An article in the UK Metro newspaper claims Andermatt in the Swiss Alps should be your next weekend break. I’m not going to disagree, it’s a beautiful little resort with some great off-piste on the Gemsstock, and it gets some of the largest dumps of snow anywhere in the Alps. You can also get there easily by train.

Andermatt Village

I’m not so sure it would be my first choice for a weekend break though. Flims/Laax and Engelberg are about the same distance from Zurich Airport. The Jungfrau is feasible for a weekend break via Basel’s Euroairport, and Chamonix, Verbier, Portes du Soleil, Leysin, Les Diablerets and Villars are about the same distance from Geneva Airport. Plus there are a handful of smaller resorts much closer to the airports – Feldberg from Basel or Flumserberg, Pizol, Hoch-Ybrig and Braunwald from Zurich.

Things might change, however. Andermatt is going through a massive expansion. The resort is currently in the midst of a huge redevelopment by Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris. Probably the most obvious sign is the new builds in the village, including the impressive 5-star Hotel Chedi. However a number of new and replacement lifts are in place as the Nätschen-Gütsch area gets upgraded in advance of being linked up with the resort of Sedrun, in the Rhine valley. Expansion and upgrades to the Gemsstock area are also planned. The “masterplan” is due to complete for the 2018/9 season.

Andermatt is also billing itself as a year-round resort with a number of scenic viewpoints, varied mountain walks and an 18 hole golf course to lure summer visitors. Hopefully all this development will not diminish the charm of the old village. The schedule of new lifts can be seen here.

Gemsstock Cable car in Andermatt
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Back country skiing in the Engelberg valley

I have often heard it rumoured that in the Engelberg valley lurk many hidden stashes of lift-served back country off-piste. From Titlis itself there are several areas of off-piste, the Laub being the most famous. There is also one route off Klein Titlis itself down towards Trübsee via the Steinberg some friends of mine have skied, although I have not tried it myself.

I know you can ski from the top of the Fürenalp cable car – again I have not tried it, but I know there is a trail back down to the valley floor which I guess presents at least one option. The lift company identifies a 1000m toboggan run, a 1500 winter walk and snowshoe trail as well as ski touring options at the top. There is also a restaurant. One to add to the list for sure.

Anyway, I came across an article at Worldcrunch which finally addressed the rumour. Apparently there is a lift, Sesselbahn Brisen, which ascends the Haldigrat below Engelberg to provide access to a large unprepared area of snow from 1937m.
Sesselbahn Brisen - photo: raffaconzinu via Instagram
The owner of the lift, Kurt Mathis, is quite famous, apparently, and the lift is possibly not as obscure as I had thought – even featuring in a film and having its own website. The lifts operate 9am-4pm at weekends and on public holidays in the winter season. Kurt’s wife, Antoinette, runs a restaurant and guesthouse at the top. A webcam is here. To get to the Haldigrat by train, take the Engelberg service from Luzern and get off at the request stop Niederrickenbach Station, just after Dallenwil, then take the cable car to Niederrickenbach itself and take a sign-posted 30-minute walk on a broad and well-maintained path to the valley station of the chairlift from Alpboden up to the Haldigrat. There is parking at the bottom of the Niederrickenbach cable car. Although there are no recorded fatalities or significant avalanche risks, the ski area is not only unprepared but also unpatrolled.

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January Offers from Swiss Railways

The Snow’n’Rail scheme from Swiss Railways provides a 20% discount on the combined public transport and lift passes for a whole host of resorts in Switzerland. Additionally there are often even better offers available, and January sees some really brilliant ones.
Ski Airolo
Airolo is a pretty little village, famous as the home resort of Lara Gut, with enough slopes to keep most skiers and snowboarders happy for a day trip. They will be particularly happy with the massive 50% discount offered in January. You can get to Airolo from many locations, including Basel and Zurich, without changing trains – and there are not many resorts you can say that of. Plus it is the largest Italian-speaking resort in Switzerland.

If you do take the train to Airolo you can either take the courtesy bus from the station or walk to the bottom station – head left out of the station.

Other noteworthy deals are the 30% discount for Distentis (here), a favourite for freeriders, Meiringen-Hasliberg (here), convenient for Basel and Berne, Sattel (here), convenient for Zug and Lucerne, and Braunwald (here), a direct train trip from Zurich.

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Andermatt Resort Expansion Approved reports that Cantons Uri and Graubünden have approved the expansion at Andermatt proposed by an Egyptian tycoon.

The new Andermatt development site

Samih Sawiris is investing some $1 billion in the resort, with over 1000 hotel rooms, apartments and villas due to be available by the 2013/14 winter sports season.

The expanded ski area will extend to 100 kilometres of runs and connect Andermatt with Sedrun. Eighteen new ski lifts and cable cars are mooted with key new lifts including connections between:

  • Andermatt’s new Hotel Chedi to Nätschen
  • Hospental to Gemsstock
  • Göschenen to Nätschen-Gütsch

Environmetal concerns have put many other Alpine expansion plans on hold, and there has been some environmental opposition to aspects of Sawiris’s plans, but the economic benefits to the communities either side of the Oberalp Pass swayed the authorities in favour of the plans. The strong franc does not appear to have dented his enthusiasm either with reports from Andermatt Swiss Alps AG that the development is progressing ahead of schedule.

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