Wengen – Beginner Skiing for the Over 40s

James Clark learns how to ski - and cycle with no wheels - in the popular Swiss ski resort of Wengen.

Europe, Outdoors

James Clark learns how to ski – and cycle with no wheels – in the popular Swiss ski resort of Wengen.

The mountain top village of Wengen at 1274 metres looks out upon soaring snow-covered mountains and the Swiss Lauterbrunnen Valley. Wengen’s stop, reachable only by an old and yet well-functioning cog railway, is conveniently located across from the Maya Caprice Boutique Hotel & Spa. My home for three nights. Now that’s what I call service.

Car-free Wengen first made an appearance on the UK travel map in the early 20th century when Brits started to set up ski-clubs in the nearby village of Mürren. In 1905, Wengen formed its own ski club, and British skiers have been flocking to the village ever since. It’s not difficult to imagine locals must have thought Brits zooming around on wooden skis were nuts in those early days. Quite different from today.

Wengen is part of the Jungfrau Region ski area consisting of three popular resorts: Grindelwald-Wengen, Grindelwald-First and Mürren-Schilthorn. What sets this area apart is that it has routes suitable for all abilities, from steep slopping channels to the gentle Figeler practice area with a drag lift in the centre of the village. This was music to my ears as my only previous ski experience was on a dry ski slope back in the UK.

The Beginner Ski Experience at Wengen

The INTERSPORT Central Sport Wengen rental shop is owned by the same family that set up ski rental in the village over a hundred years ago. Located less than a five-minute walk from the Maya Caprice Hotel & Spa, I had a chat with the staff and rented skis, ski boots and poles, and met up with the super talented and great fun ski instructor, Jill, from the Swiss Ski and Snowboard School Wengen, in front of the store. We agreed that the Figeler practice area to the right of the shop front was the ideal place to make a start.

So, what did I learn from my very first skiing experience? It’s not as easy as it looks on YouTube, and skiing is easier than stopping. In all seriousness I enjoyed slipping and sliding, while listening to the sound of skis as they gained momentum on the snow, not falling over, and Jill’s instruction and encouragement. She was a patient teacher, and a lot of fun. The area was also quiet, meaning there were very few people for me to crash into. It was a fantastic way to start the day.

A Bike with No Wheels

Velogemel Grindelwald
Velogemel at Grindelwald

After lunch, I took the train to Kleine Scheidegg, just 20 minutes from Wengen, to try out something called a velogemel. I laughed to myself during the journey when I realised that I had absolutely no idea what a velogemel was. I didn’t have much time to think about it as the train pulled up in front of the towering Eiger – part of the Bernese Alps Mountain range.

A velogemel is like a bike, but it’s made from wood and comes with runners instead of wheels and no brakes. There was only one thing for it, and ignoring the apprehension, I started my extremely fast and occasionally out of control downhill journey along the sledging trail to Brandegg about four miles away with the wind and snow in my face, ice, mountains and the occasional sledger to chat to for a few moments. Everyone I spoke to seemed curious to know what I was doing as they’d never seen anything like it before. If you can steer and avoid going off mountain edges, then you can velogemel. It was a lot of fun, but I’m a long way off the velogemel world championships held every February. Locals have been transporting themselves around on velogemels since 1911.

After a piping hot shower, delicious dinner, good wine, and a much-needed rest back at the Maya Caprice Boutique Hotel & Spa it was time to get up and do it all again with a few tweaks to the day before.

Beginner Skiing Day Two

I headed over to the INTERSPORT Central Sport Wengen rental shop. This time around I was met by ski instructor Sean, also from the Swiss Ski and Snowboard School Wengen. I was expecting to go back to the familiar Figeler practice area, but he had other ideas. We ended up on the train heading back to Kleine Scheidegg to the training area five minutes’ walk downhill from the station. I spent the morning skiing down the slope and going back up using the conveyor belt and rope lift repeatedly, with only one fall as I came to the end of the conveyor belt on my first attempt at getting off. I didn’t advance enough to attempt the blue piste, but I had fun, and Sean’s combination of experience, good humour and patience was appreciated. He has the patience of a saint.

I spent lunch at the Bergrestaurant Kleine Scheidegg wondering why a group of skiers hadn’t moved out of the way when they saw me hurtling towards them clearly out of control. By a miracle and not skill, I just managed to stop as I made ski contact with one of the group’s skis. It was a remarkably narrow escape for them, as they were a lot smaller than me.


Taking the Wengernalpbahn
Taking the Wengernalpbahn

No trip to the area is complete without venturing to Jungfraujoch, the popular tourist destination known as the Top of Europe. To get there, I took the train to the highest railway station in Europe at an altitude of 3,466 metres. As the train climbed up through heavier snow and stronger wind the scene was set for a snowy adventure on the top of the Jungfrau Mountain peak.

On clear days, it’s possible to see as far as the Vosges mountains in France and the Black Forest region in Germany. This was not one of those days. I could see a few metres in front of my face, but I loved the experience and got the Jungfrau passport stamp that was highly anticipated by everyone else on the train. Waiting in the queue seemed like the thing to do, before wandering through tunnels to look at ice sculptures, the Lindt chocolate shop, and other souvenir shops. There’s even an Indian restaurant just in case you fancy eating something a little less Swiss, and a post office.

The DHO Club

The Downhill Only Club (DHO) was founded in 1925 by a group of British skiers wanting to compete against skiers from the Kandahar Ski Club in Mürren. I was under the impression that I’d have to be a member to go along, but I was wrong.

As soon as I walked into the club, I was greeted warmly by everyone there, engaged in fascinating conversation, and handed quite a few glasses of wine. It was a wonderful place to meet friendly people (Brits, during my visit) and find out more about the history of skiing in Wengen, the DHO, and some of the very people related to those that brought skiing to Wengen all those years ago.

Wengen Factifile

WengenSki Solutions have packages to Wengen starting at £1,479pp for the 4* Maya Caprice Hotel (mayacaprice.ch) including return flights from the UK, airport transfers, half-board. skisolutions.com, 020 3944 7213.

Ski Club of Great Britain members receive a 5% discount on all Ski Solutions holidays and the Ski Club has a full-time rep in Wengen. Individual membership costs £75 per year. Skiclub.co.uk, 020 8410 2015.

Half-day group ski lessons with the Wengen Ski School cost CHF 85pp. Lessons in English are available www.skiwengen.ch

A six-day adult full area lift pass for the Jungfrau Ski Region costs CHF 385 (£355), including trains and ski lifts across the Jungfrau Ski Region. A ticket for Jungfraujoch Top of Europe costs CHF 63 with an area lift pass valid for three or more days. The beginners skiing area in the village of Wengen is free of charge with a Wengen guest card www.jungfrau.ch/en-gb

The Downhill Only Ski Club, founded in 1925, is a British club based in Wengen with a clubhouse in the centre of the village. Full adult membership (over the age of 36) costs £120 per year. www.downhillonly.com

Ski rental www.centralsport.ch

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James Clark

James Clark is a UK based travel writer specialising in responsible tourism, adventure and the great outdoors. He took a leap of faith into the world of freelance several years ago, and hasn’t looked back. His focus for the last few years has been on supporting communities living along the Michinoku Coastal Trail in Tohoku, Japan. But his feet are starting to itch, and he’s thinking about buying a new pair of hiking boots. Watch this space.

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