Winter holidays for non-skiers

For a lot of people winter is something to be endured, a long season of cold, short days and stark skylines. The only escape seems to be a long haul flight to somewhere sunny and warm.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In 1864 four English visitors to the Swiss Alps were due to return home for the winter. Their hotelier, Johannes Badrutt, said that they should come back at Christmas and stay until Easter, and if they didn’t find St Moritz as sunny in winter as it was in summer, he would pay their fares and hotel bills.

Badrutt won the bet, and winter tourism was born.

But what was there to do? Alpine skiing was yet to take off – Conan Doyle in nearby Davos was to have a large part to play in that story. With a well-developed summer tourist industry, St Moritz, Davos and many other resorts quickly developed a significant infrastructure to enable winter visitors to while away their days, and nights, and the longest established resorts still have a huge variety of non-Downhill activities on offer.

A recent article I read in the BA Leisure magazine, recommended a handful of resorts that suited both skiers and non-skiers. Megève, St Christoph, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Zermatt and Lake Tahoe make their shortlist, and it’s a good list. For the Americas, however, there are a number of resorts I would add to the list (see my ski USA page), and I think there are at least a couple of dozen other Alpine resorts as good for skiers as for non-skiers, particularly in Switzerland.

But what to actually do? Innsbruck, Montreux and Basel have wonderful winter markets, although they close before Christmas. Many resorts and Alpine towns have wonderful outdoor and indoor ice rinks, and professional ice hockey teams play throughout the Alpine nations, with a major hockey festival in Davos known as the Spengler Cup. Bob sleigh also features at a few resorts, and at Celerina adrenalin junkies can actually take part in a four man bob team!

More sedate winter sports available in the Alpine resorts include snowshoe trekking, cross-country skiing, curling and tobogganing. A town called Bergün is a mecca for tobogganing, with people visiting from all over Europe to take advantage of the runs there (and enjoy the breathtaking UNESCO listed railway you need to take to get to the start of the runs). My Swiss Winter Sports web site covers other winter sports you can participate in Switzerland in addition to skiing and snowboarding.

There is a network of well maintained winter walks throughout the Alps, the reward mid-way along the walk often being a charming mountain restaurant. There are even Michelin listed resorts in the Alps! Zermatt is particularly renowned for its mountain restaurants.

We love visiting resorts with spas, the best of which is probably Leukerbad, but there is plenty of choice. Villars opened a new spa this year.

Switzerland and Austria have a highly reliable and extensive transport network which makes it very easy to choose a destination suited primarily to non-skiers, but which skiers can also use as a base for day trips to a variety of different destinations. Lucerne and Innsbruck are particularly good choices.

Often the best time to go is March. The days are getting longer and the days warmer, but the snow base is usually still good. If you are prepared to leave it late to see how the snow conditions are developing, a lot of resorts provide particularly good deals before Christmas.

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Let it snow!

At last fresh snow is coming to the Alps! The temperatures will drop below zero in most resorts from tonight for at least the next ten days. Sunny skies are expected until Wednesday and Thursday when modest snowfall is expected. I say modest, but Zermatt is expecting about 78cm, Saas Fee about 35cm and St Moritz and Andermatt about 23cm. Resorts of Bernese Oberland and most of Valais should get at least 10cm of snow.

The sun will come back next Friday, but temperatures will remain low so I’m sure the snow cannons will be busy on lower slopes and patchy South-facing slopes to make sure there is good cover for Christmas. And as it stands, things are looking pretty promising for Christmas, especially Christmas Eve.

Weather Outlook in Switzerland Dec 2016

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No Snow (or not very much)!

Les Crosets

After a promising early season, there has been a very warm November (one of the warmest on record) and virtually no snowfall in Switzerland for over a fortnight. There is also little prospect of snow in the next ten days. The warm weather has particularly hit lower slopes, with virtually no resort runs open anywhere. Of the leading Swiss resorts, Verbier looks one of the better destinations and Les Diablerets has fared reasonably well. Samnaun and Zermatt have the most lifts open. Feldberg, in the Black Forest, looks a long way from opening.

Les Diablerets

The situation doesn’t look much better anywhere else in Europe. Sunny, relatively warm days characterise Alpine resorts, with the best of the snow in the Pyrenees. North America is doing better, with distinctly chilly temperatures and good snow cover in most leading resorts.

There is expected to be new snow before Christmas. Whether it is enough for resorts to fully open in time for the holiday season, we will just have to wait and see.

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Best Value Ski Holidays 2016

The winter season is almost upon us. A number of glacier resorts open up in the next few weeks, including Engelberg on 8th October. From 27th to the 30th October the Ski and Snowboard Show in Battersea kicks off the marketing of winter sports holidays to the UK audience.Ski and Snowboard Show The Telegraph sponsors the show, and continues to have about the best coverage for UK skiers and snowboarders of where to go. They also maintain a useful page of discounts and offers.

A lot of concerns have been raised about the value of the pound, but in fairness it is no higher than it was just a couple of years ago. Things might take a turn for the worse in the future but, for now, Brexit hasn’t yet happened!

There are two good periods to hit the European slopes. The first is before Christmas, when a lot of deals and discounts are on offer. Switzerland often has some of the best – currently many of them are posted at the MySwitzerland web site. The downside is that snowfall is fickle during the early season so it is best to head for resorts that give you access to glaciers – or at least where there are other diversions like spas (eg. Leukerbad) and Christmas Markets.

The other good periods to get value on the slopes are those periods when the kids are not on holiday. In 2017, remarkably, the whole of January and March are school holiday free zones throughout Europe. That means rates will be lower and more bargains will be around. For Brits with kids who have no choice but to go in the school holidays, Italy looks the best choice, as there are no local holidays coinciding with the UK ones.

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