This was not my first rodeo. I’ve headed out to the Jungfrau region for a snowboarding holiday a couple of times before in the past handful of years, but something about this year felt a bit different. Maybe it was the weather, maybe the town we stay in, Wengen, is not as quaint as I remember it, maybe it’s just that I’m getting used to the place so it feels less interesting or exotic… I don’t know.
All that aside, Wengen is a charming little village, accessible only via a rack and pinion railway (the world’s longest) from either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald. Of course that’s after three other trains: Zurich to Bern; transfer in Bern to Interlaken Ost; transfer in Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen where this final train finally gets to you Wengen (or all the way up to Kleine Scheidegg should you desire). But once you get into the village of Wengen, it’s pleasantly car-free. With the exception of the hotels’ electric cars, which seem to have seriously multiplied since my last visit. A “pedestrianized” town loses some of its charm when you still have to keep an eye out for vehicles when walking down the village streets.
Snowboarding was a bit of a mixed bag this year and I think that’s where I felt the biggest difference, with the weather playing a significant role. In retrospect, we must have gotten really lucky with the weather in the past. All I can remember is (mostly) blue skies, snow but rarely so much it was an inconvenience and a lack of breakneck, bone-chilling wind. I think maybe winter snows hit the Jungfrau region a bit late this year (in fact, sounds like snow was late coming all around the Alps this year) but then decided to start piling up while we were there. Sometimes for better; sometimes for worse.
In the worst of it, moderate to heavy amounts of snow fell from a dense, gray sky, which made it really difficult to clearly see the terrain ahead – or even directly underneath your board or skis. The lack of shadows or sun on the ground meant everywhere you looked was simply white. You couldn’t see the undulations in the pistes: were there moguls?; is there a steep dip ahead?; am I even still boarding on the piste (more than a few times the answer to that was: “no”)? It was challenging. Add to that strong winds blasting freshly fallen and currently falling snow into your face resulting in dismal visibility from time to time. Just not ideal, and sadly, it was like this more often than not.
A standout nightmare and traumatic experience was being forced onto the Tschuggen t-bar drag lift (upon finding the piste down to Grund closed, we had no other choice), and me failing miserably on it numerous times throughout its journey, leaving me covered in bruises and a pummeled ego before I finally made it to the top. Hey, the thing is more than a freaking kilometer long so give me a break before you judge. To give you an idea – this guy did poorly. I did worse. Especially when you consider about three-quarters of the way up I fell and brutally took the boyfriend on skis down with me.
The best of times greeted us with blue skies, a night of freshly fallen champagne powder (we easily got two feet one night) that was yet to be groomed on pistes that were virtually deserted. It was fantastic. Challenging and strenuous snowboarding and skiing in such deep, fresh snow, but really wonderful all the same. Explosions of pure white burst forth at each turn and the experience was simply beyond delight.
Standout runs were had taking the pistes down from the Honegg lift near Kleine Scheidegg to Grund in Grindelwald, and making our way down First from the top of the Schilt lift to Grindelwald, past the Rancher Bar (kitsch bar stools, very basic – but tasty – fare).
Pushing the après ski boat out a bit further was something else that made this trip differ from previous ones. Especially with the weather being less hospitable than we’re used to (sometimes it was just miserable trying to make it down the mountain) we ended up spending more time in Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg’s bars than usual. Up top at Kleine Scheidegg (where skiers can access the Lauberhorn and tourists can head up to “The Top Of Europe”, or Junfraujoch) our usual quick stop for a ghühwein (mulled wine) would have been the Tent Bar. We switched it up this year, to imbibe in Tipirama Wigwam, a bar in a – you guessed it – wigwam. Previously giving the cold shoulder to the spot (they don’t serve ghühwein), discovering the gripping “who can hit the nail deepest into the wood with a hammer made of hollow pipes” game had piqued our interest. I really don’t know what else to call the game. That’s exactly what it was. And it seemed to be pretty popular. I wanted to try, but with other people hogging the block of wood and hollow pipe hammer, I never got the chance. Another time, perhaps. Anyway, when it was busy, it was a fairly lively, amusing, spot.
Back in Wengen, we continued to grace our favorite, the cozy Tanne Bar, with our presence (they have the best ghühwein); tried Hasenstall (“rabbit hutch”) which was kind of depressing; were pleasantly surprised by upbeat Rocks Bar; a small but cheerful outdoor bar at Hotel Brunner which is just off the run from Kleine Scheidegg into Wengen is nice for a quick stop before finishing the day’s final few hundred meters; and Figeller Snowbar at the base of Wengen’s nursery slopes (and also where the Kleine Scheidegg-Wengen piste shoots you out) has a really happy vibe as well as being ideally located for an après drink.
Between the expense of the resort (Switzerland is already pricey, but Wengen even more so because food and necessities can only be hauled up by its little railway), the increasingly unpredictable winter seasons (a higher resort would likely have more dependable snow fall before late January), the snowboarder-killing “flat bits”, and – let’s face it – the resort’s demographic (I feel like a teenager when I’m there; the place skews old and there’s no two ways around it), I feel it may be time to expand or add to our ski holiday horizons. Val d’Isère or Val Thorens, France? Lech/Oberlech, Austria?