Review of Wengen

24th March 2009 by Richard Hughes 

A few updated thoughts and I can but agree with Mark Surridge - the absence of the next generation of skiers at the Jungfrau region must worry the lift company but it is their own fault. Slow updating of facilities, inadequately updated lifts eg the Lager chair as a four seater rather than a six seater, failure to put snow making into the valley and resort runs and build decent bases early in the season and even more desperate the local transport links (particularly the Grindelwald bus system which is a joke equivalent to London’s - none for ages then three at once). Friends are always critical and there is more investment on the way. The First region has its pluses but the worst is the return to resort - the need for a bus or medium walk into town. Clearly good snow comes as a shock as the bus timetable changes on 8 March and that the valley runs should be still skiable by then is unheard of so there is very limited/no bus capacity at certain times of day at the point where the runs finish. On one day I was there there was getting on for an hour with no scheduled bus and then when the scheduled bus arrived a lot of people could not get on it as it was full and the next one was not for another half hour (three in five minutes then). This comes from a railway company running the pistes and setting timetables and not having sufficient fleetfootedness to change things. In a prior year the same happened the other way round - the valley runs were unskiable and the bus timetable could not be amended to increase the bus services at the point where they ran out. And then on to the piste Stepfi - I have now found out why I got lost in Grindelwald on a previous occasion - this aberration requires at the top end a walk of about 600-800 yards - surely deserving of a (cheap) rope tow - followed by a lovely long run down the trees until it ends in a car park at Oberer Gletscher and the Wetterhorn Hotel where a bus occasionally turns up. But the piste map shows it going back into Grindelwald - there is of course no sign in the car park - and it transpires (because I asked the bus driver (who arrived at 12.30pm to park up with the departure not until 1.15pm)) the piste is actually the road (you guessed - the same one as the bus and some other traffic drives up!) until it rejoins another blue down to Grindelwald.

Oh, and other health and safety issues - resort staff hammering up (no not down!) narrow path pistes in snowmobiles for no apparent purpose, the constant commercial round at Kleine Scheidegg of deliveries, snow clearing with forklifts, diggers and snowmobiles flying in all directions - it is totally unclear why this cannot be done out of hours. At least one avalanche hit an apparently then open piste at First. There is an inadequate investment in avalanche prevention in certain locations (another one being the Kanonruehr down from Birg to Murren which is constantly closed because of the risk and then causes a huge traffic jam on the Schilthorn cable car).

All the resort’s many attractions remain - scenery, extent of pistes, gradual improvements to higher mountain snowmaking, the brilliant new Honegg chair and then the new investments. The Salzegg chair will open up for easy skiing a whole range of pistes that either have to be accessed by train (only every half hour of course), a horrendous steep T bar or by the slow and antique Fallboden chair. And at Murren there are apparently major investment plans in place for this summer - the Winteregg “magic” moving carpet two seater chair to be replaced by a detachable quad and also a new chair to link into the next bowl from where you can ski to the Schiltgrat chair and the Schilthorn cable car without having to ski into town and go up the Allmendhubel funicular and then up the baby poma. However, on the main area the sad state of affairs remains that the beautiful long valley runs to Grund are virtually unsnowcannoned and certainly no effort is made to put down a good base early in the season so it is only in wonderful winters that we have just had that you can enjoy them in middle March. Even then, there is a bit of hiking to either the Mannlichen cable car base or the Grund railway station at the bottom. Things are improving as some snow cannon have appeared on the beautiful blue run down to Brandegg (but not on the wonderful section further on down to Grund) and on the red piste down from Mannlichen to Grund below the gondola middle station. One does have to remember, of course, that one of the pleasures of the resort is the wonderful hotels and some pretty decent restaurants at not excessive prices, a pint of beer at English prices (not French exploitation), acceptable lift pass prices for a huge range of skiing and the accessibility both by car and plane/train from the UK with the Swiss transfer ticket from airport to resort being not overexpensive (although not overspeedy either).

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