Where to ski – early season resort openings

There has been as much as two metres of snow in some parts of the Alps, although relatively few resorts are open. Upper Valais seems to have done particularly well, and Andermatt has had a good dump.

In Switzerland Corvatsch (St Moritz/Silvaplana) has a couple of lifts and one run open. In Davos there are five lifts operating and two runs open on Parsenn, with Jakobshorn due to open at the weekend. Engelberg has three runs open and five lifts. Zermatt has nine lifts operating and a handful of others set to open soon, all on the Matterhorn side of the resort. GrimentzZinal‘s web site seems to reckon fourteen runs are open, but the information is ambiguous – best to call the resort if you fancy checking it out.

Unfortunately the amount of piste available is clearly still quite limited as the resorts seek to build a good base ahead of the season hitting full throttle. No resorts have runs back to the resort open, so in all cases you need to take the lifts back down. Needless to say, you are generally paying a full lift price for a relatively modest amount of piste.

There hadn’t been fresh snow for a few days, but the snow looks to be coming back today to many areas over 2000m, and will continue for the next few days.

Expect a few more resorts to open this coming weekend and the first weekend in December, hopefully with plenty of fresh snow and sunny skies! Quck and dirty update of resort overview is here, with full details at resort pages at swisswintersports.co.uk.

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New for the 2016/17 Swiss Ski Season

Another ski season is not far away, and many Swiss resorts have been busy upgrading their facilities ready for season 2016/17.

In Zermatt the ancient gondola below the Rothorn from Gant to Blauherd is being replaced by a six-seat chairlift.
Saas-Fee in Saastal
In Saas-Fee the equally ancient gondola in the Spielboden sector is being replaced by a faster 10-seater gondola.

Andermatt continues its aggressive program of expansion. This season two T-bars will be replaced by six-seater chairlifts. In the following two seasons an additional two six-seater chairlifts and an eight-seater gondola will link the Nätschen area of Andermatt to Sedrun and open up 26km of new piste. Sedrun itself replaces a t-bar with a chairlift, a trend across many Alpine resorts.

Most people know Klosters for the Parsenn area, but the seperate Madrisa area is popular with families. Here an innovative six-seater chairlift, “Schaffürggli”, is being installed, the first of its kind in Switzerland. It features a laser scanner that uses hydraulics to adjust the height of the seat, making it much easier for children to get on and off. The chairlift will also have heated seats and can take wheelchair users up the mountain.

New lifts and replacement lifts are planned for a number of other resorts including Flumserberg, The Four Valleys, Corvatsch, Crans-Montana, Pizol, Les Diablerets, Villars-Gryon, Grüsch-Danusa and Val Müstair.

I’ve often thought it would be fun to have a drone film my descent. It would also be useful to give visitors to swisswintersports.co.uk an idea of what to expect. Well Verbier got there first and is offering Europe’s first self-tracking drones. The drones follow you on the slopes using Bluetooth and a GPS-enabled Smartphone App and Téléverbier rents them out the Hexo+ drones for CHF400 per day or CHF250 for a half day, providing assistance and a video at the end of the day.

All of the major airports in Switzerland lie just outside the Alps, but Swiss International Airlines now plan to provide a scheduled service between Sion and London, subject to a number of test flights. Sion Airport is in the heart of the Swiss Alps, and so close to the slopes you can actually see planes take off and landing from the pistes of several nearby resorts, including Verbier and Nendaz. Sion has been used for civilian flights for some time, but the last scheduled service from the UK was withdrawn a few years ago and the military will be withdrawing from using it from next year. The director of Sion airport, Aline Bovier-Gantzer says that “The initiative for the new flight is due to a collaboration with the Swiss tourism industry: Valais is already a favourite destination of British tourists during the winter months thanks to its proximity to some of Switzerland’s most popular ski resorts.”

Of course, if you fly to Switzerland, independent travellers can easily get to their resorts using the fabulous transport infrastructure available without having to resort to lengthy, uncomfortable coach transfers. You can also make the entire trip from many European cities directly by train, including London with the Eurostar ski train, booking for which is now open.
Snowboarders in the Alps
Just outside Switzerland’s borders but very popular with Swiss skiers is the Arlberg area in Austria. I remember that once you could get round the circuit that includes St Anton, Lech and Zürs, but for some years this has not been the case. Now a new gondola is scheduled to open that will link Zürs and Stuben to create the largest ski area in Austria, one of four new lifts that will be built in Ski Alberg over the summer. For the 2016/17 season this means Ski Arlberg will total 305km piste served by 87 lifts, fully linking St Anton, Stuben, St Christoph, Lech, Zürs, Schröcken and Warth.

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New Lifts in Switzerland for 2015/6 Ski Season

The new ski season is only a few weeks away, and a lot has been happening over the summer in many winter sports resorts. Despite the strong Swiss Franc, many Swiss resorts are banking on attracting new winter tourists and retaining their existing customer base through improved and extended lift systems. Market research has suggested that continued investment is the only way for Swiss resorts to compete effectively and retain the premium reputation they hold, and many resorts are embarking on medium-term projects to reduce lift queues and introduce faster lifts.

Here are some of the new lifts you can expect in Switzerland for the 2015-2016 Ski Season:

Adelboden

New high-speed 4-man chairlift Höchstbahn replacing two older lifts to connect Chünisbärgli and Silleren. A new run between the two with snow cannon has also been implemented.

Andermatt
A high-speed 6-man lift at Gurschenalp on Gemsstock replaces two old lifts on the mountain. Lifts to Sedrun planned but not yet in construction and are likely a couple of seasons away.

Engelberg
The two-stage Engelberg-Trubsee-Stand gondola has been replaced with a new Titlis Xpress, cutting the journey time by half.

Flims/Laax
A new 10-person gondola will run from Alp Sogn Martin up to La Siala, extending the runs available in the area.

Lenzerheide
There is a new 8-person gondola, designed by Porsche, at Churwalden-Heidbeul replacing the old chairlift. There is also a new 4-man chair between Parpan and Obertor connecting the Rothorn to Piz Danis, a really useful new link.

Riederalp – Aletsch Arena
A new 6/8 seater hybrid lift has been installed at Moosfluh.

Scuol
There is a brand new 6-seater chair at Prui-Clünas.

St-Luc/Chandolin
One of my favourite resorts, in Val d’Annivers, will have a new high-speed 6-seat chairlift at La Foret.

St Moritz
On Corvatsch there is a new Mandra chairlift replacing that tedious but unavoidable drag at Murtel. A really great addition to this fabulous mountain.

Toggenburg
A new 10-seater gondola is under construction ready for the new season at Stöfeli.

Zermatt
There is a new 6-person chairlift at Hirli in the Schwarzee area replacing the veteran T-bar and extending the length of both the lift and the runs.

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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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