Get to know Wengen, the Swiss ski resort with distinctly British roots

Steve Mather

Steve Mather

The small but perfectly formed Swiss mountain resort of Wengen* offers the chance to learn to ski in an excellent mountain location steeped in Alpine, even British, history.

Ride the smart train to car-free Wengen
Ride the smart train to car-free Wengen © Jan Geerk - courtesy of Switzerland Tourism

Even if you're not keen on hitting the slopes, there are plenty of off-piste activities to enjoy around the region from summit-soaring experiences to snowshoeing, tobogganing and straddling a velogemel.

Getting to Wengen: find great deals on late winter breaks to Wengen with Crystal Ski*.

British influence in historic Wengen

Tourism first began in Wengen in the early 19th century after authors such as Shelley and Byron wrote of the region. It picked up in the early 20th century when British tourists began setting up ski clubs and the first organised ski races.

With Nordic skiing common in Switzerland* at the time, the British brought them the concept of downhill skiing, with the 121-year-old Ski Club of Great Britain organising the first British National Ski Championships including downhill, or Alpine, skiing in Wengen in 1921.

This history is kept alive in Wengen by a British ski club called the DHO Ski Club, or Downhill Only Ski Club. The annual International Lauberhorn Race, which attracts tens of thousands of spectators, is a major event both locally and within the wider ski community.

It is the longest World Cup downhill run in the world and special stands for spectators are constructed every year to host with the influx of visitors.

A rare car-free resort

Wengen is one of the few completely car-free resorts in Europe. Although you may see a handful of small electric vehicles rolling slowly through the streets, there's no such thing as a traffic jam. The village is reached via cog railway on gleaming trains, which slowly amble their way up and down the steep climb on tracks which cut through the thick snow.

What's more, it's on the local railway line and hopping on the train from nearby stations such as Lauterbrunnen, Interlaken, Grindelwald or Kleine Scheidegg will take you right into the heart of the village.

Learn to ski

Wengen is an eclectic winter ski destination that offers both complete beginners and regular skiers what they are looking for. If you've never strapped on a pair of skis, it helps if you've had two or three ski lessons on a dry or indoor slope before heading out to the mountains.

Hit the slopes, whether beginner or pro
Hit the slopes, whether beginner or pro © Ian Wray - Alamy Stock Photo

Even a brief amount of time getting used to the sensation of skiing can make basic moves such as learning how to stop and turn that little bit easier. However, lessons before you arrive are not essential as helpful and, more importantly, patient, Swiss Ski School instructors are on hand in their numbers to give newbies a good grounding.

Wengen has good beginner slopes with fairly low gradients in the village, offering the perfect training ground before heading up the mountain by train when you're more confident about tackling the gradually steeper slopes.

Get on your bike, sort of

Heard of the velogemel? Invented in Grindelwald* in 1911 by disabled wood carver Christian Buhlmann who was struggling to get around in the deep snow, the velogemel soon became popular and this traditional form of transport is kept alive in the area today.

Try Grindelwald’s signature velogemel
Try Grindelwald’s signature velogemel © Christoph Zwaan - courtesy of Switzerland Tourism

There's even the Velogemel World Championships, which have been held annually in Grindelwald since 1996.

The contraption is essentially like a wooden bike with runners instead of wheels and a seat, and that's about it; that's right, there are no brakes or gears.

If you want to slow down while heading downhill at speed then putting your boots down into the snow is the only option. It is an exhilarating experience whizzing down the mountains, carving around corners and picking your feet up to gain momentum in the right places.

Head to the Top of Europe

The Jungfraujoch - Top of Europe experience is one of the most popular things to do. Every year, thousands of visitors board the turn-of-the-19th-century railway cut into the north face of the Eiger to be transported to the highest railway station in Europe, 3,454m above sea level, where ice caves and glaciers await.

Constructed between 1896 and 1912, this engineering marvel first opened to passengers on 1 August 1912. It was the brainchild of industrial magnate Adolf Guyer-Zeller, known as "The Railway King" who came up with a plan to blast through the sheer rock of the Eiger and Monch mountains to build a cogwheel railway to the Jungfrau summit.

Take in the view from the Sphinx Observatory on the Jungfraujoch
Take in the view from the Sphinx Observatory on the Jungfraujoch © Julius Silver - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Locals saw how it could boost tourism and backed the plan but there is a sobering reminder of how difficult it was to complete with memorials to the workers, many of whom were Italian immigrants, who died in the process.

More than 71 different nationalities visit every year and it can also be reached from Grindelwald in 45 minutes via the Eiger Express gondola. The Sphinx Observation Deck, an outdoor panoramic viewpoint, offers incredible views on a clear day.

Attractions also include some incredibly intricate sculptures in the ice palace and the unique opportunity to buy some goodies from the highest-altitude chocolate shop in Europe.

Wengen snow report (ski season)

76
67
69
76
100
98
100
94
89
98
98
87
90
98
91
79
90
69
66
53
56
39
27
12
8
Nov 3
Nov 4
Dec 1
Dec 2
Dec 3
Dec 4
Jan 1
Jan 2
Jan 3
Jan 4
Jan 5
Feb 1
Feb 2
Feb 3
Feb 4
Mar 1
Mar 2
Mar 3
Mar 4
Apr 1
Apr 2
Apr 3
Apr 4
May 1
May 2

The Wengen snow report shows potential for good quality snow for each week of the ski season based on 15 years of historical observations.

What else is there to do?

That first glimpse of the Alps' snow-capped peaks is always a pinch-me, tingling moment. When you've finished gawping at the Eiger (3,970m), Munch (4,099m) and Jungfrau (4,158m) mountains there are lots of activities aside from skiing to keep you occupied.

Tobogganing, show-shoeing, curling, ice skating and, if those simply don't provide enough of an adrenaline rush, there's always some climbing or skydiving to be enjoyed (or, endured).

Ready to ski Wengen? Don't miss the latest deals on great value breaks to Switzerland and beyond with Crystal Ski.

Crystal Ski Holidays: Book early for skiing holidays in 2024/2025

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Steve Mather

Steve Mather

Posted on Friday 16th February 2024 in: Europe Skiing & Snowboarding

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