Skiing in Grindelwald
Grindelwald’s ski area is suitable for all abilities so before becoming overly alarmed, or possibly excited, at the prospect of skiing the Eiger, rest assured that the region’s skiing is as benign as its peaks are fearsome.
Grindelwald Ski Area Overview
You don’t take skis anywhere near the biggest mountains unless setting off with a guide on a big ski tour to the south. The famous north faces are merely the backdrop to the much more modest hills at their foot. The highest point from which you can ski is the Oberjoch (2,486m), while the train reaches the Jungfraujoch (3,545m) one vertical kilometre higher. Maximum vertical descent is 1,450m (a 13km journey) from the Lauberhorn to Grindelwald and there’s a total of over 200km of piste, with 40km covered by snowmaking. At 1,034m Grindelwald is low, with the main runs ending even lower at 950m Grund. Despite this it’s reasonable to expect excellent skiing across the area for much of the season. If you’re looking for good piste mileage through beautiful and varied terrain, without excessive challenge, this is the place.
Competent skiers looking for variety and exploration should plan a day trip to Murren’s slopes (covered on the ‘Sportpass Jungfrau’ lift pass) as a change from the Kleine Scheidegg-Mannlichenaarea, between Grindelwald and Wengen, which is the area’s biggest ski region. The other side of Grindelwald, to the north, is First – an area that’s only convenient to reach from Grindelwald itself, and a very good reason to stay there rather than Wengen or Mürren.
Easily overlooked, these 50km of piste and eight lifts have some of the area’s best skiing and superb views. First is easy to access from the village of Grindelwald and awkward from anywhere else (including from the other half of the local ski area on Kleine Scheidegg). A three-stage gondola – the Firstbahn – gets you rapidly up to the skiing. From Schreckfeld the area opens up with chairs and draglifts. This is where you find the most reliable snow conditions. The apparently modest high points – 2170m First and 2486m Oberjoch – do in fact give significant descents to the village at 1034m, but on these south facing slopes the low altitude can mean a short season. Snowmaking down to the bottom reduces the problem and descending to town, even in spring conditions, has a magical quality: from high alp through forest, across meadows and then village outskirts. There’s a choice of black down to the gondola base in the village or lovely meandering reds that end at a remote café/restaurant from where buses return to the village.
Kleine Scheidegg and Mannlichen
This is the biggest single area, directly below the Eiger. There are 100km of piste and 22 lifts with a high point of 2473m at the top of the Lauberhorn, of World Cup downhill fame. Pistes descend to Grund at 950m (below the village of Grindelwald) and on the other side of the ridge to Wengen at 1274m. Trains run up from both Grund and Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg (2061m); gentle ski routes follow the tracks and elsewhere expansive, relatively easy red runs make up the majority of the skiing, most of which is on the Grindelwald side of the ridge that separates the two resorts.
As well as train access there’s a gondola from Grund and a cable car from Wengen, both of which head for Mannlichen. Despite the north-easterly aspect, the lower slopes to Grund are sometimes short of snow. What Wengen wins through higher elevation it loses due to a sunnier aspect; downloading by train from an intermediate station is sometimes required.
Access to Murren’s skiing (covered by the ‘Sportpass Jungfrau’) from Grindelwald is by train or road to Stechelberg, then cable car to Gimmelwald and on to the Schilthornbahn, or by train or road to Lauterbrunnen and cable car up to Grutschalp, continuing to Murren by train. Or you can cross the Kleine Scheidegg by lift and ski to Wengen from where a shorter train ride links to Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg. Either way it’s a trek with a lot of time spent on trains and lifts. On the reverse journey you can start skiing out of Wengen, but if your goal is First, it’s better to take the train round to Grindelwald.
Beginner Skiing in Grindelwald
There’s a strong argument for learning to ski in Grindelwald. As well as excellent slopes to graduate to once the basics are mastered, there’s everything else to make you come back for more: that view, the ambience, and charming cafes and restaurants to relax in. Even the resort’s weakest link – the old lifts and slow trains – may be an advantage to help you pace things through the day.
The good beginner area at the top of Kleine Scheidegg has lots of terrain to progress to and is at reasonable altitude for good snow. The long blue meandering back to Wengen is fine in good condition (not always the case) but often busy. Rather isolated, but something to aim for, the Mannlichen chair serves a blue; it could be reached direct from Wengen by cable car, making the return trip the same way. Wengen has a nursery area in the centre which has recently been extended. Both children and adults can have a reduced rate pass to cover just this area.
First’s ‘Bodmi’ beginner area has its own draglift, but it’s low and suffers from too much sun; once you’ve got your legs, the Oberjoch chair gives access to blues to each side though to make it all the way back to town involves a short red section or downloading between Schreckfeld and Bort.
Ski Schools & Ski Lessons in Grindelwald
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Intermediate Skiing in Grindelwald
Most of Grindelwald’s ski area is ideal for intermediates, with variety and easier options if a run looks too challenging. Officially around half of the terrain is suited to intermediates though in practice it feels like more – the easiest runs that would otherwise be beginner-only are in fact great journeys through the stunning landscape and suit anyone, regardless of their ability.
Grindelwald is also an area for long descents. Various routes back to Grindelwald, from Oberjoch or the far side of Kleine Scheidegg and also from Mannlichen, give runs of seven or eight kilometres through a mix of open rolling terrain and trees. First is an ideal playground in good conditions. The Grindel and Stepfi reds make wonderful trails through changing terrain, with impressive views across to the north faces. This is what skiing on piste is all about. There’s also challenging mixed terrain higher up usually combined with easier, frequently blue, alternatives. Kleine Scheidegg/Mannlichen has huge terrain to explore: from the Kleine Scheidegg there are plenty of gentle blues and reds over what in summer is beautiful pasture.
The lower slopes on both sides of the village can get busy at the end of the day and also suffer from overuse and sunshine but in fresh conditions these are sublime routes. It might be a long, slow ride up, but it’s worth it for the never-ending meander back down the route of the railway on a quiet sunny day. There’s plenty towards Mannlichen too, with open skiing up top and charming tree runs lower down.
Advanced & Expert Skiing in Grindelwald
Grindelwald is not noted for tough skiing though there are several exceptions to the rule. There are also worthy off piste excursions, including a day tour starting from the Jungfraujoch which takes in Switzerland’s most magnificent scenery and returns, many miles later, by train from the far side of the Bernese Oberland.
Nearer to home, from First’s Egg lift, a black runs all the way down to the valley, following the line of the gondola for most of the way. From Oberjoch there is a tough black run, the Schwarzer Traum and a couple of itineraries. There are also enjoyable diversions through trees (though much of the forest is a protected zone).
On the Kleine Scheidegg/Mannlichen side there are just 19 km of black piste with very little truly steep stuff; the terrain is mainly rolling meadow which makes for easy, open skiing even when the pitch increases. The Lauberhorn World Cup descent is the obvious candidate for advanced skiers, though in practice this famous high-speed gliding course is a relatively gentle prospect when skied recreationally. But you don’t have to be going insanely fast to appreciate the effect of the famous tunnel under the railway – at racing speeds it must be like threading a needle in a hurricane but with greater consequences if you miss. Unless you’re late for lunch, break up the journey by checking the signboards along the way which have stories and info about the race.
Shorter and sharper, ‘Oh God’ has a nifty hump near the top: go over this with any speed and you’ll appreciate where the name came from, or possibly realize that it’s actually called something else that they can’t print on the piste map in any language. In good conditions, the White Hare off-piste run at the bottom of the Eiger is excellent, but it’s avalanche-prone. Also on this side of the mountain, below the Eiger glacier at the extreme south of the ski area, there are a couple more black runs whose effect is heightened by their proximity to the craggy rock face; the skiing here doesn’t drop very low, so the snow’s good but the runs are relatively short. For a controlled off piste experience there are two ungroomed itineraries – one under the Lauberhorn chair and a short one down to Wengernalp; the open terrain and lack of cliffs makes this is a great place to be after fresh snow, with lots of between-the-piste opportunities, almost all of it sufficiently gentle to be stable, and ideal for aspiring deep-snow skiers.
Boarding & Freestyle in Grindelwald
All of Grindwelwald’s ski areas are boarder friendly, without serious traverses, though the Kleine Scheidegg and Mannlichen ski area has a few meandering trails which are not ideal; there are some draglifts, but far more chairlifts and gondolas, and easiest of all (though slow), the trains.
First has a snow-park below Oberjoch with jumps, rails and kickers; there’s a superpipe next to the Berme piste. Towards the Wengen side of the Kleine Scheidegg area, there’s Jumper’s Corner off the Wixi chair, and Jump Street, halfway back to the village, served by a draglift, with a halfpipe and jumps. Some of the blues in this area can be too gentle for boarders, so if you’re not in the park, you’ll want to be on the Grindelwald side of the mountain.
Mountain Restaurants in Grindelwald
Grindelwald and Wengen have 27 mountain restaurants in all, with a fair mix of businesslike but good- quality places, and rustic restaurants which fit the relaxed mood of the skiing. It’s a similar story nearby in Murren, with the additional highlight of the Schilthorn, dominated by one of the Switzerland’s most spectacular revolving restaurants.
The busiest restaurant scene is at the top of Kleine Scheidegg, at the Banhof Restaurant and at the top station of Mannlichen so head to one of the many restaurants lower down the mountain for a more intimate experience. Also at Kleine Scheidegg, there’s apres-ski atmosphere from very early in the day, with good music and frequently hordes of people in and around the teepee tent. The Lauberhorn Startbar at the start of the downhill course can also be lively, and the Spycher Bar at Mannlichen has a good sundeck for views onto the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.
There’s a bar or restaurant near half the lift stations on First. The top of the gondola has a quality restaurant, and there are plans to create a pizza bar up there at the expense of the ski school eating area (upsetting the ski school, mainly). The Waldspitz, on a beautiful walking trail, is a renovated old chalet with a small bar and food, as well as a few bedrooms, along with a lovely atmosphere and views. You can reach it by skiing off-piste from the top of Oberjoch or by hiking or cross-country skiing. At the Wetterhorn on the long red run home, there’s a good restaurant and bar at the hotel for an end-of-day drink. The bus stops here but with good snow you can ski back to town. There are a couple more restaurants along this route – Blumlisalp and Pumuckl’s.