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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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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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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Snow’n’Rail 2015-16

Snow'n'Rail 2015-16
The Snow’n’Rail schedule for the Winter Sports season 2015-2016 is now available. This is the wonderful scheme run by Swiss Railways that provides a 20% discount on the combined lift pass and public transport connections for most of the leading resorts in Switzerland. This is a unique offering – the Austrian Railways run a similar scheme, although nowhere near as extensive.

The offers are now available online (in English, French, German and Italian), and in a brochure available free from the booking offices of most Swiss Railway Stations. The brochures are available in German, French and Italian depending on the language of the locality in which the stations are situated, but only the German version comprehensively covers all the resorts in the scheme.

There is not much change from last year. Most prices have stayed the same. For example an adult day trip to Zermatt from Basel if you are in possession of a Half-Tax Card is still SFr 166.40. A comparable offering is SFr 75.40 for Klewenalp, again the same as last season.

The resort coverage has changed slightly – Vals is now included.

However the most glaring omission is the Portes du Soleil. This massive ski area was one of the most impressive destinations under the Snow’n’Rail scheme, but it looks like they couldn’t come to an agreement with Swiss Railways for this season. Hopefully they will be back for the next one.

What looks like a new resort on the list, Chäserrugg, is simply a rebranded name for what has been referred to in previous years as Toggenburg or Obertoggenburg and covers the charming, linked resorts of Alt St. Johann and Underwasser. Included in the lift pass are the slopes around Wildhaus, but it appears that the routing of the offer to Wildhaus via Buchs is no longer available at a discount.

Some resorts can be accessed by train alone, others you need either a scheduled bus service or use of a linked ski bus. Details are all listed at the resort reports at the Swiss Winter Sports web site, and I can vouch for the rourting information as I have used the scheme for every resort myself!

Resorts covered by the scheme are as follows:
In Northern Switzerland: Braunwald, Chäserrugg and Pizol.
In Graubünden: Arosa Lenzerheide, Brigels, Davos Klosters, Disentis 3000, Engadin St. Moritz, Flims Laax Falera, Motta Naluns (Scuol), Splügen and Vals 3000.
In the Bernese Oberland: Adelboden-Lenk, Gstaad Mountain Rides, Jungfrau Ski Region and Meiringen-Hasliberg.
In Ticino only Airolo.
Several resorts are included in the category Alpes Vaudoises, including Villars, Les Diablerets and Leysin.
In Valais: 4 Vallées/Mt-Fort, Aletsch Arena, Blatten-Belalp, Crans-Montana, Grächen, Lauchernalp/Lötschental, Leukerbad, Visp Area, Saas-Fee/Saastal and Zermatt & Cervinia.
In Central Switzerland: Engelberg-Titlis, Klewenalp-Stockhütte, Melchsee-Frutt, Andermatt-Sedrun, Sörenberg, Sattel-Hochstuckli and Stoos.

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