Switzerland Ski Tour - New Resorts 2018/19
Switzerland FAM trip 2018
Milka, mountains and … m’cheese. All the M's and a few of the things skiing in Switzerland is famous for. In April 2018 some colleagues and I ventured out from the confines of our m’office to go and learn a little bit more about the country; specifically, some of its mountains and ski resorts.
Flying out of Luton we arrived shortly after in everyone’s favourite city named after a bank, Zurich. Wait, maybe it’s the other way around. Regardless, we got off the plane, floated through immigration and found the train station. In typical Swiss fashion, this couldn’t have been easier. The station is in the same building as the ultra-modern airport and is just a short walk from the arrivals hall. The Swiss do travel right.
We left Zurich on our double-decker train, not a millisecond late, towards Luzern where we would need to transfer onto another train. With panoramic windows and stunning views of the Swiss Alps, we completed the rest of our two hour journey and reached our first destination, Engelberg.
Engelberg ski resort
Making our way up to our home for the evening, the very grand and imposing Hotel Terrace, we could see the town below and the soaring snow-capped peaks above. From the ancient monastery to the towering Titlis Mountain, Engelberg has a unique feel and culture to it. After a buffet feast in the dining hall, we took the lift down to resort level to assess the town’s nightlife. With a handful of bars to choose from, some of which with live music, we eventually settled on the Irish pub in the centre of town.
Well rested and with a hearty breakfast, it was time to go m’skiing. The journey from the Hotel Terrace to the main gondola may sound a bit of a faff but after doing the journey ourselves we would be quick to suggest otherwise. You take the lift down to the bottom level of the hotel and a brisk 100-metre walk over to another lift down to resort level, it's a simple 2 minute walk to the bus which will take you to the gondola. Rough total journey time = 10 minutes or so. Agreed, this is not the simplest of journeys to the lifts but after skiing the whole mountain I would happily do this journey again for 3 days running on a weekend ski break.
Engelberg offers itself to the majority of levels of skier and boarder. With good terrain at the base of the mountain for beginners and some steeper stuff up top for the experts and adrenaline junkies; Engelberg has you covered. The only slight grey area could be the gap between beginner and intermediate skiers but otherwise, you’re in store for a great ski experience. My personal favourite parts of the ski area would definitely be the Jochpass and Engstlenalp areas. On this part of the mountain you’ll find long undulating reds and also some fun blues with easy off-piste and side hits all the way along the runs.
After lunching with some members of the tourist board and looking around the Trubsee hotel, the only hotel in Engelberg on the piste, we moseyed on back down to town to assess the other hotels in resort. In general, Engelberg has a good range of places to stay. From well-equipped 4 stars like the H+ Hotel to the incredible value of the 3 star Hotel Terrace, you’re likely to be able to find the hotel for you.
This marked the end of our stay in Engelberg but not our Swiss adventure. The next destination was the resort of Wengen, often referred to as the birthplace of skiing after the British Sir Henry Lunn introduced the first ski races in the 1920’s which went on to become the basis of modern skiing.
Wengen ski resort
Car-free Wengen is perched above the valley below and can only be accessed via a charming 20 minute train ride up from Lauterbrunnen. This journey is free with any pre-booked lift passes, which are collected from the station; so make sure you get these added on before you travel!
With a chocolate box feel, Wengen is probably the prettiest ski resort I have ever seen. The main high street and station are welcoming, quaint and adorable. After only staying here a couple of nights it almost felt like home. If you are looking for après ski this may not be the place for you. It has one nightclub and some great small bars, including Rocks Sports Bar, which will provide you with good entertainment in the evenings; but if you’re looking for Jaeger bombs and beer bongs, I may suggest looking elsewhere. Restaurants wise there are a few to choose from including a great Italian, however, we offer all the hotels we feature here on a half board basis as standard. I’d always recommend this as food can be rather pricey over in Switzerland. €24 for chicken nuggets and chips was a little excessive even for a self-confessed nugget addict like me…
Hotel wise, we have three for guests to choose from. The 3 star Belvedere offers stunning views all for a stunning price and the 4 star Wengenerhof offers great service. My personal pick of the bunch would the 4 star Silberhorn. Right next to the train station and the gondola, you have two direct routes up to the ski area on your doorstep. It also has a lovely cabin themed bar where you can relax listening to vinyl music, drink in hand and play some darts.
Skiing in Wengen
The ski area, named the Jungfrau area, offers about 160km of skiing, plenty for a short break. Home to the Lauberhorn, a famous run used for the Lauberhorn ski race, this is a challenge for even the world’s greatest skiers. Otherwise, the Jungfrau area is an intermediate paradise. Beginners are not likely to get the most out this resort and experts may find themselves wanting more, but if you’re confident on more difficult blues and a range of reds you will LOVE this resort. Good chairlifts to take, I found, were Wixi and the Eigernordwand lifts as they give you access to a variety of runs which will test your ability, improve your technique and put a smile on your face.
It’s important to know that the train network can be just as useful as the lift system. You can reach the main hub of the area, namely Kleine Scheidegg, via the train from both sides of the mountain and it's probably the quickest way to the heart of the resort. But, if you’d like to ski your way to the top, just take the gondola from the centre of town and work your way up from there.
Over to Grindelwald ski resort
Skiing done, town explored and hotels visited we had felt that we’d got to know Wengen very well. Taking the train back down to Lauterbrunnen we drove just around the corner to the resort of Grindelwald. It is also part of the Jungfrau ski area so nothing new to note here ski wise. The main difference we found upon arrival is that the town was more bustling than Wengen due to it being car friendly, having more hotels and more evening entertainment. Again, it’s not going to give St Anton or Val Thorens a run for its money in terms of questionable European dance music and party atmosphere, but there’s more to do than in Wengen for sure.
Train to the 'Top of Europe'
After a quick nose around the town, we dropped off our stuff at the 4 star Belvedere (the same name as the hotel in Wengen, confusing I know) and made our way back up the mountain via the train which is just 2 minutes walk from the hotel. Though we weren’t planning on skiing. Making our way up from Kleine Scheidegg and through the rock and ice of the glacier we arrived 30 minutes later at the Top of Europe. This is an attraction where you can look down on the valleys and glacial ice fields below, wander around inside the glacier seeing all of its impressive ice sculptures and visit the world’s highest Lindt Chocolate shop. If you have some spare time from skiing I’d highly recommend heading up here. For £60 a head I questioned it beforehand whether it would be worth the money but after seeing this for myself I would highly recommend taking the time to do so.
Trundling back down to Kleine Scheidegg we stopped off here to take a slightly different method of descending down the mountain. The Jungfrau area is home to the longest sledge run in the world and has over 100km of toboggan runs, exciting stuff. Now we could have made our way down on a normal sledge like normal people, going about their normal sledging experience. However, this sounded too normal and not riddled with enough opportunity to cause potential injury and instead, we took what is known as a Velogemel. This can only be described a wooden bike but with blades instead of wheels, is unique to Grindelwald and dates back for years in the area. When in Rome. After hitting some stunning speeds and getting some confused looks from hikers we arrived safely back in town… be it with slightly tenderised backsides. Wooden saddles don’t quite have the same cushioning effect as regular seats.
Later on that evening we gingerly sat down for dinner at the Belvedere. Without question this the most delicious dinner I have ever had. With a warming consommé to start, a succulent steak for main and a Toblerone mousse to finish, I was severely disappointed everyone had enjoyed their meals just as much as I did, as I happily would’ve finished their meals for them. We topped our evening off by getting a round or ten of pool in before heading up to bed.
Our final morning was spent on hotel viewings. Having already become familiar with the Belvedere from our stay there, we had a quick look around the spa and pool area with its outdoor salt pool and then headed off to see the Hotel Spinne and the Hotel Eiger. Both more centrally located than the Belvedere and both 4* hotels, they are still an easy walk to the train station or from bus stops if you’d prefer to take the chairlift up the mountain.
The Hotel Spinne has a classic feel but with modern touches and recently refreshed rooms. The large buffet hall has views of Eiger Mountain for when enjoying breakfast and dinner, which again we highly recommend you take on half board. If you are looking for lively evenings this a hot spot in Grindelwald as the Mescalero nightclub is located under the hotel. I asked the staff about noise but they assured me it is sound-proofed and does not affect other hotel guests. So no worries if you’re looking for an early night if you get a bit sleepy after your fondue.
The Eiger is one of the newer hotels in the resort and this shows in the modern styling of their rooms and lobby. Its dining area is pretty unique as one of its restaurants is in dedication to a famous rescue dog called Barry. He’s a local legend, is what the hotel staff told us. With wooden chalet huts, a starry ceiling and hanging lanterns, Barry’s was one of the most memorable parts of our visit to Switzerland. Something worth pointing out with this hotel is that it’s best to try and secure a room on the higher floors as some rooms lower down do not have the best of views.
Before we made our way home we took a trip up the Grindelwald First side of the mountain. This isn’t linked to the main ski area but is easily accessible via the bus service. Up here we found the cliff walk we had heard about which is a long suspension bridge winding around the edge of the mountainside. Not one for those who aren’t a fan of looking down and seeing several meters of nothing but for anyone else it’s completely free and well worth your time.
The fun doesn’t stop here on side of the mountain as you’ll also find the First Flyer and the First Glider. The Flyer is a 4 person zip line and the Glider is basically a contraption where you and three others lie down on your front, get strapped in under a huge bird and fly down on a wire. It’s just a crazy as it sounds. Again this is completely free with your lift pass. There is likely to be a bit of a wait for these at busy times in the season so I’d recommend to get up here in early in the mornings so still got plenty of time to ski.
So, that marked the end of our trip to Switzerland. We caught the train from Grindelwald to Bern and then transferred to Zurich airport in a total time of about two and a half hours. Thinking about our trip to Switzerland and the resorts we visited we attempted to recap what we had learnt.
The resorts we featured all gave off the vibe of being a perfect blend of the old and the new. Engelberg has its old monastery and all the history that comes with the town whilst also having a brand new rotating, panoramic gondola to the top of the mountain. Wengen is stooped in history being the birthplace of modern skiing but also has a brand new lift out of town. This blend of old and new is probably epitomised best when comparing the brand new lifts up the mountain and the beautiful classic trains which can also get you to the pistes in the Jungfrau region. There are new hotels and old hotels. There are zip lines and there are Velogemels. The list goes on. This I feel is what sums up Switzerland… its pretty m’azing.