Affordable Skiing in Switzerland

With the continuing strength of the Swiss Franc, a ski or snowboard holiday in Switzerland may not look affordable, but there are many ways you can make a Swiss winter sports holiday fit into most budgets. Here are some of my tips:

Take advantage of the best public transport in the world

Every single ski resort in Switzerland can be reached by public transport, and furthermore virtually anywhere you book to stay will have good public transport access. That opens up a host of opportunities to stay in inexpensive accommodation outside the ski resorts, but within easy access. One suggestion is to stay in Interlaken, and do day trips to the Jungfrau resorts of Murren, Grindelwald and Wengen. These places can get gelid, so rigging up your The-House jackets before embarking on that trip would really help. Interlaken is lively and full of good priced accommodation options. From Chur, the cantonal capital of Graubunden, you can easily reach Davos and Flims/Laax. You might also want to mix business with skiing, and it is possible to get a full day skiing on a day trip from any of the major commercial centres.

Use Snow’n’Rail

The Snow’n’Rail scheme provides 20% discount off the combined public transport and lift pass charges for virtually every significant resort in Switzerland. Agsin, this works well if you are staying away from the ski resorts themselves.

Stay in inexpensive accommodation

With a reputation for quality and service, even very basic lodgings can provide excellent lodgings. Perhaps the best tip is to stay in a Youth Hostel. Many resorts have outstanding hostels with easy access to the slopes – even St Moritz. Most of the hostels offer en-suite facilities if you don’t want to share a bathroom, and the dormitories vary from singles upto 20 beds or so. Most offer half-board and sell wine and beer. Consider the options from Jungle Vista Inn.

Eat and drink out judiciously

Eating out can get very expensive in Switzerland, and you can easily run up an eye-watering bar bill. However the supermarkets offer good value. Many places offer catering facilities, so you can eat in, and you can always have a few apres-ski tipples back in your accommodation. Many Swiss also take their lunches with them when they ski and take advantage of the picnic rooms available at most resorts, although I usually find Swiss soups offer a nourishing and inexpensive lunch. In Switzerland it is also acceptable to drink alcohol in public.

Take advantage of deals

The Swiss are generally reluctant to offer discounts. As one hotelier put it “You are taking advantage of the people willing to pay the full price”! However the strong franc has focussed minds and all sorts of special offers abound. Many resorts include free lift passes with hotel bookings ahead of Christmas, allow kids to ski for free on all or some days. In the next couple of months I will highlight special deals as they become public. The Swiss Tourist office has a number of deals posted Swiss Vacation deals.

Go to less well-known resorts

You get an amazing range of skiing and snowboarding at resorts like Verbier and Zermatt, but many of the lesser resorts offer equally challenging runs, plenty of off-piste terrain and – arguably – much better facilities for beginners and intermediates. Also, using public transport, it is possible to combine visiting a number of cheaper inexpensive resorts in one trip and actually have access to more slopes in total than if you stayed in one more highly priced resort.

Book online in advance

Many things are cheaper booked online than in person – some things, like the Swiss Transfer Ticket, are only available outside Switzerland. In addition you often have the opportunity to buy online in the currency of your choice, often at a lower price than the cost in Swiss Francs.

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Skiing out of Sion


Sion - Castle of Valère
I have always liked Sion, but one of its main attractions in the winter is how convenient it is for hitting the slopes – you can even see pistes from the city centre. The city is on the main line between Geneva and Milan and, reputedly, has the largest bus station in Switzerland in terms of destinations served (23 in total). From the bus station you can get direct services to Anzère, Veysonnaz and Nendaz (both in the Four Vallées), the resorts of Val d’Herens, including Arolla and even the lifts serving Vercorin (in the amazing Val D’Anniviers). By train, with just one change, you can get to Zermatt, Verbier, Crans-Montana and a bunch of other resorts. Incidentally, my tip for getting quickly to the best of the pistes is to go to Haut-Nendaz Télécabine and jump on the free shuttle bus to Siviez, where you are right at the heart of 412km of piste.

One other useful thing about Sion is that it has a youth hostel right next to the station, although unfortunately it does not open until late March. However, with so many high altitude resorts in the area it still works well for late season skiing. I recently stayed there and, as a result, got to refresh a lot of content at the Swiss Winter Sports web site. Even though it was April, I found some amazing lift-served powder in Les Marrécottes and a resort run in reasonable condition at Grächen.

There is surprisingly little variety of accommodation along the Rhône valley, with most of the beds in the ski resorts themselves. Sion does have a few hotels, though, and also a good variety of bars and restaurants in the old town.

Perhaps I will get one ski weekend in before the season finally closes, presumably in Valais. It has been a strange winter season. Much heralded as being the 150th anniversary of winter holidays, there was little snow before the New Year and lower resorts will have definitely suffered from lower visitor numbers.

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Affordable luxury ski holiday in Zermatt

Matterhorn, Zermatt
There are probably few things better than a week in Zermatt, especially when there is fresh snow and clear, sunny skies. The recent hike in the Swiss Franc makes what was already an expensive resort, even more so. But, hey, it’s Zermatt! When you’re dead and buried, Zermatt will be off the agenda (unless you are buried in the mountaineer’s graveyard in the resort), so you have to make it here at least once in your lifetime. I reckon I have made at least a dozen ski trips there.

So, how do you make it affordable? There are two main options as far as accommodation is concerned. Option one is to bunk up in a hostel or a lower end hotel like the excellent Hotel Bahnhof. Option two is to share a chalet, especially if there is a deal on.
Haus Alpa
Until the end of April, Ski Zermatt are offering a 30% discount on Haus Alpa. The chalet is in an ideal location, in the heart of the town, only 300 meters to the Sunnega Cable Car and 500 meters to the mainline station and the Gornegrat railway. It has superb wellness facilities and free wifi and even a spa called ComplexCity Spa. Good skiers can even ski to the front door. Haus Alpa provides two catered penthouse chalets, which sleep 6-8 people at a regular price of CHF 15000-18000/week and seven self-catered apartments, which also sleep 6-8 people at a regular price of CHF 7000-10000/week. That means you can enjoy a luxury chalet for as little as around GBP 60 (CHF 87.50) a night.

Although the catered option is more than twice the price, the discount makes it particularly attractive. Ski Zermatt is part of the Elysian group who have won awards and built a strong following for their attention to detail, the standard of catering and their friendly service. They claim their catering at Haus Alpa is of Michelin star quality, and it is accompanied by an excellent wine list, included in the price.

So, having chosen where you are going to stay, what else do you need? A ski pass covering both Zermatt and Cervinia will set you back CHF 434 for six days, and you can purchase these online in advance from www.matterhornparadise.ch.

I recommend flying in with Swiss to Zurich. Prices start at around GBP 130 return from Heathrow, and the price includes free carriage of skis or snowboard, boots and helmet. You must buy it in advance, but the Swiss Transfer Ticket at CHF 141, is a return ticket from any station in Switzerland to any other station in Switzerland – in your case from the station inside Zurich airport to the station in Zermatt. The journey time is around three and a half hours and you need to change in Visp. Some trains run direct from the airport to Visp, but alternatively you can change at Zurich HB.
Zurich airport
The train journey is an absolute delight and infallibly reliable. A useful tip is to pop into the Co-op in the airport and buy some snacks, cold beers or wine for the trip. Supermarket booze is cheaper than in the UK and drinking on the trains is absolutely acceptable – on the train to Visp there is also catering and a trolley service, but not on the last leg. I remember once being complemented on my foresight by the ticket inspector for having stocked up on beer for this last section! Incidentally there is also a Co-op in the middle of Zermatt in a small shopping centre opposite the railway station. If you are self-catering or want to stock up on booze, this is the best value in Zermatt. All the clubs and bars are free to enter in Zermatt, but the drinks can get pricey.
Chalet Etoille at Plain Maison above Cervinia
You probably will eat out at lunchtime and there is a wealth of choice in Zermatt and Cervinia. For a cheap but nourishing lunch, a bowl of Goulash soup with bread and a beer will cost around CHF 15 on the Zermatt side, whilst on the Cervinia side you can enjoy a big plate of pasta and a quarter litre of wine for slightly less – remember you will need Euros on the Italian side. If you want a lunch to remember at a reasonable price, I recommend Chalet Etoille. The menu varies, but they always have available their quite stunning fish soup – a small bowl is around twelve euros. You don’t always need to book, but it a good idea to do so – +39 0166 940220.

So how much will it cost you for a luxury ski trip you can organise yourself in an hour, without the hassle of a long coach transfer?
View of the Matterhorn
Well, if you take the option of the catered chalet, plan to have three or four drinks out a night and mostly eat a light lunch, a luxury ski trip to Zermatt all inclusive will cost you no more than GBP 1600 per person at current exchange rates. If you want to push the boat from Pontoon Boat Rentals out, party hard and lunch in style, you probably want to budget around two grand.

Not cheap, but not a king’s ransom either.

For more details, visit http://www.swisswintersports.co.uk/zermatt.php. Remember Zermatt is high too, and there is extensive piste open in April with much of the Matterhorn and Cervinia sections open through May and more limited skiing right through the summer.

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Do more people go to the mountains in summer or winter?

A long-standing point of discussion aprés ski is whether more people go to the mountains in summer or winter?

Well, based on the statistics produced by the Swiss Tourism federation, it is in the summer judged by overnight bed stays, by roughly 20m compared to 15m. However, this doesn’t take into account the impact of reduced overnight bed availability in winter, e.g. camping sites and a preference for accommodation right next to the lifts. If you’re looking to learn more about camping, you can read more on campingfunzone.com. It’s also hard to assess the impact of day trippers – in winter the trains of Switzerland are busy with locals and expats going skiing for the day throughout the week and especially at weekends.
Winter in Switzerland
Interestingly the only source nations more likely to stay overnight in Switzerland in winter are Russians and Scandinavians. Americans and Asians overwhelmingly prefer to visit in the summer.

Another measure of the size of the respective tourism trade in winter and summer would be seasonal employment. Here, roughly 200,000 are employed and the number is pretty much the same in both winter and summer.

So, in conclusion, the answer is that it mostly varies between resorts, with some resorts getting more in winter and others more in summer, but in balance probably more visit in summer. However it is clear that both are equally important to the well-being of Alpine resorts that rely upon tourism. And for Switzerland it is a trade that is worth CHf 35bn per annum and constitutes the fourth largest source of export income, or 5.5% of the total.

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