it was the perfect opportunity to practice Lessons 2 & 3.
5. Know when to give up, but keep on smiling
Battered and bruised, I made it back to our cozy Airbnb apartment, and it was evident that I was done sledding for the day. While the gang boogied down Darlux a few more times, I watched the snow fall from my seat on the couch – thankful that I was still alive to tell the tale.
Certainly, the Domecks and Reintgens had an exciting weekend in Bergün. Even though my portion of fun was cut short, memories of our sled gang swishing through the snow still make me smile. Once my injury heals, I hope Justin and I can go on more winter sports adventures. But maybe we’ll skip the crash course next time.
Heidi ho, Speed Racers! What do you think about sledding in Switzerland? Could you have handled the Darlux run? Are you shocked that helmets are not required? Did you know there was such a thing as UNESCO World Heritage Routes? Are you also weirded out by the spelling of sledging?