Getting the most downhill skiing for the dollar

All in a day's work for swissinfo's intrepid reporter

Skiers heading for the Jungfrau Region are spoiled for choice this season. But they're advised not to take their own skis, as swissinfo's Dale Bechtel discovered.

This content was published on December 21, 2001 minutes

About a dozen ski rental shops in the Jungfrau Region - from Interlaken and Grindelwald to Wengen - have taken cooperation to new heights.

The latest skis, snowboards and other fun-in-the-snow gear can be hired at any one of the Intersport "Rent-Network" shops and dropped off at any other. Even better, skiers can turn in their equipment at any time and any place, and try something else.

But does it work as well in practice as in theory? I travelled to the Jungfrau Region to find out. My first stop was a shop in Grindelwald.

After querying me about my weight, height, age - and as important - my skiing ability, the shop manager, Urs Wellauer, told me about the deal.

Unlimited exchanges

He said there was no limit to the number of exchanges that I could make in the course of the day, and at no additional cost.

A similar system has been introduced in the eastern Swiss resort of Flims Laax Falera, but the Jungfrau network is larger, Wellauer said, counting 11 participating shops.

"We only have new models of boots, skis and snowboards and other equipment," he added. "About 10 or 15 years ago, you couldn't get new equipment at a rental shop."

After slipping into a pair of "soft" ski boots - the latest fashion and designed for comfort, Wellauer decided I should try a pair of moderate carving skis which are suitable for skiers like myself who haven't yet taken to the new style.

Carvers and snowboards

I was thankful for the advice, since I would have wasted half a day choosing from the dozens of skis on offer - from skis designed for speed to so called "fun carvers". Snowboards filled other racks, and there was a selection of snowshoes and sledges in another corner of the shop.

After a morning's skiing, I wound up, like most people taking advantage of the deal, at the Intersport station in Männlichen - located conveniently on the slopes halfway between Grindelwald and Wengen.

I told Pascal Zeller at the Männlichen shop that I found the skis a bit unstable. No problem, he said, and grabbed another - longer - pair from the rack, adjusted the bindings and had me on my way again. In less than ten minutes.

"Our bosses weren't quite aware of how busy we would get up here," Zeller told me. "It's logical though since we are in the middle of the skiing area. There is a lot of swapping. There are people who want to buy skis but they don't know which kind so they come and test a few different brands or models."

Hugging the snow

I found the new skis ideal for testing my ability on part of the famous World Cup Lauberhorn downhill run which I followed to the village of Wengen. And Zeller was right; the skis didn't let me down, hugging the snow in the steepest parts.

Two Intersport shops awaited me in Wengen, but I decided to hold on to the skis until I got back up to Männlichen. No point in overdoing it, I thought.

Preparing for another run, I met a tourist, Todd Kramer from New York, taking pictures of the surrounding peaks, including the famous trio, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

He was very happy to have picked such a beautiful sunny day to go skiing in Switzerland. That is, until he discovered that the shop where he rented his skis was not a member of the network.

A couple of spills

"I would also have liked to have tried snowboarding," he said.

Later in the afternoon, I returned to Männlichen and Pascal Zeller. I told him I had had enough of skiing for one day, but still wanted to have some fun on my way back down to Grindelwald.

He convinced me to test a plastic sledge on the specially built run from Männlichen to Grindelwald. He was right, as I found out to my dismay, that the plastic variety is much faster than the traditional wooden sledge.

I had a couple of spills in the hairpin bends and got showered in snow every time I applied my boots as brakes.

I dropped the sledge off at the shop where I started, and like other customers returning equipment, told Wellauer I would be back another day.

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