I had a great last two days in Switzerland! The weather had made the skiing difficult on my second and third days on the hill. Heavy fog covered most of the runs and flat light meant you couldn't see any detail in the snow. You had to do some mighty careful steppin' to no end up on your face (especially coming over rises onto patches of ice where edges were as useful as a long metal pole in a thunderstorm). A day away from the slopes proved to be worthwhile.
I took a train to Bern (the Swiss capital) to meet up with Florence and Marc (family friends) for a great night. We started out at the local arena for a pro hockey game (Bern v. Rapperswil-Jona). Hockey is the second most popular sport after soccer. The players were basically billboards (the opposing team had 'Erotik Markt' in big red letters across their backs). There was lots of spirit in the home team's rowdy seating section. It's the same sort of thing you'd find at a European soccer match - songs, chants, etc. They had their own drumline and cheerleaders. Florence is the coach for the cheerleading team which is why we were at the game in the first place. Seems like a cool perk to get free tickets to the games. The good guys won and we headed to a concert.
Florence's boyfriend is a talented professional musician. He had a gig with his band at a small bar/club in Biel where he laid down some great basslines. The music was what Florence and Marc called 'French blah-blah'. The lyrics were humorous, I'm told. It was an interesting brand of jazz. We hopped around to a couple bars until I was ready to collapse (full day of skiing plus all the stuff I just talked about - I was pretty beat).
The next day, Florence and Ursula (another family friend) gave me a tour of Biel and Bern. Bern's a nice city. It's exactly what I would expect from the Swiss - clean and serene. I saw some stuff I hadn't seen in Bern two years ago when I walked around with family. Florence also knows a lot more about Swiss history than I do. She showed me the city's mascot perched on the hill next to the river that runs through the city. To name the city, someone said the first animal they shot on a hunt would be the name. It was a bear, like the one on the canton's flag. They now have bears safely hemmed in just outside the center of the city (one idiot was mauled when he hopped into the pen recently, though). After the tour, we grabbed an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant (surprisingly good) before Florence and Ursula so graciously drove me all the way back to Interlaken.
Some photos from Bern:
The day after the tour of Bern I hit the slopes again. I had though about sitting out for the day if the weather looked like it had for the two previous days of skiing. I'm glad I didn't because it was a beautiful day. Blue skies and the snow was still remarkably fresh even though there had been no new powder since I'd been in town. It seems like there are lower temperatures on the mountain which allow the snow to stay soft and less icy for longer. Coming up in a few days is the world cup race on the Lauberhorn. I couldn't believe how steep this run is in a few places. The pros get down in 2 or 3 minutes (the longest downhill course in the world - it wraps around from the Kleinne Shiedegg area down to Wengen), but it took me about 20 minutes to cruise down at a comfortable pace taking some photos along the way. The lines they have these guys taking are insane. They basically point their skis straight down the hill and prey that their edges don't slip. There were some huge jumps, too. With as uncontrollable as pro racing skis are, I don't know how they get down a course like this in one piece. I'd be done after two turns (on a good day).
In places where the groomers were a bit icy, I hopped into the moguls. If there was decent coverage on the steep groomers, I cruised on those and worked on rolling my downhill knee into the hill to dig my edges in cleanly. The area around the Lauberhorn was what I had been looking for all week in terms of terrain. I thought a lot of the other parts of the Jungfrau region weren't very challenging. A little bit of black diamond terrain at the top of the hill with long intermediate and easy runs down to the chair. The Lauberhorn and surrounding chairs above Wengen were much more of what I was looking for. I did laps on groomers there all day.
Here's a shot from the top of the Lauberhorn course - it got hairier as it progressed
Here's a video from the race that took place a few days later: