On the green run: in the eco-designed ski resorts of the Swiss Jungfrau region

As morning commutes go, this one wins. As I glide noiselessly over a Christmas map of spruce forest, log cabins and a soft blanket of fresh snow, Eiger feels close enough to crash if the wind blows. suddenly changed. The first sun descends its north face. Though a shadow away from the magic 4,000 meter mark at 3,967m, this Swiss mountain is a beast: feared and revered for its vertical face of rock and ice that has broken the ropes and the souls of many climbers .

That you can reach the mountain is a wonder. The fact that you can now get up there on a three-cable gondola in just 15 minutes from Grindelwald is a stroke of Swiss genius. When the Eiger Express opened in December 2020, it cut the journey to Europe’s highest station, Jungfraujoch, with an altitude of 3,454m, by 47 minutes. It set a precedent for environmentally friendly mountain transport. The Eiger Express uses its wheels to produce green energy and has its own heat recovery system. The landscape is pristine and the goal is to keep it that way.

“When I supervised the construction of the cable car, I looked for ways we could minimize the impact and improve the habitat,” explains Martin Lutz, environmental supervisor and agronomist. The idea was for the gondola to fit discreetly into the landscape. Martin’s work therefore consisted of protecting the surrounding environment, ranging from creating ponds to prevent erosion and attracting species such as midwife toads, to recultivating the soil, making the clearings more natural, by collecting seeds, reseed the meadows and plant sycamores.

Breathtaking landscapes in the Jungfrau region

(Kerry Walker)

At the Eiger Glacier, where the gondola ends and a little red train takes over, I stop to look across a glacier rolling down the side of the mountain like crushed meringue before boarding the Jungfrabahn. Running along the Jungfraujoch since 1912 and celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, the railway has always been ahead of the game. It has been powered by hydroelectricity from the start.

At the top, it’s quieter than usual, and I find myself briefly alone in the shimmer of the Ice Palace, which climbers hacked with pickaxes in the 1930s. a ripple of pearly white 4,000m peaks and over the 23km twist of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps, which is now sadly receding. It’s a clear day. Where the Swiss Alps fade away, Germany and France appear as green spots in the distance.

“The Jungfrau-Aletsch region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is unique and it is our duty to preserve it for future generations,” says Kathrin Naegeli, spokesperson for Jungfrau Railways. “Our projects pay particular attention to wildlife and habitat, reducing energy consumption and improving biodiversity, creating conservation areas and funding research. Some villages, such as Wengen and Murren, are car-free and can only be reached by public transport. Some railways, for example the Jungfrau and Wengernalp lines, use braking energy to generate new electricity.

It’s a clear day, the blue sky piercing. Where the Swiss Alps fade away, Germany and France appear like green pencil smudges in the distance

“We want to encourage people to explore in a slower, calmer and greener way.”

A cornerstone of this approach is diversification. Skiing has always had a bad environmental reputation, but the Jungfrau region mitigates this by offering low-impact alternatives away from the slopes.

I dive into the depths with my partner and two-year-old daughter, grab a toboggan and race down the Eiger run from the Eiger Glacier to Kleine Scheidegg – no ski school or fancy equipment required. The region’s big three, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, light up as we gulp down bends, hit snowdrifts, pick up speed through frost-sculpted forests and stop, cheeks red, in wooden huts for rosti and hot chocolate. It is a wonderful child’s pleasure. Reach the end and you feel like starting all over again.

And we do. In Wengen we took the fox trail, swooping down the mountain to the village as a snow blizzard choked the view and painted everything white. We pause to build snow creatures in silent woods, admire icicles, breathe in the crystal clear air and catch perfect snowflakes – things you would never even consider doing while skiing.

Sister sledding: sledding is the coolest way to explore

(Kerry Walker)

The next day, we head to Kleine Scheidegg to rent a velogemel, the region’s only wooden ski-sled-bike hybrid. Invented by a carpenter from Grindelwald in 1911 to make travel in the Alps easier for everyone from postmen to doctors, the contraption now has cult status and its own world championships in February. The thing looks downright terrifying, but after playing with it for a few wobbly minutes, I get the hang of it and race down the mountain, frantically digging in my heels to brake.

Grindelwald is also the starting point for a gondola ride to First, where the thrills come in the form of feet-first (First flyer) and head-first (First glider) ziplines heading up the North Face of the Eiger. But for an adventure away from the crowds, we instead choose the challenging uphill hike to the Faulhorn, pulling sleds for two and a half hours through the snow to reach Big Pintenfritz, Europe’s longest toboggan run at 15km . Opening up sensational views of the Bernese Alps, the run through forests and steep slopes leaves us frozen, sore and elated.

Hotel Glacier is our base in Grindelwald. Named after the lower Grindelwald Glacier, which has retreated so rapidly in recent years that it’s no longer visible from the valley, the 28-room boutique hotel is a stylish revamp of a traditional alpine chalet. There’s an intimate spa and glacier-themed rooms with rustic-revival designs and a silver-and-blue palette. Some rooms are equipped with a whirlpool tub echoing the contours of the mountains. And everything is ecological. Materials are natural and sustainably sourced, waste is minimized and energy comes from the local biomass plant.

The sun rises over the mountains as we float to the top, gasping as the gondola rips the ice off the cables and swings past huge fists of rock

The hotel’s restaurant is the centerpiece, with a clever tasting menu that gives pride of place to local produce, so much so that head chef Robert Steuri has compiled a menu of produce, from Grindelwald beef to local mussels. Lake Zurich. Dishes like smoked sturgeon with Swiss caviar and kohlrabi and braised Swiss wagyu with black truffle and egg yolk praline are perfectly cooked and presented.

Our final day ends on another summit at Piz Gloria at the top of the Schilthorn, which featured in the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The sun rises over the mountains as we float to the top, gasping as the gondola tears ice from the cables and swings past huge fists of rock. We are among the first visitors of the day for brunch at the solar-powered revolving restaurant, from where the view stretches over the Alps.

As glorious as the peaks are, the hidden places sometimes leave the most lasting impression. And so we descend to Murren, donning snowshoes to pass over log cabins and into the spruce forest, which at times draws back like a curtain to reveal front-row views of the Jungfrau.

Artistic cuisine at the Glacier Hotel

(Kerry Walker)

“Alpine hare footprints,” whispers Bergfalke Alpine School guide Anita Rossel, pointing to a thin track in the snow as we weave our way along a path to the Chänelegg Heath nature reserve . As we ascend and traverse the rolling plateau under a pale winter sun, the conversation turns to his avalanche-trained sheepdogs, the impact of climate change on snow levels, and eco-friendly winter activities. it offers, such as the construction of igloos. But most of the time we walk in pleasant silence, with just the crunch of snow underfoot and the Eiger on the horizon.

Travel Essentials

Getting There

Try to fly less?

The region is brilliantly connected to the rest of Europe by train, and the Swiss are very environmentally friendly, getting 90% of their energy from hydroelectricity.

Good with flying?

If you decide to fly, SWISS fares the best environmentally, with firm CO2 reduction targets and carbon offset programs.

Stay here

Doubles at the four-star Glacier Hotel from £244. hotel-glacier.ch

More information

Mountain transport takes over once you arrive in Interlaken. Two convenient and economical passes worth investing in are the Swiss Pass and the Jungfrau Pass.