Think of Switzerland in winter and you’ll most likely picture a lot of snow. And a lot of skis. It’s certainly true that skiing is the number 1 way to have winter fun in the Swiss Alps, but it’s not the only way. Not everyone wants to ski, and even die-hard skiers might like some time away from the slopes, but what can you do instead?
We’ve come up with four ways to make the most of winter in Switzerland. Our suggestions are based in Interlaken and the Bernese Oberland, one of the major winter sports areas, but the same fun can be found all across the country.
If, like me, your only experience of sledding was as a small child going down a hill on a plastic toboggan, then you’re in for a big surprise. Swiss sledding is simply brilliant. It’s fast and fun, and releases the inner child in everyone. Sliding down a snowy track while sitting on a sleek modern toboggan is guaranteed to make you smile. At least until you crash into a bank of snow and get a mouthful of the white stuff.
Eiger Run © My Switzerland
The best option for sledding is the Eiger Run, which sounds scary but really isn’t even if it does run along the foot of that great peak. First, take a mountain train up to Kleine Scheidegg, where you can enjoy the panorama before picking up your rented sled from Wyss Sport beside the station, you can pre-book everything online.
Then take the train down to Alpiglen, where the Eiger Run starts. Once you’re sitting comfortably, slide off down the 3km run to Brandegg. It’s a truly amazing trip that is quite fast in places so remember that your feet are your brakes, and don’t forget to steer! At Brandegg, you can get back on the train to Alpiglen and do it all over again; just make sure you buy a day ticket for the train. You can even sled down at night, when the whole trail is illuminated. www.wyss-sport.ch
Before those crazy Brits started the mania for skiing downhill, the main winter pastime was ice skating. Edwardian tourists were spoilt for choice, with Grindelwald alone having 16 ice rinks and there were even orchestras on the ice! Then came the ‘plank-hoppers’, as the skiers were dismissively called, and suddenly everyone wanted to go down a mountain tied to two pieces of wood.
Skating is still around, though not nearly as popular as a century ago and certainly with no orchestras playing with frozen fingers. These days things are little more hi-tech, as Ice Magic in Interlaken proves. The main ice rink is linked to three smaller ones by runways, or ice trails, which have a combined length of 450 metres. Plenty of opportunities for gliding round or practising your pirouettes.
Of course you can hire skates and also book a private lesson with a skating coach, just in case you are as wobbly as I am on the ice. And if skating really isn’t your thing, then in the evenings you can have a go at curling instead. That doesn’t require any skates or even a sense of balance but is an ideal way to have fun with friends. www.icemagic.ch
Summer in the Swiss Alps is all about hiking through the marvellous landscape, with or without a knapsack on your back. But did you know you can also go hiking in winter? And by that I don’t mean donning a pair of giant snow shoes and trudging off into the white unknown. No, this is normal hiking with ordinary sturdy boots but on winter trails.
Lauterbrunnen valley in winter © Diccon Bewes
One of the prettiest, and safest, winter hiking trails starts in Mürren, the cliff-top car-free resort that sits above the Lauterbrunnen valley. It’s easily reached by cable car (the one that takes you on up to Schilthorn) and has all the services you need, such as restaurants for the obligatory pre-hike hot chocolate. From here the path winds through the snow to Winteregg and Grütschalp, where you can catch a cable car back down to Lauterbrunnen.
This is the perfect winter walk for those who have never hiked in the snow before. No special equipment needed. The well-prepared path is 5km long and slopes gently downhill so that you end up about 150 metres lower down by Grütschalp. Not too strenuous even for non-hikers! Best of all you get a grandstand view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau as you go.
If all of the above sound much too strenuous for you, then you can go training instead. Don’t worry, this sort of training doesn’t involve any physical activity at all; this is training Swiss style, which means a scenic train ride, even in winter! This isn’t Britain, where a few centimetres of snow causes railway chaos; this is Switzerland where metres of snow are simply ploughed aside and the trains carry on.
Jungfrau train ride © Jungfrau Railways
The Bernese Oberland has some of Switzerland’s most spectacular train rides, nearly all of which operate right throughout the winter. If you have a head for heights then there is only one option for you: a ride up to Europe’s highest train station, 3454 metres above sea level. It is truly a trip to remember: dashing through the snow and then up inside the Eiger itself through a 7km tunnel. You emerge at Jungfraujoch with the whole of Switzerland at your feet, and none of the crowds that come up here in summer.
A gentler option, but just as scenic, is to make a grand loop around the mountains. Hop on the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and then chug up the cliff-side to Wengen, with its breathtaking view of the valley that inspired Tolkein. Then up to the pass at Kleine Scheidegg, perfect for lunch at the foot of the Eiger, before descending to Grindelwald and on back to Interlaken. www.rhb.ch/en/panoramic-trains