Two of my favourite resorts are now linked together to create one of the most significant Alpine resorts – the largest in Graubünden, and one of the ten largest in Switzerland.
In some ways it is a con, much like Davos–Klosters or any number of resorts which simply have a lift joining separate areas. But it is a convincing con. A double cablecar now stretches between the Hörnli summit in Arosa and Urdenfürggli above Parpan, gateway to the varied Lenzerheide circuit. Lenzerheide is a fabulous resort, reputedly a favourite of Margaret Thatcher, and had initially opposed the link to gay-friendly and family-friendly Arosa. There are many goods reasons why, but the simple fact of the matter is that the larger resorts are doing better at the expense of smaller resorts, and Arosa felt the pinch sometime before Lenzerheide. However the strong Franc probably pushed the Gemeinde of Lenzerheide to go for the link.
Interestingly enough the valley between the two resorts is very skiable and part of a famous off-piste itinerary. There may be environmental objections to making it part of the extended resort, but I reckon it is only a matter of time before lifts serve pistes under the new cable car.
I visited the area last weekend, and I was impressed. The snow conditions were fabulous and Spring snow conditions only really affected the lower and South-facing runs. It has not been a vintage season, and generally I have gone high to find good snow conditions, but I was impressed with the quality of the pistes for April – and the fabulous bowl below Hörnli still had some great off-piste, particularly on extreme skiers right.
Both resorts offer a lot more than skiing and both have been favourites of people who simply like being in the mountains in winter. Neither has featured strongly on the ski package circuit, but with lifts up to 2865m, resorts above 1500m, great parks, fabulous scenery, a variety of activities, good apres-ski and a variety of North-facing runs, this is a ski and snowboard area everyone should put on their must-visit winter sports destinations.
The Daily Telegraph has just identified what it thinks are the 15 cutest village ski resorts, and I have to disagree with their choice. For instance, Zermatt “cute”? Hardly. Car-free, rocking, beautiful, busy… but cute? And hardly a village. In my opinion most of the cutest villages have limited pistes and antiquated lifts – which is maybe how they tend to stay cute.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my list of villages in Switzerland that are both cute and have access to plenty of the white stuff, in no particular order (click on the links for more info):
Ski season is just around the corner so it is time to start thinking about getting your family equipped for the season. Basic equipment includes clothing, goggles, gloves and sun protection. As for footwear, you always have shoe hero to go to. Additionally you will need a ski helmet, ski boots, skis and sticks. These can of course be bought or hired, but you may want to contemplate hiring the kit for the first year.
All ski resorts have at least one hire shop for rental equipment. If you hire skis, boots, helmet and sticks every trip it can become quite expensive as well as time-consuming, so you may prefer to hire for the season. Many of the sports shops in Switzerland – and even department stores – hire out kit. You can also hire your equipment from shops in neighbouring France or Germany, generally at a much cheaper price. A lot of skiers in North-West Switzerland also head for SportShop Karrer in Laufen (100 metres from the train station), which has very competitive pricing.
If you prefer to purchase your ski equipment, there are many sport stores that carry a wide selection, but these can be fiendishly expensive. Alternatively, you may consider buying equipment across the border in France (Décathlon, the French Intersport stores, or even Carrefour) or Germany. The Swiss flea markets often have good quality second hand ski clothing and equipment, and many churches and community centres organize “Sportbörse” (sports exchange) where people can bring their second hand sports equipment for sale or exchange. We have kept the kids in skis for several years now, picking up discarded skis people have left out for recycling after their own kids have outgrown them!
For clothing you can improvise to an extent rather than have specialist ski clothing, although Aldi and Schribo do some great deals on new kit – I just bought myself a new pair of ski pants in Aldi in Germany for less than 20 euro! If you don’t buy specialist gear, the trick is to ensure it is sufficiently warm and weather resistant. Typically we dress the kids in a pair of thick socks and full length thermal underwear, a T-shirt, a fleece, a tube scarf, a pair of waterproof, thermal mittens, ski goggles and a one-piece ski suit with a high collar. My preference for a one piece over a separate jacket and trousers or salopettes is that snow has a habit of getting up the back of the jacket if the kids fall over, go tobogganing or play in deep snow. Normally the nursery slopes are in less exposed areas, so the kids may not need quite so many layers, but it is always better to be prepared for the temperatures to be colder than expected rather than warmer. However, it can get very warm if the sun comes out, so you may want to reduce the layers accordingly once you are on the piste. Also make sure every potential bit of exposed skin is covered in factor 50 sun protection cream whether it is sunny or not. Learn how to treat skin problems at mum-writes.com.
Needless to say, with all the kids’ equipment, bottles of water, tissues, snacks, sunscreen and the like, you are advised to take a backpack with you. Often there are lockers where you can leave the gear in resorts if you do not want to take it with you if you go off skiing yourself, and in Switzerland it is generally reasonable to expect a bag left in a corner to still be there when you get back! Most railway stations and major lift stations provide lockers.
One final point – check that your insurance covers you for winter sports, specifically search and rescue, hospital costs and third party liability. You can get top up insurance from Snowcare or in resort and may be interested in joining Rega, who provide helicopter rescue to members.
Airolo, the largest ski resort in Ticino, re-opens this year after being closed for the entire 2009-10 season. Weather permitting, the resort will be open at weekends from 4th December and throughout the week from the 18th December. The resort boasts 30km of piste and is the home ski resort for Lara Gut, amongst others.
After it’s closure, Valbianca SA, financed by the canton and local commune, acquired the Airolo-Pesciüm site at auction for SFr 70,000. Although the facility is estimated as being worth Sfr 7m, it has required a huge investment to bring it up to the standards required to be both safe and attractive to winter sports enthusiasts.
Airolo-Pesciüm lies on the south side of the Gotthard Tunnel and has a rail station, making it a convenient ski resort to get to from Northern Switzerland. The resort is covered by the discounted Swiss Railways Snow’n’Rail scheme, and a complimentary bus service is provided from the rail station during the winter sports season.
The ski region infrastructure comprises one gondola, one chair lift and two surface lifts. The top station is at 2250m and the vertical descent is almost 1200 metres, with the six pistes largely catering for intermediate skiers.