The "War Games I-IV" images from the "Action gallery" have been taken at the annual Axalp Swiss Air Force training and demonstration. Visit the Action galleries for detailed information on lenses & cameras used.

Location of Brienz and Axalp village in central Switzerland. Berne is at the top left, Lucerne at the top right. © 2005 swisstopo

Almost every year in October, a rather unique two-day event takes place above Axalp village near Brienz, Switzerland. The Swiss Air Force pilots practise with F/A-18 & Tiger F-5 jets, Pilatus PC-21 turboprop planes, Alouette 3 & Superpuma helicopters. The F/A-18 and F-5 jets fire at several mountain targets and helicopters are used for rescue operations or firefighting. The exact date of the two-day event is published on several aviation sites (check my aviation links) and depends on the weather conditions. Training takes place in the morning (usually from 8:30 am to 11:00 am on both days) and an impressive demonstration is set for the afternoon (usually from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm on both days). While not much is published about this event, people from all over the world seem to find their way up to Axalp - I've met people from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Poland and the Czech Republic.

If you want to visit this awe-inspiring event, here are some details. Stay either in a hotel in beautiful Brienz (near lake Brienz) or better yet directly in the Axalp mountain village (in one of the vacation apartments or hotels). If you stay in Brienz, buses (travel agency "Flück Reisen AG", +41339521545, info@flueck-reisen.ch, situated in Brienz, leaving early in the morning and throughout the day - contact them for more details) take you from Brienz train station and from another place on the outskirts of Brienz up to Axalp village (1500 m above sea level) on the days of the event. Private cars can't use the road from Brienz to Axalp during the two-day event. In Axalp village, take the Windegg chair lift. It takes you to 2000 m above sea level in 15 minutes. Now comes the tough part: You have to walk up the mountain (there will be thousands of people doing the same so you can't get lost) for another one or two hours.
This is not a walk in the park - make sure you have warm clothes and trekking shoes with you. You don't have to hike but it's pretty steep and if snow lies on the ground it's dangerous. Take an extra shirt, water and a little food with you but keep your bag as light as possible (especially if you take your camera & heavy tele lenses with you). There are three observing platforms located 2200 m above sea level, platform 1, 2 & 3. Each platform is good for taking photos, but I favour platform 1 (at the top) because it's closest to the mountain targets. Unfortunately if you come from Brienz by bus you might miss the morning training (depending on your departure time in Brienz). But even if you miss the morning training, it's still worth the trip. You will see a lot during the show in the afternoon.

If you are a hardcore photographer you will stay in a vacation apartment or a hotel in Axalp village and leave at 5:45 am (yes, at the latest). You will get in line at the Windegg chair lift in complete darkness. The chair lift will take you up whenever the lift people feel ready (between 6:00 am and 7:00 am). You can see the stars on this 15-minute ride if the weather is kind to you. If you go up this early (a lot of people do), you will need a flashlight.

Map showing way from Brienz to Axalp village and to the training site. Platforms 1, 2 and 3 are marked. The straight blue line is the chair lift. Red lines are walking routes. A walking route without chair lift is also shown. © 2005 demo.axalp@vtg.admin.ch

From the top of the Windegg chair lift it will take you about 35 minutes to reach platform 3 and another 25 minutes to reach platform 1 assuming you are in very good shape and don't carry a heavy bag. If you carry a 500 mm f/4 lens or if you haven't done any sports for the last few months, you might have to add another 30-60 minutes. You might want to try to reach platform 3 before 8:45. After 8:45 you can't go from platform 3 to platform 1 anymore since jets are firing at mountain targets. On the other hand, don't walk up the mountain too fast. You will be punished by your lungs. On the two days of training and demonstration, there are toilets on all three platforms and food and drinks can be bought. But don't expect a first class restaurant - rather imagine being in 0.5 m deep snow at -10 °C drinking coffee and eating a hot dog. You get the picture. What else? If the weather is not good, the event takes place the other day. The two-day event will be postponed during that week until the weather is good. In 2003 for example it didn't take place on Tuesday or Wednesday but on Friday only - because of bad weather. The pilots train during the whole week whenever the weather is ok but only on two days there is a show and only during those two days the chair lift can be used. If you don't want to take the chair lift, you have to walk 500 m up from Axalp village to Windegg (taking you at least another hour) and then up to the platforms. The shows and trainings are free of charge. But the chair lift costs approx. SFr. 10.- (two way ticket). P.S.: If you have taken the bus from Brienz to Axalp in the morning, the bus will take you back to Brienz of course. Keep in mind it will take a long time to get back to Brienz. Thousands of people try to get home.

Axalp and mountain range for Air Force training as seen from Brienz. © 2005 utopia-photography.ch