“It’s just ‘pizza’ and ‘french fries,’ but don’t mix them up. If you french fry when you wanna pizza, you’re gonna have a bad time.”
This is the text I receive from my nephew Chris the night before I leave for a ski spree to Switzerland’s Jungfrau Region, which embraces a jagged range of snow-capped Alps in the Bernese Oberland. It might sound like poor dietary advice, but, in fact, Chris has just given me a lifeline I can cling to throughout my trip, especially when gravity threatens to sweep me off my feet … and possibly off the edge of a mountain.
“Pizza,” as it transpires, refers to the “snow plow” movement you make by pointing your skis together at the tips to slow down. “French fry” means to aim your skis straight to gain speed. (Golden nuggets of wisdom gleaned, apparently, from the animated comedy series “South Park.”)
Fortunately, the picturesque pass of Kleine Scheidegg, located in the heart of the Jungfrau Region, introduced a “highly” unusual beginners slope last season that’s perfect for a city slicker like me. While most bunny slopes are sequestered at the foot of the mountains, here I can glide down a gentle incline while soaking up the views at 6,762 feet, making me feel as though I’ve conquered the world — even if the only other challenger on the incline is a toddler, bundled up like an Ewok, on a sled.
For more experienced skiers and snowboarders eager to bag bragging rights, the region, where the ski season continues until Easter, also recently launched the Jungfrau Winnercard. This nifty gadget allows you to track stats like altitude and distance by entering your ski pass number on a website. With 128 miles of slopes, there’s plenty to keep sporty types busy in a region bordered by some of Switzerland’s most iconic peaks.
“You’re very, very close to the big mountains,” observes Laura Bomio, a ski instructor tasked with the unenviable challenge of shepherding me down the slopes. “They are just there in front of you. People who come here tell me they’ve never been so close to high mountains when they’re skiing.”
Bomio might be a bit biased, as she learned to ski at the tender age of 2 1/2 on the slopes of Grindelwald, a pint-size town of wooden chalets set against a backdrop of the mighty peaks. But on my second day, when I confront a blue-diamond slope at First, a cable stop 7,113 feet high, I can see her point. I mean, I could hardly miss it, with the sheer granite mountains rising up as tall and ominous as the Wall from “Game of Thrones.”
Under Bomio’s patient tutelage, my friend Yolanda and I gingerly pizza, french fry and “butterfly” (which is basically alternating between the two aforementioned food groups) down the winding course, which is used as a road in the summertime.
“One summer, I worked on a farm in the valley, herding 36 cows,” Bomio tells us as we pause for a breather.
“Which is harder — keeping track of 36 cows or two beginning skiers?” Yolanda asks.
Bomio considers the question for a moment. “I think two students equal 36 cows,” she finally concludes with a flash of a smile.
After two days on the slopes, I feel I’ve milked my ski reserves dry. But I’ve still got a mountain to summit, and, unlike Everest adventurers, I don’t need crampons and a pickax — just a train ticket for the journey to the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe.
Disembarking at the end of the line, more than 11,333 feet up, I make a beeline for a windblown platform overlooking the inhospitably beautiful glacial valley and the serrated Alpine peaks. When my eyelashes have turned to icicles, I head back inside to tour the Top of Europe experience, a whiz-bang exhibition offering insight into the amazing engineering skills required to drill through the mountains and build this railway, which opened in 1912.
There’s a giant snow globe filled with carved Alpine figures, passageways winding through the ice and a movie theater in the round offering footage of the Jungfraujoch from all angles, like a very ambitious version of Google Street View. You can dine at one of the restaurants, overlooking wintry panoramas framed by lethal-looking frozen shards, and bring home a bottle of Swiss Highland ice-aged whisky from the shops — although at nearly 58 percent ABV, I reckon that would give you a mammoth hangover.
At the foot of the mountains in Interlaken, I try my hand at curling and miraculously avoid turning an ankle while ice skating at the Ice Magic rinks, open through Feb. 27. The grand finale of our trip, however, is a moonlit sledging adventure down the Eiger Run with my friends, careening down icy slopes past prickly, snow-pregnant evergreens that survey our progress like disapproving elders.
Finally skidding to a stop just outside a cozy restaurant at the foot of the run, we defrost and toast our survival with mugs of steaming gluhwein. I’ve had my fill of pizza and french fries this week. Time now, I think, for bratwurst and cheese fondue.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Fly into Zurich and take the trains to Interlaken. You can make Interlaken your base, or choose a perch, such as Grindelwald, higher up in the mountains.
Stay: The Victoria Jungfrau offers luxurious five-star accommodation in Interlaken. Doubles from around $400. victoria-jungfrau.ch/en/home-en
Hotel Belvedere in Grindelwald features a sauna, steam bath, salt water Jacuzzi and indoor pool, and it counts Scarlett Johansson as a former guest. From $194 for a standard twin room for two people, including breakfast. belvedere-grindelwald.ch
More info: jungfrau.ch