“Whatever you do, don’t let go of the rope”. The rope in question was attached to the front of the sled and was used for braking, steering and dragging the sled behind you. The advice, given only the day before whilst on a snowshoe and sledding tour, was something to which I should have paid more attention. Having made the decision to walk down a particularly gnarly, icy, steep bit of slope on the sled run my first slip had seen me immediately let go of the rope in an attempt to regain my balance. The sled had shot down the run without me until it veered off, crossed a snow field, jumped a stream and embedded itself in a snow bank about 150 metres away.
The sled did not seem recoverable. We were on the First-Walspitz-Grindelwald run, after having taken a 25 minute cable car ride from Grindelwald to First and then walking over an hour further up the mountain (we had been unable to go the full distance on the world’s longest run, the Big Pintenfritz, because the upper part of that run was closed). It was a long walk back down the mountain and without the sled we wouldn’t get our deposit back. I had quickly gone from supremely happy to being in a complete funk. “I have ruined everything” I wailed. Rob looked at me as though I was nuts. “I will just go and get it”, he responded. “You can’t, you don’t know how deep the snow is and there might be crevasses.” This time both Rob and an English couple who had caught up to us looked at me as if I was nuts, although the English couple also looked dubiously across the snow no doubt contemplating the effort that it would require to cross without snow shoes. “It’s not a glacier, I will be fine” and with that Rob took off into the snow. He was immediately thigh height and had to slowly push through the snow. Twenty minutes later he returned triumphant and with a broad smile. He was like a pig in mud – “that’s the most exercise I have had since we got to Europe”, he said as he handed over the sled. We took off back down the mountain, following the English couple who had kindly waited with me. The last steep difficult bit of the run was behind us and I was able to enjoy the sunshine and the feeling of cold air on my face as the scenery flashed by. We stopped about halfway down in Waldspitz, sat on the balcony of restaurant and washed lunch down with a couple of beers, chatting with our new found English friends, before heading off back down the mountain on our sleds to Grindelwald. You can’t beat sun, snow, beer and pasta. A simply brilliant day, notwithstanding the minor contretemps in the early stages of the run.
How to do the sled run
We stayed in Interlaken mainly because in winter it is cheaper than staying on the mountains and because we knew we wanted to visit several of the villages, not just Grindelwald. The train from Interlaken to Grindelwald took about half an hour ($20 return). Once we got to Grindelwald we hired our sleds from one of the many rental shops ($10 each per day and $100 deposit) and walked up though the village to the cable car which took us up to First ($30 one way, about 25 minutes). From First we followed the groomed path and everyone else up the mountain. After a little over an hour we came to the turn off to Grindelwald via Waldspitz. Alternatively, if it is open, you can continue on up the path to Faulhorn before commencing the 15km run down. The runs should be open from mid December until the end of March, but this is obviously dependent on the snow conditions at the time. Once past Waldspitz there were various alternative paths that could be taken. We took the view that any path heading down would get us there and this worked out (a least for us). Once back in Grindelwald we handed the sleds back in, got the deposits back and caught the return train to Interlaken, arriving back in the late afternoon. Anyone can do it – just remember not to let go of the rope.
Terminology – toboggan, sled, sledge
Apparently the difference between a toboggan and a sled is that a sled has runners whereas the bottom of a toboggan rides directly on the snow. Sled and sledge are the same thing, albeit to say that you have been sledging to Australians will only confuse as it will be assumed that you have been insulting someone in an attempt to put them off their game (a practice commonly employed by Australian cricketers when playing the English).