Berner Oberland Ski Tour, Switzerland
The Berner Oberland might provide the most iconic Swiss backcountry ski experience we have organized. The terrain is nearly Alaskan in scale and opportunities for dozens of summit ascents beckon. Our Berner Oberland ski tour begins in the town of Interlaken, Switzerland under the backdrop of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. There are few places prettier than Interlaken in the spring. Amazing hiking and scenery, well stocked grocery stores, and a variety of excellent Swiss, Italian, Indian, and Asian restaurants provide the iodeal base for this ski tour.
From Interlaken we board the Jungfraubahn, the highest railroad in Europe, pass through the Eiger, and climb out at over 3000 meters surrounded by some of the largest glaciers in Europe. The scenery is stunning, massive, and being Switzerland, wildly accessible. It is not uncommon to get a slow start on the morning of day 1, summit a 4000 meter peak in the afternoon, and still have time for a beer at the hut in late afternoon. Add huts perched in impossible places and you have a skiing mecca. Hyperbole? Not here. The Bernese Alps lie at the center of climbing and skiing history, and the are worthy of this position.
Creating a tour plan for this area is always an enjoyable struggle as each trip provides another summit, side-trip, ski descent, or opportunity for fun that you want to squeeze into the itinerary, the only limitations being group energy and daylight.
This trip is open to all skiers with previous ski touring experience. If you are unfamiliar with ski touring in the Alps we would point you toward the Haute Route or Ortler Circuit first, but strong skiers could start on this trip. Like all of our European trips this can be booked as a private or customized to your small or large group. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about this.
Guided Berner Oberland Ski Tour Itinerary
Berner Oberland - Day 0: Meet in Interlaken, Switzerland
The group will meet at our hotel at 5:00 PM. We will provide a group orientation, have dinner, and do an equipment check. The plan is to leave early the next morning so you will want to shoot to arrive in the early afternoon of this day so that you have a chance to pick up some snack food for the trip, organize your gear, and put together any luggage that you will be storing during the trip. We will return to the same hotel at the end, so it will be easy to store things here.
Berner Oberland - Day 1: Jungfraujoch (3471m) to Monchjoch Hut (3630m)
After an early breakfast we will take a series of trains to the Jungfraujoch. Our route follows an improbable tunnel through the Eiger and then onto the saddle between the Monch (4099m) and the Jungfrau (4158m), yet another miracle of Swiss engineering. At the top we can grab a quick espresso before walking out one last tunnel and onto the glacier. Once on the glacier we will review beacon use, basic avalanche rescue procedures, and do some touring. Options for the day include the Monch, a lap up to the Loumitor, or a climb and descent of the Trugberg.
Berner Oberland - Day 2: Monchjoch Hut (3630m) to Hollandia Hut (3240m)
Our preferred tour for the day takes us down onto the Jungfraufirn, and then climbs up to the Louwitor (3676m) a high pass between the Louwihorn (3773m) and the Kranzberg (3738m). Really ambitious groups can also undertake a climb of the Jungfrau (4158m) along the way. Once at the Loumnitor we are looking at a700 meter descent to the Grosser Aletschfirn, which leads us to our evening destination, the Hollandia Hut. We are usually the only American group in the Hollandia Hut, which is frequented by both Italians and Swiss.
A simpler option (better in poor stability) is to stay on the Jundgfraufirn and descend all the way to the Konkordiaplatz before heading to the Hollandia Hut. Along the way we have the option to climb the Trugberg Mountain (3867m). This is big, spectacular terrain. Either way, we will spend the night in the Hollandia Hut.
Berner Oberland - Day 3: Hollandia Hut (3240m) to Konkordia Hut (2850m)
Before heading to the Konkordia Hut we will tackle one of two objectives up the Abeni Flue Glacier above the Hollandia Hut. We will climb either the Abeni Flue (3962m) or the Mittaghorn (3895 m). On past trips we have managed to squeeze both in. The Mittaghorn is a bit more technical and can only be done at a 2:1 or lower ratio. The skiing off the Abeni Flue tends to be the better of the two, but the Mittaghorn is a wonderful climbing objective. After descending one of these peaks we will pass the Hollandia Hut and then undertake the low-angle glacier ski to the Konkordia Hut where will will spend the night. Few will forget the journey up the 150 meters of ladders and stairs that lead to this amazing hut.
Berner Oberland - Day 4: Konkordia Hut (2850m) to Finsteraarhorn Hut (3048m)
On this day we will head East and climb the Grunhorn-Lucke (3266 m) and descend to the Finsteraahorn Hut. We have the option for a side trip to climb the Wyssnollen (3594 m), adding some vertical to our day. Either option finishes with a spectacular descent to the glacier and traverse to our hut for the night. The Finsteraarrhorn Hut is our favorite of all the huts in the region and on occasion we will add a second night here and undertake our exit from the area from this hut. Small groups can consider adding a climb and ski of the Finsteraarrhorn, perhaps the most significant peak in the immediate area.
Berner Oberland - Day 5: Finsteraarhorn Hut (3048m) to the Oberaarjoch Hut (3258m)
This could end up being the biggest day of vertical on the trip. One option is to wake up early, climb the Gross Wannenhorn (3905m), and then make the journey over to the Oberaajoch Hut in preparation for our final descent into the Rhone Valley the following day. The ski off the Gross Wannenhorn is a spectacular descent of nearly 1000 meters down a very scenic glacier. For those feeling light on energy, there is always the option to skip the Gross Wannenhorn and go directly to the hut.
Berner Oberland - Day 6: Oberaarjoch Hut (3258m) to Munster (1388 m)
For our exit we save the spectacular ski up and over the Galmihorn (3486m) or the Galmilucke (3293m) which each provide a descent of just under 2000 meters to the villages of either Munster or Reckingen where we return by train to Interlaken. Either descent takes us down an really beautiful valley that usually ends with a short hike through the pastures above town.
Berner Oberland Ski Tour QualificationsSki Ability: The Berner Oberland Tour is not an extreme ski route in any way. The Berner does, however, require participants to be decent skiers. Things you should feel comfortable doing include: skiing with a backpack, skiing a wide variety of snow ranging from powder to breakable crust to corn, and climbing and descending 4000-5500' on skis each day for 6 consecutive days. It is not advised to undertake the Berner Oberland ski tour without any experience outside of a ski area. You will want to do some AT skiing in advance of this trip and will want to show up having used your boots in the time prior to the trip.
It is not uncommon for people to develop very bad blisters if they go from not touring at all to putting in successive long ski touring days. You should be able to efficiently get down black diamond runs in most ski areas. Again, you do not need to be an extreme skier to do this, but there will be spots where it is best not to fall, and you need to be able to efficiently link turns in a wide variety of snow conditions. You should also be aware that skiing on a glacier is much different from skiing in bounds at a ski area. Real hazards exist in these mountains and none are marked. Prior to your trip you want to focus on skiing in control and being able to ski for long periods without falling. You do not need any previous mountaineering experience to do this, but it is nice to have some level of familiarity with the climbing harness, crampons, and ice axe. We use these items very rarely, but you will be more confident if you show up with some level of comfort with them. You might also consider attending an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course in advance of your trip
Ski Skills Assessment - Berner OberlandIt can be difficult to determine where different people are in terms of ski ability without skiing with them in advance of a program. As we don't always have the opportunity to ski together in advance of all trips we have provided the following list so that potential customers can evaluate their ski skills and choose the most appropriate program.
Advanced Ski Skills
- Able to ski fall line in most snow conditions (powder to wind affected snow).
- Able to make parallel or stem-christie turns on 35° groomed or firm snow.
- Able to side-slip on firm slopes up to 40°.
- Able to ski moguls in soft snow.
- Able to do kick turns facing in or facing out on 30° slopes.
- Able to skate on level terrain.
- Able to ski fall-line in tight radius turns in good conditions.
- Able to ski black diamond runs at ski areas efficiently and in most snow conditions.
Physical Condition Evaluation for SkiingSki touring requires a certain basic level of physical fitness to minimize risk and be enjoyable. In addition to a solid base of aerobic conditioning you need to have the basic core strength to ski in a variety of conditions while carrying a ski pack. The best training you can do for ski touring is ski touring. It is best not to go into any extended trip without finding the time to get in a few days of touring in advance to make sure that your feet are conditioned to your boots.
Very Good Physical ConditionFull day tours with 3000-4500 feet of elevation gain while carrying a pack weighing between 20 and 30 lbs. on tours lasting 3-6 days
How do the huts work?In most of the huts we are given dormitory style lodging. Different people have different opinions of hut living. Most nights we are in bed by 9 p.m. and most mornings we are up by 6 am. Most people staying in huts sign up for the dinner and the breakfast option. Dinners are things like pasta, meat, potatoes, a desert, bread, and soup. Breakfast is generally a very simple affair consisting of bread and jam, coffee or tea, and cheese and is designed to get large numbers of people fed and out the door. You purchase water in the huts and it can be surprisingly expensive. In general expect to spend about $4.25 USD for a liter of water. You can often buy boiled water (made from melted snow or collected rainwater) for about half this. With the exception of the Monchjoch Hut all supplies are flown by helicopter to the huts and thus cost seems to correlate to weight as much as anything.
What do we do in the huts?At the end of some days (particularly sunny ones) people often stop in the hut for lunch and then after lunch go back out to ski. On some days we may decided to nap, play cards, or read in the afternoon prior to dinner. Usually after dinner everyone puts in breakfast orders, we settle our bill with the hut manager, and retire early in preparation for an early start.
LuggageYou may store luggage at the hotel. We do not advise bringing laptops or other fragile valuables as luggage is usually left in a ski room. Bring a small lock to secure your bag. When Olivia and I travel to Europe we generally take a large wheeled duffle bag (Patagonia Freightliner Max Bag), a ski bag with both our skis, and a lightweight duffle such as a Patagonia Black Hole Bag. With three bags between the two of us, we can keep bag weights down for the flight and generally avoid excess baggage fees. Once in Europe we empty the contents of the lightweight duffel into our big wheeled duffel and then we can pull the bag on and off trains, through town, etc. The lighter you go the happier you will be, so pack very carefully.
Add-on daysThere is no shortage of things to do in the area and it may be possible to start your trip ahead of Day 1, or to extend your trip by a few days at the end. If we do not have a commitment right up against the dates of your trip, we would be happy to spend some additional time skiing with you or your group. There additional days are based on our private guiding rates for Europe. In the past people have joined us for a couple of extra big days, or for things as simple as a quick refresher tour to get people back into the swing of ski touring on a glacier or to practice some of the skills involved in these tours.
Insurance ConsiderationsThere are several different types of insurance to consider. Travel insurance can protect all of your non-refundable trip expenses (i.e. guide fees, airline reservations, etc) and in some cases might also provide some rescue insurance. NMS does not carry rescue insurance for its guests. We do carry commercial liability insurance, but you are responsible for the cost of your evacuation if injured.
There is huge variability between insurance policies and providers, and even within policies depending on your residence and citizenship. All of the information provided in this document is only meant to help you start to educate yourself about insurance. It is your responsibility to select the products that provide the amount of coverage that you are comfortable with.
Once you have purchased travel insurance please pass this information on to the NMS office. Also make sure to CARRY YOUR PROOF OF INSURANCE DURING THE TRIP.
Travel InsuranceIn addition to providing you with protection should you have to cancel your trip unexpectedly, some travel insurance policies can cover many other aspects of your trip itself. Examples of possible additional coverage include search & rescue for accidents, medical expenses while traveling, and allowances for lost or delayed luggage.
We are a provider of Travelex travel insurance. The following link will take you to the page on our website which deals with this Travelex insurance information »
Our Location Number is 47-0108. You can purchase insurance from another company but we picked Travelex because they seem most well represented by other mountaineering and ski companies. We have also had customers successfully receive compensation for trips interrupted by family emergencies. This sort of insurance has eased the process for both our customers and ourselves as it seems reasonably priced, and takes much of the financial risk out of the equation for you and for us. In order to be eligible, this insurance needs to be purchased within 21 days of the day we receive your application & deposit. The main site for this insurance is: www.travelex-insurance.com
Please make sure to speak with a representative of Travelex to ensure you select the correct coverage. Some of the policies have exclusions for backcountry skiing or mountaineering so you need to make sure these activities are covered. As we understand it the Travel Select Plan with the added adventure pak is probably what most of our customers will need.
Rescue InsuranceIf your travel insurance does not provide rescue insurance you may need to consider adding some other policy to cover this. The list below is by no means comprehensive but should give you a starting point for looking into this. In Europe the cost of rescue is payable on the spot (unlike the US), and can be very expensive.
Outdoor Recreation Insurance: ORI provides a personal accident insurance through the AMGAÕs group policy. As a client of an AMGA certified guide you are eligible to buy into this group policy. This accident insurance provides activity-specific (you select from snow, mountain or paddle categories) benefits. This policy can also cover deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance payments that are not covered by your standard health insurance. This insurance is between $75-85/year. Follow this link to read more about this insurance: www.amga.com/resources/ORI.php.
There is also a Swiss service called REGA, which provides very good rescue services: www.rega.ch. You can become a patron of REGA online. This service will only cover non-Swiss citizens during the time that they are on Swiss soil. If you are in Switzerland and need to be rescued this should be the most seamless service.
Members of the American Alpine Club (AAC) are automatically enrolled in Global Rescue (GR). The cost for an AAC membership is $75 per year or $125 per year for couples. Follow this link to learn more about Global Rescue. It is our understanding that this is limited to $5000 of coverage and requires GR to be contacted before or during the evacuation. Our concern with this stipulation is that there could be times when it would not be possible to contact GR within the specified timeframe. The primary concern is always going to be facilitating the best possible rescue which may not include calling GR. If you are a member of the AAC please bring your card with you on the tour.
Recommended Maps (optional)Nearly the entire tour is covered by this single large scale, 1:50,000 Swiss Ski Tour Map. This has most of the major ski routes marked directly on the map and and provides a good overview of the area:
- 264S Jungfrau
We find that for serious whiteout navigation we prefer the more detailed 1:25,000 Swiss National Maps:
- 1230 Guttannen
- 1249 Finsteraarhorn
- 1250 Ulrichen
- 1269 Aletschgletscher
- The playground of Europe: By Leslie Stephen
- The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer
- Alpine Ski Mountaineering: Eastern Alps v. 2: Central and Eastern Alps
- Killing Dragons: The conquest of the alps by Fergus Fleming