Interlaken – playground of Switzerland
March 23, 2012
The steep grassy mountain slope looks like it will fall into an abyss. My guide tells me to start a brisk walk down the slope. All of a sudden the harness pulls tight, I sit back into the loose fitting canvas seat, and the next thing I know, I’m airborne, gliding over the edge of a precipice 5,000 feet above the valley floor.
Talk about an adrenaline rush.
I’m not alone. My guide is the pilot of this tandem paraglider, a cross between a parachute and hang glider. The view is fantastic, suspended thousands of feet above terra firma, by nylon cords and a nylon aerofoil wing as large as light airplane.
Four hundred pounds of humanity suspended by cords and fabric with a few steel and titanium components.
The last time I flew in this fashion was in 1976 when I went to Army Airborne School in Fort Benning Georgia. After walking out of a C141 Starlifter with full combat gear a number of times, the desire to jump out of a Cessna with a just a parachute didn’t quite seem that appealing.
Fast forward 34 years later, Interlaken, Switzerland. I told my guide I jumped in the military a long time ago. He gave me the “E” ticket ride of my life catching thermals, whooshing by trees on the steep mountain slopes, and circling above the landing zone for a total flight time of about 45 minutes.
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The experience was well worth it for a reasonable $130.
Paragliding is popular in Switzerland as are many other sports and activities. Interlaken located in the geographical center of the country has everything to offer.
Hiking, mountain biking, skiing, backpacking, snowboarding, mountaineering, sailing, river rafting and paragliding can all be enjoyed.
So can sitting on your hotel balcony with your favorite beverage and absorbing the fantastic scenery of this glacial valley.
The city is very cosmopolitan in that people from all over the world come to this tourist destination in the heart of Helvetia. Everyone speaks English plus about two or three other languages at a minimum.
One can find the American embassy of Hooters, with the branch offices of McDonald’s and KFC. My recommendation, spend the money and get real European food.
For the scenery addict there are three nearby overlooks worth visiting.
First and foremost is Jungfraujoch at 11,782 feet in elevation where the Aletch Glacier begins. This glacier is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can start your journey from the train station in Interlaken, change trains in Lauterbrunnen and get to the promontory in about two hours. The view is fantastic.
The second overlook starting in Lauterbrunnen Valley (Switzerland’s Yosemite Valley) one can take a three legged journey to Schiltzhorn, another observation post with rotating restaurant at 9,744 feet.
This outpost spans views of the Bernese Alps south, the Jura Mountains north and Mont Blanc to the east.
Hikers often take the train or sky cars to a stop along the way or to the top and hike down the mountain. So do Paragliders. From these outposts, serious mountaineers set forth to conquer nearby peaks.
When visiting these overlooks, it is important to start early in the morning prior to the formation of mid morning and afternoon clouds that can block your view.
The third overlook directly above Interlaken is Harder Kulm that has a cogwheel train climb 2,700 feet up the mountainside to a quaint restaurant on top. From there one has direct view of the city below and the Jungfrau directly across.
Lauterbrunnen Valley is also home to 72 waterfalls and the impressive Stuabbach Falls carved inside a mountain with hiking trail adjacent to the staircase falls.
Not far from Interlaken is the world famous winter sports haven of Grindelwald. She is home to several world class hotels, is base camp for mountaineering treks to nearby peaks and has numerous hiking and biking trails.
With an Interlaken home base, one can enjoy a variety of outdoor sports, spectacular scenery and keep busy for weeks on end.
So for your next trip to the Confederation of Helvetia, visit Interlaken and try something new, like paragliding.
• Chuck Weber is owner of the Tahoe Dive Center, 1305 S. Carson St. For more information, email him at email@example.com.