A busy Saturday on the testing pistes of Engelberg

3rd February 2020, by Chris Gill

Windy Titlis – though this shot wasn't taken on Saturday, when the skies were less clear

Windy Titlis – though this shot wasn't taken on Saturday, when the skies were less clear

On Friday evening we arrived in a rather damp Engelberg equipped with a mixed forecast for Saturday – first, sun, wind and low temperatures at altitude, with cloud and higher temperatures to follow.

We were billeted overnight in the ancient hotel Hoheneck, between the village centre and the famous (still functioning) monastery. Now under Scandinavian management, the hotel is being refurbished but remains essentially a simple, good value place for keen skiers wanting no frills.

Its star attraction is the characterful and cosy first-floor bar-restaurant, where we had an excellent a la carte dinner before sharing a drink or two with tourist office director Frédéric Füssenich, who we’ve known since he was the office junior.

The forecast turned out to be accurate. And the sun and Engelberg’s reputation for the best snow around – the skiing high-point of Klein Titlis is just over 3000m, with glacial slopes – brought crowds from Lucerne, less than an hour away by car or train. This is emphatically not a resort where changeover day means quiet pistes.

On Fred’s advice, we headed straight to the top of Titlis, reached by the famously rotating Titlis Rotair cable car. But it wasn’t much fun. The crowds, the fierce northerly wind, the limited vertical of the two red runs and the sporadic operation of the glacier drag lift all pointed to a swift descent to the less exposed slopes 600m lower, below the Stand lift station.

The top cable car has had rotating cabins for ages, but has recently been given smart new ones

There are basically three red runs here, all quite testing, two with black starts. Then, across the mountain at Jochpass, there are three more decent reds, with partial black variants; the higher one, run 10, is a very serious red. All of these runs are served by fast chairs, but have modest verticals in the order of 350-400m.

The glacier slopes are sweet but short, and on Saturday very windy

It adds up to an entertaining package for a competent skier looking to spend a day racking up some rewarding laps. There is further red/black skiing to be had on the separate Ristis-Brunni mountain, and blue runs in several spots, some gentle some not.

But the appeal of Engelberg for a longer stay remains its off-piste. On previous visits we’ve sampled enough of the lift-served terrain – notably the classic Laub and the super-long Galtiberg run – to know that the place deserves its reputation as a freeride Mecca; the proportion of people shouldering fat skis is high. Sadly on Saturday a good number of these people were thrashing down the pistes intimidating those in their path.

The conspicuous ski-jump-shaped slope in the centre is the famous off-piste Laub

We ended the day by taking the long blue piste to the village from the mid-mountain shelf of Trübsee which, commendably, the lift company was managing to keep open despite the recent warm weather. From Titlis to the village is a descent approaching the magic 2000m vertical, but it’s interrupted by a horizontal chair-lift across the aforementioned shelf.

At the large mid-mountain lift station of Trübsee is a sizeable hotel

So now it’s off to Andermatt to wrap up this week in Switzerland. News from there coming next.

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