The Berner Oberland is justly one of the more popular destinations on this forum, so much so that it's become almost synonymous with the entire Swiss Alps. Many are very familiar with this region during the summer months, so to change things around, here's a report from the winter. I'm staying the week here with my two favorite travel companions, my wife and our dog. I chose Grindelwald over the more popular (for this website) towns on the Lauterbrunnen side of the mountains because of the three towns with direct access to the slopes (the others being Wengen and Mürren), Grindelwald is the only one you can reach with your car. Grindelwald also has easier access to more ski areas. The scenery is just as spectacular over here as well. From our room as I type this, I'm looking directly at the Eiger. (cont)
The primary intent for this trip was to enjoy some winter sports, skiing in particular. The weather has not been ideal for this purpose. The first night we were here, it rained. The temperature probably maxed out on Christmas Eve, and fortunately, the last two days it has become increasingly colder. There's three major ski areas in the Jungfrau area- Männlichen above Wengen and Grindelwald, the Schilthorn above Mürren, and First above Grindelwald. Of the three, I like Männlichen the best. It has the largest variety of slopes. First has some particularly enjoyable pistes, and the snow conditions on the upper slopes were perfect today. I liked the slopes above Mürren the least. Not much of a variety, and it was far too warm the day I skied there. I wanted to try skiing down from Piz Gloria, but it was closed the day we visited that area. As was Trümmelbach falls. One feature I particularly like about all the ski areas in the Jungfrau region is that the "exit pistes" all run through the farms and back alleys of the towns. I was particularly surprised at the wealth of activities for non-skiers. Although skiing is the main focus, there's a good supply of winter hiking trails and sledge runs. My wife is a non-skier, and I accompanied her and our dog on a sledge run down from Klein Scheidegg to Grindelwald (cont).
Staying at Hotel Spinne. We have a very nice room with a views of the Eiger, Schreckhorn and Wetterhorn. The breakfast spread is about average. The restaurant is particularly good, but quite expensive, even for Switzerland. Very friendly service. Grindelwald itself is about standard for an Alpine winter sports resort. Plenty of hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars and sport shops. Not so many souvenir shops or high-end boutiques as some other resorts, though. And there's still plenty of farms. But if you come here looking for "authentic, traditional blah, blah, blah", you're kind of missing the point.
Thanks for your report on winter in that area, Tom. I'm especially interested in your description of non-skier activities. On the walking trails you mention was the footing packed snow or cleared tarmac/gravel? I'm unable any longer to ski but I have always thought of returning to the BO in winter to walk cold trails. I bet that on a clear night (if any) the views of the skies would be wonderful in cold air.
Nigel, the "Winterwandern" trails are packed snow. Many of them are dual use, meaning that walkers share the trails with sledders. The crews seem to groom the trails daily. You can buy a Wandern/Sledge pass, which allows you to ride all the same trains, funiculars, gondolas and cable cars as the skiers (can't ride the chair lifts or rope tows, however). Of course, you can walk up the mountain free of charge, if you prefer, but judging how long it took us to sled down from Kleine Scheidegg, I don't think there's enough daylight hours in winter to make it up and back again. Another nice feature of the sled/wandern trails is that you can stop off at mountain restaurants along the way down, and if you want to call it a day before reaching the bottom, you can catch the train on the way down.
Thanks for the info Tom. Want to dip my toe into the Alpine winter thing. Do you ever rent private cabins/houses for your skiing trips? If so, do you have any advice?
Sarah, I've never rented a chalet during the winter season, mainly because I've never been able to assemble a group large enough to justify it. My wife and I are considering a chalet in the future when we have kids. However, I have rented a chalet during the summer in Val di Rabbi in Italy. It was comfortable, but rather primitive. We paid about €800 for a week in a rather non-touristy area of the Italian Alps. If you're looking for a chalet with more modern amenities in a more popular region, I would expect to pay more.
Final words. I checked out the First (means "Ridge" in German) skiing area on the eastern side of Grindelwald briefly on my second-to-last full day, and briefly again on my last full day (would have stayed longer, but all of the lifts closed early because of high wind). I think this is probably the best ski field in the area. Not as many pistes as the Männlichen/Kleine Scheidegg area, but the slopes were all fun, long and challenging. Plus, for some reason, it was considerably colder at the summit of First then any of the other ski areas (not sure why, because the elevation isn't any higher), and consequently, the snow was in perfect condition. But it was VERY windy near the top. So, with all apologies to Chris in Mürren, my firm recommendation would be to stay in Grindelwald if you visit the Berner Oberland for winter sports. The pistes around Mürren just can't compare to those around Grindelwald. I wasn't too impressed either with the small number of pistes that converge on Wengen, but at least you have easier access to the Männlichen/Kleine Scheidegg area than you would from Mürren. Finally... I've written several times in the past few years about the awful traffic conditions between Karlsruhe and Basel on the A5. I can happily report that things have improved, somewhat. There's still a lot of construction around Baden-Baden that has shown zero progress of ever nearing completion, but at least half of the length of the autobahn is no longer undergoing renovation. The Autobahn Dreieck between A5 and A8 around Karslruhe, however, is just as bad as ever, I'm afraid.
Tom, wonderful report. For the benefit of those out there that are not around snow that much but still love it, please describe "sledge runs" and any other aspects of non-skiing.
Sledge run- call it a "sledding trail" or "sledding piste" if you will. As I wrote, these are dual use for winter hiking and sledding. They're not steep enough to sled down the entire mountain, so even with a sled, you have to walk part of the distance. It's a good family activity for non-skiers, especially families with young children and dogs.