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Axalp Airshow

Type:Military air power demonstration
Schedule:Yearly, second week of October
Location:Ebenfluh Shooting Range[map]
Overall impression:+++++
Photo opportunities:+++++
Price level:+++++
Editions attended:2005[external] 2006[external] 2007[external] 2008[external] 2009[external](*) 2010[external] 2011[external] 2012[external]


Axalp air power demonstration is one of the most famous aviation events in the world. Every year thousands of enthusiasts climb the Swiss Alps (~2000-2500m) to enjoy the roar of Hornets/Tigers and to admire the precision of the pilots shooting the targets located almost within reach of the public. And, of course, to take some photos of all this :-)

NOTE: Since the first edition of this guide, satellite photo of the Axalp area in the Google Maps has been changed, from summer to a winter one (covered with snow). While looking nicer ;-) it's unfortunately now not as good for navigation as it used to be. Please be twice as careful when applying location details of any below hints.

Getting there

Public transport

Axalp is a small village, without good public transport connections. Outside of two main show days, the only way of getting there without a car is a Post Bus, running few times per day from Brienz[map] - see the integrated Swiss transport timetable[external] for schedule (you need to get to Axalp Sportbahnen stop). On Wednesday/Thursday, you have to use the shuttle bus mentioned below.

In contrast, Brienz has good train connections with rest of the Switzerland, you can expect at least a hourly express train to/from Bern through all the day.

By car

Attention - no cars can get to Axalp on the show days! Since 2010, the organizers have changed rules of accessing the village during the show days. On Wednesday and Thursday the road between Brienz and Axalp is closed. Closure starts already on Tuesday late evening end ends on Thursday evening, once the traffic discharges (which may take up to 9PM or so).

If you want to arrive by car to the show day(s), you will have to park your car on the improvised parkings near Brienz highway exit[map] and take a shuttle bus from there. The cost is 40CHF, including a return ticket for a skilift. The buses start at 6AM.

Note: the buses are well organized, but still quite packed. On the way back, you can expect to wait at least 1-2h in the village before you'll board one.

Outside two main days, one can get to the village using the public road from Brienz. Note that since the 2010 change, there are no more huge grass parkings at Axalp, so you may have a problem finding a spot to leave your car.

Few hints about driving in the mountains

For someone not used to it, driving on the mountain roads is not easy - and, on a densely packed one, it becomes even more tricky. Here are few rules to make your life easier:

Can I use my car to drive up the valley?

Normally, any road above Alpengasthof is closed to the public - check out the big red sign close to the bus station. However, for 10CHF, in the local small shop you can buy an Axalp Nebenstrassen vignette that lets you drive further, all the way up to the entrance to the valley[map]. This is a general thing, not related to the Axalp demonstration as such - it's valid for a calendar year. Few notes though:

In general, the whole "parking above the village" business is quite messy and there is a lack of clear rules, sometimes leading to dangerous situations. Suggestion to the organizers if they read it by chance: just close the whole area above skilift for entire week.


Not really relevant to most of you, but just for completeness: around few hundred people are brought up to KP every year onboard the helicopters. These are:


Yet again, Axalp is small and so are the possibilities of accommodation there. The choices are:

General note about accommodation for the Axalp demonstration: BOOK EARLY!. You can't be too quick. Keep in mind: there are about hundred places in Alpengasthof, perhaps fifty in Bellevue, then some 30-40 chalets - and there are up to 1-2 thousands of people that want to go there. Plus, some of the places are permanently booked by the people that come every year. Be quick and plan months in advance.


Time-wise, Axalp demonstration looks more or less the same every year:

While we are at it... note: despite the title of this page :-) Axalp is not an airshow. Again, it's October in high Alps with military jets shooting bullets around the people. In case of a slightest doubt about the weather, the show can be canceled within few minutes. It can happen that all you get through all the week would be some morning shooting on the training days. Don't take it for granted :-)

As a guideline to what will happen, look at it from the VIP perspective ;-) Organizers need to ensure that they will be able to get them down securely - and quickly! - onboard the Cougars. Therefore, if it just looks like there might be some serious fog or clouds within an hour, show gets simply canceled and the airlift down begins. It happened (2008) that shortly after cancellation, weather became nice again - but well, no VIPs, no show :-) just one more shooting practice a while later.

On the other hand, it may happen (twice in 2010) that the weather is not good enough to bring the VIPs up, but good enough to carry the show neverthless. And, this is the best combination :-D as then, the pilots are able to fly a bit lower and more aggressive.

Another note: the passage between Tschingel and KP (and, of course, the valley too) is closed 1h before the training/demo starts. Take it into account when planning your day.

In particular: if you plan to see the morning practice, you have to start very early. Depending on your shape and how determined you are to get a good spot on the top, it might mean starting anytime between 4 and 6am. As it's October, you'll need some kind of lamp (and extra care). Unless... you're lucky to get the full moon :-) Then the climbing itself becomes almost as amazing as the demo!


First, a general note: in order to get to the public spots, you need to hike a little. It's nothing terribly difficult (unless the weather plays bad), but still, we're talking >2000m here and few hundred meters of height difference. You need some essential equipment:

Photographically, you need:

Hint for the drinks

If you choose to go all the way through the valley to the KP, here is a small tip to make your backpack a bit lighter: don't take lots of fresh water. Instead, get some empty plastic bottles. Just before you start the final hike towards KP, there will be a small creek, where you can fill them with fresh, cold water :-) At least I do it myself - if you don't feel like drinking from a creek with cows living nearby and Hornets flying just above, you're free to ignore this.

"Will I make it?"

This is one of the most frequently asked questions. In vast majority of the cases the answer is: yes, you will (but you'll sweat a little ;-)).

I am personally a 100% office geek, with Axalp being probably the only major physical activity round the year - and still, I manage to bring some heavy metal up there. Unless you have some serious health issues - heart incapabilities etc. - you will get there and won't regret it. You might just use the skilift and get only to Brau, as a good starter (but then, be prepared for a very long wait in order to get there).

And these two guys made it as well, shortly before their 3rd birthday :-D [image] Me with the kids - first time up there! Axalp 2009


On the top

Well, it's just few hills in the middle of Alps, so don't expect a Ritz-class service :-) For the Axalp week, Swiss army provides some essential facilities like toilets (moderately crowded) and mini-shops where you can buy soft drinks and something hot to eat.

Hint: buy your drinks in advance. At the very end of the show, there is usually not much left (especially on a sunny day)

On your way down/up, near the Chüemad chalets[map], you may get a stand with Swiss fondue and wine. Same thing at both skilift stations.

Down in the village

Both Alpenhasthof and Chemihüttli hotels have open restaurants, welcoming non-guests as well. Alternatively, near Chemihüttli there is a small, surprisingly (for its size) well supplied shop. In 2010, it was open even on Sunday, until 6PM or so.

Price level

In case it's not clear so far: all these goodies, apart from the accommodation and food, are absolutely free, courtesy of the Swiss taxpayer :-D

Way to the top

There are few ways you can get to the public photo points. All of them start somewhere near the Alpengasthof[map]

"Official" way

Follow the curvy, climbing road[map]. At some point you will enter the forest[map] and arrive at the crossroad[map]. Follow the road right. Once you pass by the big hut[map], start looking for the small "Schweizer Luftwaffe" flags that will tell you where to turn left. Follow the flags - first, they will lead you a bit out of the way[map], but then you'll turn right and finally arrive at the slope here[map]. Start climbing the slope (still following the flags), be careful when going through the rocky passage[map] (in 2009 the army has built a very nice staircase there, that makes the passage much more secure). Once you do, you are at the first public point, called Brau.

From there on, the way to the other public places is pretty straightforward - you just walk on the edge of the mountains, having views to the Brienzersee on your left and the valley on your right.

Using the skilift

Some of the above way can be shortened using the skilift. It starts near Alpengasthof[map] and brings you straight here[map], so you can continue via the main way, as described above. Skilift costs 12CHF for a one-way ticket. During the two official show days the skilift launches at 6:00am.

Through the valley

The problem about using the above ways is that... well, most of people do it. There are few narrow passages, some of them get quickly covered with mud, become slippery and, in turn, dangerous. Every year you can see REGA (Swiss ambulance helicopter) picking up some unfortunate spectators from there.

The solution is: don't use the shortest, but the easiest way :-) which means go through the valley.

You start as above, but once you get to the big hut[map], do not turn left as directed by the flags, but rather follow the road further. After some, mostly flat, walk, you will arrive at the small parking[map]. Turn left and pass by the huts. Note: even though you are entering the display area, it is still entirely legal - actually, recently the organizers have started to put the "Schweizer Luftwaffe" flags here as well :-)

You don't need to follow the path precisely - after all, you're in the valley and going towards the end of it :-) Just try to follow the creek, using some common sense to choose your way.

After some time, you should arrive here[map] and you should be able to see the KP tower and shooting targets. Now, you have two choices:

Note: this way is probably a bit of an overkill if you just want to get to Brau. Use the official one then - but be careful!

Leave the flags alone!

You might be tempted to grab yourself one of these Schweizer Luftwaffe flags... don't! Tomorrow morning they will serve another generation of first-time Axalp visitors who will be trying to find their way in the night. Well, OK, on Thursday feel free :-)

Photo opportunities (public)

There are three main public viewing points:

Note: even though the three points seem to have varying level of the photo opportunities, they are definitely all worth a visit. Each of them has different perspective and different atmosphere. While at the KP you'll be surrounded by hordes of hardcore geeks with long lenses, fighting for a good place at the barriers, on Brau it's more relaxed, people mostly having fun watching the spectacle.

Few general tips for the public spots

Photo opportunities (other)

"The other side"

If you have been at Axalp at least once, you have probably see these few silhouettes on the high mountains on the other side of the valley - being way above the aircrafts, having sun behind their backs, in the absolutely perfect photo spots. Ever wanted to get there? :-D

Important warning

It's not something for the faint-hearted. It requires mountaineering skills. If you have to ask whether this is a trip for you, the answer is: Yes, but only in a perfect, summer-like weather that's not likely to change (you have still to be in a very good shape). What's more, Axalp demonstration is probably a worst period weather-wise - transition from summer to winter, with the slopes already often slippery, but not enough snow yet to just walk over it using the snow-shoes etc.

Interestingly, it's the bottom part of the way that is most dangerous, with more steep slippery passages and more difficult to find the way around. Once you're above 2500m, it becomes more straightforward.

Another thing: at all costs avoid going alone. Unlike the official area, where thousands of people are passing by every day, there, you can see nobody for hours (if anyone at all). In such conditions, with lack of mobile telephone coverage, even a small injury can end up in a fatal way. Find yourself some company.

Is it permitted?

Short answer: YES, as long as you don't cross the official boundaries of the shooting range. Southern ones are defined as:

For an authoritative source, see the PDF map[external] and live fire warnings[external] on the official website of the Swiss Air Force.

Axalp shooting range lies also within the limits of the nature reserve of canton Bern (Hinterburg-Oltscheren) - which however is located north to the above line and doesn't apply to the Wildgärst area. You can check it out on the interactive map at the site of canton Bern[external].

Please don't try your chances in any places within the above boundaries, even if you think Ah, but it looks safe, should be OK. The range operators and pilots are quite good at spotting careless offenders - the best you can get is some shots of first few waves, then you'll soon see the EC635 dropping some people, who will guide you down. No, you won't get a free ride to Brienz :-) [image] People being escorted out of the danger zone, Axalp 2010.

By violating these rules, you are putting the whole photographer community at risk. If the army gets once pissed off... well, it takes just 4-5 well-placed soldiers and the whole "other side" adventure is over :-(

Long answer: "Yes, but". 8-| If you are at Wildgärst, you are almost inline with the northern shooting target[map] Sure, it is some 200-300m below and normally the pilots don't miss it by more than few meters. But things can happen - it doesn't take much for the aircraft to take few extra degrees of pitch, especially with such demanding exercise as Axalp.

In particular, if the Range Commander gets uneasy with the crowd up there (for whatever reason: visibility, pilot's performance, amount/behavior of people at the top etc), he can simply cancel the shooting, for everyone's safety.

Being there is a bit on the edge. On the safer side of it ;-) but still. Personally, if I would be responsible for the security of the show, I would close this area. But as I am not... I will probably try again soon :-)

Contrary to Wildgärst, the Äbeflüe area looks relatively safe - it's a bit like just watching the spectacle from a side (but the right one). The only sticky bit about it is that it is a safety area in case something bad happens. I.e., if the pilot has to eject, expect his Hornet to crash somewhere next to you :-)


The most famous point for "other side" photography is Wildgärst mountain[map] (2890m). You can get there either from Axalp village, or going around the whole area and starting in Schwarzwaldalp.

NOTE While being the most extreme one, Wildgärst is not necessarily the best photo point. First, you are rather far from the action - long telephoto lens (500mm+) is needed in order to get some reasonable quality action pictures. Besides, you can realistically take 2-3 different kind of shots from there. But well... this will include the Hornets/Tigers turning around just above your head :-) and some definitely great ambiance shots, as the aircraft turn into the other valley :-)

Besides, going there is a real adventure compared to the regular places. Landscape above 2500m becomes simply breathtaking and on the top, one feels like on a roof of the world, with clear view tens of kilometers away in every direction.

From Axalp

[image] Me at Wildgärst, August 2010

From Schwarzwaldalp

I haven't tried this way yet, but I've been told that it's "longer but easier". It starts in the village parking[map], where you will find a nice map describing all the regular paths. You can go either through this[map] and that[map] place, or a bit more around, through Bidem[map], Scheidegg[map] and the Wischbaach valley[map].

In any case, you should get somewhere east from the small glacier[map]. Then, see above description of the final climb.


Second good place is the most western part of Äbeflüe plateau[map] (mentioned above). It is not as extreme as Wildgärst, but provides better overall photo opportunities through the show. On a good day, the shooting aircraft will be passing just slightly higher than you and you'll see them passing with the public places in the background. Most of the "sunny" shots you see on the right have been taken from there.

You can get there in two ways:

From the last parking[map], it takes ~2-4h to get to the top. As mentioned above: don't penetrate that plateau any further east. Last officially allowed point is the 2386m peak[map]. It's easy to recognize by the blue cross painted on top of it: [image] Photo spot on top of the 2386m Äbeflüe hill, Axalp 2010

Anything further right towards the KP is forbidden - this information comes straight from a friendly Eurocopter pilot who visites us there once :-)

In terms of equipment: you can cover most of the things with a 300mm lens with TCx2, missing just some wider passages of the Patrouille Suisse. Of course, 500mm is better, but then you'll need a medium telephoto (70-200) to shoot anything but single-ship action.

The Äbeflüe hill is the only place at Axalp where taking a tripod actually makes some sense. While it's not very close to the action, it's still possible to take some shots of the helicopters even in more distant parts of the valley with a 500mm+ lens and then, you'll need some extra stability.

I heard that some people flew up there with a helicopter?!

Yes. I heard about it too. In 2008 there was a bunch of guys who contacted Swiss Air Force and managed to arrange themselves a lift to the western end of Äbeflüe. Some photos can be seen here[external].

In 2009, yet another group hired a private helicopter to Wildgärst, lifting tons of photo/video gear up there, sleeping in a tent etc. This has been somewhat discussed on the local aviation forum[external] - while this stunt was coordinated with the Air Force, it's not clear whether this was entirely legal or not (I am not qualified to judge). But in any case, it's the pilot who takes the responsibility.

Earlier, in 2006 there was also some semi-official team[external] up there, but I don't know the details about transportation. Probably similar to the first ones.

Tips and warnings

(specific for the "other side" hikes)

Useful links

Surely there are hundreds of Axalp pages all over the Web :-) I find the following few worth mentioning:

Last updated: 21-10-2012, 17:05

Photos from Axalp

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