Trail to victory

Benjamin Weger really ought to throw a snowball of gratitude into his companions’ gardens in Geschinen every winter. It was their change of ski disciplines that set him off on the trail to success. “We were a bunch of real winter fanatics. And I’ve had a love for this season ever since,” says the top-level biathlete from Goms, one of the 15 best in the world.

This is how it came about: at dusk, from the roofs with their huge snow overhangs, the boys used to perform somersaults into the snow-filled gardens below. What a laugh! At the weekends they went skiing on the slopes by the village. One day the older boys in the clique decided to give cross-country skiing a go. Benjamin Weger joined them – and found he really enjoyed it.

No wonder! The Goms trail comprises 90 kilometres of varying trails, some of which can stretch you to your limits, whereas others are more leisurely – and Benjamin Weger took to them straightaway. Back then, he achieved top results with little training. The ski club – and later also Swiss Ski – took him under their wings.

Delightful tour in the Pischienwald

The sunny high valley of Goms with its quaint, neatly compact villages is considered one of the best cross-country paradises anywhere. Benjamin Weger likes that fact that at 1300 metres above sea level, the trail is not restricted entirely to the forest. “Out in the open I can really turn on the speed; I have a sense of vastness that I don’t get anywhere else,” he says, as someone who has glided along many trails in far-off countries. He perfects his stamina on the uphill climbs. Since the opening of the Nordic Centre, the biathlete can also practice shooting in the neighbouring village of Ulrichen.

“On the cross-country trail in the Pischienwald near Oberwald, I sometimes spot fish in the Rotten river, as the young Rhône is called here. I feel really at ease in the peace and quiet of the open forest. A sip of clear water, what more do I need?” It takes quite a lot more than that to keep up with the world’s top athletes in biathlon, which involves cross-country skiing combined with a shooting contest. Benjamin Weger is amazingly laid-back about the pressure. “To be always up at the front in biathlon is completely out of the question due to the complexity of the sport and density of the field.”

Typical swiss village in winter, Reckingen, Valais
The Goms valley and its quaint villages invite to quietude.

Greeting Grimsel and Gotthard

To some extent this mix of ambition and down-to-earth modesty reflects the character of Goms: the gently curving valley can be enjoyed in a host of different ways – in winter too. On his few free days, Weger will always be found out skiing. Galenstock: “What a view!”; Grimsel region: “Magnificent landscape”; Brudelhorn: “For connoisseurs”. But he does other things too. Such as winter hikes from village to village, each of which is a stop on the Matterhorn Gotthard railway and benefits from its hourly service. “I make the most of the few winter days at home to recharge my batteries,” he says. Then he permits himself to enjoy Cholera, the potato-onion-cheese quiche pie that is much in demand as a speciality of Goms, and not only in the winter.

But his favourite dish has never hurt his sprints: he gives it all he’s got until his “lungs, thighs and arms are burning”. This accomplished athlete, who goes fly-fishing in summer at the lake in Geschinen and enjoys a swim in one of the seven lakes in the Grimsel region, has become a sporting icon for many young Goms cross-country skiers. And a symbol of the new Goms. Sports-keen, dynamic, with much appreciation of the pleasurable things in life, and with the unique kind of snug cosiness that only sun-scorched wooden houses with metre-thick blankets of snow on the roof can convey.

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