I am a sucker for James Bond films, especially those featuring winter sports – the downhill ski chases, heart-in-your-mouth shenanigans atop cable cars, fleets of menacing snowmobiles and, of course, the cross-country ski races.
I am a sucker for James Bond films, especially those featuring winter sports – the downhill ski chases, heart-in-your-mouth shenanigans atop cable cars, fleets of menacing snowmobiles and, of course, the cross-country ski races. I particularly love the scene in For Your Eyes Only where the East German athlete deftly competes in a biathlon before tearing off his competitor number to stalk Bond through the forest. Simply marvellous.
A new experience
My own experience with cross-country skiing may not be quite as exciting, but there’s a lot to recommend the sport.
I hung up my downhill skis several years ago. This meant my family could finally whizz off without having to pace themselves on my account, while I no longer had to try to enjoy the sport. I’m not sure who was the most relieved.
That said, I didn’t want to absent myself entirely from winter sports. I love being out in nature and there are only so many cups of coffee one person can drink in a mountain-top restaurant. Sledding looked rather terrifying (did I mention I have low adventure tolerance?), but when a neighbour suggested I try cross-country skiing, I was intrigued. “It’s very gentle,” she said.
Peace and tranquility
I am so glad I listened to her. Cross-country skiing has definite advantages over its downhill counterpart: no lifts, no queues and very little fuss. It’s really quiet and if, like me, you have a fear of heights, not the least bit scary. If downhill skiing is all about the rush and speed and adventure, cross-country is the flip side of the coin, offering peace and tranquility.
And altogether less faff. Cross-country skis may be long, but they’re light to carry. And wonder of wonders, the ski boots are actually comfortable! They feel more like normal shoes than the torture devices demanded by downhill. Other than that, you can use regular ski wear, though I do recommend covering your ears against the wind chill.
You will find cross-country trails across the Saanenland, offering varying degrees of difficulty. Some are now even kitted out with snow-making equipment. My neighbour started me on a beginner’s course right in the centre of Gstaad (starting in the field just beyond the little tunnel behind the Coop car park). This trail took us in the direction of the Gstaad Sports Centre, past the Eggli cable car station and on towards Feutersoey.
The best for once?
While proficient cross-country skiers make the sport seem effortless, it’s definitely harder than it first looks (what’s new?), although not discouragingly so.
As soon as you’ve learned the rudiments of moving and stopping, it’s just a case of practice. Although it can take time to get a rhythm going, it’s not difficult to swoosh along at a comfortable pace when you get ‘in the zone’.
If you’re not a fan of downhill skiing or you’re looking for a new winter sport, I definitely recommend you give cross-country a go. It’s enormously accessible for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Case in point: I’m already considered the cross-country expert in my family. You won’t find me taking umbrage at the suggestion; it’s refreshing to be considered the best for once.
Close to nature
There’s another reason I encourage you to try cross-country skiing. It’s a magnificent way to get close to nature and experience the breathtaking Saanenland scenery. Yes, it requires effort, but in a strangely relaxing manner.
So, while I won’t be auditioning for any future James Bond ski chase scenes, you may still find me shuffling along the cross-country trail towards the Eggli cable car, a broad grin plastered across my face.