Our first morning in our Swiss chalet started out in relaxed fashion. Astrid was up at 7.30am and Soren managed to sleep until at least 8.15am. A pretty good effort on a day we didn’t have to be out early. We had a relaxing breakfast in our apartment of bratwurst, scrambled egg and coffee. It was definitely nice not to rush around, and have time to watch the sun (or fog) come up over the mountains. From about 7.30am we saw hordes of skiers wandering down the street in full ski gear with helmets and skis. It definitely paid to be out early on the slopes.
From sunrise we were checking all the mountain web cams and it was a white-out everywhere so we decided not to go up Schilthorn and instead head over to Grindelwald and go up to First for some sledding and hiking. It meant we might not get magnificent views, but the forecast for the following day was looking more promising. We were all happy to take a chance on the weather clearing on other side of the alps, and if all else failed some sledding and playing in the snow would keep us happy. If you saw my post from the previous day about our glorious hike through the Lauterbrunnen Valley, well the weather today was not going to give us a repeat of that experience!
By 9.30am we were over at the post bus stop with a group of other skiers and sledders. The poor weather wasn’t deterring people. The fog had actually lifted a little in the valley, so things were looking more hopeful.
After our short bus ride into Lauterbrunnen train station, we went into the tourist/ticket office to sort out all our tickets for the day. It was now snowing quite a lot, and pretty white. It was still a party atmosphere in town as the Lauberhorn race was in full swing and lots of people were heading up the mountain. The trains heading up all had a big trailer car on the back for skis and snowboards.
The ticket office was useful in getting us the cheapest tickets for our planned activities. The boys had been hoping to do the ‘First Flyer’, a zip line down from First to Shrekfeld. The kids were under the weight limit so couldn’t do it, but I was happy to sit that one out and look after the kids as hurtling down a zip line head first for a few kilometres didn’t sound like my idea of fun. Given the weather, the ticket office lady called ahead and established the First Flyer wasn’t going to be running, so the boys were out of luck. We decided that we still wanted to head up to First anyway to hike and do sledding. So cable car and train tickets were purchased and we were on our way.
The train from Lauterbrunnen took us to Zweilütschinen where we had to change to another train which would take us to Grindelwald. During the short trip it was obvious that there had been a lot of snow overnight. There was snow everywhere and the trains snow plough was getting a work out. The helpful ticket inspector even told us what platform and sector to stand on once we exited the train at Zweilütschinen. We had been through this station on our last trip to the Swiss Alps, but it certainly looked different under snow.
Once off the train, we had to wade through at least 30 cm of snow on the platform.
It was also a different experience standing in the middle of snowy tracks waiting for the train to pull in. After a very short wait we were on our train and it was another 20 minute scenic ride up to Grindelwald. Despite the heavy cloud and fog and copious amounts of snow, everything was looking pretty and exactly what we’d hoped for in the Swiss Alps (although more sun would have been appreciated).
We were off the train in Grindelwald and had to walk through the town to get up to the cable car station. Anto, Astrid and I loved Grindelwald on our last visit and it were looking forward to seeing it with snow. It certainly looked very different to the last time we were there. It’s a much bigger village (and more touristy) than Lauterbrunnen but is still extremely pretty. On a clear day you get a fabulous view of all the mountains but it was rather white on this occasion.
There was an ice sculpture competition and exhibition running for a few days and starting that day. We stopped to check out the enormous blocks of ice that were ready to be sculptors. We were hoping to see some progress when we returned that afternoon.
On our last visit Astrid and I had a good play in a lovely playground with an amazing backdrop of the Eiger mountain. We tried to find the same playground but it appeared it had been replaced with a new and much more impressive playground. It was totally under snow, but that didn’t stop the big and little kids from having a play.
There had been so much snow in the past few days that we were wading through it. Astrid had snow pretty much up to her waist! After a good play in the snow and checking out a few of the local statues, we walked through the last part of the village and up to the cable car station.
The cable cars up to First are the small gondola type ones. Not my favourite, but I was becoming somewhat immune to them now. There were quite a number of skiers and boarders heading up the mountain but it was only a short wait and we were on our way. All six of us of us were in the one car, and our sled! It was a little squishy but it kept us warm and the cable car tends to get a little cold being a metal box hanging in the sky.
OK, so it wasn’t just cold, it was very cold. The ride from Grindelwald up to First takes around 30 minutes all up. You pass through the Shrekfeld and Bort stations, where you can get off if you wish. We had opted to go all the way to the top and then do a combination of hiking, sledding and cable cars down. It wasn’t too snowy as we set out from Grindelwald and we could clearly see lots of skiers and boarders below us, but it rapidly became foggy and white, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see and it was pointless taking photos of the view. Some bits of the trip up were over rather steep terrain, and other bits were flatter. So we scoped out our options for hiking and sledding.
Once we arrived at First (which is at an altitude of 2168m) it was a total white-out and snowing rather heavily. That didn’t seem to deter all the skiers and boarders, and the kids thought it was ideal weather to play in. We let them have a 10 minute play outside before we decided we all needed to warm up after the chilly cable car ride and have some lunch.
We headed into the First station restaurant which was rather packed full of skiers and boarders hungry and cold and ready for lunch. We had pre-packed the kids some turkey and cheese sandwiches, which luckily hadn’t frozen solid on the trip up. Alan and I decided we weren’t all that hungry after a big breaky and opted for the supremely healthy lunch of berry tart washed down with gluhwein. Anto had goulash with bread, and Mikl had a burger and gluhwein. The gluhwein certainly warmed us up and we figured we should brave the cold and head out.
The kids were rearing to get back out into the snow, but the adults had been checking the temperature and conditions and were unsure about the best plan of attack. We had originally planned to do a hike out to the supposedly beautiful Lack Bachalpsee and then either catch the cable car and/or take the First Flyer down to Shrekfeld. The First Flyer was definitely out and we decided it also probably wasn’t worth doing the hike to Bachalpsee as it was a 1 hour 40 minute return trip and the snow was so heavy that we were unlikely to see anything.
The First weather station was showing a temperature of -15 with apparent temperature of -27 outside, mostly due to the 40km/h winds. We weren’t sure that spending much time outside was wise, even with all our ski gear on! After we had a little play with the sled and wander around, despite it being very white we thought we could manage the hike down to Shrekfeld as once we got over the first ridge the wind wasn’t too bad. Yes, minus 27 degrees and we thought ‘oh that’s not so bad!’.
The hike down to Shrekfeld is supposed to take about 40 minutes and wasn’t too steep, so we set off with Astrid on the sled and Soren on my back in the ergo. The track was marked with fluorescent marker sticks and they were relatively easy to see. It was a shared walking and sledding track and it criss-crossed under the cable car line. We couldn’t see too much through the driving snow, but it wasn’t too steep and Astrid was having fun on the sled.
Soren fell asleep in the ergo pretty quickly,he obviously wasn’t finding it cold (he definitely was keeping me warm too). We had plenty of people skiing past us and the odd sled go past too, with more than one or two toddlers and young babies strapped to the front.
We arrived at Shrekfeld in the suggested 40 minutes and it had been relatively easy going considering the conditions. Gloves, hoods and sunglasses were definitely required to keep the driving snow off us. Astrid was a little cold after 40 minutes on the sled so we stopped at Shrekfeld for a bathroom break and decided not to hike the section from Shrekfeld to Bort as it was listed as 1.5 hours and quite steep.
Once we were in the cable car we realised our water had frozen and we refilled it after lunch, at First, so less 40 minutes ago. It was that cold!
Soren woke up on cable car ride down to Bort, clearly the marginally warmer cable car was just too pleasant for him to sleep in! Once we arrived at Bort the fog and snow had started to clear. There was the odd glimpse of sun.
The restaurant was lovely, warm with a good selection of food and drink. All a bit cold we had hot chocolates and Bort coffees (coffee with rum) for the boys. The only downside was the lovely fire that we had to keep Soren away from! We could have stayed longer but thought we’d better get moving if we wanted to hike the last section down to Grindelwald. As we left we had to feel sorry for the restaurant staff shoveling piles of snow off the restaurant roof. Not something we are used to seeing.
We were back out in the snow at about 3.20pm and the temperature was definitely a long way below zero. The weather was actually looking better than up at First so we decided to head down to Grindelwald on foot. This time Soren was in the sled and Astrid in the ergo since walking in the snow is both slippery and hard at times. At the start of the hiking trail there was a sign indicating the trail was open for walkers and sledders but closed to skiers. That didn’t seem to deter many skiers who were using the track and constantly passing us.
Soren was enjoying going down fast slopes with Mikl on the sled. He definitely has the dare-devil gene! The snow was starting to come in thick and fast. Our faces were frozen, our scarves were frozen. Our bags were full of ice. Everything was white!
Some of the sledding bits were quite steep and we took it in turns to have goes. We did decide that we had to hire enough sleds for all of us the next day. The conditions were getting pretty woeful. Sections were quite icy and we all ended up on our butts or knees several times. I barely took any photos as my camera zoom had been frozen all day and I couldn’t have my gloves off for more than 2 minutes without risking frostbite. Every time we opened one of the bags more snow and ice accumulated……
There wasn’t much to take photos of anyway, just an awful lot of white! After awhile Soren wouldn’t stay on sled so we swapped back over to Astrid on the sled and Soren in the ergo. We were following the trail markers quite well and then lost sight of them (none of the 4 adults could figure out where we went wrong). We were still on a groomed track so not too concerned. Unfortunately the next lot of signs stopped showing times and distances to Grindelwald and started showing a whole heap of other places, and we weren’t really sure where they were in relation to Grindelwald.
The snow was very heavy and it was getting miserably cold with only an hour of light left so we were unsure whether to hike back up the hill and try to find the correct walking trail or keep going on the track we were on. Some skiers came past and told us we would eventually hit the road and get to Grindelwald and to keep following the red markers (we had previously been following orange and purple markers). It seemed we had gotten ourselves onto the cross-country ski trail. We decided to keep following the red ski markers as it seemed the safest option. We kept working our way down and eventually hit some houses and villages, which were a welcome sight. We still had no idea of where we were based on the signs but given we were mostly walking on entirely snow-covered roads and there were houses around we figured we were pretty safe.
Astrid was getting cold on the sled and we saw signs pointing to a bus so decided to head that way despite it being in the opposite direction to where we knew Grindelwald was. We eventually hit Muhlbach village and there was a bus scheduled in about 5 minutes which we hoped would materialise. We were kept amused by people sledding down suburban (village) streets and the snow plows going up and down, clearing the roads.
The bus did arrive on time and confirmed that it would be going through Grindelwald, so on we hopped, cold but relieved to be almost back. Astrid was really cold from sitting on the sled un-moving for quite some time, and needed to be warmed up. The rest of us were fine, just very icy. Our bags and water were frozen solid, our scarves were iced solid and my hair had frozen! The bus was full of skiers that were heading in for the day, all looking similarly icy. This was how we looked after 15 minutes of de-icing on the bus!
Before long we were back in Grindelwald and it was pretty snowy and cold. Most people were heading in for the day. We walked back down past the ice sculptures to check on their progress, but the weather had obviously not been cooperative as no sculpting had been done.
Luckily there was a train waiting for us and we were on it and warming up in no time. At Zweilütschinen we were pretty much the only people getting off and we had to find track 3 and the correct sector under piles of snow and walking over snow-covered tracks in fading light. To Astrid’s great delight, the train was splitting in Zweilütschinen and another train was being joined. It made her day, I’m still not sure why she finds it so fascinating.
Another 10 minutes later we were back into Lauterbrunnen and straight onto the bus and back to the apartment. It was well and truly dark and snowing quite heavily, but at least the trip back had been rather efficient after we found our way back to Grindelwald.
Knowing we were likely to have a long day out in the cold, we had planned on cooking dinner in the apartment. Anto prepared a delicious entree of cheese quiches. Followed by a feast of green beans with garlic, spinach ravioli with mushroom sauce, sauerkraut, and roasted brussel sprouts. Copious amounts of beer and wine were also consumed by the adults. The exhausted kids didn’t each much, but were thankfully asleep fairly quickly, as we had another big snow day planned for the next day.
Statistics for Sunday the 17th of January in the Swiss Alps – it was a rather cold day. Our home base of Lauterbrunnen recorded temperatures between minus 9 and minus 1, with a mean temperature of minus 4 degrees, and heavy snow. Up at First the weather station was indicating minus 15 with a ‘feels like’ temperature of minus 27. We believed it! It was definitely the coldest we’ve been on the trip so far. Even beating the freezing temperatures in Vienna and Bratislava. The total walking for the day was a pretty average 11.25km. It was all on snow and carrying kids and pulling sleds so it felt like we’d done at least 20km. I’m sure we worked off all the food that day!