Ski and Snowboard Switzerland book

The last book in English dedicated to skiing in Switzerland was published in 1989 – until I published “Ski and Snowboard Switzerland” last year. The “Berlitz Ski Guide Switzerland” was written by Alistair Scott and featured some 32 resorts. Scott, who died in 2009, was ski editor for the Sunday Times and was married to Lizzie Norton, who ran Ski Solutions until a management buyout in 2010. He was not the first to write specifically about skiing in Switzerland. James Riddell wrote “The Ski Runs of Switzerland” in 1957, which makes for an interesting read given the enormous changes that have occurred since in the development of skiing. Amongst the books that reflect on the evolution of recreational skiing “Rush to the Alps: The Evolution of Skiing in Switzerland” by Paul P Bernard, written in 1978, makes an interesting read.

Recreational skiing has probably peaked in Switzerland, the country where it first evolved. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle initially ignited the interest in skiing while he nursed his wife in Davos (which also featured the first ski lift); St Moritz established the concept of winter holidays; Adelboden became the first resort featuring winter sports package holidays; and ski racing started in the Jungfau resorts when British ski enthusiasts convinced the local train operators to run their mountain railways through the winter. Through this period Switzerland developed from being one of the poorer nations to being one of the most sophisticated – and expensive. Increasingly, budget-conscious skiers are turning away from Switzerland as a ski destination. Total skier-days in Switzerland have declined from a peak of 29 million in 2008-09 to about 21 million in the winter of 2016-17.

When I first thought of writing a book on skiing in Switzerland, a Swiss publisher advised me that there was not a market for such a publication. “Everyone goes online these days”, I was told. And it is true, but I still think people like the book format. One of the best guides to skiing in Switzerland (and elsewhere) written in English was the long-running “Where to Ski and Snowboard”, but that guide ceased publication a couple of years ago. The publishers decided to pursue country-specific guides, focusing the more popular ski destinations like Austria, Italy and France. I felt that opened up an opportunity for a publication dedicated to skiing in Switzerland, and self-published “Ski and Snowboard Switzerland” as a result.

The book originated in content I have been publishing online for many years at http://www.swisswintersports.co.uk. Living in Switzerland and visiting resorts around the country, I found relatively little information available about how to get to resorts and what to expect. Simple questions like “which is the best bus stop or train station to get to the slopes?” led to me making notes on the ski resorts I visited, which led to this blog being set up and, with over 50 resorts visited, to the web site. I have now visited over 100 resorts in Switzerland, and get to revisit around a dozen or so every year.

I plan to update the book every year or two. It is available at Amazon here.

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Andermatt




An article in the UK Metro newspaper claims Andermatt in the Swiss Alps should be your next weekend break. I’m not going to disagree, it’s a beautiful little resort with some great off-piste on the Gemsstock, and it gets some of the largest dumps of snow anywhere in the Alps. You can also get there easily by train.

Andermatt Village

I’m not so sure it would be my first choice for a weekend break though. Flims/Laax and Engelberg are about the same distance from Zurich Airport. The Jungfrau is feasible for a weekend break via Basel’s Euroairport, and Chamonix, Verbier, Portes du Soleil, Leysin, Les Diablerets and Villars are about the same distance from Geneva Airport. Plus there are a handful of smaller resorts much closer to the airports – Feldberg from Basel or Flumserberg, Pizol, Hoch-Ybrig and Braunwald from Zurich.

Things might change, however. Andermatt is going through a massive expansion. The resort is currently in the midst of a huge redevelopment by Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris. Probably the most obvious sign is the new builds in the village, including the impressive 5-star Hotel Chedi. However a number of new and replacement lifts are in place as the Nätschen-Gütsch area gets upgraded in advance of being linked up with the resort of Sedrun, in the Rhine valley. Expansion and upgrades to the Gemsstock area are also planned. The “masterplan” is due to complete for the 2018/9 season.

Andermatt is also billing itself as a year-round resort with a number of scenic viewpoints, varied mountain walks and an 18 hole golf course to lure summer visitors. Hopefully all this development will not diminish the charm of the old village. The schedule of new lifts can be seen here.

Gemsstock Cable car in Andermatt

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March skiing

March is probably my favourite month for skiing, the longer evenings and sunny skies heralding Spring. And, of course, you do tend to get Spring ski conditions – crusty off-piste, whilst the pistes are icy first thing and slushy at the end of the day. So a good tip is to look for resorts where most of the skiing is high.

No schools in Europe have half term during March this year, so there should be some good bargains for accommodation, particularly family-friendly resorts.

Some of the medium-sized resorts are perfect to visit since they have lower lift pass prices and should have the full extent of their ski area still open.


Booking.com


These, then, are my top tips for March skiing, all resorts with plenty of altitude:

Saas-Fee
Ski Saas-Fee

Nendaz
Ski Nendaz

Celerina (Engadine)
ski Celerina in the Engadine

Mürren
ski Murren in the Jungfrau

Flims
Ski Flims Laax Falera

St-Luc/Chandolin
Ski St-Luc and Chandolin

Crans-Montana
ski Crans and Montana

Surlej (Engadine)
ski Surlej, Silvaplana

Belalp
ski Belalp and Blatten

Lauchernalp
Ski Lauchernalp in the Lötschental

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Stick it up your Jungfrau

Wilderswil - Schynige PlatteBack in Europe and picking up my car in Switzerland, which has a full set of winter tyres and my ski gear. Seems rude not to get in a few turns before I head back to the UK. A lot of snow looks to be on the way, but today promised sunshine. And so it proved.

I was tempted to try out a smaller resort, but I passed a couple on my travels around Switzerland attending to some business, and the poor snow conditions put me off. So I went for the Jungfrau. I booked into the delightful Edelweiss Lodge in Wilderswil.

Wilderswil is on the train route between Interlaken and the Jungfrau. It doesn’t have much nightlife, but the hotels are great value and accept short bookings. Train transfer is also included in the Jungfrau lift pass. There is also an interesting rail route from Wilderswil to a high plateau known as Schynige Platte, and the station in Wilderswil shares its name with the destination.

The Jungfrau is one of the world’s top ski destinations. So, after my recent trip to the USA, how does it compare with the slopes in the Americas? Firstly I would suggest that comparison is pointless – each resort has unique characteristics. If you like steep, off-piste powder, the resorts I visited in the USA had it in spades. The Jungfrau by comparison had rather crusty and generally quite tame off-piste, but it has miles of varied terrain and some of the most charming Alpine villages and restaurants, and a vibrant mountain history.

Talking of the off-piste, I ended up accidentally off-piste, following some uncharacteristically poor signage where the Wixi run was closed. Nobody else was around but it looked do-able, if steep, until I came across a sheer drop of a few hundred metres and a disconsolate individual who had made the same mistake and had sat frozen for half an hour working out what to do. We saw a feasible route down and I told him I would try it and signal when I was at the bottom. The other guy seemed rooted to where I had found him, so I alerted the lift operators. I was rather gratified when, some time later I saw him at the bottom of the off-piste section where it joined a run. Whether he walked or skied I know not.Off-piste Section above Wixi A telling reminder that the mountains can get both scary and dangerous.

It made me reflect on some fatalities in the Jungfrau. I remember some English guy falling off a cliff walking back to his hotel after a night out in Wengen. And of the climbers who perished on the North Face of the Eiger, some of whose nemesis is retold in the riveting film, Nordwand. Then there are the base jumpers who die every year in Lauterbrunnen and a couple of ski racers have died, one on the tough Lauberhorn race. It is a salutory reminder that the things we do for pleasure, reward or adventure can turn nasty in the mountains. Much as I recall of the sea.

I visited the Jungfrau on a weekend and it was busy, but not overcrowded. It is hard to tell whether Swiss exchange rates are putting people off – I heard plenty of native German, French and English accents amongst the skiers and there were plenty of Asian visitors wandering bemused amongst the skiers. However it was noteworthy that one hotel and chalet were up for sale and I baulked at making at least one purchase. However my expenses for the day were modest. My hotel with a wonderful breakfast cost me 40 francs, the lift and rail pass was 72 francs and my nourishing lunch of goulash soup with bread and wine cost less than 20 francs including a tip (a franc is about the same value as a dollar). That was all much cheaper than it would have cost me in the USA at a comparable resort.

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