Top Lift: 2320m
Ski area: 221km of pistes
Adult lift pass: CHF323 for six days
In a Nutshell
Wengen is car-free resort with a large intermediate-friendly ski area and one of the most spectacular mountain backdrops you’ll ever see. It’s a bit of a backwater these days – but a canny choice nonetheless for well-heeled beginners and families with ski-age children.
Essential advice for the perfect trip
Wengen is one of the cradles of modern skiing. Foreign – mainly British – visitors first arrived here in the late 19th century to gaze at the mighty peaks of the Eiger, Moensch, and Jungfrau: and in doing so inspired one of the great engineering feats of the new Iron Age. The Jungfraubahn, the rack-and-pinion railway built to serve them, eventually climbed through the granite heart of the Eiger to the 3454m Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. It is now a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site that attracts tourists throughout the year from all over the world.
From 1911 the rail company took the commercial decision to keep the network open in winter and sports-minded visitors quickly discovered that it could be used as a ski lift. Not all of these hardy tweed-clad pioneers approved of such easy uphill transport. They believed it offended the principle of ‘no pain, no gain’ and detracted from the achievement of skiing downhill. But in February 1925 the Downhill Only Club was formed in Wengen by British skiers to race against their Kandahar rivals encamped at Murren on the other side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Both clubs are happily alive, active, and as big rivals as ever in the 21st century.
The railway is the only way to get to Wengen
Today the Wengernalpbahn railway connecting the three ski resorts of Wengen, Grindelwald, and Murren still acts as the backbone of the shared Jungfrau ski region, supplemented by a network of lifts (notably the Grindelwald-Mannlichen gondola and Wengen-Mannlichen cable-car).
It’s still the only way to get Wengen. The car-free resort sits on a sunny ledge nearly 500m above Lauterbrunnen and in-resort transport is limited to electric taxis and a few licensed motor vehicles. The main street stretches back from the station to a modest collection of hotels, shops, restaurants, a giant skating rink, and family-friendly nursery slopes. Hotels and private homes line the steep mountainside above.
“We found it very very expensive,” said a reporter. “Currency rates are poor but they have whacked up their prices so all in all not good value for money.”
A traditional resort that is modernising at last
In recent years, Wengen has lost some of its faded Edwardian ambience in favour of the high-tech demands of a modern ski resort. Nevertheless it remains a tranquil alpine backwater – best suited to intermediate piste skiers for whom mileage is more important than a challenging gradient. Anyone who wants a proper sense of being in the mountains will like it too. The views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are a constant source of wonder.
One reporter summed it up: “A very beautiful place with long fun blue/reds and easy accessible (easy) off-piste. For beginners and intermediate skiers there is a great variety of slopes to keep everyone happy.”
Almost everyone will enjoy skiing the Lauberhorn
Wengen is home to one of the classic downhill courses of ski racing – the The Lauberhorn. It unfurls over a thigh-burning distance of 4.5km and anyone of middling ability can enjoy it – when it’s not being prepared for the race itself (which is held each winter in mid-January). It’s not a steep course. The challenge for racers comes from its length, its long gliding sections, and the fearsome Ziel-S (Finishing-S) at its end. But all the same, for mere mortals skiing it is a humbling – and inspiring – experience.
February 5, 2020Bill Curry
One day, if I ever can afford it, I will ski the Lauberhorn, my favorite downhill in the World Cup.