Portes du Soleil

Huge, rambling ski area that crosses over into France and features the famous Swiss Wall. Champery is probably the most convenient of the resorts for accessing most of the circuit, but purpose-built Champoussin and Morgins have the advantage of having runs back down to the resort.

Full details on the resort can be found at my database of Swiss Winter Resorts under the entry for Champéry.

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Snow’n’Rail From Basel

Basel is a great base for skiing and snowboarding Switzerland. If you live in Basel or are visiting, you can benefit from being in Switzerland’s premier transport hub. If you are staying, there are plenty of accommodation options with a very affordable and convenient YMCA and a clutch of mid-priced hotels near the station. If you are coming in for a break from abroad, Basel’s International Airport and SNCF terminus are the closest entry point for North and North-West Europe.

Using an SBB (Swiss Rail) Snow’n’Rail pass you get significantly discounted rail, bus, cable car and ski passes to all of the major winter sports resorts in Switzerland. The tickets are available from both ticket offices (which open at 6am) and automated ticket machines (which work in English), and you have a number of options for spending between 1 and 6 days on the slopes. When you buy your ticket, however, do make sure you select the right destination and right package. I have made some recommendations on which place to alight for the slopes below. In terms of packages, do bear in mind that some ski areas can provide cheaper, more limited ski passes – or may even provide a more limited one at the lift station on the assumption you won’t ski the whole area. For Verbier you may find your pass doesn’t give you access to Mont Fort without paying a supplement, and for Saas-Fee you should ensure you receive a full Saastal pass to enjoy some of the unexpectedly enjoyable skiing at Saas-Grund and Saas-Almagell.

Zermatt StationBelow are typical journey times to many of the resorts and the typical number of changes you need to make. I’ve skiied all the resorts on this list using Snow’n’Rail and only once failed to make a connection. With an early start and with a couple of exceptions, you can be on the pistes around 9-10am. Engelberg is probably the easiest, but has the tightest connection, so don’t linger in Luzern station unless you want to take a later connection. Although the main lifts at Engelberg are walkable from the station, you are better off taking the complementary ski bus. The main centres of the Bernese Oberland (Grindelwald, Wenger, Murren, Zweisimmen and Adelboden) are relatively easy to get to from Basel, and all have good integration between the rail, bus and lift networks, i.e. very little walking. From Bern they are all an hour closer, as are many of the resorts in Valais.

Many of the resorts of Valais and Graubünden are realistic options for a day trip. Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Aletsch, Flims, Klosters, Lenzerheide and Arosa all justify the effort and have lifts very near to the train station or a bus stop. Davos is also a do-able day destination, but it is more convenient to go to Klosters for the Parsenn, with its lifts adjacent to the station.

Flumserberg is popular from Zurich, but is also a pleasant excursion from Basel. For all the resorts in Graubünden and Eastern Switzerland, Zurich makes a better starting point than Basel, shaving at least an hour off the journey time.

To ski St Moritz you realistically need to stay overnight if you want to get a full day of skiing, and if you intend to do the Engadin justice you should get a two day pass and stay over two nights so you can get to both Corvatsch and Diavolezza. Samnaun is also not a realistic option from Basel for the day, with over a 5 hour journey time, and if you want to ski Samnaun you’re probably better off staying at Ischgl in Austria.

Les Portes du Soleil and the Vaud Alpine resorts of Leysin, Les Diablerets and Villars look a bit of a stretch for a day trip from Basel, but I’ve done these trips and found them worth the effort. Lausanne is a better base to ski or snowboard Francophone Switzerland (Romandie), generally saving at least a couple of hours on the journey.

Airolo in Italian-speaking Ticino is the only ski resort you can get to directly from Basel without a change, bizarrely. Incidentally the nearest ski and snowboarding to Basel is actually in Baselland, at Langenbruck, an hour by public transport from Basel. Although nothing to set the pulse racing, if the conditions are right it is fine for intermediates looking to get in a bit of practice. Better skiing and snowboarding is across the border in the Black Forest, where Feldberg offer surprisingly varied pistes and a good lift system. Feldberg can be reached by public transport or by car from Basel, although get there early if you want to park anywhere near the lifts!

Some of the resorts (denoted with an asterisk below) require you to take a bus for the last leg of the journey. Don’t let this put you off! The buses are every bit as reliable as the trains, integrate well with the train network, have facilities to take skis and snowboards and are at least as likely to drop you off at the lift station as trains do. Most of the buses are operated by the Postbus network with their distinctive yellow livery, but there are a number of other companies that also operate buses which participate in the Snow’n’Rail scheme. Buses can also be useful if you take an off-piste itinerary that drops you down to somewhere different from where you started. As often as possible in the text of articles on resorts I’ll let you know where these stops are.

Resort Recommended Station/Stop* From Basel Time Changes
Adelboden-Lenk Adelboden, Mineralquelle* Bern / Frutigen 2.35 2
Airolo Airolo 2.57 0
Aletsch Betten Bern / Brig 2.38 2
Alpes Vaudoises Les Diablerets Lausanne / Aigle 3.47 3
Arosa Arosa Chur 3.36 1
Crans-Montana Montana Gare / CMA* Bern / Visp / Sierre 3.07 2
Davos Davos Platz or Dorf Landquart 3.22 1
Engelberg-Titlis Engelberg Luzern 2.09 1
Flims / Laax / Falera Flims Dorf, Bergbahnen* Chur 2.48 1
Flumserberg Unterterzen Zurich / Ziegelbrucke 2.29 1
Grindelwald Grindelwald Interlaken Ost 2.38 1
Gstaad Mountain Rides Zweisimmen Bern 2.19 1
Klewenalp Beckenried, Post* Luzern / Stans 1.58 2
Klosters/Davos Klosters Landquart 2.52 1
Lauchernalp / Lotschental Wiler, Seilbahn* Bern / Spiez / Goppenstein 2.47 2
Lenzerheide Canols, Rothornbahn* Chur 3.06 1
Les Portes du Soleil Champèry Lausanne / Aigle 3.57 3
Meiringen / Hasliberg Meiringen Interlaken Ost or Luzern 2.34 1
Murren Murren Interlaken Ost / Laterbrunnen 2.14 1
Obertoggenburg Wildhaus, Post* Zurich / Buchs 3.02 2
Saas-Fee Saas-Fee, Busterminal* Bern / Visp 3.01 1
St Moritz St Moritz Bad SMBB* Chur 4.25 1
Verbier Le Chable Bern / Visp / Martigny 3.38 3
Wengen Wengen Interlaken Ost, Lauterbrunnen 2.14 1
Zermatt/Cervinia Zermatt Visp 3.24 1

The SBB Railaway Snow’n’Rail web site is seasonal, but you should be able to find an overview of the product and links to resort details here. Although much of the information is in English, more resorts are covered in German. Check routing information at the Swiss Rail website – at times you may need fewer or more changes than indicated above for fastest transfers, and for Valais and Vaud resorts there may be other routing options.

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Where to Stay

Switzerland provides some of the best accommodation in the world, from the swankiest hotels through to outstanding hostels. Although there is everything you would expect of a country with over 150 years of Winter tourism experience, one uniquely Swiss option, thanks to the wonderful transport infrastructure and the countries compact size, is the opportunity to stay in a metropolis and “commute” to the slopes, visiting different resorts each day. Lausanne, Interlaken, Bern and Luzern all make good bases.

The Switzerland Tourism web site is, as always, a fount of useful information for the independent traveller. For general accommodation, information is available at  My Switzerland. Switzerland Tourism also produce brochures which can be ordered at the web site or perused online for  (Swiss Luxury Hotels),  (Luxury Chalets),  (Wellness Hotels), (Design & Lifestyle Hotels), (Typically Swiss Hotels), and (winter huts), amongst others.

For the budget traveller, the quality of Swiss hostels will come as a pleasant surprise. They are clean, efficient, inexpensive, convenient and offer a range of accommodation options from dormitories to en suite bedrooms from as little as around CHF30 per night. The two main networks are the (Swiss Youth Hostels) and (Swiss Backpackers). Not only are many of the youth hostels conveniently situated in ski resorts, there are several located close to the stations in bustling cities like Bern and Lausanne which make great centres to ski multiple locations. The youth hostel in the Cantonal capital of Valais, Sion, opens late in the season, but makes a great base for snowboarding and skiing in the canton.

Mostly inexpensive Bed and Breakfast (http://www.bnb.ch/) often offer rustic settings and fare, while igloos are a more unconventional option to get close to the mountains (http://www.iglu-dorf.com/).

The travel agents that operate package holidays to Switzerland are listed elsewhere, but the following provide accommodation only services:

There are many specialist chalet companies, such as:

Additionally there are a number of independent chalet owners who advertise everywhere from Craigslist to expatriate bulletin boards.

In 2008, the most popular locations for visitors in Switzerland to stay were:

Location Beds
Zurich 11675
Geneva 10333
Zermatt 5881
Lucerne 5499
Basel 5208
Davos 5261
St. Moritz 4288
Lausanne 3753
Bern 3379
Interlaken 3030
Lugano 3036
Arosa 2838
Grindelwald 2923
Lauterbrunnen 2974

Source: Swiss Tourist Federation

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Short Trips to Winter Sports Resorts

If you are fortunate enough to live in Switzerland, or have some other reason to be in or near Switzerland between November and May, it is remarkably easy to take a day trip to the Swiss Alps. Although it is convenient to use a car, there is very little reason not to take public transport. The travel times are comparable, it is at least as convenient by public transport and the ecological footprint is smaller. In addition many trains provide buffets and if they don’t, the local kiosk or Co-op can sell you snacks and refreshments to take with you. It is quite acceptable on Swiss trains to bring on board your favourite tipple to enjoy apres ski in the comfort of your return journey, reflecting on your day in the mountains whilst the mountain scenery passes alongside.
Probably the most cost-effective way to ski or snowboard is to take advantage of the Swiss Railways “Snow’n’Rail” scheme, which offers discounts on ski hire from the ubiquitous Intersports hire shops and significantly reduced charges for a combined rail and ski passes. You receive a ticket and a seperate voucher for the ski pass which can be exchanged for a ski card at the mountain resorts. Often there is a small deposit on the ski card, typically 5 SFr, redeemable when you return the card. The ticket and voucher can be purchased at railway stations either at a counter or from a ticket machine. The ticket machines will guide you through the purchase in English, French, German or Italian, and the online and printed brochures promoting the scheme are available in these languages too – although only the German version is comprehensive and the online versions are only available in season.
You can buy Snow’n’Rail passes for one or two days. There are also some destinations which offer six days passes, Engadin St Moritz being the most attractive. Astoundingly you can get to most ski areas in Switzerland by public transport on a day pass and get a full day’s skiing, provided you are willing to get up early enough! Some Snow’n’Rail desinations involve a combination of train and bus – don’t be put off by using buses, the buses are as efficient as the trains and the transfers are usually as easy as they are between trains. Most stations, hire shops and ski areas provide storage facilities if you don’t want to carry your gear around with you when you ski, although many regulars of the Snow’n’Rail service I know literally leave home in their ski boots ready to leap off the destination lift or train right onto the slopes.
Snow’n’Rail is not just for residents or people passing through Switzerland. It is entirely feasible to take a flight to Zurich Airport and get a full day skiing at somewhere like Flumseberg, two hours away from the terminal. An evening flight to Basel and a night at the YMCA near the station means you can get a full day skiing the next day at resorts like Wengen and Engelberg. Flying into Geneva on a Friday and staying at a hostel in Zermatt can give you two full days on the slopes before you return home on a Sunday evening flight.
Snow’n’Rail’s online brochure is produced seasonly, but this link will help you navigate it when it is available.

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