Traveller's guide: Swiss snow

The country at the heart of the Alps delivers top-grade winter sports

In many ways, Switzerland defines the Alpine experience: dramatic, craggy peaks, swooping valleys, those impossibly pretty villages. All the other clichés – the clockwork Swiss efficiency and fantastic service – are happily also true, as grateful users of the country's impeccable public transport system are quick to discover.

Still, in winter, it's the mountains that are the main draw: the Alps dominate the country. For skiers and snowboarders, the place offers a wealth of resorts to choose from. At the last count, there were 150 of them, with some little changed from when Henry Lunn created the first ski package holidays back in 1903.



That's not to say they're outdated. Swiss skiing is noted for its blend of old-fashioned welcome and on-mountain progression. The resorts are also easy to get to, with international airports servicing many resorts with a short transfer time. An hour from Geneva and you can be in the lift queue. Even the tucked-away Zermatt and St Moritz are within three hours of Zurich.



With such large mountains as the backdrop, Swiss skiing can be thrillingly involved. Runs here tend to be measured in kilometres rather than metres, and more often than not you'll squeeze into venerable cable cars rather than breezy chairlifts.



Most resorts are high – the Klein Matterhorn cable car tops out at 3,820m, making it the highest in Europe, which means snow cover is all but guaranteed throughout the season. Some resorts, such as Saas-Fee, have glaciers that extend the ski season well into summer.



The resorts themselves can broadly be divided into three categories. The first could be called the mountain towns: places such as Zermatt (zermatt.ch), Grindelwald (grindelwald.com), St Moritz (stmoritz.ch), Davos (davos.ch) and Verbier (verbier.ch). They are in the same super-resort category as Chamonix or Whistler and are sprawling ski areas with large communities of what used to be known as ski bums, but are now called seasonaires. Their presence assures visitors that they're in for some of the best snow on the planet.



Then there are the smaller, more bijou resorts such as Leysin (leysin.ch), Engelberg (engelberg.ch), Villars (villars.ch), Adelboden (adelboden.ch) and Les Diablerets (diablerets.ch). Generally these are small mountain settlements that have been relatively little changed over the centuries, yet experienced a boom when skiing (and later, snowboarding) became popular. These are perfect for a more relaxed ski holiday, especially for families, couples and beginners.



The final category of Swiss resorts are the progressives. These resorts – Saas-Fee (saas-fee.ch) and Laax (laax.com) among them – were quick to adopt snowboarding in the early days. They have great fun parks, exciting events and vibrant nightlife, and as a result enjoy a strongly partisan snowboarding clientele.



Yet Switzerland attracted only a 5.9 per cent share of the British market during the 2009-10 season, according to the annual Crystal Ski industry report, putting it in a distant fifth place behind France, Austria, Italy and Andorra. The reason, of course, is the cost.



Three years ago, your pound bought almost Sfr2.50; today, you will do well to get Sfr1.50. That corresponds to price rises of 60 per cent. Zermatt, St Moritz, Klosters and Gstaad – the playgrounds of the rich and famous – are particularly expensive. At the other end of the scale, Les Diablerets and Laax have cheaper packages available through UK tour operators such as Erna Low (ernalow.co.uk), Ski Freshtracks (freshtracks.org.uk) and Crystal (crystalski.co.uk). Cheaper deals can also be found by shunning the mega-resorts while still staying in the popular ski areas. Verbier, for example, is at the heart of the Four Valleys ski area, and boasts wealthy clients such as James Blunt in its ex-seasonaire alumni (they even named a ski lift after him). Prices reflect this crowd, but a stay in nearby Nendaz, Veysonnaz, La Tzoumaz or Thyon accesses the same pistes, for a fraction of the accommodation costs.



Rail links to Switzerland are better than ever, with an accelerated link from Paris to Geneva starting in December, and fast services from the French capital to Basel and Zurich. Most Brits, though, still arrive by air. For the French-speaking Swiss resorts, the key gateway is Geneva, with resorts such as Leysin, Les Diablerets and Verbier within two hours' transfer time. For the German-speaking resorts, including Laax, Engelberg and Saas-Fee, skiers should head to Zurich. The main scheduled airlines are BA, easyJet and Swiss, with plenty of low-cost and charter services on other airlines from the UK. Alternative gateways include Basel (with plenty of no-frills connections), Berne, Sion (with Snowjet) and the Italian airport of Milan-Malpensa.



The Swiss rail system (sbb.ch/en/) is a public transport service of rare beauty: cheap, punctual, with some of the best high-altitude scenery on the planet to gawp at as you transfer to your destination. You can book in advance at the Switzerland Travel Centre (stc.co.uk), and buy passes ranging from four days (£163) to a month (£361). These offer unlimited travel on trains, buses and boats, and get discounts to most tourist attractions, including some mountain lift passes. Two adults buying together qualify for 15 per cent off.



For more information, visit myswitzerland.com



Snowboard specialists



Saas-Fee (saas-fee.ch) is one of Switzerland's funkiest snowboard hangouts. The town is car-free, it's open virtually all year due to its Fee glacier, and is also home to a large fun-park and half-pipe, and the world's highest revolving restaurant, the 3,500m-high Metro Alpin. Saas-Fee also boasts freeriding ace Freddie Kalbermatten as a local. "Book a guide to go riding off-piste through the glacier world," he says. "There is always powder." The Hotel Dom (00 41 27 958 77 00; uniquedom.com) is at the foot of Switzerland's second-highest mountain of the same name, and is linked to the snowboard-friendly Popcorn Bar. The Dom also features the Roxy and Burton youth rooms, with up to 10 bunk beds in each; prices start at Sfr45 (£30) per person per night including breakfast buffet.



The all-girl snowboarding competition the Roxy Chicken Jam has been part of St Moritz's snowboard scene for six seasons. Add in the nearby Pontresina area, home to freestyle pioneer Michi Albin, and the area's snowboarding credentials are impeccable. Go cheap by staying at the Youth Hostel St Moritz (00 41 81 836 61 11; youthhostel.ch/de/hostels/st-moritz), a college dorm building with attached café. Prices start at Sfr43 (£28) per night per person based on four sharing a family room.



Elsewhere, Adelboden typifies Swiss sophistication with posh shops and chalets as far as the eye can see, while the mountain has one of the country's best fun-parks. Stay at the Hotel Alpenrose (00 41 33 673 11 61; alpenrose.ch), a classic large wooden chalet with doubles and family rooms starting at around Sfr200 (£133) double, with various special deals available if you avoid the peak Christmas, New Year and school holiday periods.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform