Introduction to the Jungfrau Ski Region
“The Top of Europe” is their slogan. The Jungfraujoch, the highest elevation reached by a train that circumnavigates the Jungfrau Ski Region, takes visitors to 3,454 meters, or 11,388 feet. Throughout the region, the scenery is breathtaking- jagged, rocky peaks hanging above tiny, picturesque mountain villages.
As cliché as it sounds, you might even hear some Swiss yodeling from actual Swiss alphorns.
The Jungfrau Ski Region comprises three individual ski areas- Kleine Scheidegg/Männlichen – Grindelwald/Wengen, First Grindelwald (on the Grindelwald side) and Schilthorn – Mürren/Lauterbrunnen (on the Wengen/Lauterbrunnen side).
I recommend buying a lift pass that accesses all of the terrain. This will give you access to 110 groomed runs. The terrain here is perfect for families and mid-level skiers and riders. Only 20% of the terrain is labeled as Advanced. The two areas are connected by the cog mountain railway, which encircles the area. It is literally huge- there are 49 lifts in the Jungfrau Ski Region.
The passion for skiing and winter sports, in general, is extremely strong in Switzerland. My wife and I dubbed it the ‘Colorado of Europe’ during our travels because nearly everyone we met prioritized skiing in their life the same way people do back home in Colorado. There are, however, some major differences in the way things operate in North America compared to the Jungfrau Ski Region. Let’s lay the biggest ones out here-
The logistics of the Jungfrau Ski Region- it is different than skiing in North America!
The first thing we’ll do is break down the layout of the area because it can be quite confusing for first- time visitors. I spent a few hours studying the map of the Jungfrau Ski Region days before we arrived and still had no idea what the hell was going on. I had never seen a ski resort built in this fashion. It works like this:
The town of Interlaken is a short train ride away from the different base areas of the ski region and serves as the ‘hub.’ The best way to get to the ski area is via the Bernese Oberland Railway from the Interlaken Ost train station. Buy a ticket at the station the day before you plan to head up- you can buy your lift ticket there as well as a combo. It is also possible to just take the train up without buying a lift ticket, but it isn’t much cheaper.
Interlaken has numerous hostels and hotels and all of the main tourist activities in the area can be accessed from the town. The ski region is based around several small mountain villages, each with a train station. The train essentially circles the ski resorts and villages, dropping passengers off at different points. Skiers can take a few runs at one area, say Grindelwald, and then get on the train and head to another base.
The town of Grindelwald is a good place to start- here you can rent gear, buy a ticket, get food, coffee, or anything else you need. If you plan to base your ski day from here, be sure you make that clear when buying your train ticket so that you will be heading that way instead of to Lauterbrunnen and Wengen, which are on the other side of the resort and are only accessible via train and skis.
Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen are the two ‘entry points’ that visitors will come into. One or the other-they are on opposite sides of the main ski area. I started my day in Wengen (the next stop up from Lauterbrunnen) because it is the town where my last name originated (Wenger) and my family’s heritage is here, so I couldn’t wait to check it out. Here, after walking around and checking the village out a bit, I rented gear at a rental shop near the station and got on the Mannlichen tram up to do a few runs.
Read also: Things to bring on your ski trip
This also was very confusing, until I grasped how the ski trails were laid out. We’ll get into that shortly. The train continues in a circle around the area, basically doing a complete 360 around the ski region. For example- You can take the train from Wengen to Grindelwald by staying on and going around the circle.
Once you have established a starting point, you will want to have this serve as your base for the day. If you will be with a group of people that plan to separate into smaller groups, plan to have everyone meet back up at the starting point at a certain time. When studying the trail map, those used to skiing in North America will immediately notice some differences. Namely, that the trails are not highlighted on the map in the same way as they are in North America.
Instead of the usual segments colored in by trail difficulty color, the runs are noted by a thin line colored in accordance with difficulty. More emphasis is placed on specific lifts and gondolas, used as reference points to figure out where you are on the hill and how to get to a different spot. Once you’ve got skis or a snowboard on, it is possible to ski to the different towns and villages in the region.
Example- to get from Grindelwald to Wengen by ski, take the Grund-Holenstein Gondola to the Holenstein-Manlichen Gondola, and then take the Manlichen tram down to Wengen. It seems confusing but actually makes perfect sense- the gondolas and lifts that connect different parts of the mountain are named in accordance with where they are and what they connect to, if anything. So, if you are wanting to get to a specific lift or area, it is often easier to find your way by connecting the gondolas instead of connecting trails.
From what I could tell, most of the trails lead back to the lift by which you accessed them unless they are clearly marked otherwise. I recommend taking a gondola up to the top and spending a moment orienting yourself- learn what direction is which. It’s all about familiarizing yourself with the layout. The main ski area that is served by both Grindelwald and Wengen/Lauterbrunnen is Kleine Scheidegg/Männlichen – Grindelwald/Wengen. First-Grindelwald is serviced only by the Grindelwald side, and Schilthorn – Mürren/Lauterbrunnen is serviced only from the Wengen/Lauterbrunnen side.
Take the train from your prior location into Interlaken. There are two train stations in town- Interlaken Ost (East) and Interlaken West. Most arrivals from major cities like Zurich and Bern come into the Interlaken West station.
The mountains are accessed via the Interlaken Ost station. If traveling throughout Switzerland, having the Swiss Travel Pass will get you into and out of Interlaken just fine. If coming from an international destination, a Eurail Select or other Euro rail pass will get you there. Once in Interlaken, the train from the Interlaken Ost station reaches all access points to the Jungfrau Ski Region.
Where the locals are riding
As an American, I felt as though I clearly stood out on the slopes in Switzerland. I’m not one for onesies or super tight ski pants. That being said, the Swiss look damn good on the mountain. It is easy to pick out those who know their way around from those who don’t.
The terrain offers offering mostly blues and reds (which are runs that are not to the level of black difficulty- some ski resorts in the states have ‘blue-black’ runs- this would be similar). There are some death-defying runs here, though- if you can, check out the Lauberhorn Downhill course at Wengen. Also, get up to the top of the Schilthorn- you’ll get a taste of what Jeremy Jones rides when he needs to do a warm up.
Where to Eat and Drink
Dining out in Switzerland is incredibly expensive, a result of the importance that the country places on supporting homegrown agriculture and meat. If you are into skiing you know how expensive resort food is. The combination of these two factors means one thing- don’t eat at the mountain. I’m talking $30 cheeseburgers. Both Grindelwald and Wengen have some options that are easier on the wallet than anything directly on the mountain but are still much more expensive than eating in Interlaken. In order to maximize your drinking money,
Many hostels have decent restaurants. I loved the Happy Inn Lodge- a good mix of local and classic western dishes and super cheap (as far as Swiss dining is concerned).
Restarent Piz Paz has good Italian and a decent happy hour. Eating Italian food is like drinking Guinness- the closer you get to the source, the better it is. When in an expensive place like Interlaken, sharing a pizza with a couple people can be a great way to go. Plus, these guys have a solid beer selection. This place is also a solid option for vegetarians.
Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant is pretty solid. Indian food is full of healthy proteins like lentils and naan bread is absolutely irresistible- both things this spot does well and perfect for after a long day on piste.
Where to Stay
Happy Inn Lodge is the best hostel in the town of Interlaken. They have dorm rooms and private rooms, an in-house restaurant and bar that serves as one of the town’s most popping music venues, and a great staff. The place is very affordable- $20-30 per night to start for a cheap bed. Private rooms start around $40.
Hotel Baeron looks exactly like what you’d picture a Swiss chalet-style hotel looking like. The rooms are quaint and cozy, and for Swiss prices- you’ll be looking at about $125 per night- it isn’t too expensive. The restaurant is pricey but delicious if date night comes calling.
Where to Party
Walking around Interlaken, visitors will pass by numerous great spots to drink. Buddy’s Pub- This is a great spot to spend a night swilling pints. The atmosphere is mellow and it feels very much like a typical European pub. Have a Rugen Brau and enjoy the patio if it’s open. For more of a club setting, Johnny Carlton’s Club is located inside the Hotel Carlton and has a dance floor and DJs spinning.
I spent at least part of every night in Interlaken at the Happy Inn Lodge bar. I stayed there for a few nights, but in addition to that, it has moderately priced food and cheap beer. If Andy is at the bar, pull up a stool in front of him and you’ll spend your evening swapping stories and laughing your ass off.
Interlaken and the towns inside the Jungfrau Ski Region are exactly what you’d expect Swiss ski culture to be. Expect to see people on the street and in restaurants and pubs dressed stylishly warm. The level of style reminded me of Aspen, but without the pretense and attitude. Everyone I met in Wengen, Grindelwald, and Interlaken was incredibly friendly. Many people speak English, at least enough to answer questions and point you in the right direction. Outdoor activities reign supreme- if you’re into ski culture, you will love it here.