My first fall comes on the day’s first tight downhill corner and ends with an ungracious tumble into the deeper snow at the side of the trail. I am relieved to discover that snow is a very friendly landing pad and I shrug off the fall as nothing but a gentle bump. The guide, however, warns me to watch out for ice.
“People love fat biking here,” says fellow fat biker Phil Gale from high-end Swiss cycling apparel company ASSOS. “It really gives you the opportunity to experience the landscape in a unique way.” Cyclists have always aspired to break the mould and fat biking on snow has become the latest addiction. “It’s like when mountain biking first got big in the 1990s. It’s giving a new lease of excitement to the industry. And it’s suitable for all abilities.”
I raise my eyebrows. At first glance, the pristine Swiss scenery looks a bit daunting for a beginner, but as we keep pedalling along the steep side of the valley, cutting the gradient, our guide assures us that first-timers are welcomed and well catered for in Switzerland, where they put meticulous care and attention into the winter sports’ provisions. Beyond just chairlifts, they also tend to networks of well-marked and nicely matted trails for all manner of skiing alternatives.
Growing up in the UK, Switzerland is often seen as the preserve of neon-clad thrill seekers on the pursuit of fresh powder, helicopter runs and raucous après ski. But it is short sighted to assume that there are no more alternatives out there. In a bid to reclaim the ski season, Discover Germany has rounded up a selection of more unconventional winter sport breaks.
Engadin Snow Golf Cup. Photo: © swiss-image.ch / Marc van Swoll
Winter trail running
Not wholly dissimilar to trail running, the emerging discipline of the ‘winter trail’ is simply the white-carpeted branch of running. Winter trails are springing up across Switzerland, including the hugely popular Swiss Snow Walk and Run Arosa. But aside from the competitive element, running on snow in off-road running shoes (spikes optional) will certainly burn off the lingering excesses of the festive period, create a welcome endorphin rush and provide magnificent views as you traverse the landscape on foot. Many regions now create specific winter hiking trails with hard-packed snow that makes it easier to rake in the kilometres.
For something a little less fast-paced, energetic and extreme, then head to St Moritz for a good game of golf on the snow – although we would recommend not choosing a white ball. The key thing is to wrap up warmly and possess basic skills before teeing off.
The current most en vogue winter sport, fat bikes are basically sturdy bikes with much fatter tires so that they can roll over obstacles with ease. E-Fat bikes are a growing phenomenon as well, which makes it suitable for all the family. Gstaad now hosts a four-day stage race aimed at pro and amateur fat bike riders alike. It is now its third year and has been officially recognised by cycling’s governing body, the UCI. We would suggest going one pedal stroke further than just being a tourist and signing up to satisfy your competitive spirit in what many see as Switzerland’s snowy Tour de France.
Do not rely on your tin tray here; the 2017 version of sledging is only done justice with the best equipment. Almost every ski station caters for speed-hungry sledgers, with everything from 100 metres to the Saastal Valley’s 11 kilometres, which takes the honours for the longest run in Switzerland. Away from the hubbub of the ski pistes, the scenic toboggan runs weave through pine forests and take a far less-trodden route back down to their respective towns.
Switzerland. get natural. Snowshoeing near the frozen Lake Davos, Grisons. Photo: © Switzerland Tourism
Not just the preserve of the Scottish, try your hand at skimming large pieces of granite across the ice to get closest to the jack. Do not forget that one shoe needs to be studded and if you are a dab hand at sweeping kitchen floors then you will perhaps have the skills necessary to excel at the intricacies of this unique sport.
Take part in a piece of history with this natural skeleton toboggan run in St Moritz. Hand built each year, this has been an integral part of this iconic city’s winter sports scene since 1884. A precursor to skiing, this sport sees you reaching speeds that are just as hair-raising. So why not find out why the British aristocracy are so renowned for the development of this particular winter sport in Switzerland?
A great way to stay fit and get out into nature for the non-skier. The major ports of call in Switzerland have winter hiking trails specifically for providing a risk-free setting for apprehensive beginners. Many destinations also offer guided tours and hikes by moonlight. But the great thing about snowshoes is that you are not confined to designated trails. For those with the appetite for exploration, these are the ideal alternative to skis for traversing deep snow.
TEXT: EMMIE COLLINGE