Val Müstair

(c) Aline Oertli

In the extreme East of Switzerland lies the astonishingly beautiful Romansch-speaking Müstair valley, and within it the Minschuns ski slopes. Although the area is small it has affordable lift passes, queue-free lifts, uncrowded runs, family-friendly facilities and good options for going off-piste and ski touring. The population of the valley is around 1600, with the most significant villages being Müstair, Tschierv and Santa Maria.

Winter Sports
Minschuns
The Minschuns ski area is about 5km outside Tschierv, and 16km from Müstair. The valley lift station is at Era Sot where there is also free parking and a bus stop, “Tschierv, Talstation Minschuns”.
The planned opening and closing dates for the ski area in 2021/22 are Saturday, December 18, 2021 and Sunday, March 20, 2022.
The heart of the ski area is Alp da Munt at 2150m where the surface lift from the valley station terminates and where there is a beginners area serviced by a short surface lift. A longer surface lift connects Alp da Munt to the summit of Minschuns, from where a blue run descends to the runs served by the surface lift at Fantauna da S-charf. In total there are 10 pistes totalling 25km between 1,670m and 2,700m. 3km are rated black, 5km are rated red and 17km are rated blue. Additionally there are off-piste opportunities, and a trail from Minschuns all the way to Tschierv, snow conditions permitting.
There are 4km of cross-country at 2,180m, a winter hiking trail and a toboggan run.
An avalanche training centre is located at Alp da Munt.
An 8 man gondola is currently proposed between Tschierv and Alp da Munt.

Müstair and Tschierv
There are rinks in both villages for ice skating and ice hockey. It is also possible to play curling on the rink in Tschierv.

Getting There
By car: Landquart – Klosters – Vereina car transport – Zernez – Ofenpass.

By Public Transport
There are SBB train connections to Landquart, from where you take a Rhaetian Railway train to Zernez and then a Postbus. The SBB operate a door-to-door luggage service.

Mobility in the Valley
From the winter season 2021/22, guests can now use all public transport in the Münstertal from Buffalora to Müstair free of charge.
There is an hourly Postbus with a route between Zernez, Tschierv, Sta. Maria and Müstair. Less frequently a Postbus runs between Fuldera and Lü.
A free ski bus runs through the valley to the Era Sot ski lift valley station.
New to the valley is a BMW i3 rental electric car in Tschierv. For electric vehicles there are 8 charging points in 3 locations.

Accommodation
In Müstair there are the some well-regarded hotels: the historic Chasa de Capol, Wellnesshotel Liun, Hotel Münsterhof and Hotel Helvetia. In Sta. Maria there is the three star Hotel Schweizerhof and a youth hostel, whilst in Tschierv there is the Hotel al Rom. There are also various bed & breakfast establishments, self-catering apartments, farms offering accommodation and bunk houses in the valley.

Activities
In the ski area, there are two mountain restaurants, Alp da Munt and Alp Champatsch, as well as the Aunta snow bar. Restaurants throughout the valley provide regional specialities.
The smallest whiskey bar in the world, with an associated museum, can be found at the High Glen Distillery in Sta. Maria. The Antica Distilleria Beretta in Tschierv is also open for tastings and visits.
A guided tour is available through the UNESCO World Heritage St. Johann Monastery, Müstair. There is also the 17th Century Muglin Mall Flour Mill, the Tessandra hand weaving mill and the Chasa Jaura Valley Museum in Sta. Maria. Factory tours can be made of the pine joinery at Fuldera. At Buffalora there is an ancient Ore Mine (only visitable with a guide during the summer months).
The regional nature park that was established in Val Müstair in 2011 together with the Swiss National Park and parts of the municipality of Scuol, forms the first high alpine UNESCO biosphere reserve in Switzerland. Certified organic products from the reserve can be purchased at the producers and in all village shops.

Events
The Epiphany race (Dreikönigsrennen) for snowshoe runners and touring skiers takes place on 5th January 2022.
The Ortler Alpine School runs six day ski tours in the valley throughout the season: www.alpinschule-ortler.com/en/winter-tours-courses/offer-weeks-ski-touring-weeks/

Further information
Tourist Office: www.val-muestair.ch
Operating times of the ski lifts, mountain restaurant and bar Aunta, webcams, weather and snow reports: www.minschuns.ch
Ski and snowboard school Val Müstair: www.minschuns.ch / email: sdsvm@bluewin.ch
High alpine ski tours: www.val-muestair.ch/skitouren
Avalanche Training Centre: www.val-muestair.ch/de/avalanche-training-center
Cross-country skiing center Fuldera & snowshoe tours: www.aventueras.ch


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Break in Braunwald




City NightlineI had to go down to Switzerland for some business and thought I would take in a day’s skiing, even though the weather didn’t look good and I had a cold. The trip was painless and it made a nice break despite my heavy head. I took a bed on the excellent City Nightline on Thursday night from Utrecht to Basel for around fifty euros and was in Basel before 7am. If it wasn’t for the business, I could easily have been on the slopes somewhere like Wengen within a couple more hours.
Linthal ValleyThe next morning I got up early and took a train across to Zurich where I bought a Snow’n’Rail combined ticket at SFR 60. Despite all the talk of the cost of the Swiss Franc, somehow sixty francs for a scenic trip up the Linthal valley and a day in one of the most pleasant small, car-free resorts seems to me good value. Braunwald is not a huge resort, but it does have a good range of skiing as well as plenty for non-skiers to do – indeed, despite it being a Saturday, the slopes were almost empty and there seemed to be more tobogganists and winter walkers below the Eggstöcke than skiers and snowboarders. It has struck me before how unusual a resort so easy to get to from Zurich is so quiet at weekends, with most weekend warriors preferring to go to Hoch-Ybrig or Flumserberg. The trip really is a doddle, with the funicular railway right in the Linthalbahn Braunwald railway station. A quirky feature of Braunwald is the configuration of gondolas used in the resort, with one cableway operating them in pairs, another in quads and a final one alternating with chairlifts on the same cable.
Lara Gut and Anna Fenninger come in 1st and 2nd in St Moritz
The weather wasn’t great so I had a leisurely day on the slopes. I later saw replays of Lara Gut winning in St Moritz, but the self-service restaurant at Grotzenbüel put up a big screen to let us watch the racing live at Kitzbühel on the shortened Streif course off the Hahnenkamm.
Gondolas in Braunwald
After a pleasant day on the slopes, a leisurely train journey back down the valley and a meal at Zurich Station’s NordSee fish restaurant it was time to get on the sleeper back to the Netherlands in the company of two charming Chinese ladies. The fare was cheaper than from Basel bizarrely, some 44 euros.

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Toggenburg

Toggenburg had somehow fallen off my list of resorts to visit, but since it is served the excellent Snow’n’Rail scheme from the Swiss Railways and looks to have a good amount of piste it seemed like an oversight on my part. I think one concern was the height, with most of the runs between 1230m and 1770m and the highest runs at 2262m, but with the cold weather and monster dumps of snow we have seen this month this was not a reason for avoiding the resort.

The trip there is relatively straight-forward. From Zurich you can go to either Buchs (for Wildhaus) or Wattvil, via Vil on the St Gallen line (for Alt St Johann and Unterwasser). The last leg is by bus, although there is also a train that runs from Wattvil and sometimes from Wil to Nesslau, shortening the bus ride to a few minutes. There are also occasional additional trains and buses from Wattvil… Ok, relatively straight-forward. Check out your schedule before you go and if you choose to vary it, remember that the trick of thinking everything runs on the hour doesn’t necessarily stand up.

Toggenburg view from Gamserrugg
Toggenburg view from Gamserrugg

Approaching the Toggenberg ski area from Wil you could be forgiven for thinking you were going the wrong way, as you seem to be leaving the Alps behind, and the Toggenberg valley starts off very gently and hilly rather than mountainous. It’s a very pretty valley, with the river Thur running through it. The last three villages in Upper Toggenburg (Obertoggenburg) are respectively Alt St Johann (900m), Unterwasser (910m) and Wildhaus (1090m) and from here you get to feel you are in the mountains again.

The three villages of Obertoggenberg are each valley stations for the main ski, with Unterwasser having the best infrastructure – a funicular railway and a cable car to take you right up to the peak of Chäserugg at 2262m. In effect it feels more like three resorts than one, with the areas above the three villages only being loosely connected to each other by pistes that are often more like trails. It works, though, and the villages at the bottom are served by a post bus route and ski buses which are free to use if you have a lift pass.

The valley is largely North-facing and, although it is the most Northerly of the main ski resorts in Switzerland, locals tell me the snow record is good. There is 60km of piste, so plenty to keep you busy for a day or two and I think Wildhaus in particular is popular with people coming for the week (Wildhaus is where Zwingli, the great Swiss reformer, was born). When I was there the slopes immediately above Wildhaus were full of learners, but further up, above Oberdorf and Gamsalp there are some nice runs. Although you can get around most of the resort without resorting to T-bars, this area, however requires you to take a long T-bar up to the summit of Gamserrugg (2076m). It is worth it, though, both for the good runs but also the spectacular views across Buchs, Vaduz in Liechenstein, the Rhine Valley and the Alps stretching away in every direction except North. one of the runs, a yellow trail, takes you down to a place called Grabs but since I didn’t have any idea whether Grabs was even on a bus route, I didn’t try it but it looked interesting. As it turns out Grabs is on the bus route from Buchs to Wildhaus. One for another day.

The area seems fine for intermediate boarders and skiers and has a few black runs and accessible off-piste for the more experienced. There aren’t so many blues, though, just one short one at Seamatt, three around Iltios and a couple at Oberdorf.

There is night skiing at the tiny resort of Ebnat-Kappel and Alt St Johann. Just as an aside, Ebnat-Kappel has 6km of piste between 650 and 1200m and is on the train line between Nesslau and Wattwil. I’ve not skied there, but if you are staying the the valley and the snow is good, it is probably worth the outing. I haven’t come across a piste map of the resort either.

There is a fair amount of nordic in the Toggenburg valley and some good back country touring apparently. Winter walkers have plenty of scope with one impressive walk from the top of Chässerrugg.

Oberdorf has a reasonably priced Berggasthaus if you want to sleep in the mountains. There didn’t look to be much in the way of apres ski activity, although I am sure there is some around the hotel bars in the evening.

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Malbun – Ski Liechtenstein

Landlocked within the landlocked nations of Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein hosts one tiny ski resort, Malbun. It is a spectacular drive from the motorway at Sargans in Switzerland, or about 30 minutes by bus from Valbun, Liechtenstein’s capital (itself 30 minutes by bus from Sargans station).
The resort has just over 20km piste and stands at about 1600m. The highest runs are from 2000m with three modern chairlifts servicing virtually all of the resort. There is a good range of skiing from nursery slopes through runs of increasing difficulty, including one short, steep black and some off-piste. There’s cross-country skiing in nearby Steg and toboggan runs and winter walking trails in Malbun itself.
On the face of it, there would be little to attract skiers and snowboarders to Malbun  but it is uncrowded and friendly, and in the Hotel Gorfion has an excellent ski-in, ski-out family hotel where you can deposit your kids in the ski school opposite or leave them in the hotel’s supervised nursery from as early as 7am until 8pm (schedule varies).
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