An Our Chalet Sabbatical

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When I realised nearly two years ago that I would be eligible for long service leave from my employer, I came up with the perfect plan. I decided I would take a few months off from my career as a town planner, and come to Switzerland as an Our Chalet Assistant. I would swap stunning beach sunsets for snowy mountain peaks. Departure Day could not come soon enough!

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Let me take a step back. My name is Ally, and I’m from Darwin, in the Top End of Australia’s Northern Territory. It’s a tropical climate, with the temperature rarely dropping below 27 degrees in the coolest month. More often than not we’re sweltering through 32 degrees with high humidity. Every. Single. Day. I’m more used to trying to remember to put up the sun shade in the car and not burning myself with the seat belt buckle than having to scrape ice and snow off the top or to worry about snow chains on the tyres.

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My Guiding journey began when I was seven years old, and it has taken me all around the world. Guiding has given me many wonderful opportunities, such as participating in the Juliette Low Seminar and being a WAGGGS Youth Delegate to UN conferences on climate change and sustainable development. I’ve met some amazing and inspirational people from all walks of life. And yet the right timing just hadn’t come up to undertake one of the experiences I yearned for most – to be a World Centre volunteer. To be able to spend three months meeting people from all over the world, and working in an international team – business coaches wish they could replicate this learning environment!

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For lack of not knowing what else to call my career break, a fellow volunteer suggested ‘sabbatical’. In considering this, I found that a sabbatical is no longer just an extended time off work to go on holiday and/or relax. There’s an expectation that you’ll use the time to upskill and to actively undertake some professional and personal development.

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So during my time as an Our Chalet Assistant, what skills have I been developing? What personal and professional development have I been undertaking? What from this working holiday can I take back to Australia and implement into my (currently forgotten) paid employment? Somehow, I don’t think my boss will see the value or usefulness in my newly-found snow-shovelling skills, so here are some skills that might be considered worthwhile:

Communication skills: I’m part of an international volunteer team, and we all come from different backgrounds with different expectations and ideas on how to get things done. It can take patience and lots of explaining and clarification to make sure everyone has the same understanding. This can be through talking, demonstrating, writing, drawing, and even mime or interpretative dance.

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Working as part of a team and working independently: There are lots of daily tasks to do at Our Chalet to keep it operational and the guests happy – mostly housekeeping and preparing meals. Facilitating the distribution of these daily tasks, ensuring everyone knows what they are doing and can do so independently and that tasks are completed in a timely manner and to a high standard, can only be achieved by everyone working together and supporting each other. When someone is finished their assigned task, they check in with everyone else to see how they can help and share the workload.

Public Speaking: From participating in daily staff meetings, sharing information with guests at dinner, running Our Chalet tours, and giving programme briefings to large groups, I’m constantly in situations where I need to speak up and speak out in front of groups from 5 people to 50 people (and potentially more!). You learn to speak clearly, to speak loudly, and to be concise in your message.

Leadership: leadership means something different to everyone, whether it be taking charge of a group, being able to make quick, important decisions, or simply setting an example for others to follow – these are all attributes I am further developing on a daily basis. I’ve been learning about WAGGGS’ Leadership Mindsets, and am working on how I might be able to better balance my strengths and weaknesses and work better with those around me, both at Our Chalet and when I return to work.

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Although it’s common for many World Centre volunteers to be on a gap year after completing either high school or university, volunteering once you’ve been working for a few years can be a valuable experience too. Being a volunteer at Our Chalet has reminded me that you should always be open to trying new things, and to be challenged to think differently, as you only grow when you move from your comfort zone into your learning zone.

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Allison Hooper, Australia – Our Chalet Spring Volunteer

 

 

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7 Things for 7 Weeks

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Since I’m seven weeks into my three-month stay at Our Chalet, I thought I would tell you about seven things that have impacted my experience here.

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The hills

When a friend of mine came back from a week’s stay at Our Chalet, she told me how everything is uphill and that “Swiss flat” is a phrase used often to describe what we would consider steep, but those who live in the area think is pretty standard. After a few days here, I could confirm everything she said was true. The walk up the hill to Our Chalet definitely wore me out the first few times I walked up it, but I’ve noticed as the weeks pass the time it takes me is decreasing and I’m not quite so out of breath. Progress!

 

The views

You may get used to the walking, but something you won’t get used to is the surroundings. Seeing snow-capped mountains, covered in lines of trees and dotted with chalets is something I’m yet to accept as the norm. It’s nice to be wowed every time you step outside.

 

Snacks are paramount

Chocolate must be bought every time you go to the supermarket. It’s just a fact.

 

living with 10 people can be interesting

Us volunteers live in Stöckli, the onsite staff house. With that many people together it’s loud, a bit messy, and it can be hard to find time alone, but it’s always a laugh. At first, I thought I might struggle to have to be around people constantly, but actually, it’s great coming in at the end of a day whether it’s from dinner clean-up, evening programme, or a day off, to catch up on everything with the rest of the volunteers. We spend our evenings together playing games (the rules of Uno are always hotly debated) and watching movies (should you be allowed to talk during the film or hold all questions and comments until the end?), and it’s nice to have someone to chat to whenever you want a bit of company.

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Cleaning

Before I began volunteering here, I probably wouldn’t have noticed if a sink had been recently wiped or if the floor had been vacuumed – don’t get me wrong, I like things to be clean, I just didn’t know how much the little details make all the difference. Now though, after many a toilet cleaned and a mirror polished, I notice these details when I’m out and about. I am more than ever appreciate the time and effort it takes to keep a space looking spotless, so I’m not going to start being picky and complaining or anything, but when I notice a smudge on a mirror, if I could just have a cloth, maybe some window cleaner…

 

The Snow

When I first arrived here it was white. Now, as I’m writing this, it’s still white. Back home, we don’t get much snow, maybe just enough to close schools and make travelling a challenge, but never really enough for the fun stuff. Here though, I’ve been able to go skiing, snow tubing and sledding. I’ve built snowmen, thrown a few snowballs – but I’ve found it’s possible to get tired of the snow. It’s still really pretty and there’s plenty to do, but when the snow has nearly melted away, the flowers are starting to peek through, the grass is slowly turning green, the sun has been out and you’ve even been able to have a couple of ice creams out on the benches, you begin to think spring is nearly here…. until it snows again and everything is back to the one colour. We’ve had this happen a couple of times and I think I’m just about ready for the snow to go and the bright colours of spring to stay for good.

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Skippy

I’m a cat person (I like dogs too!). Too arrogant, I thought I could get all cats to like me if given enough time. Turns out that might not be true. In case you didn’t know, Our Chalet has a cat called Skippy. I’m yet to be taken into her good graces, but this morning she did let me have a long stroke and a chat, so maybe we are making progress, just very slowly.

Jenny Mcleod, Northern Ireland, UK – Our Chalet Spring Volunteer

WHY SPRING IN THE SWISS ALPS IS AMAZING!

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Spring is definitely the best time to volunteer at Our Chalet and I would like to tell you why!

 
When I arrived at Our Chalet a month and a half ago I was awestruck by the beautiful Adelboden valley covered in snow. I could not have asked for a more amazing view from my bedroom window. However, within a few weeks, the snow disappeared to reveal an equally stunning view down the valley of green and yellow pastures and snow covered mountain peaks. Since then this view has swapped back and forth between these two extremes which has been a magical experience. I am so happy that I have had the chance to experience both the wintery and the summery landscapes.

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One of the best parts about volunteering during the spring season is that you get to try out both the winter and the summer activities here in Adelboden. In the last month and a half, I have had the chance to experience the highlights of the winter season. I have had my first skiing lesson with the Guest Services Intern, Catherine, on the baby slopes of Engstligenalp. At first, I flew down the slope until I learnt how to snow plough, and then I could go down at the leisurely pace that I desired. On another trip to Engstligenalp, I discovered the amazing activity that is snow tubing! You fly down a dugout snow course in a giant rubber ring. Despite enjoying life in the slow lane, I attempted all of the runs including a run with a ramp to launch yourself down. I have sledded the course at Tschentenalp in a traditional wooden Swiss sled and unfortunately made all the others, including KISC staff, wait for me and Laura halfway down the course due to our snail-like pace. I even tried snowboarding down the slopes of Our Chalet with Sophie but fell over every 2 seconds. One of my favourite activities is snowshoeing, as it makes me feel like an Arctic explorer. I snowshoed for 2 hours with Ye Won and Laura to see some frozen waterfalls on a beautiful sunny day. I didn’t expect to be able to try out all these winter activities in the spring season and I have been amazed by how much I have enjoyed them. Now that the snow has cleared and some of the winter activities have closed (sledding, gondolas etc.), our thoughts have turned to the possibility of summer activities. I have lots of ideas of hikes to go on and am looking forward to exploring the local area further.

 

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March is a quiet month at Our Chalet, with only a few guests to occupy the volunteers. Therefore we have a lot of time to spend on our staff challenge and personal development. To complete the staff challenge you must earn 80 points from challenges worth from 1 to 5 points including hiking to town and back at midnight, playing Edelweiss on the piano and learning 2 facts about each of the volunteers. I have really enjoyed trying to complete the staff challenge as it has encouraged me to challenge myself and try lots of new things. I challenged myself by running a swing dance class with 1930s Charleston moves for the other staff members as part of the staff challenge and it was a huge success with only limited shin kicking. It also gave me the chance to develop my leadership skills, which is a strong focus for the volunteers during their season at Our Chalet.

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Matilda Pimlott, UK – Our Chalet Spring Volunteer

 

Why I stayed for another season as MCI

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Let’s go back 4 months to the beginning of December when I arrived in Switzerland, excited yet nervous. However, my journey wasn’t the smoothest as I had to survive for the first few days with what I packed in my hand luggage. Luckily, I’m a guide and was prepared with spare clothes and toiletries. Jump forward a few weeks and we’re all settled in and received our neckers for completing training. Our first big event of the season was Christmas Celebration with the neighbours. They came around and joined us for a festive evening where we sang carols (in English, French, German and Makaton), had cookies and lit the candles on the tree. Yes! You heard me correctly, we light real candles on a flammable tree. Despite my apprehension, it was magical.

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Christmas wasn’t the only holiday we celebrated. Our Chalet has the best view in the valley for New Year as we could see all the fireworks in town. It was spectacular and an amazing way to bring in the New Year. Even if the best fireworks were from our neighbours. With so much going on as the Marketing and Communications Intern I needed to document it all for social media, various newsletters and for future promotions. This meant I had to learn how to use a completely new camera, within a matter of weeks I went from using it in Automatic mode to Manual (I still don’t know all of the functions, but it’s a work in progress). Its surprises you how much time off you get, but it’s a challenge to utilise the time because you don’t want to waste any opportunities but at the same time you do need time to rest and recover after a busy period. Let’s see what activities I got up to.

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A lot of the things I did were a first for me as we don’t get enough snow in Cardiff (Wales) for snow sports. I had a go at Skiing with a couple of the volunteers, I was proud of myself for successfully making it down the slope even if it was a baby slope, even if they were a few dramatic falls, if I say so myself, but that’s a story for another day. I also had a go at Snowboarding, but it wasn’t the right conditions so it was more of a shuffle down a hill than gracefully gliding.

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I never realised how seriously you could take sledding until I got here. There are different levels of difficulty just like skiing. My first try at Sledding was night sledding up on Tschentenalp. It was amazing but absolutely terrifying. As it wasn’t as well-lit as one would hope. Especially when your head touch snaps off then you are literally sledding into near pitch blackness. However, it was so fun I went again with the Guest Services Intern, we even attempted a red run (Blue – easy, Red – intermediate, Black – Difficult). We also had a go at tandem sledding, but that wasn’t planned. For my birthday, I took a trip to Grindelwald to go sledding on Europe’s longest sled run. Unfortunately, it was closed so we went on the next longest run, so in theory, we did sled on Europe’s longest sled run at the time. The sled run took us over an hour to complete and a section of it was definitely black run level.

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I managed something I never thought I would which was to ice skate on a frozen lake. It was surreal. Until you start to hear the ice crack underneath you! I have managed a few different hikes from Bunderfälle, Sillerenbühl to Engstligenalp. During my hike to and up Engstligenalp (In a gondola) I had a go a snow tubing which is radically fun. Adelboden has one big event every winter, the Ski World cup (They’re already advertising for next year) we all had the opportunity to go down and join in the fun, the atmosphere was insane, there were so many freebies as well. Some of the volunteers had a mini competition to see who could get the most. I managed to get a photo with a few famous skiers even if we were only there for the free chocolate.

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Volunteering at Our Chalet has also allowed me to travel around Switzerland, so far, I have visited Bern; I was really excited by the bear park but they were all in hibernation. I also managed to visit a botanical garden. I managed to see Thun, Spiez and Frutigen in one day; they’re not very big places. I even visited the Scout centre in KISC; I didn’t even know it existed until November so that was funny because it’s so much bigger than Our Chalet. I have also, on multiple occasions hiked into town for the Christmas tree lights and to ‘quickly’ pop to the shops, but Adelboden does sell the most indulgent hot chocolate.

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When I applied to be the Marketing and Communication Intern I wasn’t really sure what I was letting myself in for. I’d just finished my design degree at university and didn’t want to go straight into the 9 – 5 job, but wanted something that was fun and relevant to my degree and here I am. I have done so much in the role and exceeded my expectations; I can’t believe they let me loose on their Social Media. A highlight of my time was the Helen Storrow Seminar, as I was able to attend some sessions and they were on the topic of Sustainability, which I am really passionate about. I was also in charge of taking photographs and posting on our Social Media at the end of the day, WAGGGS weren’t posting so I had to make sure it was all correct. I have also developed my video making skills as I made a video to celebrate the seminar. I also had another side project that I’ve surprisingly enjoyed; it was to create an Ambassador Resource Pack.

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I decided to stay for a second season because I had so much fun in my first season, plus I wasn’t ready for reality just yet. I have made so many friends from around the world including Japan, Nepal, South Korea, Mexico and many more. I have really enjoyed the projects I’ve been set, the next one is a bit of a biggie and I have more ideas for Our Chalet that I want to develop so watch this space. I have thoroughly enjoyed creating marketing items like volunteer adverts and event adverts to making videos even if it was very frustrating at times, I have plans up my sleeve for more, so watch our Social Media for more details. I also am finally starting to like Skippy (Our Chalet cat), I’m a dog person at heart. I also only got a feel of Our Chalet and Switzerland during winter and want to experience more.

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I did manage to achieve some amazing things during winter from designing a new Our Chalet T-shirt to Paragliding off Tschentenalp. However, there is still so much more I want to try, cross-country skiing, or visits to places like the Jungfrau or Matterhorn aka the Toblerone Mountain. Plus, I haven’t had cheese fondue yet, I know I can’t believe I went 3 months without any!

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Caroline Pile, Wales – Marketing and Communications Intern

Living at Our Chalet

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You know that age-old saying “when I was a kid we used to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow to get to school”? Well I never believed this concept could possibly exist in real life until I moved here.

We get excited walking as we power through a 45 minute walk (adjectives for this trip range from walk and stroll, to hike, lug, trek) uphill in both directions to reach a ‘town’ so small some would classify it as a village. At the beginning of the season we classified this trip as a trek because we had to stop every three minutes just to breathe. Now this walk has transformed into a casual stroll as we cruise up and down the many hills and reward ourselves with a hot chocolate or a spitzbaum from the local bäckerei. I can visualize every store on Dorfstrasse their products and store layout-a feat you may consider impressive until you realize there are a maximum of 20 shops. You can’t leave town without a mandatory trip to the COOP (a grocery store the size of a gas-station) for cornflake chocolate or making the cow statue ‘mooo’ outside the alp-cheese (alpkässe) store.

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Living high up on the mountain is a stark contrast to my life at home. You are literally living in a series of houses a third of the way up a mountain. I’ve never lived in a place this high (1348 m to be exact). We are so high up you can see everything that goes on in the valley. From the dining hall windows you can see three gondola tracks carrying keen skiers up Chuenisbärgli, Bergläger to Sillerenbuhl, and Tschentenalp as well as a 360 panorama of mountains you can’t begin to spell. My bathroom window overlooks the valley that stretches from Adelboden to Fruitigen (the next major town and train station). If someone told me they pasted an image to the outside of my window (like we do for fish in fancy aquariums) I’d believe them. The mountains overlap without much depth forming a layered collage of snow, firs, and wooden chalets dotting the sides. The sun rises from the east but sends tendrils of light through the north valley gracefully encouraging us to climb from our beds and explore the world. On occasion, a cloud will get stuck between the mountain riffs and hang in the air above some houses and below others.

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Our entertainment revolves around Skippy the Chalet cat, outdated movies, and cars getting stuck on the driveway. Our driveway is the bane of existence for many of us and our guests. A food delivery truck fell victim to this dragon and had to lay in its nest for six hours before a crane came and pried it from the jaws of death. I too have fallen victim to this cruel creature. The day was warm so the snow melted but to my displeasure re-freezes at night. I walked back from Boden (completing a crucial component of the almighty staff challenge) at midnight to find the 45 degree drive covered in an inch of ice all the way to the parking lot. With each step forward I cast a handful of gravel (we don’t salt the roads here), take two baby steps, promptly crash to the floor on my knees and slide the remaining of the drive down to the beginning. I stupidly decide that walking in the snow would be a better idea so I take one step and find myself hip-deep in freezing snow. Eventually I convinced myself that I couldn’t spend the night in the driveway so I army crawled up and conquered the beast.

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Fun facts at Chalet: You forget that other people exist in the world besides the handful that live and work here. Sometimes you forget that men exist in this world besides Adrian (maintenance and grounds), Don (Tanya’s husband) and the occasional male guest.

At the end of your time here none of your clothes fit because either you ate too much amazing food or you’ve strengthened muscles you didn’t know existed.

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Corina McBride – Winter Programme Intern.

Making the most of my Winter in the Swiss Alps.

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I’m Grace, and I’m from Australia. Even though I’m Australian, I don’t like hot weather, so I decided to swap my Aussie summer for a very snowy winter. I really love to ski, so I knew that winter was the season I wanted to be here for. I was so looking forward to a winter full of snow sports, and a white Christmas, and my season here did not disappoint. These are a few of the winter activities I got to do during my volunteer season here. 

 

Downhill skiing

Adelboden, the town where Our Chalet is, has an extensive skiing area just a short distance from Our Chalet. On a skiing day, I’d be up early and ready to leave Our Chalet at 7:30am to walk down the hill and be one of the first people on the gondola at 8am. This was always totally worth the early start for both the freshly groomed pistes (or if I was lucky, fresh power) and the amazing experience of seeing a sunrise from the top of the chairlifts. The runs here were of a lot harder standard that other places I’ve skied, and after barely skiing for the last few years it took me a while to find my ski legs again, but I could feel myself improving as the season went on. I challenged myself to try and ski as many different lifts and runs as possible of the ones in Adelboden, and I also did a day at Kandersteg skiing at Oeschinensee

 

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Cross country skiing

One of my goals for while I was here was to learn to cross country ski, as it’s something I’ve always wanted to try but never had the chance. I first went up to Engstligenalp with another staff member, and muddled my way around the track there, gradually getting the hang of it and finally getting my rhythm right. It was really challenging at first as I struggled greatly balancing on skis so much thinner compared to downhill skis, but with some concentration I got used to it. Feeling much more confident by the end of that day, a couple of weeks later I went cross country skiing by myself. This time I went to Boden, the valley just down from Our Chalet, and started off slowly with the simpler track, and then skied to Unter dem Birg at the base of Engstligen, which was almost an hour one way. This track had many more uphill and downhill parts, and I fell over quite a few times, but the amazing view of the valley and skiing through a forest with no one else in sight was almost magical, and a great reward for my hard work. I was so proud of myself at the end of the day with how much I had improved and how much I had challenged myself. 

 

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Sledding.

Sledding was a bit of a baptism of fire, with my first experience being a staff evening out to go night sledding at Tschenten, on a night where there was no guests onsite. I stuck to one of the traditional wooden sleds, and gradually got the hang of it. The sledding was very fast paced and not as well-lit as I had hoped, but I soon felt more comfortable and challenged myself to try the intermediate runs. The night ended dramatically when I braved the top part of the intermediate run (which most of us avoided as it was too steep and had difficult corners) and came off my sled and actually lost it. I then had to go the rest of the way down on the back of someone else’s sled with them, despite it being a one person sized sled. I’m not sure if it took so much longer because of our lack of skill, or how much we were laughing. I got two chances to go sledding on Silleren with guests, and enjoyed the chance to help them enjoy their sledding days. 

 

Air boarding and ski bocking.

While traditional sledding is great fun, air boarding and ski bocking are worth trying despite being a bit scary initially. An air board is like an inflatable body/boogie board, and you lie on your stomach and hold on to the handles and go down the hill. It’s kinda terrifying going head first, but at least the snow is soft when you fall off, something I did a lot. I quickly got the hang of stopping by inventing my technique of rolling over on to my back to slow myself down. One thing you need to embrace while doing any sledding related sport is that you will almost certainly fall off, and you just need to accept it as part of the experience. Once I felt I had gotten the hang of and had enjoyed air boarding, I swapped to giving the ski bock a go. A ski bock is a single short ski (between about 50cm to 1m) with a stool attached in the middle that you sit on, and handles sticking out to the side beside your knees, and you use your feet to steer and brake. I expected to find the ski bock to have no balance, but I actually felt more stable on it than the traditional sled, and much easier to steer as I could make the most of the ski edges. I soon got the hang of it, and was hurtling down the slopes. I even challenged myself to going down the advanced slope on the ski bock, with another staff member, and we had so much fun despite falling off and rolling down the hill almost as much as we were actually on the ski bocks. 

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Snow tubing.

One program activity on offer is snow tubing, which involved sliding down a track on an inflated inner tube. It’s a short but sweet run, and sometimes you slide backwards and it’s scary but exhilarating. 

 

My Winter season at Our Chalet has felt like an endless adventure of snow sports, and had far exceeded my expectations of what was available. I’ve challenged myself to make the most of my days off to do as much as possible, and I feel I lived up to that challenge. If you get the chance to visit Our Chalet in winter, make the most of everything that’s on offer, because there’s nothing like screaming at the top of your lungs as you fly down a mountain as fast as you can, whether it be on skis, sled or snow tube. 

 

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Grace Bunton – Our Chalet Winter Volunteer

Winter activities in Adelboden – Catherine, Northern Ireland

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Only half way through my season, I have already experienced multiple events Adelboden has to offer in the winter, from the madness of World Cup to the tranquillity of Mass on Christmas day.

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The build up to Christmas was pretty spectacular, decorating the tree and dining room was one of my favourite activities in the festive period. The rustic and traditional vibe was fairly similar to decorations at home but the real candles on the tree was very different. Lighting the Christmas tree with the local families was really special, if not nerve-racking giving fire to young children. We sang some “well known” songs with the neighbours in swiss german which were new to most of us but it was enjoyable sharing traditions.

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Having learnt only one Swiss German word, grusse, I decided to go to church on both Christmas eve and Christmas day, knowing full well I wouldn’t comprehend a single word. I understood very little but the feeling of being part of the community and singing carols seems to be pretty international, the words were different, but that didn’t stop me from singing (nothing ever does).

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New year was incredible as almost every home in Adelboden and neighbouring villages set fireworks off so the valley was alight with reds, greens and purples. This is quite the opposite of a standard winter night where the only light comes from the windows of houses and the odd Christmas decoration still hanging.

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World cup was a completely different experience than both Christmas and new year. The valley which is usually still and silent, had voices booming across and Vogellisi playing all day. Most staff had at least one day off during the weekend to visit the World Cup village to make the most out of the free memorabilia. Most coming away with at least one vest and hat. The skiing was of interest to most, watching the intoxicated fans falling about on the ice was of interest to all. The weekend was very enjoyable and we even met a slalom skier although only realised after he wasn’t part of this years competition.

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The only constant in all these events was the snow. We were slightly pessimistic on the reality of a white Christmas but in a true Christmas miracle, it started snowing late afternoon on Christmas eve and didn’t stop until night fell. The snow has been enjoyed by all, some are still finding their ice legs and can be seen slipping and sliding when the snow has frozen overnight. Playing in, building with and eating the snow have been just a few activities enjoyed by the vollies. I have been trying to improve my skiing skills while here and also teaching the other vollies to ski so that more can enjoy the incredible feeling that I think is the closest thing to flying.

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Lots of Snow = Use of Boris. Boris is our snow plow and on my maintenance day I was allowed to use Boris, which added another reason why lots of snow is good.

Night sledding was something I had never tried before but had the opportunity just after New Year. I would be lying if I said I would do it again but it was definitely something I would recommend trying. It was slightly terrifying to be sliding down a mountain on a wooden sledge while only being able to see just a little ahead of you.

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I hope the rest of my winter season is as snowy as the first half.

Catherine Magennis –  Our Chalet Winter Volunteer