Scare Yourself

STORY BY Patrick Thorne 26th November 2014

Recent years have seen ski areas endeavour to out-do each other on who can create the most exhilarating, or terrifying, attraction for their guests.

Making use of their existing assets – very big mountains, very long drops, and very high lifts – resorts have been busily constructing glass-bottomed balconies hanging over cliffs, 3km-high zip wires, cable cars with see-through floors (or you get to ride on the roof), and a collection of rickety-looking (but in reality very stable, we hope) metal bridges and suspended walkways, thousands of metres above the valley below.

Here’s our quick guide to eight of the top vertigo-challenging attractions in the Alps this winter.

> The Peak Walk

What’s claimed to be the first hanging bridge in the world to connect two peaks with one another has been built at Glacier 3000, a ski area between Les Diablerets and Gstaad in Switzerland.

The 107m-long bridge, named The Peak Walk, hangs 3000m up in the Swiss Alps. Scheduled to open in November, it has cost CHF1.8m (£1.2m) to build. The bridge will be open year-round, and admission will be free (once you’ve bought a lift pass to get up to it).

> Step Into The Void

A glass room hanging out over the Chamonix valley has been created 3842m up at the top of the Aiguille du Midi in France.

The structure was built using specially created glass, developed by a French glazing company who specialise in oversized glass. A transparent film binds three layers of 12mm thick glass together, without any alteration to its transparency, which means there is no optical effect. The glass plates of the five faces of the structure are held together by mechanical fasteners, which were also specifically developed for this project. The overall design eliminates any metallic structure, which ensures an unobstructed field of view for visitors.

The structure can support a weight up to 1.5 tonnes, but “for greater comfort” a maximum group of four visitors is allowed at any one time.

> The Cliff Walk

Located 3041m above sea level, the 100m-long (and 1m-wide) Titlis Cliff Walk, above Engelberg above Switzerland, is a spectacular suspension bridge accessed by another engineering marvel, the revolving “Rotair” cable car, an all-new improved version of which debuts this winter.

After arriving at the summit, to reach the Cliff Walk visitors pass through an underground tunnel and on to the viewing platform at the south wall window. The suspension bridge stretches from here to the Ice Flyer glacier chairlift station.

“To cross the bridge, you’ll need nerves as strong as the steel cables from which it hangs,” warns the resort’s publicity blurb, adding, sadly, “Please note: the suspension bridge will be closed in bad weather.”

> World’s Highest Zip Wire 

The world’s highest zip wire opened above Val Thorens in France last spring connecting the Maurienne Valley and Tarentaise regions. At 1300m (just under a mile) long, and starting at more than 3200m above sea level, visitors ride through the air reaching speeds from 65–105km/h. The 105s-long ride costs €50 (£40), taking you up to 250m above the ground, with the journey designed to mimic that of a flying eagle. The zip wire is reserved for skiers and boarders only, who must be aged 8 years or over, and wear a helmet.

“The moment I launched myself into the void, my heart was beating like crazy. Then, it was an absolute joy, pure ecstasy in which I saw the mountains like never before,” said 34-year-old Thibault, one of the first to try it. “You glide above the landscape with a sense of complete freedom in nature and feel as if you’re not disturbing a thing.”

> Open-Top Cable Car

New cabins installed on the existing cable car to the Dachstein glacier, near Schladming in Austria, have the novelty of an upstairs “balcony”, where up to 10 passengers can get a fresh-air view of the massive Dachstein massif as the lift climbs 1000 vertical metres to 2700m in just over 5 minutes, hanging up to 210m above the south face of the mountain, and requiring no support towers.

Access to the balcony section, open year-round, is on a first-come, first-served basis, with special access at the lift stations and no additional cost.

> Dine Over The Cliff

Building mountain restaurants with spectacular views isn’t new, but the Top Mountain Star panorama bar at the top of Obergurgl’s ski area in Austria seems to edge that little bit further towards the void.

Jutting out into the sky 3080m up, the futuristically designed Mountain Star provides spectacular views across the Otztaler Alps from its location at the Wurmkogl ski area at Hochgurgl.

> Great Glass Elevators

In recent years advances in lift technology has allowed for the creation of new cable cars and gondolas suspended ever higher above the valley below, and with fewer support towers required. In recent installations, including the Peak2Peak in Whistler Blackcomb, which hangs 440m above the ground, it has become obligatory, it seems, to install transparent flooring in at least some of the cabins, so those who want to can ride across looking straight down. Other lifts with this added feature include the Gentianes lift at Verbier in Switzerland, and the 3S Bahn at Kitzbühel in Austria.

> The Skyline Walk 

August saw the opening of the new Skyline walk at Mürren in the spectacular Swiss Jungfrau region.

This platform, an extension of the existing Birg mountain restaurant’s terrace, is situated over a vertical precipice, offering stunning and exhilarating panoramic views.

“The Skyline Walk platform is a mainly steel and glass structure with a steel grill walkway,” according to a resort statement. “Its angular shape connects seamlessly with the exposed Birg Station and the irregular cliff formations of the surrounding landscape.”

The transparent nature of the structure allows for unimpeded views of the entire mountain panorama as well as heady views into the depths.

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