Here at 2theAlps we love exploring the more obscure corners of our favourite mountain range. We also love to find opportunities for unusual means of transport, so we were drawn to the Swiss canton of Lucerne. It’s better known as a summer destination but has much to recommend it in the winter months, not least the option to travel to the local ski resorts by boat across Lake Lucerne.
It’s a relatively accessible Alpine city from the UK with excellent rail connections (just under 10 hours from St Pancras, or just over an hour from Zürich airport). The city occupies an idyllic location on the northern shores of Lake Lucerne surrounded by majestic peaks, and is steeped in architectural history (bridges over the River Reuss date from the 14th century).
Most parts are within a 10-minute walk, and the Bahnhofquai – where year-round boat services depart – is right in the centre of town (just a minute’s walk from Lucerne train station).
We spent three days in Lucerne last winter, exploring three of its lakeside ski resorts, taking the boat each day; although quicker train and bus combinations are usually available, we recommend the boat at least for one leg – there’s no more relaxing way to start a day on the slopes!
FRIDAY – RIGI KALTBAD
Day one takes us to Rigi Kaltbad, known locally as ‘Queen of the Mountains’. The first boat departs Bahnhofquai just after 9am (timetables can be found on sbb.ch/en/timetable.html). We sit on the deck initially (most boats have outside space) to take in the magnificence of the jagged peaks rising up in all directions above Switzerland’s fifth largest lake, before the cold kicks in and we retreat, clomping in our ski boots, to the warmth of the café.
After 55 minutes we disembark at Vitznau, where an adjacent funicular climbs 1000m to Rigi Kaltbad. You can find your ski legs on an easy blue with panoramic views across the lake. To access the main ski area, jump back on the funicular and head up to Rigi Staffel, the Clapham Junction of the cog railway world!
From here, four lifts serve a choice of red and blue slopes, with the summit topping out at 1797m. The long reds to skier’s right are a highlight, weaving between the trees, before crossing the railway tracks at the bottom. We pause for rösti at one of the many cosy slopeside huts.
You can retrace your steps for the journey home, stopping briefly at Rigi Kaltbad for a dip in its outdoor thermal spa. Or, you can take a cable car from Rigi Kaltbad to Weggis (for a boat connection) or train it all the way back via Arth-Goldau.
SATURDAY – KLEWENALP
Day two offers the most extensive skiing of all the local resorts at Klewenalp (pronounced ‘Kleevenalp’, not ‘Clue-n-alp’ as we discovered after baffling the locals when asking for directions). The first boat leaves just after 9am. After 70 minutes onboard – time spent eating coffee and cake from the café while taking in the views – we disembark at Beckenreid for a two-minute walk to the Klewenalp cable car.
The cable-car ascends over 1100m, through and above the Lake Lucerne mist into glorious sunshine. Klewenalp is at a snow-secure altitude of 1600m offering 40km of open-mountain and tree-lined slopes, climbing to 1900m at the top end and linking with the resort of Stockhutte (1200m) at the eastern end.
Our favourite run is the panoramic red from the Chalen chairlift with the option of a mid-slope stop at the Tipi Stube hut for some Alpine-style macaroni and cheesecake.
If you’re lucky with conditions and feeling adventurous, it’s possible to ski all the way down to the lakeside cable-car station via an unpisted ski route offering a top-to-bottom descent of 1500m.
Retrace your steps for the journey home, or opt for a quicker bus and train alternative via Stans.
SUNDAY – STOOS
Day three includes a relaxing two-hour boat excursion and the world’s steepest funicular, so one for the transport enthusiasts!
We take the same boat departure, just after 9am, and remain onboard all the way to Brunnen.
Then, it’s just a minute’s walk to the bus stop and a short ride (on bus B504) to the Stoos cable-car station at Morschach.
The resort has two linked ski areas: Fronalpstock with easier skiing (still mainly reds) and the best views of the lake, and Klingenstock for a mix of challenging reds and blacks. We get the legs burning on the Franz Heinzer piste (named after the 1991 Swiss world champion) – it is an FIS-recognised race piste, 4km long, and incredibly steep.
For the journey home, we recommend taking the world’s steepest funicular (proudly highlighted on the piste map with the label ‘weld rekord!’) down to Schwyz Stoosbahn. Bus 501 takes you to Schwyz station to connect with a train to Lucerne in just over 40 minutes.
Lake Geneva ski resorts by boat
Although Lake Lucerne has more immediate lakeside skiing to hand, there are similar experiences to be had in other corners of the Alps. Lake Geneva, Switzerland’s largest lake, also has year-round ferry services offering an evocative travelling experience to some delightful resorts.
We are big fans of the skiing at Rochers de Nayes on the Swiss side above Montreux, and Thollon-Les-Mémises on the French side. Our favourite view from any slope in the Alps may well be that of Lake Geneva from the Vielle Caisses run in Thollon-Les-Mémises – at certain points it feels like the slope is about to tumble into the lake!
To make the journey by boat, coming from the Geneva direction, take the train to Lausanne. A 10-minute walk (or ride on the Metro) takes you to the lakeside to pick up the ferry for a 35-minute trip across the French border and into Evian Les Bains. Thollon is then a 20-minute bus or taxi ride up the hill.