Ski villages don’t get much quainter than car-free Mürren, opposite the Eiger’s north face. Its perfectly formed yet deserted slopes leave Mary Creighton in awe – and a tad baffled…
I’m not sure this has happened to me before. I’ve just skied almost 2200m of vertical and, bar my three companions, I haven’t seen another soul. We started at the Schilthorn, Mürren’s highest lift at 2970m, and cruised down the piste all the way to the valley in Lauterbrunnen at 796m. That was 30 minutes of pure skiing without having to swerve past a wobbly intermediate or dodge through a snowboarder’s blind spot. Admittedly, it’s late January. And a Friday, so the weekenders have yet to arrive. But the sun is shining and the snow is pristine, so where is everybody?
Perhaps it’s something to do with the daunting journey to get here. Mürren is a mission to reach. From Zürich, it took us no less than four train rides and a cable car to reach the village. If I was in England, an itinerary like that would leave me in a high state of public transport-induced panic. There’s no way four trains in a row would all arrive on time. But Switzerland is a country where rail-related stereotypes ring true, and each change is perfectly timed. No need to rush from platform to platform, but no waiting around in the cold either.
Mürren, just a train ride (or four) away
If you’re thinking about avoiding the train altogether, think again. There’s no road up to Mürren and just a sprinkling of service vehicles in the village. The postcard-ready streets are all the better for it. It’s exactly what my eight-year-old self once imagined ski resorts looked like. Trains creeping along sheer cliff edges. Children being towed on toboggans. Snow clinging to wooden roofs. It’s a feeling of nostalgia, but a weird, fake kind of nostalgia for me because, until now, I’ve never actually experienced it.
Back at the bottom of the Schilthornbahn, stoked for another lap of The World’s Quietest Ski Run, I come across my first queue of the day. Our private resort is no more. But then, as we herd into the cable car, I realise we are the only ones carrying skis. Everyone else is poised with selfie sticks, ballet pumps and flimsy sweaters. “Mürren is on a lot of tourists’ must-visit lists,” explains Sam, our guide and head of the local tourist board. “We actually get more visitors in summer than in winter.” Why? The answer is Bond. James Bond.
At the top of Schilthorn lies Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant originally built as Blofeld’s high-mountain lair for the 1969 Bond flick On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s an impressive place, and the 360° views from the restaurant over the Bernese Oberland are commanding. But I’m more interested in the 75% piste that runs off it. Known as the Steilste, it’s the steepest piste in the Jungfrau region, and from the top it looks truly daunting. Today, thankfully, the snow cover is good and the run almost untouched. There’s still something soft to turn on without having to commit fully. If it were icy it would be heart-in-the-mouth terrifying.
Picture postcard views come as standard
We carry on exploring the top half of the resort, which is made up of feel-good carving terrain. The piste conditions are perfect – soft, freshly groomed and not a spot of ice to be found – but in this light snow year, there’s not enough snow off-piste to hide the rocks and stones. Still, it’s easy to see that the freeride potential is huge, with plenty of mini cliff jumps and hidden chutes in plain sight of the chairlifts.
Sam compares it to Engelberg, where he used to work. “In Engelberg, after a snowfall, you have to get the first lift up. If not, you miss all the good lines. On my first powder day here we got to the top of the Schilthorn and my friend made us go and get a coffee. I was horrified, but when we set out half an hour later everything was still untouched. There’s no powder stress here.” I ask him if it’s the new Engelberg. “I wouldn’t go that far because it’s nowhere near as big, but it certainly has potential.”
Besides, Mürren is better known for its racing heritage than its powder bums. It’s here that the Kandahar Ski Club was founded by British skiing legend Arnold Lunn in 1924 when Alpine racing was still struggling to gain international recognition. It’s also home to the infamous Inferno race, which sees 1800 Lycra-clad skiers gun it down a 15km course, setting off from near the top of the Schilthorn every 12 seconds and ending in the valley. The fastest time to Lauterbrunnen; 13 minutes and 20 seconds. It took me half an hour.
The lower half of the mountain is a contrast to the top. The terrain mellows out, and there’s a series of rolling blues and reds stretching all the way from Gimmeln to Winteregg. Again, it’s the Switzerland I know from my childhood fantasies; lined with trees, dotted with mountain huts and crisscrossed by toboggan runs. And, as with everywhere in Mürren, the views are outstanding. It sits directly in front of three of the world’s most famed mountains, the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau, and every run offers a slightly different outlook. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the piste with eye candy this good.
The lowest run, Red 3, follows the route of the Inferno down to Lauterbrunnen. It’s the most magical run of all, a narrow track that winds past train tracks, through snow-blanketed meadows and into the woods, where the light glistens through the trees.
At the bottom, we have a choice. Take the Jungfraubahn up to Wengen and start exploring the rest of the Jungfrau region, or take the cable car back up to Mürren’s small but tantalising 51km. We choose the latter. On the ride back up a British couple tells us that they’ve been coming here for 25 years. After just a day, I can completely understand why.