A Local’s Guide to Engelberg

It may only have 4km of black pistes, but Engelberg has enough lift- and skin-accessed backcountry terrain to keep the entire Scandinavian ski community busy for years

You know a resort with angel in the name is going to be good, don’t you? Like angel cake or, er, Mr Kipling’s Angel Slices… Sweet, soft, melt-in-the-mouth goodness. But Engelberg (Engel = angel, berg = mountain, for the non-linguists) is anything but soft. Quite the opposite. Think looming, 3,000m-plus mountains scarred with spurs and hacked-at ridges, crevasses and bergschrunds. Beautiful? Yes. Angelic? No. But it does make it rather a hotspot for all things skiing, especially when you like your turns steep and/or hard-earned.

As our publisher realised on a visit a couple of years ago, it’s packed with Swedes: Oskar Enander, Per Jonnson, Lotten Rapp and Matilda Rapaport are just a few who spend their winters here. Oh come on, you know how the old adage goes: “Where the hardcore, bearded Swedes ski, the crowds will soon follow.” 

Proof that Engelberg and Freeride go hand in hand | Mattias Fredriksson

Proof that Engelberg and Freeride go hand in hand | Mattias Fredriksson

OK, we made that up, but we reckon we’re onto something… Look at Chamonix. Not that we’re saying Engelberg is the new Chamonix. After all, it has been a skiing and mountaineering centre in its own right for nigh on a century. It’s just having something of a renaissance. In an era when more and more of us are leaving the piste, its legendary Laub face is drawing in freeriders, and the whole region acts as the perfect springboard for backcountry tours. 

And, despite its high-mountain feel, it’s easy to get to: it’s an hour-and-a-half from Zürich airport. So forget about the price of the Swiss franc for a second and join local boy Frédéric for a not-so-angelic tour of the place. 

YOUR GUIDE

Frédéric Füssenich is an Engelberg lad through and through. His grandma, and then his uncle, ran the family hotel where Frédéric spent all his holidays (he didn’t see the sea until he was 16), before starting there as a night porter in 1996. Aside from brief spells in Zermatt and Vail, he’s worked in tourism here ever since. 

THE BEST RUN FOR A WARM UP

Head straight off piste to the Steinberg, a 1200m vertical descent from Titlis to Trübsee with an out-of-this-world panorama at the top and an altitude that gets your heart throbbing (in a good way). Then you ski over the glacier, so you have to keep your mind focused, which is the best way to wake up!

THE BEST PLACE TO GO AFTER A STORM

Laub, Laub, Laub. If you’ve ever skied it after a big dump, you’ll know what I’m talking about; it’s 1100m of vertical between 38° and 42° across a massive face. Some Buddhist monks meditate for their whole lives and never experience the kind of flow you get riding the Laub after a mega-snowfall.

Exciting terrain, brilliant snow record, cool town: we're besotted | Oskar Enander

Exciting terrain, brilliant snow record, cool town: we’re besotted | Oskar Enander

FOR A DAY AWAY FROM THE CROWDS

The Titlis Rundtour is a classic backcountry itinerary: three lots of abseiling, two-and-a-half hours of skinning, and one remote alpine hut, followed by an 1800m vertical ride in Engelberg’s backyard. The ingredients for a perfect ski tour, I reckon! Another area worth visiting is Bannalp; it has excellent skinning for all abilities. 

THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING IN ENGELBERG IS…

It’s hard to pick one! It’s got one of the best snow records in the Alps, 2,000m of vertical skiing (and not one run is the same), a historical village and open-minded people. There is no better place to see your kids grow up!

ENGELBERG’S BEST-KEPT SECRET

The cheese fondue in Gasthaus Schwand. Actually, it’s a few kilometres outside Engelberg, but seriously worth a visit. The view, atmosphere and wine selection are all nearly as good as the fondue. 

BEST FOR A MOUNTAIN BITE is…

Cafe Ritz on Gerschnialp. Refuel there after skiing the Laub with some Kässchnitte (Swiss-style cheese on toast with bacon and egg). Believe me, you’ll need the calories. 

Strasse, Wald, Berg, Hahnen, Haus; Street, Forest, Mountain, Hahnen, House;

BEST FOR CHEAP EATS IN TOWN…

Try the Yucatan bar – it’s best known for having the highest beer consumption in central Switzerland, but the burger and fries is also good.

BEST FOR A SPLASH-OUT MEAL

Restaurant Schweizerhaus – order the beef. It’s fresh and locally sourced. 

BEST FOR AN APRÈS-SKI TIPPLE…

For full-on, beer-guzzling après try the aforementioned Yucatan. To talk about your super-slick lines try the Ski Lodge, or Swedish-owned Hoheneck. 

Fall-Line Skiing Magazine
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