It is the middle of March and, after an unseasonably warm couple of weeks, many people are already predicting the end of the winter sports season. Not true! Many friends have told me about the excellent cross-country and ski touring, and my own experience on the pistes certainly suggests this season is far from over.
I visited Gstaad Mountain Rides this last weekend, and the conditions were fabulous on-piste. Off-piste was crusty, but these are slopes that are generally between 1000m and 2000m, so it is probably not reasonable to expect too much of them in mid-March. However, in general, there was good snow cover and some fabulous runs on the pistes. The only areas to show significant wear and tear were the steeper black runs, of which there are few in this area, and the valley runs to Gstaad and St Stephan. Remarkably, under-threat Rellerli still seems to be in good nick, and the runs down to Saanen off Eggli were near-perfect.
I have to declare a love affair with Gstaad and its pistes. There are nine unconnected areas in six sectors which make up the Mountain Rides lift pass area, and the public transport that joins everything up is infrequent. However the trains and buses are reliable so if you carry a timetable with you, you need never find yourself hanging around. In addition, there are really only three significant areas – although the others are worth a detour if you have the opportunity – and two of those are in the same designated sector. Added to that, all public transport is free if you have a lift pass.
The senery is stunning, and the area has a fairly high standard in mountain restaurant cuisine. There are no lift queues to speak of, even at busy times, and the lifts are generally modern or scheduled to be updated.
But what really makes this area so enjoyable for me is the mile after mile of wide, easy pistes. There are no flat spots to speak of, and largely avoidable surface lifts. This really is an intermediate paradise, particularly for boarders.
It is also easy to get to from Berne or Basel. Zweisimmen is the gateway to the region, and far more easy to get to by train than car. Most riders would be happy to spend a day on the large area accessible from the gondola station next to the station at Zweisimmen, but trains connect to Lenk and the Adelboden pistes, and the pistes across at Saanen and Rougemont so it is feasible to take in atl east a couple of areas in one day.