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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GTSpirit Rates Top Ski Resorts of 2015

Kitzbuhel - one of the worlds best ski resortsGTSpirit, the web site associated with performance cars, has made a stab at identifying the top ski resorts for 2015. Top of the list is Flims/Laax, and there is no argument there about this being one of the best resorts in the world. Other Swiss resorts in the top 10 include, unsurprisingly, Zermatt and Verbier, but also Crans-Montana and ArosaLenzerheide. I have no problem with the latter two, but they have edged out some other top Swiss resorts to make it into the best in the world.

Fleshing out the top ten are one French resort, three Austrian and no North American resorts. Here is the list in full:

  1. Flims/Laax
  2. Les Trois Vallees
  3. St Anton/Lech/Zürs
  4. Verbier
  5. Saalbach-Hinterglemm
  6. Ischgl
  7. Zermatt
  8. Kitzbühel
  9. Crans-Montana
  10. Arosa-Lenzerheide

The top 10 is idiosyncratic, but not especially so. it is probably almost impossible to judge a top 10 unless you apply stringent criteria. My top 10 ski resorts would need to have good rail access (which is probably not a big plus for package tour visitors who are accustomed to long coach transfers), picture postcards views (again, probably of little interest to people with their one week a year ski holiday), runs above 2500m (to provide some confidence in there being snow late in the season) and a reasonable range of non-ski and apres-ski facilities. However neither Ischgl nor Kitzbühel strictly meet all those criteria, but they are in my top 10 too.

Of the GTList list, Verbier, St Anton, Zermatt, Kitzbühel and Arosa can all be accessed by train, although I am not surprised that a website dedicated to luxury cars did not see that as noteworthy.

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Where is the best place to ski?

The perennial question and subject of many an apres-ski discussion is “Where is the best place to ski?”.

Well Mountain Management Consulting and the University of Innsbruck asked 47,935 skiers and snowboarders exactly that question and the answer was…

Zermatt

3d View of Zermatt, the best ski resort in the world

Also in the top 10 were Adelboden, Laax, Arosa and Saas-Fee, with
Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis (Austria), Solda (Italy), Alta Badia (Italy), Val Gardena (Italy) and Kronplatz (Italy) the more unlikely names filling out the top 10 places. Interestingly nowhere from France or the USA features, but they do seem rather dismissive of French resorts and they do a separate survey on North American sites (Whistler, Deer Valley and Vail are their top 3).

So the question is still open. Which really is the best ski resort in the world? Personally I am content with Zermatt, but my personal top ten ski resorts in the world looks a little different.

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Arosa-Lenzerheide

Two of my favourite resorts are now linked together to create one of the most significant Alpine resorts – the largest in Graubünden, and one of the ten largest in Switzerland.
Arosa piste
In some ways it is a con, much like DavosKlosters or any number of resorts which simply have a lift joining separate areas. But it is a convincing con. A double cablecar now stretches between the Hörnli summit in Arosa and Urdenfürggli above Parpan, gateway to the varied Lenzerheide circuit. Lenzerheide is a fabulous resort, reputedly a favourite of Margaret Thatcher, and had initially opposed the link to gay-friendly and family-friendly Arosa. There are many goods reasons why, but the simple fact of the matter is that the larger resorts are doing better at the expense of smaller resorts, and Arosa felt the pinch sometime before Lenzerheide. However the strong Franc probably pushed the Gemeinde of Lenzerheide to go for the link.

Interestingly enough the valley between the two resorts is very skiable and part of a famous off-piste itinerary. There may be environmental objections to making it part of the extended resort, but I reckon it is only a matter of time before lifts serve pistes under the new cable car.

I visited the area last weekend, and I was impressed. The snow conditions were fabulous and Spring snow conditions only really affected the lower and South-facing runs. It has not been a vintage season, and generally I have gone high to find good snow conditions, but I was impressed with the quality of the pistes for April – and the fabulous bowl below Hörnli still had some great off-piste, particularly on extreme skiers right.
Lenzerheide ski area
Both resorts offer a lot more than skiing and both have been favourites of people who simply like being in the mountains in winter. Neither has featured strongly on the ski package circuit, but with lifts up to 2865m, resorts above 1500m, great parks, fabulous scenery, a variety of activities, good apres-ski and a variety of North-facing runs, this is a ski and snowboard area everyone should put on their must-visit winter sports destinations.

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