Goms: glide to your heart’s content

Situated in the east of Canton Valais, the Goms high valley offers the perfect conditions for cross-country skiing. The trails lead through unspoilt villages, over gently sloping hills and along the banks of the young Rhone.

The view is breathtaking. As you emerge from the Furka tunnel and into the dazzling light at Oberwald, the expanse of the high valley lies ahead of you, as wild as it is beautiful – the panorama unfurls right up to the Weisshorn that towers in the distance. Snow bears down on the roofs of the traditional wooden huts, while the nascent Rhone rushes down below, clearing a path through the walls of snow along its shores. In amongst all of this, you’ll notice the meticulous trails which snake their way through the valley. These link together 12 picturesque villages from Oberwald through to Niederwald. There are 90 kilometres of trails on offer for cross-country skiers, at every level of difficulty. This cross-country skiing paradise sees intensive use, and yet doesn’t suffer from overcrowding. Classic skiers can glide through the prepared trails while skate skiers race down the valley with rapid steps. In winter the valley lives from cross-country skiing, and the sport’s rapid growth here over the past 25 years is in no small part down to the efforts of one of the locals, former top athlete Koni Hallenbarter.

In the eighties he was one of Switzerland’s most successful cross-country skiers, the first non-Scandinavian to complete the Vasaloppet in less than four hours. At the Sarajevo Olympics he took fifth place in the 4x10km relay and reached the top ten in the 50km event. He also topped the final rankings of the Worldloppet twice. When Koni Hallenbarter ended his sporting career, he could have gone anywhere in the world, but he chose to return to the valley where he grew up with his six siblings. “Goms is my home. My roots are here,” says the 62-year-old. His commitment to cross-country skiing in the high valley has paid dividends. The popular Nordic meeting spot, which features the Vasa Bar, a sports shop and a cross-country skiing school, is known far and wide. “Here in Goms we can offer the perfect conditions for cross-country skiing,” he explains. Although cross-country skiing used to have the reputation of being a sport for older skiers, recent years have increasingly seen the younger generation arriving in the valley, and the more technically demanding skate style is now even more popular than the classic technique.

But cross-country skiing isn’t the only way to enjoy winter in Goms. Since last season, the valley’s winter hiking trails can also be explored by fatbike. Originating from Canada, the bikes feature oversized tyres and are specially designed for winter conditions. “We’ve even had people ride up the Grimsel on fatbikes,” says Koni Hallenbarter. For those who prefer a gentler pace, though, snowshoe walking is just the thing. With a host of snowshoe trails that reach a combined length of 36km, Goms is a mountain world that can be enjoyed in perfect tranquility. With a little luck, you may even catch a glimpse of one of the endangered species that inhabit the region – perhaps a golden eagle, a bearded vulture, an ibex or a black grouse. It’s possible to start a snowshoe tour from any of the villages in Goms. The longest and most challenging trail leads from Münster to the Galmihorn hut, situated at an altitude of 2113 metres. Snowshoe walkers and ski tourers are rewarded with a view of one of the most beautiful spots in Obergoms, the Hungerberg. Up there, the whole valley is at your feet!

Fatbike in Goms
Fatbike: riding through the winter countryside with oversized tyres.

For those who’d rather stay in the valley, there are 78km of signposted winter hiking paths on offer. And if the road back seems too daunting, the Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn has a train every half hour to help you make the return journey. It’s a service that’s much appreciated by cross-country skiers, too. Alternatively, a ride on a dog sledge is almost as fast as travelling by train. This particular winter adventure starts up again on 7 January.

Despite the wide range of winter activities on offer, cross-country skiing is still the lifeblood of Goms. “We need to look after our valley and stay strong in what we know best,” says Koni Hallenbarter. The high valley lives from tourism. “Agriculture is thriving in Goms. There are a lot of young families looking after farms again. In that respect, we’ve managed a successful turnaround,” the former top athlete explains. Where would he go on holiday, if he had the time? “I travelled a lot when I was younger, but I always find myself drawn back to my valley.” The sea isn’t really Koni Hallenbarter’s thing. For him, holidays are all about sport and the mountains. And what does the future hold for Goms? “I have a lot faith in young people, and I’m willing to bet on their entrepreneurial spirit. For us, people moving away is a big problem. And, of course, I hope the winter stays how it’s been up until now – with plenty of snow.”

Next story

Exploring Valais wines and vineyards

Read now