Winter is here. Are you the type of person who hibernates inside and waits for winter to pass? Or do you get outside and make the most of it? You don't need to be a skier to enjoy outdoor recreation in the winter. Snowshoeing and sledding are also great options that don't require a lot of skill or equipment.
Well-known for its world class skiing, my family spent last winter in Switzerland. But did you know they also boast some of the best sledding in the world? Schlitteln (sledding, sledging, tobogganing) is a serious sport there – seriously fun – and the infrastructure to support it makes it accessible to everyone.
How it works
- Go to the sled-friendly ski area of your choice (see our favorite pick below).
- Rent a toboggan at the local ski shop or at the base of the mountain (some places even offer rentals at the top of the mountain). Most of the sleds you will see on the mountain are traditional wood runner sleds. Many used by the Swiss locals have clearly been handed down for generations. When renting, you may often choose between the traditional wood designs and modern variations with lighter weight plastic and aluminum construction.
- Buy the appropriate pass for your intended destination. Often these are different than standard ski passes and you can buy less-expensive passes for just one or two trips if desired.
- Ride a gondola, train, cablecar or ski lift to the top. Locate the marked sledding run of your choice and let gravity do the work. Sledding runs are rated for difficulty and are groomed just like ski runs. In many cases, trails are for sledding only but beware of places where they may cross ski trails or be shared with skiers.
Sledding pro tips
- A helmet and goggles are highly recommended. The goggles will help protect your eyes from the wind, blowing snow, and from the sprays of snow that you or other sledders kick up. A helmet helps to keep you warm and protects your head if you crash. You may also want a scarf to keep your mouth from filling with snow as you laugh your way down the slope.
- Controlling your speed is key. A groomed trail on a runner sled can get very fast and corners can be sharp. You can slow your sled by pulling back on the front, which drives the rear part of the runners into the snow. A more subtle method of speed control is to drag your feet as necessary. Keeping your feet flat on the ground as you drag them results in less snow spray to the face, but sometimes digging in your heels is necessary for quick stops.
- Steering is achieved by leaning the sled and/or dragging your feet to turn in the direction you want to go. On sharp corners you can often get the rear of the sled to drift around the corner by leaning to the inside and rear, unweighting the outside and front of the sled.
- If you are sledding with small children, double up and ask for a child seat that can be attached to the front of the sled.
Where to go
While there are many options for skiing and sledding in Switzerland one of our favorite year-round destinations is the area around Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald. The sled runs that drop to Grindelwald are some of our favorites.
For an all-day adventure try the “Big Pintenfritz.” It's a 15 km descent with over 1,000 m of elevation drop (the longest sled run in Europe) that requires a gondola ride and a significant hike to the top of the Faulhorn before starting. Stop at Bussalp on the way down for lunch and a hot drink.
For the less ambitious, the sled runs from Kleine Scheidegg and Männlichen are shorter and don't require hiking but still pack plenty of adventure. While the views are outstanding from anywhere in the area, the “Eiger Run” takes you below the base of the legendary north face of the Eiger and gives you a sense of its immense scale. Even if you don't make it to Switzerland this winter, get out there and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are!