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Multi-generational ski holiday at Mürren. An iconic mountain in the Bernese Alps, located 2,970 metres above sea level, Schilthorn is a short voyage from the city of Interlaken, a trip that takes in lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests, cliffs, and mountains. The journey uses rail and bus, and ends with a 40-minute cable-car ascent up to Schilthorn, with stops en route at the charming highland villages of Gimmelwald and Mürren, the 2,684-metre peak of Birg, and views across the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Mürren, the cradle of Alpine Skiing
An inspiring part of the country at any time of the year, Schilthorn is especially hypnotic during winter. Mürren is a cradle of Alpine skiing, hosting the first world’s slalom event in January 1922, a race that was organised by Sir Arnold Lunn, a British mountaineer and writer.
In 1924, Lunn formed the Kandahar Ski Club in Mürren, an organisation that has produced generations of top British skiers, including Dave Ryding, winner of the 2022 Hahnenkamm Alpine World Cup slalom in Kitzbühel, a century after the competitive discipline was created.
The club has also played a key role in promoting skiing on a global level: After efforts by its members, spearheaded by Lunn, the International Ski Federation officially recognised downhill and slalom, leading to the first and second Ski World Championships in Mürren in 1931 and 1933. Downhill and slalom were then included in the Winter Olympics for the first time in 1936 (where Lunn captained the British team).
Lunn also set up the Arlberg-Kandahar races, the precursor to today’s World Cup circuit and which paved the way for many of today’s foremost World Cup downhill courses including Garmisch, St. Anton, Sestriere and Chamonix, courses that still bear Kandahar’s name. (As an interesting aside, the club gets its name from the Roberts of Kandahar Challenge Cup, a ski race first held in 1911 near Schilthorn and whose prize was a trophy donated by the British general Field Marshal Earl Roberts of Kandahar).
The perfect challenge for skiing enthusiasts – ski down from the Schilthorn
Kandahar members enthusiastically participate in numerous amateur ski racing events, with the highlight being the illustrious Inferno. In January 1928, 17 Kandahar members created a marathon downhill route that they called the Inferno, a name that reflects the course’s difficulty — a descent of more than 2,000 vertical metres along 15 kilometres from Schilthorn to Lauterbrunnen.
The Inferno remains an annual fixture at Mürren, a car-free village where the original wooden chalets and shop fronts recall yesteryear, and has become so popular that the club caps the number of entrants to 1850 skiers.
Taking place every January, the Inferno has been run every year since its inauguration. Today it is the largest amateur ski race in the world, with skiers entering the course separated by 12-second intervals, and the winner completing the course in less than 15 minutes. What makes the route so special, and so testing, is the variety of terrain and topography (the course is open at other times of the year, allowing non-competitors the chance to try it).
All-round skiers typically excel at the Inferno, a course characterised by official race documentation as follows: “The upper part of the course demands downhill turning technique and an optimal line. The middle section calls for an ideal downhill position and fast gliding. From the Kanonenrohr to the Höhenlücke technically superior skiers come into their own. Over the stretch from Maulerhubel to Winteregg, skating step and arm power can be all-important. And from Winteregg-Spriessenkehr to Lauterbrunnen optimal equipment, a clean downhill position and — not least — mental stamina can be the key to a fast final time.”
In addition to the skiing prowess on show, the race is an electrifying spectacle, a time when the mountain comes alive with visitors from around the globe, and the infectious energy creates an uplifting, thrilling atmosphere on and around the slopes.
Ski and dine in the most beautiful setting in Schilthorn
But winter in Schilthorn isn’t just exclusively for skiers. It’s also perfectly positioned for a multi-generational trip, where skiers and non-skiers can meet at the restaurants dotted around on the mountain.
In the middle of the idyllic landscape above Mürren, the restaurant Sonnenberg has a sun terrace and breathtaking views of the Jungfrau region, while the menu showcases traditional Swiss cuisine. Skiers will prize the location, directly at the piste of the chair lift Schiltgrad. Constructed from stone and wood, and first opened in 1989, the Winteregg mountain restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes for the entire family, served indoors or on a sun terrace that has views of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Hiking trails meet here while the Winteregg ski lift sits above the restaurant.
Also next to a ski lift, the Gimmeln mountain restaurant opens only in the winter. It is a simply, but comfortably, furnished ski hut with a large sun terrace combining with indoor seating. Among the many highlights here are the famous apple pie and, on request, the Fondue Chinoise, with raw meat and blanched vegetables cooked in a simmering broth.
For fine dining coupled with an approachable, friendly atmosphere, visitors should head to Hotel Restaurant Blumental. Carefully curated Swiss specialities and daily specials accompany selected wines from the large cellar and a range of meat fondues and dishes.
A little more casual, Restaurant Pension Suppenalp has a rustic dining room as the setting for homemade soups, fresh salads and cheese specialities. In winter, many of the dishes are prepared on the wood-burning stove, warming meals after a day on the neighbouring ski slope and tobogganing run.
Wholesome, filling food is served at Allmendhubel mountain restaurant, at the lower part of the ski area at the foot of the Schilthorn. With breathtaking views over the north face of the Bernese Alps, including the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, the restaurant serves potato soup, cheese and dried meat platters, sandwiches, tuna or salmon baguette, spaghetti Bolognese, Rösti with bacon and fried egg, pork schnitzel, raclette, and hosts a weekly fondue get-together.
Locals and tourists pack the cosy Restaurant Stägerstübli, set in the middle of Mürren and offering hearty Swiss cuisine and a variety of drinks.
Winter sports for seasoned and novice winter sports enthusiasts in Schilthorn
Of course, the glorious outdoors always beckons at Schilthorn, for seasoned and novice winter sports enthusiasts. Anyone keen to learn the basics of skiing can enrol at the Ski School in Mürren, where the programme Try2Ski provides a welcoming environment. In collaboration with Intersport Mürren-Schilthorn, a sporting goods store in the village, the school pairs ski instructors with newcomers for a two-hour session that includes all equipment (ski, shoes and poles) for use in the exercise area of the ski school. It’s a fun, exciting, safe introduction to the sport on some of the finest, most beautiful slopes in the country.
Elsewhere on the mountain, options include ice skating, winter hiking, snowshoeing, and curling. Playing curling on an open-air field in front of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau is an experience like no other, a memory for a lifetime, and besides individual curling, Mürren also holds various tournaments.
For hikers, winter options abound. High above the deep basin of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the easy, 90-minute trek from the Grütschalp to Mürren captivates with fantastic views of iconic peaks. The well-maintained trail meanders along the slope at sunny elevations, ending up at the postcard-worthy alpine village of Mürren.
Another simple trail starts in Mürren, and winds uphill toward Sonnenberg, passing traditional chalets as it slowly climbs. En route, travellers can stop for a bite at the terrace of Restaurant Sonnenberg before continuing up to Allmendhubel. The easy two-kilometre walk lasts about an hour.
Used in the past as an Alpine means of transportation for hay and wood, sledges are now more commonplace as a vessel for sport and fun, requiring no training, simply waterproof boots with a good tread, warm, waterproof clothing, gloves and headgear.
Among the many runs in the Jungfrau Region is the 15-kilometre Big Pintenfritz, one of the most spectacular and longest sledge runs in the world, part of it appearing in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
In between runs, adventurers can stop by the rustic huts along the sledge routes for a warming drink and some fondue, a quintessentially Swiss experience. And the fun doesn’t stop at dusk, with many of the sledging runs brightly lit by floodlight, allowing the revelry to continue in the dark.
Exploration of the area by foot is equally rewarding, with snowshoe hiking offered day and night, alone or in a group. The mountain and snow-sport schools here can arrange guided ski and snowshoe tours, among them the Chänelegg Trail, a panoramic tour through idyllic forest landscapes and views of no less than eight north faces of the Bernese Alps.
Finally, ice skating is hugely popular in Mürren with an open air skating rink in the middle of the village with wonderful views of the mountains. As you glide along the ice at these rinks, and drink in the wonder of the scenery, you might just feel as though you are floating in a dreamland. And in a sense, you are.
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© This article was first published online in Nov 2022 – World Travel Magazine.