Bristol Business News travel: Igloo building for beginners in Switzerland

March 11, 2016
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It’s the ultimate team-building challenge. This weekend teams of friends, colleagues and ski enthusiasts will gather on a stunning mountain plateau in Switzerland for the World Igloo Building Competition. The aim? To construct – and then sleep in – your own igloo. Bristol Business News Travel Editor ANNE GORRINGE joined in.

Pictured: The teams take a well-earned break at the igloo-building competition

The lowdown…This weekend marks the sixth year of this annual competition held at Engstiligenalp, the largest plateau in the Western Swiss Alps, located at 2,000m. Just above Adelboden, the region also offers some fabulous and stunningly pretty skiing.

The best plan is to arrive in Adelboden in time to fit in a day’s skiing on Friday as the fabulous mountain location means the runs here take you through some of the prettiest scenery in Switzerland.

You don’t have to be an expert to take part, just enthusiastic and prepared to have a great weekend. I went with a group of four first-timers and, with the help of Bruno Schaub from the tourist office, our team even managed to completed our igloo in the allotted time!

Pictured: The walk down to the stunning plateau

The cost of entry is around £90 per person and includes free hire of a saw to cut your ‘bricks’, lunch, gluwein to celebrate when you finish and a Swiss Army sleeping bag to snuggle into at night.

And, if you fancy having a go at the competition but want a bit of tuition first, you can always sign up for an igloo building course first. These are held throughout the winter. Information here

Don’t forget: To get a good night’s sleep before the challenge. Our team stayed in Adelboden at The Cambrian Hotel, which has its own spa plus great views of the mountains. It’s actually owned by a couple of brothers from Wales who’ve brought a touch of luxury to Adelboden. From here, our team piled into a taxi for the short ride to the bottom of the Engstigenalp cable car to get up to plateau for the start of the competition – which starts promptly at 10am on Saturday.

Pictured: The spa at The Cambrian Hotel

A double, south-facing room at The Cambrian with views to Engstligenalp costs CHF 265 (£189) for two on a B&B basis. Details here

How did the competition start? The Igloo Festival started in 2012 as an attempt to set a world record of 200 igloos. It didn’t make it – but the annual competition is still going strong.

So, on the morning of the competition, you arrive on an empty plateau. Where do you start? Each team is shown to a ‘peg’ in the ground attached to a piece of string. This is used like a sort of giant compass to mark out a circle in the snow, indicating where you should start building your walls . The length of the string dictates the size of the finished igloo (which depends on the number of people who want to sleep in it).

Pictured: The trench where the blocks of snow were cut and which will become the entrance to the igloo

How do you make the bricks? Using a saw and shovel, a trench is dug just in front of the circle in the place that will ultimately become the entrance to the igloo. You cut your ‘bricks’ from the trench with the saw as you work.

What’s the secret of success? One person needs to stand inside the igloo to ‘build’ while the rest of the team cut bricks, carries them over to the circle, helps to hold them in place and packs any cracks in the walls with ‘snow cement’.

Make every minute count… To give yourself the best chance, arrive in plenty of time at the top of the mountain with your bags and plenty of warm clothing. You can store them at the mountain hut here and a helpful chap with a snowmobile was waiting at the chairlift ready to transport ours across to the hut.

Pictured: Building in action. The stacked blocks are lifted into place

The back-up plan. When we registered, we decided that only two of our team would actually sleep in the igloo. Previously, we’d reserved four bunk beds in the well-heated Berghotel mountain hut – a 20 minute hike across the plateaux from the igloo site – and just near the top of the Engstigenalp lift. The igloo itself then only had to be big enough for two people, who bravely volunteered to sleep there overnight. The cost of bunk accommodation, including all bedding and breakfast, was around CHF 70 a night each (that’s about £50).

Getting there. Anne travelled to Adelboden with Swiss from City Airport to Zurich. Super-efficient trains run direct from the Zurich Airport to Adelboden with a connecting bus for the very last part of the journey. Information on flights and train transfers from Swiss Tourism  here

Pictured: Top tip! Danny, right, shows how leaning blocks inwards keeps the building low-rise!

Getting around. It’s easy to organise a taxi from the hotel to the cable car that takes you up to the top of the mountain.

Don’t miss. Taking an extra day to get in some skiing in the region.

What’s the food like? The free sandwiches handed out at lunchtime, after a hard morning cutting blocks of ice, went down a treat. There was also an ‘ice restaurant’ – yes, that is a restaurant made of ice – just near the Berghotel Engstligenalp where we had dinner.

Pictured: Home sweet home. Toasting our success outside the completed igloo

Anything else I should know?….

  • Information on Adelboden is available from Adelboden-Frutigen Tourism here
  • For accommodation on the mountain, the team shared a bunk room at the Berghotel Engstligenalp: CHF 70 per person. For more click here

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