Cradled in central Switzerland, Engelberg — “Angel Mountain”—bristles with Swiss icons: a busy train station; a Dorf Strasse of neat, wood-shuttered hotels; chocolate, cheese, and watches galore; and a Benedictine Monastery founded in 1120 AD.
Although a trio of intrepid skiers crossed the lofty Jochpass from Meiringen to Engelberg in 1893, the resort’s birth was declared in January 1904, when someone first skied from the 3,240-metre summit of Titlis to the valley—a notable 2,000-metre descent on the equipment of the day and vanguard of those who would eventually flock to this long-underrated freeride aerie.
Add glaciers, bowls, chutes, cliffs, and a wealth of secret stashes to the Titlis powder maker, and Engelberg offers a Russian doll of terrain for powder aficionados. As a result, after the global freeride cognoscenti discovered it in the mid-90s, they set up a permanent winter camp here. Still, it’s a big place with room to share:
If your focus is piste skiing, you’ll exhaust the possibilities—including those in the Brunni area on the sunny south side of the valley and the smaller Bannalp—in about three days. If your focus is off-piste, you’re in for a treat.
Engelberg is an explorer’s mountain, with endless possibilities for a short traverse or hikes away off the Klein Titlis or Jochstock, the peaks served by the highest lifts.
Most of the best terrain faces north or north-ish, leading to good snow preservation even if it’s tracked up. The high altitude of the resort’s upper reaches can turn a 20-centimetre mid-mountain snowfall into 40-centimetres of blower on the right exposures. This means that going as high as possible, as early as possible, is never a bad idea.
Engelberg’s Big Five lift-accessible off-piste descents include the Sulz, Wendenlücke, Steinberg, Galtiberg and Laub (arguably the world’s greatest resort-based powder run). Each has its own geological character and vertical, and all but the Laub are best done with a guide (though it, too, benefits from someone with experience in both safety and line choice).
Descending the Titlis Glacier below the tramline is a thrill that requires caution due to the receding ice and yawning crevasses. Again, a guide helps.
As if Engelberg’s frontcountry weren’t enough, the backcountry of this ski-touring paradise includes a High Five—itineraries that lead you away from the resort; some—like the Urner Haute Route between Engelberg and Andermatt—include alpine huts. Best to check with a guiding service regarding these.
The climate-change-induced lean snow years of the past two decades in Switzerland have also affected Engelberg, but not as severely as other places, making it a good choice when surrounding areas are dry.
While the mountain’s ten restaurants offer decent fare, three stand out: Lago Torbido at Trübsee mid-station (1,800 m) offers Italian classics and fine wines. At the resort’s summit (3,020 m), Panorama-Restaurant Titlis serves up Swiss classics, a good selection of wine, and breathtaking views. Rustic Skihütte Stand (2,428 m) also does “Swiss” well, and diners just in from a storm can warm themselves at ceramic stoves; in better weather, a sun terrace offers views of the Titlis Glacier.
The Bar at Ski Lodge Engelberg anchors the town’s après social life, but its restaurant, Brasserie Konrad, is also top-notch. Named after the town’s founder, Konrad von Sellenbüren, it gathers inspiration from the surrounding Alps and the hotelier’s Swedish roots, highlighting local produce, cheeses and the region's best culinary secrets. Konrad also has a notable wine list.
Other drink-worthy options include the Old Monk Bar, the Yucatan and the Core Irish Pub for those missing their Guinness.
For classic chalet surroundings, top service and authentic Swiss fondue (and pizza), it’s hard to beat Alpenclub—though both Schweizerhof and Titlis at H+ Hotel take a good run at it. The sunny afternoon terrace at Yucatan is an institution for casual dining on young and creative cuisine. More exotic but continually top-rated, Spice Bazaar serves a mix of Indian/Asian that doesn’t step on the town’s other fusion newbie, Hess Asia Restaurant. Check out Al Monastero and Bierlialp for excellent pizza and other continental specialties. Outside town and a cable car ride away, Bergrestaurant Fürenalp garners rave reviews for food, service, and stunning views.
Roastery Engelberg roasts, packs, and supplies coffee to local businesses, but their coffee bar and the impeccable papeterie and bookshop are open to the public. Bäckerei Konditorei Café restaurant offers an excellent selection of sweet and savoury goods baked fresh daily. In the monastery’s Schaukäseri Kloster, you’ll find a surfeit of both in-house and locally made alpine cheeses, homemade yogurt, and even whey-based cosmetics.
Geny Hess’s Engelberg genealogy dates to the 1600s and his family-run hotel was a village landmark from 1884-2001. When it was demolished, Geny transferred his enormous wine cellar into the street-level Hess Selection, where his expertise, tastings and events now make for Switzerland’s best—and most enigmatic—wine shop.
After restoring a multi-story century house, Swedish ski-bum alumni Niklas Möller and Eric Spångberg opened Ski Lodge Engelberg in 2008 with little fanfare and instant success. The Bellevue-Terminus fronting the train station was renovated in 2011. The Kempinski Palace Engelberg is the only five-star hotel in town. With its roots in a historic grand hotel from 1904, Kempinski Palace Engelberg combines the charm of the Belle Époque era with modern luxury. The H+ Hotel SPA Engelberg is also a similarly elegant but modern retreat. If you’re looking to prepare your own meals, the spacious, well-appointed apartments at Titlis Resort have excellent kitchen facilities.
In addition to alpine offerings, you’ll also find 35 km of cross-country trails, tubing, tobogganing and snowshoeing.
No matter your religion—or lack of—a visit to the Benedictine Monastery is a must.
If you’ve got gear problems, take them to Dani Friedli and his crew at the OKAY Ski Shop.
At the top of Titlis, you can visit an ice cave under the glacier—along with thousands of bussed-in tourists from as far afield as India and China. You’ll also find Europe’s highest suspension bridge, a metre-wide cliff walk that delivers dizzying views down the south wall of Titlis.
With a regular ski pass, you can ride the gondola to Trübsee on a Saturday night for tubing, snowshoeing or hiking under the stars, then enjoy wood-fired pizza and a glass of wine in Lago Torpedo.
Skiing the Laub: “Laub” doesn’t mean magnificent, but it should. A monstrous shoulder with a sustained 30-degree slope and 1,100 metres of vertical, in powder, it’s mind-altering. Tradition dictates you finish your run with a coffee and schnapps at Café Ritz, located right at the bottom of the run.
Blessed by altitude, the convoluted Titlis massif is a weather magnet that catches the northern edge of southern storms, the southern edge of northern storms, and the orographic effects of nearby Lac Luzern.
→ Skiable area: 82 km of piste (200 acres) but thousands of acres of skiable freeride terrain
→ Parks: 1 terrain park
→ Longest run: 12 km
→ Terrain mix: 30%/45%/25%
→ Lifts: 25, including a funicular and rotating tram
→ Average annual snowfall: ~615 cm
→ Snowmaking coverage: 50% of pistes
→ Vertical : 1,970 m; top elevation 3,020 m
Getting there: From Zurich airport, it’s 2 hours by train connecting through Luzern. By road, it’s 90 minutes: head south from Zurich on the A123/N4a/N14/N2 towards Lake Luzern; just past the tunnel, make a right turn at Stans and the signs for Engelberg.