Then and Now – Cuyler, Former Our Chalet Helper

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Cuyler Boughner recently brought her Girl Scout troop from Arizona to join in with our Summer Swiss Challenge 2018. She has kindly given us an account of what volunteering at Our Chalet was like when she was younger:

In my line of work, I often ask clients to share about people who’ve inspired them and experiences that have changed their lives. I believe my two stints as a volunteer at Our Chalet, and then a year as the “seasonal staff member” as well as meeting Guider-in Charge, Inge Lyck, helped shape my world view in a major way.

“In the 1970’s, volunteers at the World Centre were called ‘helpers’. The emphasis was always on helping guests have impeccable experiences. We usually had five
helpers with the same number of guests as now; we worked 24/7 and had one day off
between the twelve day sessions. Every morning we’d gather well before breakfast to
make the sandwiches and packed lunches for all the guests, supervise patrol duties
before heading out for the day’s hikes or stay home and help with cooking and
cleaning, and end the day by attending and helping with the evening programs held
every night. We also headed the tables in the big room, leading conversations and
sometimes even teaching table manners!

My love of the outdoors expanded while in Adelboden, and has informed my
entire life, as I currently lead a high adventure Girl Scout troop and personally spend as
much time as possible backpacking, hiking, skiing, etc. Specifically I acquired the
skills of leading groups on hikes in the mountains and teaching beginning skiing in the
winter, both of which I continue to do.

With a very high quality of service being the norm (“good enough” was not
acceptable!), I gained a work ethic and high standard of performance that allowed me
to excel in various jobs and instilled in me the confidence to become a summer camp
director at a young age and subsequently to start and operate my own personnel
training company for the past 30 years.

In addition, my entire life has been enhanced because of the lifelong friendships
formed those years with young women from around the world. Interestingly, many of
the women with whom I worked became professionals in education, medicine, and
social services, all continuing to contribute to societies and communities around our
planet.

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Cuyler and her husband Tom on their latest trip back to Our Chalet in August 2018

Because of all that I gained personally as a young woman at Our Chalet, I’ve
continued by affiliation with it by serving on the USA Friends of Our Chalet for over 30
years, attending staff reunions, leading a leadership/team building seminar, and doing
some staff training at Our Chalet. I’ve brought four adult groups and our Girl Scout
troop to Our Chalet for hiking adventures.

As I enter my “older” years, I’m so thankful for the opportunity I had so many
years ago to attend Our Chalet as a girl, and then to volunteer and work as a staff
member. Our Chalet is indeed a “home away from home” for me, and my life would
not be as complete without my Chalet experience.

Cuyler Boughner, USA

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Things I’ve done on my days off – Susan (New Zealand)

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As an Our Chalet Assistant, I knew I would get to spend some days off-site running programme with guests. However, I never dreamed there would be so many opportunities to explore on our days off work and so much stunning countryside to discover! For this reason I have decided to share with you some of the more exciting adventures I have had in my first 6 weeks at Our Chalet.

Interlaken – Paddle boarding

It was a hot, sunny day in May during the summer volunteers’ training, so we all had the day off together. It was Nora’s birthday and she wanted to go stand up paddle boarding.  We all went down to Mountain Surf in Interlaken, which is on the edge of Lake Thun. I have never been paddle boarding before so it was a somewhat slower progress for me. Like a toddler learning to walk I was finally up on shaky legs and making my way around the edge of the lake.

We were even accompanied by a trip of alphorns playing a beautiful haunting melody in the background – how very Swiss!!!

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Cycling to Frutigen

One of the items on our Staff Challenge is to cycle to Frutigen. I set off one sunny day along what we call the “low road” to Elsigbach. I cycled through pretty tree-filled valleys, past fields of wildflowers (and cows!) and waved to locals along the way.

Finally I reached Elsigbach – relief! Only downhill left to Frutigen. Suddenly, a bird flew right in front of my face. I panicked, braked too hard, and went over the handlebars. Despite several bruises I was okay and in good humour. I managed to finish the hill down to Frutigen successfully. It was definitely a challenging day but I now look back on it fondly.36865675_10215522436272035_1438004279615946752_n

Niesen

Niesen is the mountain at the end of our valley, known as the “Swiss Pyramid” due to its shape. As soon as I had a cloudless day off, off I went up its funicular railway. What a view!!! I almost couldn’t believe it. From the peak you can see Lakes Thun and Brienze, with Interlaken in the centre and Thun town at the western shore. You can see the Frutigen, and up the Kander and Engstlige valleys. The Engstlige valley is where Our Chalet is – it was amazing to see from 2362m!

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View out from the steep train up Niesen 

Oeschinensee

From Kandersteg we hiked up to Oeschinensee and once again I was absolutely blown away by the view. We had lunch, entertained by the cows chilled out by the lake and took a walk further up the hill above the lake. There’s a small luge next to the gondola station, which is a lot of fun. We were fortunate enough that after getting stuck behind slow people, the operator let us have another run so we could go really fast!

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Gasterntal

This has to be the most beautiful place I have ever seen! One of the other summer volunteers has her car here so we drove as far as we could along a crazy one-way road on the edge of cliffs and through tunnels.

From the road we hiked up into the mountains – we even had to cross a couple of ice fields, and I’m glad to say I’m the only one who didn’t fall over at all! This hike was a tough one for me with so much climbing, so even though we didn’t reach the glacier it was such a sense of satisfaction getting as far as I did.

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Above: The winding road to Gasterntal Below: Crossing the ice fields

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As you can see, there are a lot of amazing places to visit and things to do on your days off. I was so excited to come to Our Chalet to volunteer but these days out are really the icing on the cake!

Susan Young, Our Chalet Assistant Summer 2018

 

My Time at Our Chalet so far – Frances (UK)

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The only way I can describe my time at Our Chalet is as a whirlwind of adventure, whether I’ve been out on Programme climbing mountains or on Guest Services trying to figure out how to cook for hundreds of people, it’s definitely been an experience of a life time that I’ll take with me wherever I go.

I’m not someone who is particularly organised so my plans to come to Our Chalet were very much spontaneous, one minute I was at home in England and the next I was looking at the next flight to Switzerland.

So now I find myself, two months in out of six at Our Chalet having the time of my life in the Swiss alps. If anyone was even slightly questioning whether they should come to Our Chalet, take my advice and just go for it. I won’t lie the days are long and hard work, but as I’ve found, with a good team around you. they certainly don’t feel that long. The thing I love about working at Our Chalet is that every day is different, even if it looks like you’re doing the same thing day in day out, things are genuinely never the same.

On a guest services day you can expect a lot of cleaning and cooking ahead, which although might not be the most glamorous of tasks, is one of the most satisfying. If you haven’t folded 300 pieces of laundry in a day, have you really lived? Honestly there’s nothing better than a good old session in the laundry room that ends with these identical piles of towels and bedding!

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Having a high adventure on the Kandersteg Via Ferrata on a day off

As a Summer Volunteer the other side of my role is on programme. As I’m here over summer programme it’s pretty full on with a Swiss Challenge pretty much every week! On programme I get to lead groups of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts on a series of high adventure activities which isn’t just an amazing experience for them but an amazing one for me as well. I love seeing the look of pride and awe on a girl’s face who has challenged herself way beyond what she thought she could! I’ve definitely had a few moments like that so far since being here.

I think the most memorable experience I’ve had so far was my first night hike to the peak of a mountain! I started hiking at 7:30 pm with a group of girls behind me and we started to make our way up Bunderspitz, come 9:30 we were getting ready for the night’s rest in a cheesemaker’s hut half way up the mountain. This was definitely a memory I won’t forget as throughout the night all I could hear was cows mooing away which is very far removed from a normal nights sleep! At 1:30 am we woke up after a few hours sleep and resumed our hike to the peak, with just a head torch to guide us in the night. A few hours later we reached the peak after a long hike and the reward was to see the clearest and most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen therefore making a pretty challenging hike completely worth it.

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Sunrise from Bunderspitz

To summarise, Our Chalet has given me experience and opportunities in things I never thought I would get the chance to have. One final piece of advice I can give to anyone thinking of coming to our Chalet, and this is appropriate for future volunteers or potential guests, is ALWAYS wear sun cream!

Frances Whittaker, Summer Volunteer 2018

What have I learnt at Our Chalet? A poem. By Ciara Watkins (UK)

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What have I learnt at Our Chalet?

For that I have so much to say.

First the kitchen, a place of magic and laughter,

from a manic rush to sixty plates after.

 

Cooking chocolate fondue to alpine mac,

with plenty of bananas for me to snack!

With Vogellisi forever on repeat,

we sing along and move our feet.

 

To the Chalet hill and the many hikes

and the long cycle to Frutigen on our bikes;

we challenged ourselves and each other

as we explored with the Alps and with the stars as cover.

 

With the soft snow and learning to ski,

there was no place I would rather be.

From building snowmen and snowball fights,

we climbed up Engstligen and admired the sights.

 

For some it was the first time seeing snow,

as we rolled down hills, we taught them all that we know.

Meeting new guests from all around,

sharing stories and friendships were found.

 

And in three short months with the Spring team,

my second family they all did seem.

So what have I learnt at Our Chalet?

That friends forever we all will stay.

Ciara Watkins Our Chalet Volunteer Spring 2018

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Things I never expected to do as an Our Chalet Volunteer – Beth (UK/USA)

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Every day as an Our Chalet volunteer was an adventure; whether I was working on guest services, programme, hanging out in the staff house, or exploring Switzerland on a day off, I was always doing something new and exciting. My favourite memories, however, are those from activities I never expected to do during my time here.

Taking an overnight trip alone

Before coming to Our Chalet, I had never even been on an overnight trip with a friend. However, after travelling around with other volunteers during the season, I eventually gained the confidence to spend a night in Geneva on my own. I stayed in a hostel for the first time that night, and – to my surprise – managed to explore the city without getting horribly lost.

Skiing down a black run

During the season, I only had the chance to go skiing once. I went up to Engstligenalp with Emma, one of the interns, and we started out on the blue run. After a couple times down the blue run, Emma asked if I would go on the black run with her, and although I hadn’t been skiing since I was about 10 years old, I agreed. The first part was quite steep and I went painfully slowly. But I managed to get down the first part without falling. Towards the end, however, when the run turned into a blue run, it surprisingly got a lot steeper and I ended up sliding on my bum. Nonetheless, I attempted a run that seemed daunting to me and had a lot of fun.

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Snowboarding

Although I had sworn to myself that I would never snowboard (I hated the idea of my feet being bound together and had heard so many stories of broken wrists), I did try snowboarding during my time at Our Chalet. To start, I asked another staff member who snowboarded to teach me the basics. We walked over to a close-by bunny hill, and I tried to get a feel for the board and sliding down the hill. However I couldn’t figure out how to turn and continually fell on my face when I tried. Although I actually found the falling quite fun and definitely funny, I decided I wanted to take a proper snowboard lesson the following week. By the end of that lesson, I was (mostly) successfully turning and falling a lot less.

 

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Sledging down a mountain

My idea of sledging had always been a plastic bum sled down a backyard hill. However, I soon learned that people sledged down actual mountains on ski runs and sledge runs with proper, old fashioned wooden sledges. On one of my days off, we borrowed a couple of the Chalet’s sledges and went to Silleren to sledge down a ski run. From the top of the mountain, the sledge run looked terrifying – skiers were zipping past at high speeds, the hill looked quite steep, and I had no idea how to steer — I had never even felt the need to steer a sledge before! The first time down, I was constantly stopping myself to avoid the skiers, to make sure I didn’t sledge off the side of the mountain and to control my speed “just in case.” However, after a couple times down, I started trying to see just how fast I could go. I wasn’t stopping myself or even trying to slow down.

Other snow activities

During my time at Our Chalet, I also tried out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – both things that I was very capable of trying at home, but probably never would have. When I went cross-country skiing, we started off-track, and I was horrendous at it. I kept falling, sprawled out and onto my face. We eventually found real tracks and that made it so much easier because my skis were forced in a specific direction. Yet I would somehow manage to lose my balance every once in a while anyway. Still, it was a fun experience that I probably wouldn’t have tried elsewhere. When I went snowshoeing, I was hiking up Silleren, and I found it quite difficult to walk in them because they were very clunky and I had to place my feet very straight as I walked. But they allowed me to walk up parts of the mountain that I would have not been able to get up without the grip of the snowshoes. And in the end, thanks to the snowshoes, we made it up the mountain about as far as the weather allowed us that day.

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Hiking a mountain in the middle of the night

I can’t say that hiking in the middle of the night sounds fun. But trust me, it was. One night, me and 3 other volunteers decided to do a sunrise hike. We got up at 3 in the morning, and headed out to Chuenisbargli, a world cup ski run. The hike was quite easy and the view of the mountains and the stars were stunning. As we got closer to the top of the mountain, the sky began to lighten up, and by the time the sun started peeking out, we were sat at the top waiting for it.

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Visiting a country no bigger than 160 km2

Towards the end of my time at Our Chalet, I made a trip out to Liechtenstein with Katy, one of the interns. Before coming to Our Chalet, I didn’t even know that Liechtenstein existed. We visited the capital city, Vaduz, and hiked up to the castle and wandered around the vineyards and old town. The area was absolutely beautiful and I’m so glad I made a trip out there.

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Climbing up the Our Chalet hill without stopping

Anyone who’s been to Our Chalet knows about the “Our Chalet Hill.” At the beginning of the season, it was quite difficult to walk up to Our Chalet for me. But the first time I walked all the way up without stopping, it dawned on me just how much fitter I had become. Being at Our Chalet has encouraged me to be more active by exploring cities and towns, hiking, and trying many new outdoor activities. As a result, I have definitely become healthier and fitter.

Making close friendships

Of course, I expected to make friends while I was at Our Chalet. However, I never anticipated how close I would become with all the other volunteers and interns. But being surrounded by girls my own age with similar interests and a mutual excitement for exploring nature and Switzerland allowed me to create close bonds with each of them. I can now say that I have friends all over the world.

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Beth McCormick, Our Chalet Assistant Spring 2018

An Amazing Experience in the Swiss Alps

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It is difficult to put into words the amazing experiences that I have had at Our Chalet. I am a simple Nepali girl and have always been passionate about scouting and guiding. Traveling to Europe was something I had always dreamed of. Now that I am finally living my dream, I am reluctant to wake up.

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How it began?

My journey began with an application, an application to volunteer at ‘Our Chalet’, the first World Centre of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). After a couple of months, I received an email from Our Chalet with news that I had been selected to work as an Our Chalet Assistant for Spring 2018 and there was no boundary for my happiness as my application was accepted.

Swiss Experience

My first ever visit to Switzerland became challenging as I landed at night and had to get into different trains to reach Adelboden. Nepalese people do not have good experiences with trains since there are no railways in Nepal. This was also a little bit worrying as I was traveling alone. Getting into different trains on time and changing platforms with my luggage was not easy, however it was worth it when I finally arrived at Our Chalet. I experienced snowfall for the first time in my life and it was exactly how I imagined it to be- STUPENDOUS! I have had so many wonderful experiences such as building an igloo, making my first snowman, sledding, skiing and snowshoeing which I had never done before in Nepal. I have now travelled to many places in Switzerland and the beauty is just mesmerizing.

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Our Chalet Experience

I am the first staff member from Nepal in this 86 year old establishment. Everyone in Our Chalet (be it guests or the staff) love to find out about Nepal, its culture and scouting there. I have been learning more about WAGGGS and different projects run by WAGGGS during my time here. I have taken the lead in several programs which are conducted for guests. I have been carrying out the role of lead volunteer several times where I manage and allocate tasks for all the volunteers. I really enjoy interacting with guests as there is so much to learn from them. Since most of them are from different corners of the world, it is interesting to know about their guiding stories, memories and about the adventures they have had in their life. My experience at Our Chalet has helped me grow and become more independent, confident and push myself outside my comfort zone.

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Swechchha Bhandari, Our Chalet Assistant Spring 2018

Mountain Perspectives

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In this post I want to help you have a clearer idea of what the mountains are like here in Adelboden, Switzerland and the different ways you can explore them at Our Chalet when you visit. People from around the world hold different perceptions of mountains depending on what they’re used to, before you come it’s nice to have an idea of the scale of these mountains.

Firstly, if I asked you to draw me a mountain right now, 93 times out of 100 you will draw something that looks like this:

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Spiky and angular.

However that is not always the reality.

The stunning Wildstrubel dominates the skyline over Adelboden. Would you have drawn me a flat mountain like this?

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So, what is a mountain?

The truth is mountains come in all shapes and sizes big and small, flat and pointy, dipped and curved, rocky and grassy, steep and steady – perhaps all at once.

In the UK, a mountain is usually defined as any summit of at least 610 m (or 2000 feet) high, but official definitions vary across the globe.

The highest point you will find in the Netherlands reaches a mighty 322 m (1056 feet) so there are no mountains there. Compare that to the highest point in Nepal which reaches a whopping 8848 m (29,029 feet) and you’ve got a bit of a difference. Therefore, what may seem high to a Dutch Guide may seem like a small bump to a Guide from Nepal.

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Left of the photo: Bunderspitz, lit up in the winter sun, overlooking the Our Chalet grounds

What kind of mountains will you find when you come to Our Chalet?

Well, there certainly is a variety. The highest and longest hike we offer at Our Chalet is to the tip of Bunderspitz to see the sunrise, it’s only possible in summer. Once up there, you stand at 2546 m (8353 feet) above sea level. Since Switzerland is a mountainous landlocked country, you begin the hike not from sea level but from Our Chalet’s front door which is 1353 m (4439 feet) high, meaning that on that hike you climb a height gain of 1193 m (3914 feet) in total. That’s four Eiffel Towers high!! From the top you can see over into our neighbouring valley of Kandersteg and on a good day you can see the Eiger and the Jungfrau, some of Switzerland’s tallest and most famous peaks.
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Above: Sunrise on Bunderspitz in the summer looking west over the Adelboden valley.

Below: The badge you earn for completing this special hike

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This hike is for those who really wish to challenge themselves!

Our winter walks often head across and through the mountainous valley as opposed to walking to the top of the peaks, often with a gondola ride at the end to ensure the high mountain views are still reached at the end of the day. The walk to Engstligenalp is a lovely meandering horizontal hike to the second largest waterfall in Switzerland and is suitable for everyone who is up for walking for two hours.

There are also leisurely walks in the spring tailored to smaller children or those less able to undertake long distances, which allow guests to explore the valley extending behind Our Chalet to the beautiful Bunderfalls that cascade down the Lohner mountains.

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Altitude Chart comparison of Programme Hikes

We have a variety of other hikes throughout the year too which change from season to season to adapt to the annual changing weather conditions. Check out our events page to find the right walks for you.

If you’re really into hiking, perhaps our Walking Week in autumn would be for you.

Whether you’re new to the mountains, or a weathered mountain lover, the peaks of Adelboden will always hold opportunities for you to explore them at your level.

Written by Emma Travers, Winter/Spring Marketing and Communications Intern