Swiss summer fun

28 07 2010

Summer brings everyone outdoors. It’s warm, beautiful and the days are long. But nowhere does summer entice the population to spend its time outdoors more than in Switzerland. The Swiss have perfected the art of being perfect – clean water, clean air and pristine landscapes – and as soon as it starts to smell and feel like summer outside, the Swiss are off gallivanting through their own personal playground: the Alps.

Now there are about a million crazy things you can do in the summer with the Alps as your backyard (and another million in the winter). I had never heard of most of these so-called “high risk sports” till I arrived here six years ago. Oh sure, usually harmless pastimes like hiking and mountain-biking are popular here, too, but please – only if the path hugging the side of the mountain has a 40% grade, is less than a foot wide and drops off into a deep ravine on one side.

Here’s a short list of stuff I’ve discovered that looks cool, is cool and inevitably ends up claiming a couple of lives every summer. The activities all involve moving vertically somehow, usually from higher ground to lower ground, in a more or less controlled fashion. A good reminder that gravity is a law and not an option.

Base Jumping – This is the craziest of all and the one that is probably responsible for the most casualties. Definition: Jumping from fixed objects. B=building, A=antenna (or tower), S=span (i.e. a bridge), E=earth (i.e. a mountain edge). You freefall and pull the chute just before going splat.

Look ma, no parachute!

Canyoning (known as canyoneering in the U.S.) entails hiking up a mountain and then traveling through its canyons using a variety of techniques that may include other outdoor activities such as walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling, and/or swimming. I’ve done this and it’s incredibly fun. Canyoning combines agility, strength and a healthy love of heights – on land, in the air and in the water. Often though, there is only one way out – down. Some important safety information, found on the internet: “There is great potential for injury for the unlucky, the reckless or ill-prepared.”

Paragliding – Jumping off a mountain with a kind of sophisticated parachute (called a “paraglider”) open already. On a pleasant day, paragliders can fly for hours with only the thermal lift to carry them. Their colorful chutes often dot the summer sky across Switzerland and sometimes pose a hazard to low-flying aircraft. Getting one tangled in your propeller can be messy.

Spectacular view

Tobogganing – This is the summer version of the luge in winter. You sit in a plastic or metal tub and careen down a mountain in a metal canal. If you use the brakes you’re a sissy.

Via ferrata – Italian for “iron road” – a form of rock climbing that sends you on a mountain route equipped with fixed wire cables and artificial hand- and footholds. It allows non-climbers to try real mountaineering. One website reminds potential athletes that in order to actually enjoy your outing, you need to be “fearless”.

Rock climbing for beginners

Summer adventure, anyone?