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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Switzerland is the cheapest place to ski!

It’s official! The Tesco Bank says Switzerland is the cheapest place to ski!

Well it’s not quite as straight-forward as that. Tesco Bank released their annual Ski Index yesterday. This usefully helps people find the best value skiing worldwide, based on kilometres of piste per pound, i.e. the approach is to divide the length of piste by the lift pass price to give a measure of value for money.

Not surprisingly, given Brexit’s impact on Sterling, the price of skiing has risen dramatically in most places. Bulgaria, despite still being relatively cheap, has increased in price by two thirds since last year. The USA and Canada have increases in prices of around a quarter. Andorra is at the lower end of the scale, with a price increase of only 11%. Argentina is actually 11% cheaper than last year, although you will have to wait a while before their next winter season.

Despite the price hikes, another study from Tesco Bank found that more than a third of people are still considering a ski holiday this year. The research found that 42% of those surveyed would choose a skiing holiday in Switzerland, a seemingly wise move as four of the top 10 best value ski resorts in the world (Champéry, Les Crosets, Champoussin and Veysonnaz) are based in Switzerland. Additionally Swiss prices have only risen by a modest 15% since last year, and many Swiss resorts are offering a range of sweeteners. For example, the top two resorts in the Index – both Swiss – have reduced their prices this year.

The list of the top ten Ski resorts with the best value skiing from The Tesco Bank Ski Index are as follows:
Tesco bank Cheapest Ski resorts

So why are Tesco interested in skiing? Search me, but they do offer a couple of nice incentives of interest to potential skiers and snowboarders. Eligible Tesco Bank Premium Credit Card customers receive family travel insurance including winter sports cover as part of the card’s benefit package. New Premium Credit Card customers will also be offered 0% interest on purchases for 6 months, which could be used to help spread the cost of a ski holiday. For more information on the Tesco Bank Ski Index, please visit www.tescobank.com/ski.

And here’s a cool video the folk from Tesco have brought us for our pleasure and anticipation of the new ski season…

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Ski Insurance

I have Swiss insurance and am a member of Rega (the air ambulance people), but there are some gaps in terms of ski insurance cover. In many resorts there is an excellent service you can buy with your lift pass called Snowcare. It costs SFr 5 per day and covers refunds of ski pass, lessons and equipment hire if the slopes are closed, and costs of assistance and rescue, transport by ambulance and helicopter, medical expenses, sanitary repatriation and legal assistance. The amount is limited, but the ceilings seem reasonable, and the insurance is intended to supplement usual insurance and European Health Insurance Card provisions as applicable. It also does not cover off-piste activities.

You can buy the card at a number of resorts, currently the list includes:

View over Zermatt
Incidentally, regarding Rega, they waive the costs of the rescue missions of members (annual fee: CHF 30), providing that these costs are not covered by a health or accident insurance. That is one good reason to sign up, but additionally they are a non-profit foundation who provide emergency medical assistance by air according to medical necessity and, as they put it: “to rescue, not to pass judgement on right or wrong, guilt or innocence”.

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No-ski Days

The day after the night before
Sometimes the winds blow such a storm that the lifts are closed, or there isn’t enough snow or there is too much… anyway, we’ve all hit those no-ski days in the mountains and what is there to do? Most people seem to be content to play cards, surf the internet or drink the bars dry, but one of the great things about skiing or snowboarding Switzerland is there is always something else to do.
Engelberg from Titlis
Most ski resorts in Switzerland have a history that predates the arrival of skiers, and as a result have a wealth of interesting things to visit. For example Engelberg has been a religious centre ever since the Benedictine Monastery was founded here in 1120 by monks who thought Mount Titlis looked like an angel, and hence the town is called “Angel Mountain”. Monks from the Monastery were the first to get to the top of Titlis, back in 1744. They probably didn’t notice it, but the Chinese Olympic champion gymnast Donghua Li spotted a Buddha shaped rock in 1996 from the top of Klein Titlis, and it has become a must see sight fro many Asian tourists since. The Monastery is open to the public and well worth a visit.
Mountaineers Gravestone
The Alps generally had a bad image until the Age of Enlightenment, when the impoverished and isolated Alpine communities suddenly found themselves visited by tourists who rejoiced in the majesty of the mountains. Not surprisingly it wasn’t long until many of them decided to climb to the top of them, not always with positive outcomes. If you are in Zermatt the wonderful Mountaineers Graveyard is well worth a visit.
Spa in LeukerbadAnother group of summer visitors to the Alps were those suffering from various ailments that the mountain air could alleviate. Davos was amongst the most popular, and it was here that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whilst nursing his wife, popularised skiing. A number of resorts provided spas, and for me visiting an Alpine spa is one of the most enjoyable things to do on a no-ski day. Some resorts, such as Leukerbad, actually have extensive spa facilities in the resort.

Winter tourism really took off in St Moritz 150 years ago, and the diversions extend beyond the ski runs. If there is a whiteout up the mountains and visibility isn’t too clear, you can always try cross-country skiing. Other sports you will find in many parts of Switzerland include ice-skating, ice hockey tournaments, sledding, snowshoe walking, curling and even bobsleigh (in Celerina you can try it with a professional driver and brakeman).
Bobsled in Celerina
You probably know that Switzerland has the densest and most extensive railway network in the world, but you probably didn’t know that every single ski resort in Switzerland can be reached by the fabulously reliable public transport network. Even the buses run on time, and link the lifts and railway stations such that you can step from one mode of transport to another without waiting. Resorts like Villars, Leysin, Champéry and Arosa have incredibly cute narrow gauge railways connecting them to the towns in the valleys. Just taking the train can be an end in itself, perhaps getting off at a stop along the way to explore an interesting village or town, rejoining a later train. And of course, the towns have plenty of other diversions that few mountain resorts provide – extensive shopping, markets, casinos, cinemas, museums and galleries.
Aigle in the heart of the Rhone valley has rail connections to several resorts
But then again, you could just catch up on some zeds.

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