Best Swiss Winter Sports Hotels

Switzerland has some of the best winter sports hotels in the world. With Covid, however, many cantons have closed restaurants and bars except those associated with hotels, and these are only open for residents. Now is perhaps a good time to figure out where are some of the best places to stay with full restaurant and bar service and things to do off the slopes, given that there could be various restrictions yet to come.

Hotel Kempinski in St Moritz

Much as I haven’t eaten in many of the restaurants listed in my previous post, I haven’t stayed in enough hotels in Switzerland to tell you which are the best for winter sports from first hand experience.

However, as is the case with Gault & Millau when it comes to the rating restaurants with the best food in Switzerland, the influential Zurich newspaper, Tages-Anzeiger, annually surveys which are the best 3, 4 and 5 star hotels in Switzerland for winter sports visitors.

The resulting lists are behind a paywall, but I shared the lists from 10 years ago on my “Where to Stay” page at the Swiss Winter Sports web site. Last week the newspaper published their latest annual survey (now up from the top 15 in each category to the top 25) and here are some of the best value choices, based on two people sharing:

For 3 star hotels, the Revier Mountain Lodge (Swiss Lodge) in both Adelboden and Lenzerheide are an impressively affordable at SFr 99 per person per night, although breakfast is an extra SFr 18 and dinner is not included. 3 star hotels offering full board at less than SFr 200 per person per night include the #1 pick Spitzhorn in Saanen (Gstaad), Sporthotel in Pontresina, Kernen in Schönried (Gstaad), Spescha in Lenzerheide and Des Alpes in Flims.

Amongst highly ranked 4 star hotels, there are some that come in cheaper than many 3 star establishments, notably the Ameron Swiss Mountain Hotel in Davos, at SFr 170, followed by the Radisson Blu Hotel Reussen in Andermatt at SFr 190, both full board.

The Gstaad Palace dominates the village of Gstaad.

Prices ratchet up quite a bit for the 5 star hotels. However the Lenkerhof Gourmet Spa Resort in Lenk, the Chalet Royalp Hotel & Spa in Villars, the Capra Saas-Fee and the Cervo Zermatt, appear to offer full board mid-season for less than SFr 400 per person per night. The famous Badrutt’s Palace seemed to offer the lowest prices in St Moritz at SFr 495 per night. Gstaad‘s top hotels were even more expensive, but there are options on a lesser budget in both St Moritz and Gstaad.

Schönried gives good access to the best slopes of Gstaad Mountain Rides.

The prices I quoted are taken from Tages-Anzeiger. I did a spot check and they seemed to be broadly correct, but do check at the hotel itself, the Swiss Tourist Board, Bookings.com, TripAdvisor or some other aggregator. Given the Covid situation, you might find some bargains are to be had – I certainly have so far this season.

You may well ask what the different star ratings represent and how durable the Tages-Anzeiger ranking system is by comparing the list of ten years ago with the latest.

Not surprisingly, it was Switzerland who first introduced an independent hotel classification in 1979. In 2010 this became the European Hotelstars .Union, and its classification has been adopted by most Alpine hotels (but not those in France). The full list of criteria is here. However you might want to know what the minimum criteria would be for a hotel selected by Tages-Anzeiger (i.e. three stars):

  • Reception opened 14 hours, accessible by phone 24 hours from inside and outside, bilingual staff
  • Lounge suite at the reception, luggage service on demand
  • Beverage offer in the room
  • Telephone in the room
  • hair-dryer, cleansing tissue
  • Dressing mirror, adequate place or rack to put the luggage/suitcase
  • Sewing kit, shoe polish utensils, laundry and ironing service
  • Additional pillow and additional blanket on demand
  • Systematic complaint management system

For many people a one star hotel will offer everything they want, such as half-board, TV, ensuite bathroom, daily room cleaning and towels. Indeed, I would happily recommend most hostels and many no star hotels in Switzerland to skiers and snowboarders based on my own experience. On the whole Switzerland is an orderly, clean and safe country and I have found even the most basic hostel in the country better than the best hostel I have stayed in elsewhere. Hostels usually offer full board, provide a bar service and have a range of accommodation, – from dormitories to en-suite. Indeed, normally you might prefer a ski-in, ski-out hostel to luxury accommodation where you would need a hotel transfer to get to the slopes. However many of the budget hotels do not offer a dinner or bar service at this time, and many hostels will not be offering shared accommodation any time soon.

It is difficult maintaining a web site dedicated to Swiss winter sports when it is impossible to visit every resort, hotel and restaurant every year and anecdotal information can be inconsistent, so it is useful to have independent input. One question, however, is whether the information is largely consistent from one year to the next and not faddish like many sources. I also wondered whether it is true that the most highly rated establishments tend to maintain more consistent standards over time. If I am right, the best Swiss winter sports hotels in Tages-Anzeiger will have changed less amongst 5 star than 4 and 3 star hotels, comparing 2010 to 2020 and 2020 to last year. Let’s see how it goes.

Well, all but two of the 15 top 5 star hotels in 2010 are in in the top 25 for 2020. The two that have dropped out have been rebranded and appear to be under new ownership, and the two that snuck in to replace them were ranked 23rd and 24th. The ones that dropped out still get good reviews online, but clearly are rebuilding their reputations. The top 10 are the same as last year, with some small differences in ranking. Interestingly, the W in Verbier, which the Telegraph rated 9/10, does not make the top 25 – which may be because the Tages-Anzeiger list addresses Swiss rather than UK tastes.

When it comes to 4 star hotels, only 7 that were in the top 15 are still in the top 15, 10 years later. All the others had dropped out of top 25 altogether. There have been some changes of ownership, but the list for 2020 has a different feel. However only 2 have dropped out from the top 10 of last year, to 14 and 15th places. There are 4 new entrants from last year, 2 of which made it straight into the top 15.

For the 3 star hotels, 6 have retained a place in the top 15, and 9 in the top 25. Only 1 has dropped out of the top 10, down to 16th. There were 5 new entrants, none higher than 17th place.

So it is not very scientific, but it does look like 5 star hotels have more durability than 4 or 3 star hotels but no real difference between 3 and 4 star hotels in terms of durability of reputation.

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Ski for a day




ski-saas-fee
I’m going to tell you how to take a ski break for a day. You can literally check out the snow reports one day, be skiing or snowboarding the next, and be back in the office the following day. In other words, you can take one day off work and ski the Swiss Alps for a full day in the mountains. How’s that for a day out the office!
Why Switzerland? Well it has fabulous resorts within easy reach of Geneva Airport; you can use public transport to get to the slopes; and accommodation at short notice is widely available if you stay in the valleys rather than the mountains. And it is no more expensive than France for a quick break and much more convenient than Italy or Austria. Although Innsbruck in Austria is quite convenient for a number of resorts, there are fewer flights.
Nic Oatridge at Saas-Fee
I’m not going to push Easyjet, but it is a good choice for getting to Geneva from the UK, with several flights a year from Gatwick and regional airports. BA is also a good choice if you have lots of Avios points. And if you want to take your skis with you, Swiss will carry them for free. Typically Easyjet flights start from about £26, but get pricey at weekends. At a day’s notice it can cost less than £100 pounds return for an evening flight out, and either an evening flight back the next day or an early morning flight the following day – both of which will get you back in the office the next day with a full day’s skiing.
Geneva Airport has a station in the airport itself with direct trains running to hub towns from where you can get to the slopes, either by a single train journey or a very reliable bus service.
You can stay in a resort, but with a late flight and an hour time difference it is a push if you leave the office to take an evening flight. I would recommend you stay in one of those “hub” towns, somewhere like Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, Aigle, Martigny, Sion, Sierre or Visp. It all depends on how much travel time you are prepared to put in to and from respectively the airport and your preferred ski resort. Some towns on the main line service to Brig from Geneva Airport are particularly convenient for specific resorts, e.g. Aigle for Portes du Soleil (Champéry), Villars, Les Diablerets and Leysin; Martigny for Verbier and Les Marécottes; Sion for the central section of the 4 Valleys (Nendaz, Veysonnaz or Siviez) and Anzère; Sierre for Crans-Montana; and Visp for Saas-Fee or Zermatt. I could mention other resorts, but on the whole they require longer transfers or are much smaller.
Most towns have convenient and reasonably priced accommodation near the main railway station that can be booked at short notice, typically via Bookings.com.
You are spoilt for choice about which resort to go to. Saas-Fee and Zermatt are open for longer seasons than the rest, and mid-week skiing is usually only available at the others from the start of December. During peak season Leysin, Villars, Les Diablerets and the Portes du Soleil are the nearest significant resorts to Geneva.
Torgon
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Flying out of Gatwick on a Wednesday at 6.20pm, arriving at Geneva at 8.55pm, book into the Lausanne Youth Hostel or Hotel AlaGare both walking district from Lausanne station. Get up early and get a full day skiing in Verbier, leaving your stuff in a locker at the base station for Verbier. Return to Lausanne in the evening and take the 7.00am Easy jet flight getting you into Gatwick at 7.35am.
Another example: Take the same evening flight and book into a hotel in Aigle. Ski Leysin the next day, then take the 9.35pm flight back getting you into Gatwick at 10.05pm.
The costs depend on a number of factors. Costing out the first option, you might spend £100 on flights, plus transit costs to a UK airport. You can bring your skis on Easyjet for £39 or hire in resort for about the same if you book in advance. With Avios points I’ve done a return BA flight for £60. The return train fare on Swiss Railways from Geneva Airport to Lausanne is about £40 and the cost of a combined ski and travel pass (the Snow’n’rail scheme) for Verbier will be about £100. Lausanne is about 50 minutes from Geneva Airport and just over 2 hours from the gondola station serving Verbier. Accommodation near the station will cost you about £80 for a night. Food and drink are best bought from supermarkets and it is totally acceptable to drink alcohol on the trains.
On my trip to Saas-Fee last week I took advantage of an all-season ski pass I bought for under £200. I also have a half-fare card which halves the cost of rail transfer in Switzerland and I have Easyjet+ which gives some perks flying Easyjet. I am over 60 so travel in the UK is free or heavily discounted. And I have a pad in Switzerland about 1 hour 30 minutes from Geneva Airport and half an hour from the nearest ski resort.
I also have a pass for 25 other leading Swiss resorts that cost me around £200 for the whole season. The benefit of also having the Saas-Fee pass is it gives me good skiing early and late in the season.

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March skiing

March is probably my favourite month for skiing, the longer evenings and sunny skies heralding Spring. And, of course, you do tend to get Spring ski conditions – crusty off-piste, whilst the pistes are icy first thing and slushy at the end of the day. So a good tip is to look for resorts where most of the skiing is high.

No schools in Europe have half term during March this year, so there should be some good bargains for accommodation, particularly family-friendly resorts.

Some of the medium-sized resorts are perfect to visit since they have lower lift pass prices and should have the full extent of their ski area still open.


Booking.com


These, then, are my top tips for March skiing, all resorts with plenty of altitude:

Saas-Fee
Ski Saas-Fee

Nendaz
Ski Nendaz

Celerina (Engadine)
ski Celerina in the Engadine

Mürren
ski Murren in the Jungfrau

Flims
Ski Flims Laax Falera

St-Luc/Chandolin
Ski St-Luc and Chandolin

Crans-Montana
ski Crans and Montana

Surlej (Engadine)
ski Surlej, Silvaplana

Belalp
ski Belalp and Blatten

Lauchernalp
Ski Lauchernalp in the Lötschental

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Ski Club of GB Annual Consumer Report

The Ski Club of Great Britain, the UK’s largest snowsports membership organisation, released findings from their annual consumer research report earlier this month.
Nic Oatridge skiing in St Moritz
The report, which is now in its fourth year, offers insight into the habits, intentions and attitudes of people who participate in snowsports, both here in the UK and abroad. It also offers some understanding of the state of the market and the likelihood for growth or decline in its size. It is the only independent piece of consumer research in the snowsports market of its kind.

From a pool of over 1.3 million email addresses the 2016 survey generated 17,270 responses of whom 2,432 were non-skiers. The responses seemed to skew towards older skiers, with the highest percentage age profile consisted of 34% aged between 50-59 years.

So what were the findings?

Has Brexit had an impact on skiers?

Brexit seems to have had little effect on the desire of skiers to continue pursuing their holidays. The survey responses were collected both before and after the referendum. Even amongst the ensuing uncertainty and exchange rate changes 65% of skiers said their skiing habits would remain the same over the next 3 years.
A further 28% said their activity would increase and only 7% said their activity would be decreasing – and much of this decrease was due to factors outside their control and mainly lifestyle changes. It seems that people who ski will continue to ski.
For the 2,300 non-skiers it was asked how likely they were to ski in the next three years. Over 5% gave a positive response (scoring 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) – a strong potential pool of new skiers.
However, when the result was split between people responding before and after the referendum there was a major significant difference. Before the referendum 7.2% had scored their potential to ski as 9 or 10. After, if had dropped to 4.5%.

Loyalty to ski

Repeat purchase intention in the ski market is extremely high. Of the people who skied last season an impressive 97% say they will ski again in the coming season.
Skiing also remains hugely popular with 92% of those who go on a snow sport holiday choosing to ski, from these 39% choose off-piste, an increase of 3.7.% from 2015. Snowboarding accounts for some 12% of activity (down slightly on last year’s results). Although not recorded last year, 4% this year stated that they did freestyle skiing on their holiday.
Advocacy is found the more times you try; those people who skied 1 week or less recorded a Net Promoter Score* rating of 59, those that skied 2 to 5 weeks’ scored 75 and those over 5 weeks tended to score 80 and over.
Loyalty to specific markets also remains strong – 74% of people who skied in France on their last holiday say they will go there for their next ski holiday with 61% stating Austria and 49% choosing USA & Canada.

Solo travellers on the up

Although 38% of respondents had skied with their own or other families on their last ski break, 31% with friends, it was notable that 7% stated that they travelled alone, a significant 2% increase from the 2015 research.

Growing the market

The report identifies new skiers as those who have skied 1 week or less and this year saw 33% were aged 40-49. From these they tended to have gone with their families.
When asked where they were likely to ski, they are more inclined to visit Andorra and some of the Scandinavian markets and significantly less likely to visit France in comparison to all other skiers.
Lapsed skiers (people who hadn’t skied in the last three years) were asked how likely they were to come back into the market. Some 50% of the people who hadn’t been skiing in the last 3 seasons responded positively and 20% of these responded with a 9 or 10. This is increase on last year of some 2% – a positive indicator of potential demand in the market.

Do we ever stop?

This year we asked people about whether they had taken a break from skiing of more than three years with 66% v 34% stating yes and no. The largest age group that featured in the yes category were the 40-49 year olds, perhaps children, work commitments or the classic cash rich/time poor issue features. The biggest age group who have not taken a break of three years from skiing is the 60+. This age group are more likely to have retired, and to have more time and money to continue their skiing each year.
The most common reason for a break has been taken was children. On top of this ‘other commitments’ and ‘costs’ as well as being at university also figure – but children remain the major issue.
However, what brought people back was their children, a love of skiing as well as increasing affluence and time. Skiing with friends and families is also often a great motivator too.

The customer journey

Although skiers enjoy skiing, the Net Promoter Score* rating across the customer journey highlights some concerns that continue in the market. The journey to get to a resort continues to be highlighted as not an enjoyable experience. Airline and airports are under-performing compared to the rest of the experience.

When do customers book?

When it comes to booking holidays 64% are booking 3 months or more before they travel and only 13% booking less than a month before their trip. When broken down into the under and over 30’s market, 36% of the latter book 6 months or more before they travel but interestingly there isn’t a significant difference for the under 30’s.

Spending habits?

Spend per head on travel, accommodation, ski passes, equipment and ski school remains fairly consistent on last year with 25% of respondents spending between £750-£1,000 per person. A slightly increase of 2.3% shows for those now spending more than £1,500 per person. Not surprisingly, when broken down 31% of under 30’s will spend around £500-£750 compared to 22% over this age.
New skiers will also spend significantly less, with 28% spending less than £500 per head compared with 19% of all over skiers

Choosing a resort

Once again, guaranteed snow is the number factor when choosing a resort, the size of the ski area and quality of accommodation make the top three. Interestingly, how busy the slopes are has risen but price still squeezes into the five most important factors. For the under 30’s market, price moves up to number 3 but quality of accommodation drops to a ranking of 5. Quality of après ski ranks in 6 rather than 12th for the rest of the market.
Winter sports in Switzerland
Preparing for a ski holiday

This year respondents were asked how they prepared for their ski holiday with 80% taking part in general fitness activities before they depart and 37% participating in other sports. Cycling came out as the clear favourite (although slightly less for the under 30’s market) but other popular sports also included swimming, tennis, golf, and squash, climbing and going to the gym
One fifth also visit an artificial slope in preparation. Interestingly it is the under 30’s market, and those who are often less experienced, who will visit an indoor ski slope.

Taking things into your own hands

The independent market – though a challenge to quantify accurately – and classed in this report as those who book elements of their ski holiday themselves rather than as a package seems to be holding steady. Last year it was identified that 33% of the market book independently – this year that figure was 34%.
There is a tendency for the 40-49 year olds to favour booking independently compared to those who are 60 and older who prefer to book with ski companies.
One of the key interesting trends that anchors the independent market is flexibility. Independent travellers are far likely less to book a standard 7 day break with 48% of people doing so compared to 78% who booked with a ski company.

Buying in UK store remains favourite but online is catching on

The UK ski & snowboard equipment store retailers remain the favourite purchase channel for ski equipment although this figure has been slipping downward across the last 2 years with 53% choosing to buy from a store in 2015 and 48% in 2016. Online purchase has increased once again by 4%.
What was highlighted was the discontentment of respondents purchasing either snow sport equipment or clothing in a resort with a very low Net Promoter Score* rating of -15 and -18 respectively.

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