There’s a myth in the Spectator office, which I’ve never discouraged, that I’m Yorkshire’s answer to Franz Klammer — a veteran ski ace who likes nothing better than to have himself helicoptered to remote peaks in search of deep, virgin powder. But myth it is, I’m afraid: your business columnist is fat, 58 and was never fast on skis or any other form of self-propulsion, even in his youth.
So you might think I’m the wrong man to be telling you about my favourite Swiss winter-sports station, which is the picture-book village of Wengen in the Bernese Oberland. This, after all, is the place where ski-racing was invented by British sportsmen in the 1920s, and is still home to the muscular Downhill Only Club. It’s a place for thrusting, not for pottering along with a hipflask and your skis not quite parallel.
But never mind; it is also a place of perfect Alpine charm, not least because it is small (pop. 1,300) and free of cars, being accessible only by railway from Lauter-brunnen in the valley far below. It has lovely hotels, of which my favourite is the old-fashioned, family-run Regina, just above the railway station. It has an Anglican church, where the Christmas Eve service is memorable. It has quaint little bars with oompah music.
And one stop higher on the little railway is the Jungfrau Wengernalp hotel, strongly recommended for lunch. The terminus is Kleine Scheidegg, on the saddle of the mountain under the Eiger. From there, if you’re up for it, attack the Lauberhorn racers’ piste back to Wengen. Or set off at a more dignified pace down the other side to Grindelwald — favoured resort for Japanese tourists, despite their trouble pronouncing it. I once took a (relatively) speedy run from the top wearing a one-piece ski-suit that makes me look like the Michelin man, missed a turn at the bottom and crashed headlong into a Japanese party waiting to board their bus. I think I was the highlight of their holiday.
And whether you’re young or old, fit or unfit, this is also a fine place for traditional Alpine tobogganing — on a proper wooden sled which requires some technique, rather than the modern plastic tea-tray model complete with handbrakes, though I’ve had plenty of fun on those too.
The official toboggan track from Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen (as opposed to the easier option of thundering down the middle of the ski pistes, which is considered poor form) includes a section of big, bumpy, accelerating steps followed by a sharp left-hander under a railway arch. I’d be lying if I said I’ve ever taken this section elegantly. I had paused for breath at the end of it one morning when a pretty girl drew alongside on a miniature sled and eyed my Michelin suit with an amused look. ‘Hello,’ I said boldly. ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m four,’ she replied, and shot off down the track in front of me.