Europe’s Extreme Ski Town

Mj 618_348_europes extreme ski town

More than a century has passed since the first funicular was first built to Mürren, the highest hamlet in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, home of big dogs and bigger mountains. Following one too many avalanches, the original gondola was replaced with a hybrid cable car-railway, but the town has otherwise remained much the same. Skiing and bier-drinking are still the major local pastimes, although extreme sports are on their way up. But the fun doesn’t start until travelers make the climb into town.

With vertigo checked at the station platforms of Interlaken Ost (the gateway to Mürren and Switzerland’s all-round adventure sports springboard), the upwardly mobile transit begins aboard the Berner Oberland Bahn, the trainspotter’s equivalent of a go-slow Aston Martin. The iconic train’s left side offers vast Alpine vistas, as carriages grind uphill next to the gushing waters of the Lütschine River towards the postcard village of Lauterbrunnen (German for “loud fountain,” named after its thundering waterfalls). After a quick platform shuffle, the next lofty leg continues on the Lauterbrunnen-Mürren network, where the Grütschalp cableway trundles a further 2,263 feet along a forest bluff before winding the final three miles to Mürren station. Travelers generally arrive winded by the altitude and breathtaking views.

Settled by wandering Swiss pioneers in the 13th century, car-free Mürren is home to roughly 450 farmers, who still banter in their curiously preserved dialect of Swiss German, and a handful of reclusive millionaires. Mountain chalets sit perilously perched over plunging valley ravines, and the village is crisscrossed by a 32-mile network of ski runs that appeal to cross-country types. Going up? The town boasts a number of rock climbing walls and views toward the meringue-topped mountains of Eiger, Jungfrau, and Mönch – known in these parts as the Top of Europe. Going down? Some of the world’s best launchpads for BASE jumping are within walking distance.

Opportunities for self-harm aside, the town’s centerpiece is the Schilthorn, a 9,744-foot peak that sits a final cableway away. The peak is capped by the epic engineering feat of Piz Gloria, the cult revolving restaurant constructed for 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” in which James Bond bombs down the slope toward town. January is peak season here, when Switzerland’s longest downhill skiing race, Inferno, sees participants slip and slalom their way over a 9-mile route, from the Schilthorn to Lauterbrunnen in the valley below. The current record is just over 13 minutes, but we recommend stopping for some pilsner on the way down.

More information: SWISS flies from the U.S. to both Zurich and Geneva after which it’s a three-hour panoramic jaunt to Mürren ($99 one way). Chalet Fotana offers loft rooms peering out to the Alps (from $111) and makes a great base of operations. Check out the röstis, steaks, and local Rugenbräu lagers at Restaurant Jäger Stübli, just down the street.

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