The Jungfrau is one of the great ski regions in Europe, home to the classic inter-linked resorts of Grindelwald, Wengen & Mürren beneath the mighty Eiger.
It’s one for your all time must-ski-that bucket list, and Grindelwald is the best of the ski towns and villages to stay at.
Grindelwald and Wengen skiing
Last time we were here I watched Aussie ski race legend Steve Lee in action during the famous Lauberhorn Downhill at Wengen. It’s the longest race on the World Cup circuit at 4,400m and features the highest speeds. Racers do it in two and a half minutes of thigh-burning hell at speeds up to 162km/h.
But it’s actually a marked run the rest of the season that anyone vaguely competent can have a shot at outside of race time in January. On a spring afternoon in March it’s a lot mellower than when it’s a sheet of ice course for the race in mid-winter. My time was a lot mellower too, well over 6 minutes. Still, racers don’t have to avoid snowboarders sitting down blithely blocking half the run, or junior races along the way. And I bet they never get lost, whereas I took a minor detour on the way down goiing around the junior race track.
But that’s the beauty of the vast Jungfrau area, you can ski it at World Cup racer level or far more modestly, and still enjoy it to the full.
The course may not have changed much, but the inter-linked resorts that cover over 250km of marked pistes certainly have. There has been a massive investment in new lifts and infrastructure. Numerous express 6 pac chairlifts access the main slopes, so even on a busy sunny Saturday after a snowfall, conditions guaranteed to bring the locals out in force, it was easy enough to ski straight onto lifts with short lines or no lines at all. Best to get going early on weekends to avoid the rush at the bottom stations is all.
Grindelwald and Wengen’s fantastic cog railway system has also been upgraded. The trains whizz up from Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg as fast as normal trains run on the flat. Pedestrians can continue on through the heart of the Eiger to Jungfraujoch Top of Europe at 3,454m. Enjoy fascinating displays, views of the World Heritage listed Aletsch Glacier, at 22km the longest in the Alps, plus shops and restaurants.
With such easy access to awe-inspiring scenery it’s not surprising the area is hugely popular with tourists who don’t ski, and locals who come up for lunch and a walk, often with their dogs. I found that out at a restaurant above Kleine Scheidegg, when going inside blinded by bright sunlight I accidentally stumbled over someone’s Great Dane puppy. The pup howled, but he was already massive at 5 months, and I soon made up with a slobbery hug.
The same applies to the mountain villages, especially Grindelwald, where general tourists and ski tourists mingle to create a much more diverse clientele than at most ski resorts.
First at Grindelwald
The First area above Grindelwald mostly faces south, with the same sunny aspect as the village, and has plenty of excellent uncrowded skiing, even on busy weekends.
“I always go first to First” said Felix, a 65 year old local we met at lunch on the deck of the restaurant at the Firstbahn gondola top station. You look straight across at the glaciers squeezing down between the three mighty peaks from here, truly nature in the raw. Sadly the glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate. Felix has been checking out the same view for over 40 years, and pointed out where he remembered the glaciers reaching when he was young. The mountain hut for climbers built originally next to the top of the ice now has a couple of hundred metres of ladders to get up to it.
First Top Station is a year round activity centre, with a scary quadruple flying fox – the ‘First Flyer’ – that drops nearly 200 vertical metres down to the next lowest gondola station for a change from skiing, and a cliff walk open in summer. Sledging is also hugely popular. The 15km sled run down from First is claimed as the World’s longest. A floodlit night sledge run also operates between the Alpiglen and Brandegg stations below the Eiger from Xmas to mid-March.
For long cruising runs and lots of fast lifts Kleine Scheidegg and Männlichen are hard to beat. There are a couple of magnificent long trails back to Grindelwald. One comes out past a caravan park, the perfect place to ski Switzerland on the cheap from. I skied past on a sunny March afternoon and residents were kicking back in deckchairs with a hard earned beer.
Grindelwald and Wengen where to stay
Where to stay and where to ski are your big decisions here, with so much variety.
Mürren and Wengen are car free villages, set on mountain benches above the steep glacial gorge past Lauterbrunnen. Both popular with British guests, who built the first cog railways for access there in the 19th century.
From Mürren, which is quieter with old wooden buildings, you access the Schilthorn, where George Lazenby had his moment of fame as the Australian James Bond. The top is 2971m, providing the highest lift accessed runs in the whole region for quality snow.
Wengen has some classic hotels and more nightlife, with the train to Kleine Scheidegg or cable car to Männlichen for slope access.
Grindelwald offers the most options on all fronts. It runs up the sunny side of the valley opposite the Eiger, Schreckhorn and Wetterhorn peaks.
It’s not car free, but not busy either – many who stay arrive by train, and locals driving up for a day trip normally start at Grund, below Grindelwald.
There’s a great selection of hotels and accommodation from hostels to 5 star, and that caravan park. Also enjoy lots of excellent restaurants and shopping, and good nightlife. Wellness is big here too, with excellent spa treatments at top hotels like the magnificent Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof which we enjoyed a short walk from the station.
Getting to Grindelwald and the Jungfrau Region
by train: you can reach Interlaken Ost by Intercity trains, with connections to the region. 3 hours from Geneva, 2 hours from Zurich and 2 ½ hours from Basel.
by car: from Basel/Zurich/Geneva via Bern or Lucerne/Brünig Pass. From the south, you reach the Jungfrau Region via Grimsel or via Simplonpass and afterwards Lötschberg Car Transport.
Wengen and Mürren are car-free: parking with direct, sheltered access to the trains for Wengen & Mürren is available in Lauterbrunnen; parking for Mürren also at Stechelberg with (uncovered) direct access to the cable car to Gimmelwald and Mürren.
Grindelwald has a covered parking station in town and uncovered parking at the Mannlichen/Grund base.
more at www.jungfrauregion.ch www.jungfrau.ch www.interlaken.ch
Jungfrau Region combined Mountain stats Grindelwald Wengen Mürren
• Summit 2971m, vertical 1321m
• 13.5m snowfall
• 66 trails longest 12km; terrain 37% beginner, 45% intermediate, 18% advanced/expert
• 2 parks
• 43 lifts including 7 gondolas, 26 chairs, 10 drag lifts
Swiss Tourism are a great source of info, follow the links here for the latest news.