As I sat helmet-clad and poised to race down a mountain track, I realized all the Nintendo 64 training from my formative childhood years was finally about to pay off. My hours spent trying to press the “A”button exactly when the race started and trying to use my single-mushroom power-up for a boost near the end of Rainbow Road were about to come in handy – in Switzerland, of all places.
The backdrop for this Mario Kart in real life was Grindelwald First, Switzerland’s peak in the Jungfrau Region dubbed the ‘Top of Adventure.’ Travelers and hikers come to stroll on the mountain past stunning peaks, valleys, and wildflowers (and Swiss cows, of course).
As a child of the ’80s, the thought of riding an off-road version of my beloved Big Wheels had me in a seriously amped-up mode. Add in the Swiss scenery and, well, I was about to burst with excitement.
Steering down the almost-two-mile track on a glorified tricycle doesn’t require banana peels or tortoise shells, but it does call for some savvy maneuvering, as I found when I plowed through a giant load of cow poop at top speed. That didn’t stop me, though: my inner Mario was having way too much fun.
Fortunately, driving your own Mario Kart in real life – called mountain karting – is easier to experience than you’d think, whether you’re a Yoshi, a Mario, or even a Donkey Kong at heart.
What is Mountain Carting?
The cart idea was born out of the Swiss passion for sledding, believe it or not. With a hybrid go-kart/sled design, this set of wheels brings a bit of the joy of downhill sledding to summer with a race down Grindelwald’s resident mountain, 7,112 feet above sea level. The alpine scenery is breathtaking as you move along the path between the Schreckfield and Bort cable car stations. This real-life Mario Kart is an alternative way to travel down the mountain as opposed to taking the cable car, which offers far fewer opportunities to yell “Let’s-a-go!” or “Mamma Mia!” at high speeds.
The rugged wheels can tackle pavement, grass, and gravel, which is good because the 1.8-mile track is a smorgasbord of that exact terrain. However, the hand brakes are easy to use and the vehicle’s low center of gravity feels solid and manageable on twists and turns.
The track is wide enough to pass slow carters (or avoid cow poop), and the winding switchbacks, cliffs, and 90-degree turns add a bit of spice to the ride. The seat is comfortable enough, and with no pedals, you just prop your feet up and let gravity and momentum do their thing, controlling your pace with the brakes. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure in a Swiss paradise.
Though it’s not actually meant to be Mario Kart in real life, and there are no winners, power-ups, giant lava balls, or green pipes you’ll need to fly through, it’s certainly reminiscent of the game. And in some ways, it’s better than the game – you can grab fondue at the bottom past the finish line as you watch the next round of carts come down.
Where is this real-life Mario Kart?
Grindelwald is in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland, roughly a three-hour train ride from the Zurich airport. Once in town, head to the Grindelwald First cable car station and purchase a ticket for your transport up (32 Swiss Francs). The ride itself is enjoyable, with approximately 25 minutes to drool over the mind-blowing scenery.
The mountain cart starting point is Shreckfield, the second gondola stop out of the three total stations. If you’d like to do some of the activities at the First summit or visit the restaurant, go to the top and work your way down to carting when you’re ready to leave.
Mountain carting is open from mid-May to mid-October and is weather dependent. Wait times to get your hands on a cart vary, but an up-to-date sign keeps you in the loop. It costs 21 Swiss Francs to do it, not including the gondola ride up to the top. When you get in line, you’ll fill out a standard waiver before showing your ticket, which can be purchased online beforehand. Then, you’ll grab an appropriately sized helmet and cart and hear a quick introduction to the cart before rolling onto the track. Wearing a backpack is fine as long as your hands are free.
If you want to try more than just the carts, you may want to purchase the Adventure Package instead, which offers discounts based on how many activities you plan to try.
Other things to do
As the ‘Top ofAdventure’ name suggests, Grindelwald First is a base for adventuring – and adventure there is. Aside from living out your dream of playing Mario Kart in real life, you can embark on a variety of hikes, test your fear of heights on the First Cliffwalk, or dine at the mountain restaurant before taking the First Flyer down to the Schreckfield station, where mountain carting and the First Glider await.
Once you cross the finish line at the Bort cable car station with your mountain cart, you can trade it in for a Trottibike – another hybrid mash-up of a scooter and a bike. You can ride that through bucolic alpine meadows filled with cute little cheese houses on the way down to the village of Grindelwald. If you opt not to do the Trottbikes, you can take the gondola back down to the starting point, instead.
Where to stay in Grindelwald
The charming mountain village of Grindelwald is the perfect base for adventuring around the area. If waking up to gorgeous views is your thing, Bergwelt Grindelwald ticks that box and more, with an on-site restaurant, bar, and spa. You can also walk from the hotel to the Grindelwald First cable car station in just five minutes.
For a more budget-friendly offering, check out the nearby Jungfrau Lodge, with basic but comfortable rooms and an included breakfast buffet just a 10-minute walk to town.