Few ski areas in the world can compete with the setting that the Jungfrau can offer. Overlooked by the three peaks of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger, it is no wonder that this is a popular destination year round for tourists. The Jungfrau is comprised of the resorts of Grindelwald, Wengen, Lauterbrunnen and Murren and is often overshadowed by the bigger name Swiss resorts like Verbier, Zermatt and Saas Fee. So what would make you opt for the Jungfrau over these other great resorts?
After a recent trip to Wengen, I left thinking that this area could well be one of the best resorts around that offers something for everyone. Here’s why.
Why is it great for intermediate/advanced skiers?
The Jungfrau area is made up of 213km of varying piste, as well as an epic freeride area. The main hub of the pistes is in the Kleine Scheidegg/Mannlichen area, located directly between Grindelwald and Wengen. On one side you have the Grindelwald/First area, and on the opposite side of the region you have the Murren ski area. Kleine Scheidegg and Mannlichen are available on the local lift pass, First and Murren are covered on the full area pass which also offers a 50% reduction on the Jungfraujoch (keep reading to find out more).
The pinnacle of all the runs without a doubt though is the famous Lauberhorn. Stretching to nearly 4.5km, this is the longest downhill race run on the planet, and takes the pros around two and a half minutes to complete. In the past few years, the last few hundred meters have had to be eased off as skiers were physically unable to handle the grueling demands of the run. For some real racing experience, you can throw yourself out of the starting hut before taking on the challenging steeps, jumps and sharp turns.
Getting round the ski area is also quite unique, with a combination of the traditional ski lifts as well as the classic cog wheel railways. To get on the piste as early as possible, you can start your day at Wengen or Grindelwald train station and take the historic railway up to the Kleine Scheidegg. The Jungfrau region has also made sizable investments in upgrading a number of chair lifts, with the Wixi and Salzegg lifts being completely rebuilt over the past couple of years. This effort has really paid off. You never feel like you have been sat on lifts too long, as you are whisked around by the typically efficient Swiss operation.
Why is it great for non skiers?
There is nothing worse than being stuck in a resort that is solely built around getting on the slopes when you’re not a skier. Many resorts now have large leisure and spa facilities to offer non skiers, however there is rarely enough to keep you entertained for the week.
Being a year round destination, the Jungfrau region attracts tourists throughout the calendar. One of the most popular sights is the Jungfraujoch – the highest train station in Europe. Around 1 million tourists each year take the 10km journey up from Kleine Scheidegg, through the fearsome North Face of the Eiger to the train station at 3,500m. Home to the Sphinx Observatory, the Jungfraujoch offers unparalleled views across Switzerland on a clear day. You can easily spend half a day at the top admiring the views, learning about the 16 year process it took to build, and enjoying the stunning sculptures in the ice palace.
After spending the day at the altitude of the Jungfaujoch, you may want to bring your feet back down to earth a bit. At the base of the Jungfrau region you have the small picturesque city of Interlaken. Once again this is a popular year round destination, especially with European tour holidays using it as a base for exploring the Jungfrau region. Interlaken is set between the lakes of Brienz and Thun, and takes you away from the ski resort feel of the rest of the Jungfrau. Great for a day shopping, or just relaxing and taking in the surroundings. Whatever takes your fancy, this small city is just 30 minutes away by train.
Why is it great for families?
Switzerland has developed a reputation for being an expensive ski destination in recent years. The Jungfrau region very much breaks the mould here, with a large number of affordable 3 and 4 star half board hotels across the different resorts. To help continue this, several hotels will also be offering a hotel credit for guests who book early for Winter 2013/14. Around resort and on the mountain, you will also find prices reasonably affordable in comparison to other resorts in Switzerland (beers are about £4.50, lunches from about £12).
The trains up to the ski area make the access very good for families, and somewhat easier for the dads that have to carry multiple sets of skis and poles. For hotels that are further away, there are often shuttles down to the train station. In Wengen, this is by a small electric vehicle as it is a car-free resort. Ski schools are very good, with fantastic English speaking instructors.
However, we think the best activity for families is sledging. The Jungfrau has incorporated an entire sledging circuit within the ski area, meaning anyone can see the whole area, regardless of ability. The entire sledging area adds up to 50km of routes to explore, and from the Kleine Scheidegg you can make your way down to either Wengen or Grindelwald. This really is one of the best ways you can spend an afternoon or a day in the Alps, and by the time you get back to your hotel you will be both exhausted and smiling.
What if I’m a boarder?
The Jungfrau is predominantly a skier’s resort, and you will generally find a high percentage of skiers on the slopes. That’s not to say there aren’t some great piste and off-piste opportunities for a boarder to get their teeth into. Generally you will find more of the snowboard focused areas, as well as the park in the Grindelwald/First region. Flats – the snowboarders worst nightmare – are not common place in the ski area, so getting around is an enjoyable pleasure, rather than a clip in/clip out chore.
What’s the nightlife like?
Neither Grindelwald nor Wengen are party central, but both have a selection of bars that offer a warm and welcome atmosphere. Most bars will have a good mix of locals and tourists, providing an entertaining evening out. However, don’t expect as much revelry as some of the livelier resorts.
So the verdict is…
If you are looking to burn the candle at both ends, then you may be better off looking elsewhere. If you want a fantastic and affordable skiing experience for all abilities, as well as a great range of other activities for non skiers and families, then Jungfrau is the place for you.