Wintertime in Switzerland feels like a snow globe brought to life. We called the winter episode of our Real Rail Adventures TV series Swiss Winter Magic because Switzerland is nothing short of magical when you add a layer of fresh powder. The villages sparkle and the mountains beckon you for skiing or sledding, and the fondue tastes better when you’ve come in from a horse-drawn sleigh ride or an afternoon of snowshoeing.
There is no shortage of fun things to do outdoors during the winter in Switzerland. Here are my favorites from our Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic shoot:
If you’ve got a need for speed, look no further. The Olympia Bob Run near St. Moritz will satisfy your adrenaline addiction as you hurtle at over 80 miles per hour down the icy track. The ride takes under two minutes and includes multiple hairpin turns where your bobsled banks perpendicular to the ground and delivers some serious G-forces. The track opened in 1904 and has hosted competitions in two Olympic games and numerous European and World championships.
After the excitement of a bobsled run, why not center yourself back on earth with a bit of yoga? Your instructor will lead a small group lesson on a snowy patch high on the mountain overlooking St. Moritz. You’ll learn how to do yoga poses with skis on your feet and also use the skis and poles as tools to assist in other poses. All the while, 360-degree views of the alps will give your well-being a boost, too. Namaste.
Lake Silvaplana near St. Moritz becomes a flat mirror of ice in the winter and then gets a fluffy coating of snow. This surface is perfect for the relatively new sport of snowkiting. Wearing skis or a snowboard, you hold onto a bar attached to two lines connected to a kite sail. With the right moves, your kite will catch a breath of wind, pulling you along the snow-covered surface and even aloft once you get the “hang” of it. While it’s not easy, my instructor, Simon from Swiss Kitesurf, said most people can pick up the basics in a 2-3 hour lesson.
The Engadin region of Switzerland includes St. Moritz, but also many other, smaller towns and villages. While we were shooting in the area, we stayed at the historic and stately Waldhaus Sils in the town of Sils. The hotel has been run by the same family for over a hundred years and they’ve learned how to treat guests so that they feel like part of the family. One snowy afternoon, they arranged a sleigh ride through the nearby, picturesque Val Fex. Bundled up in blankets, the snow began to fall as if on cue. It crunched under the horses’ feet and we felt transported back a century in a fairytale scene. After we’d turned around to come back, the snow really began in earnest, making a hot tea in front of a fire at the hotel a welcome “apres sleigh.”
I’ve ridden horses since I was a little kid, growing up near a farm mostly populated by rescue horses and mixed-breed “mutts.” In order to ride, we had to work on the farm, which meant I spent much of my youth caring for the horses, fixing fences, baling hay, and shoveling out stalls. A ride through the Swiss countryside, with the imposing alps scattered around the horizon, brought me back to my youth and reminded me how much I love these gentle beasts. While the farm I rode with on Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic, is no longer in business, the Engadin River Ranch is a well-rated and established alternative.
Swiss Winter Magic opens with me standing on the high slope of the Muottas Muragl (MWOH-tus mur-ILE) Mountain with a sled at my side. In the show, I wax poetic, evoking the feeling of being a kid waking up to the unexpected freedom of a snow day, with nothing more to do than grab a sled and head for the hills. The Muottas Muragl sled run is a groomed trail that navigates more than 20 turns and 2400 feet of elevation drop in just under three miles. Take the funicular up and rent your sled at the top. You’ll feel like a kid on a snow day again.
The Goms region is well known for its many miles of groomed, flat cross-country trails, many of which have lighting for night skiing. When I visited the region, I was lucky enough to get a lesson from Olympic biathlete, Simon Hallenbarter. Simon attempted to teach me a version of cross-country skiing called skate skiing, which shares some of the mechanics of ice skating while wearing skis. Try as I might, I never became much of a skate skier, but I did enjoy being out in the beautiful surroundings in this region, which is under the radar for most foreign tourists. After a day of skiing, head to Hotel Joopi for a generous helping of the traditional (but unfortunately named) cheese- and bacon-filled pastry, Cholera Pie.
Gstaad is known as the playground for the rich and famous. Celebrities and royalty stroll the boutique-lined streets and glide over the powder-coated slopes. While our public television crew toured the luxury hotels and gawked at the ostentatious finery, we opted to stay in more modest accommodations outside of town. But we were still able to take advantage of the spectacular views by fat tire biking on groomed cross-country trails on the valley floor. I put this one into the “harder than it looks” category because my instinct was to stand on the pedals to get more leverage as I do when riding on dirt. However, fat tire biking in the snow requires that you stay on the saddle so that there’s ample weight to keep the rear wheel from slipping. If you happen to fall, the snow offers a soft landing.
Snowshoeing is a good way to extend the hiking season through the winter. While the snowshoeing opportunities on Mt. Rigi are great, getting there is a fun day in and of itself. Take a train to Lucerne and then board a boat across from the main station for the ride to Vitznau. From there, take the cogwheel train up to Rigi Kulm where you can rent snowshoes and follow any of the excellent trails offering some of the most fantastic views in the region. When you’re finished, share a pot of bubbling-hot fondue with your crew at Restaurant Lok 7, just a short walk down from the Rigi Staffel stop on your return train to Vitznau.
Skiing under the watchful eye of the Matterhorn is one of those quintessentially Swiss experiences that any outdoor winter sports enthusiast should have on their bucket list. Car-free Zermatt has sustainability in its veins, with renewables for energy, composting biogas reactors for waste, and clean alpine water and air. When we were there for Swiss Winter Magic, I hadn’t skied since I was a teenager, but stepping out of the gondola in the midst of all that mountain majesty brought the thrill back instantaneously. Ski right to your apres ski at Cervo Mountain Resort and then make sure to hit the sauna at the hotel so you’ll be ready to do it all again tomorrow.
The opportunities for winter wonderland fun in Switzerland are endless - you can be sure I’ll be adding to this list. What are your favorite alpine experiences in the winter? Comment below and subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing!
Special thanks to Eric Jensen and Small World Productions for the images in this post