Switzerland

Switzerland not only provides some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, but it does it with both style and metronomically consistent quality. Uniquely amongst nations around the world, all of the 200-plus winter sports resorts in Switzerland can be accessed by public transport. Despite the multitude of railway, bus and aerial lift operators the services all integrate seamlessly and as reliably as Switzerland’s famous timepieces.


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Winter sports first began in the Swiss Alps, in traditional mountain communities and well established summer resorts, and most Swiss ski and snowboard destinations are pretty – often car-free – villages with strong identities and a rich history. Incidentally “car-free” does not mean the Swiss do not encourage driving – petrol is cheaper than elsewhere in Europe and the road network is efficient – it is just that many of the communities have simply elected to have car drivers park lower in the valley or on the edge of their village.
Despite a reputation for being expensive, winter sports in Switzerland are usually cheaper (depending on exchange rates) than France, and provides better value for money than the USA. It is also higher and more snow-sure than other Alpine nations, giving you the the best opportunity to have a fabulous time during your visit. There are no guarantees though! Skiing and snowboarding are clearly outdoors sports enjoyed in what can be a very inhospitable or changeable environments. Depending on whether you are looking for a last minute break or planning  the ski holiday of a lifetime, I’m hoping I can give you some tips on where and when to go to ensure you  have a great time on the slopes – and off them.
I have skied in Switzerland for 20 years now. I’m planning on recording here my experiences not only of the top resorts, but also some of the many smaller gems. I’m also keen to hear from other people who can share their experiences of skiing or snowboarding in Switzerland – food and lodging recommendations, off-piste itineraries, good guides, insights into the areas… basically anything about Switzerland during the winter months. As well as this blog, I maintain a directory of Swiss Winter sports resorts and a web site dedicated to ski resorts you can reach by train. If you want to contact me privately you can do so at http://www.oatridge.co.uk/form.htm.
 
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12 thoughts on “Switzerland”

  1. Hi,
    I live in Orbe, about 30km north of lausanne, and I’m trying to locate some smaller resorts that offer night time skiing. Ideally somewhere that doesn’t involve a lengthy trip into the alps. Do you no of anywhere nearby, as in close to Lausanne/Neuchatel/Orbe?
    Any advice would be much appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Simon Younger.

    1. To the best of my knowledge only Saint-Cergue and Sainte-Croix/Les Rasses offer very limited night skiing reasonably closely to Lausanne. If you go a little further afield, Château-d’Oex and les Portes du Soleil offer a few kilometres of night skiing. The night skiing is not open every night and is only for a limited season. Contact the resort web sites for more info – contact details at the myswitzerland web site. You might want to post on the Swiss English Forum Bulletin Board to get better local info.

  2. hi all ,
    I am living in fribourg and quite good in skiing..
    But this winter 2011 i want to learn snowboarding..
    do anyone help me out where to find courses for snowboarding nearby fribourg..
    else who is professional can teach me for few weekends…

    thanks and regards,
    RCN

    1. Hi Ramachandra, there are a few resorts in the Black Forest that are reasonably convenient for you – the biggest is Feldberg (http://www.liftverbund-feldberg.de). Tuition in snowboarding is available (check the site), but if you don’t speak German you might find it a little tough. You are roughly four hours plus from the resorts in the Alps, so you might prefer taking a weekend break if you want to hit the slopes there. Most resorts have English-speaking snowboard instruction. Grindelwald might be a good choice, and it has a youth hostel with cheapish accommodation.

  3. Hey, my buddy and I are in Basel until saturday and we are looking for a place to snowboard. Looking at websites we have not found any slopes that are less then 1:30 travel time. We are looking for proximity over quality. Any advice would be highly appreciated.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Mario,
      Although there is a small place in the Jura in Baselland you can ski (Langenbruck) it is a very basic setup with just two surface lifts and normally only open at weekends. The nearest significant ski resort is in the Black Forest, Feldberg with 28 lifts and a respectable 50k of runs, but its highest run is from only 1450m so with the warmish weather at the moment I suspect it is probably best avoided until we get another cold snap and a bit more snow. Additionally, although it is only about an hour or so by road, it takes much longer using public transport.

      I go day skiing from Basel every week, and I go to the Alps – as do many other skiers and snowboarders from Basel, Zurich and Bern. It really isn’t a lot of hassle, even if it is 90 minutes or more to get to the slopes. Firstly there is the snow’n’rail deal you get from the station which provides discounts on the combined pass and ticket. Secondly there is just the amazing efficiency of the Swiss transport infrastructure which make getting there and back totally painless and delivers you right to the slopes. My advice is get up early and take a snack and entertainment for the journey (or just sleep), get kitted up on the train and before you come back get a couple of beers to enjoy on the trip home. Most stations and bottom stations have lockers so you can always dump some stuff there if you don’t want to carry it on the mountains, although I just travel light, often leaving home with my boots on.

      So where to go first? The very nearest good skiing is at Engelberg, and it is very good with plenty of off-piste, a glacier and a near 2km vertical drop. For altitude and extensive pistes, Jungfrau is good, with Grindelwald, Wengen or Mürren as potential destinations there. Zweisimmen for Gstaad Mountain Rides is not as high, but there is plenty of piste, often has good snow cover and is very easy to get to. Although Zermatt takes a little longer to get to, it really is one of those resorts everyone should get to at least once in their lifetime. Davos similarly (with Klosters as the better station to get off at) and also Andermatt.These places are all directly connected by rail.

      If you are prepared to take a bus connection (and it really is no more hassle than a train connection), Adelboden is relatively easy to get to and has some great slopes. Laax is do-able for a day trip and is a favourite with boarders. There are also a bunch of resorts in the Valais, like Lauchernalp, and Belalp that are small but high and with plenty of off-piste as well as enough good groomed runs for a day out.

      So, my advice is get up early, catch some zeds on the train and be prepared for some awesome boarding. With the warmish weather and limited snow, I’d recommend somewhere where a lot of the best runs are high and not all south-facing like Mürren (Schilthorn) or Engelberg. Andermatt normally has good snow on the Gemsstock, but the cable car can be a bit of a bottleneck at weekends. Engelberg reputedly has the best snow cover in Switzerland at the moment.

  4. Hi Outrage,

    Thanks for taking the time to set up this site. I live in Zurich (from Canada) and had friends out to visit in Jan. I finally figured out how to get them to Flumsburg, ( English is my only language) but over all the day was a clinic. I wish I had found your site first. What do you recommend for skiing that is not too far from Zurich (day trip even if it is a long day?)

    Is there any night skiing, tobogganing around Zurich that you can enjoy and still make it back to Zurich for the the night (no need to overnight)?

    Thanks again … the English Form is lucky to have you to contribute 🙂

    1. Hi Lauren, thank you for your kind comments.

      There is plenty of day skiing within easy striking distance of Zurich. Flumserburg is a favourite because it is so easy to get to and has a great range of slopes, but as a result it is also very busy with the weekend crowd and much better to visit midweek. In fact pretty much anywhere is better midweek than at weekends, with many of the smaller resorts having almost empty pistes and no queues. Although there are some very pleasant small resorts quite close to Zurich, such as Elm, Braunwald, Pizol, Hoch-Ybrig and Obertoggenburg you have some genuinely world-class ski areas only a couple of hours from Zurich by car, train, or a train and bus combination. At weekends I would recommend Lenzerheide, Arosa and Davos/Klosters (where you have a choice of moutains) in Graubünden. Slightly further away are the Aletsch Arena, Saas-Fee, Lauchernalp or Belalp in Valais and Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland. Although they are distinctly less busy midweek you should definitely check out Flims/Laax and slightly further away but iconic resorts, Wengen/Grindelwald and Zermatt.

      Most resorts have tobogganing and many have night skiing. You can check out which resorts have tobogganing at the MySwitzerland web site here and which resorts with night skiing here. Remember that night skiing often only takes place on selected nights and public transport tends to become less frequent and slower as the evening progresses.

      You will find the folk at the English Forum very useful for any specific questions you may have about day trips from Zurich. Incidentally I find using Chrome as a browser useful because you can have it automatically translate pages into English if you find yourself at a resort web site in German.

  5. Hi, I need to know a couple other traditional winter sports in Switzerland, OTHER than skiing and snow boarding??
    Thank you:)

    1. If you weren’t to ski or snowboard at all in Switzerland during the winter you wouldn’t find a shortage of alternative pusuits. The nordic style of cross-country skiing is catered for in most major resorts, and in the last few years there has been a huge uptake in snowshoe walking. Regular walks are also feasible since many resorts have winter walking trails for which all you need is sturdy boots. Most resorts also provide tobogganing and in some you can even take up louge or skeleton or bobsleigh. Bobsleigh is also available for complete beginners, as well as paragliding, in the company of experienced partners. Ice skating and ice hockey are popular throughout Switzerland, not just in the Alps – if you like ice hockey there is usually a scrimmage at most ice rinks at some period. As well as ice hockey there are plenty of spectator sports, from ski jumping through horse racing and football that are practiced during winter. Many alpine resorts have excellent swimming pools and sports centres, and some have first rate spa facilities throughout the winter – Leukerbad being my favourite. I won’t even begin to list the non-sports recreational activities there are available, since you were specific about winter sports, other than to say that there is plenty of choice – check out the MySwitzerland web site for details.

  6. Hi,
    Thanks for all that good information that you shared with us. As a family of four beginner skiers, we are looking for a place in mid December for one week. We live in Geneva but we can travel anywhere in the country as long as there will be good snow , suitable pists for beginners and mid range priced accomadation . Do you have any advice?
    Thank you.

    1. Mid-December is before many of the resorts have really got into gear, and sometimes Autumn has not brought along enough snow even if the temperatures have been low. For that reason I would recommend one of the bigger resorts with access to glacier skiing – for that reason St Moritz, Davos/Klosters, Zermatt and Saas-Fee would be top of my list. However, for beginners I would only really recommend Saas-Fee or Klosters. Klosters is family-friendly and one of the big bonuses is that the hotels and hostels throw in a free ski pass before Christmas. Saas-Fee is a pretty car-free town in a lovely location. Check with the local ski schools before you arrive to ensure they have English-language ski classes for your family at the time you are going, although I doubt if it would be an issue at Saas-Fee ( main ski school is on +41 27 957 23 48 / info@skischule-saas-fee.ch and should be open for business within a week or two if they are not already).

      For accommodation for a family we always go for the cheapest possible – normally a family room in a hostel. The hostels are all impeccably clean, not rowdy and very practical. In Saas-Fee a very pleasant, inexpensive family-run hotel in a good location is the Hotel Bristol.

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