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Snowboarding in Grindelwald, Switzerland

Words: Francois Flamengo | Photos: DO IT NOW Media

In the last two issues I spoke about our time in Lech, Austria, and MEribel, France, and in this article I will tell you more about our experience in the amazing Jungfrau region, which is located in the heart of the Swiss Bernese Alps in Switzerland. This was the last week of our European skiing holiday.

do it now magazine, Snowboarding, Grindelwald, Switzerland, winter sports

On the train ride from Méribel to Grindelwald, in Switzerland, on Christmas Eve, I got caught up in the many wonderful stories Wynand told me about Grindelwald; one of the most popular and cosmopolitan holiday destinations in Switzerland, and the largest ski resort in the Jungfrau region. Wynand had been there before and I was so looking forward to experiencing some of the attractions that this town is renowned for. A few of the highlights that I added to my bucket list included a visit to the Jungfrau Railway, Top of Europe, the 360° rotating 007 restaurant at the top of the Schilthorn and snowboarding on First.

But before I get to that, I would like to elaborate a little on Grindelwald (1,034m). It is among one of Europe's oldest mountain resorts and lies in a valley situated in the beautiful Bernese Oberland on the northern side of the Alps. Surrounded by the commanding mountainscape trio of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, this small town exudes country charm - fields planted with fruit trees or maples and dotted with pretty dwellings - with a grand rocky barrier stretching from the shoulder of the Wetterhorn to the pyramid of the Eiger. To get there we decided to take the Berner Oberland Bahnfrom Interlaken, a small train that gives you an immediate cultural experience of the old Swiss efficiency and their history. Once in Grindelwald you can explore the entire town on foot and a visit to the many small shops will keep you entertained. The cogwheel train that operates from the town centre offers you a great way to discover the massive Eiger north face (3,970m), which overlooks the town. The town of Wengen is on the other side of the valley and home to the famous 007 Piz Gloria Restaurant, which sits on top of the Schilthorn.

The day after we arrived we found some fantastic traditional food and drinks at one of the many restaurants in town and decided how we would tackle our four days in Grindelwald. Top of the list was a visit to the Jungfrau Railway. This pioneering masterpiece among mountain railways has its roots in the mid-1860s, when Swiss hotelier Friedrich Seiler planned to drill a pneumatic tube railway to the summit of the Jungfrau. His scheme never came to fruition, but the idea of a Jungfraubahn proved irresistible in a country where railroad track was already being laid between every city, town and village that hoped to attract tourists. The concept of building the 7.3km tunnel from the foot of the massive Eiger north face was originally planned by engineer Adolf Guyer-Zeller. Work began on 27 July 1896 and was hampered by a series of disasters, including the accidental explosion of 30 tons of dynamite in 1908. The blast reportedly was heard in Germany, more than 60 miles away. The railroad was completed in stages, with ticket revenues from train rides to the viewing platforms at the lower stations being used to finance the remaining work. The project's total cost was 14.9million Swiss francs.

The tunnel takes you into the heart of the Eiger and stops at two stations for a few minutes to enable passengers to look through the massive windows, which are built into the slip face, and marvel at the incredible aerial view of the valley. If you are intimidated by heights, then you'll definitely feel a little numbness in your knees when looking down ;-) It also gives you an idea of what the conditions must be like for climbers when attempting to summit the Eiger. The cogwheel train then continues to the top of the mountain range, the Top of Europe, and stops inside the glacier at the Sphinx, (3,571m), a peak with a small viewing station that is perched in the saddle between the Mönch (3,650m) and the Jungfrau (4,158m). It is said that the Jungfrau reminded someone of a young virgin and the Mönch (monk) protects the young 'vrou' (young lady) from the Eiger (ogre).

To try and describe the experience and clinical beauty at the Top of Europe is very hard, and I believe the only way to understand it completely is to go there yourself. If you are lucky to experience the view from the top on a clear day, free of clouds or mist, you will be treated to the most magnificent view of the Aletsch Glacier on the one side and Interlaken Valley on the other. This is serious DINList material!

do it now magazine, Snowboarding, Grindelwald, Switzerland, winter sports

The next morning we were all smiles as we strapped on our snowboards, eager to get to the gondola that leads to the First. First is a piste area that's nestled high in the mountain range and overlooks the town from the opposite side of the Eiger. The trip up the mountain takes about 10 minutes and, not to sound like a broken record, unlocks yet another fantastic view of the Eiger. For me this area was completely different to the ski slopes we had encountered in Lech and Méribel. The major frustration was that the gondola from the town created a bottleneck when trying to get to the other gondolas. During the Christmas week there were long queues that you had to wait in before you could get going on the slopes. However, the run from the top of First was excellent, with wide piste areas making it very easy to find your way down. Unfortunately we didn't get to do as many runs down the slope as I would have liked, due to the queues, so I will have to explore other options on a return visit. What was interesting though was the integration of toboggan runs down all the mountains, which enabled many family members who were not comfortable on skis or snowboards to also enjoy the white powder.

Time was flying and before we knew it we only had two days left of our trip. We decided to make our way to the Schilthorn the next morning. Our mission was to enjoy lunch at the famous 007 restaurant that was used during the 1969 spy movie 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. On our way there we also explored the towns of Wengen and Murren. What we thought would be a quick two-hour trip turned into almost a whole day venture because of the huge numbers of tourists in the area. When we eventually stepped off the final gondola, at over 2900 metres above sea level, our patience paid dividends upon reaching the Schilthorn. At first you don't realise that the floor is moving and only when you notice your beanie and gloves moving away from you on the railing next to your table do you register the movement of the restaurant. I was amazed at how the waiters managed to track their 'moving' tables, which make a 360° round trip each hour.

Our final day was spent exploring the 8km snowboard run from Kleine Scheidegg (2061m), at the foot of the Eiger. On the piste map it looked really interesting, with winding pieces of piste running through the forest area and hooking up with a number of other runs, thus allowing one to find their own creative way down the maze of options available. What I did not plan for was the narrow sections that came up every now and again during the run, and found to be more suited to the skiers and toboggan runners. These sneaky little sections created a few spectacular 'snowfalling' opportunities for me and I remember 'taking a break' twice and finding myself looking up at the bright blue sky from the position of lying flat on my back ;-).

Grindelwald is truly a picture-perfect little town and it offers tourists a fantastic opportunity to explore all the Swiss traditions that we normally read about or see on TV. What makes it even better is the fact that it can easily accommodate the whole family's wish list for that perfect white holiday in the Swiss Alps. My only suggestion would be to choose a quieter time of the year if you really want to spend the maximum amount of hours on the slopes.