Affordable Skiing in Switzerland

With the continuing strength of the Swiss Franc, a ski or snowboard holiday in Switzerland may not look affordable, but there are many ways you can make a Swiss winter sports holiday fit into most budgets. Here are some of my tips:

Take advantage of the best public transport in the world

Every single ski resort in Switzerland can be reached by public transport, and furthermore virtually anywhere you book to stay will have good public transport access. That opens up a host of opportunities to stay in inexpensive accommodation outside the ski resorts, but within easy access. One suggestion is to stay in Interlaken, and do day trips to the Jungfrau resorts of Murren, Grindelwald and Wengen. Interlaken is lively and full of good priced accommodation options. From Chur, the cantonal capital of Graubunden, you can easily reach Davos and Flims/Laax. You might also want to mix business with skiing, and it is possible to get a full day skiing on a day trip from any of the major commercial centres.

Use Snow’n’Rail

The Snow’n’Rail scheme provides 20% discount off the combined public transport and lift pass charges for virtually every significant resort in Switzerland. Agsin, this works well if you are staying away from the ski resorts themselves.

Stay in inexpensive accommodation

With a reputation for quality and service, even very basic lodgings can provide excellent lodgings. Perhaps the best tip is to stay in a Youth Hostel. Many resorts have outstanding hostels with easy access to the slopes – even St Moritz. Most of the hostels offer en-suite facilities if you don’t want to share a bathroom, and the dormitories vary from singles upto 20 beds or so. Most offer half-board and sell wine and beer. Consider the options from Jungle Vista Inn.

Eat and drink out judiciously

Eating out can get very expensive in Switzerland, and you can easily run up an eye-watering bar bill. However the supermarkets offer good value. Many places offer catering facilities, so you can eat in, and you can always have a few apres-ski tipples back in your accommodation. Many Swiss also take their lunches with them when they ski and take advantage of the picnic rooms available at most resorts, although I usually find Swiss soups offer a nourishing and inexpensive lunch. In Switzerland it is also acceptable to drink alcohol in public.

Take advantage of deals

The Swiss are generally reluctant to offer discounts. As one hotelier put it “You are taking advantage of the people willing to pay the full price”! However the strong franc has focussed minds and all sorts of special offers abound. Many resorts include free lift passes with hotel bookings ahead of Christmas, allow kids to ski for free on all or some days. In the next couple of months I will highlight special deals as they become public. The Swiss Tourist office has a number of deals posted Swiss Vacation deals.

Go to less well-known resorts

You get an amazing range of skiing and snowboarding at resorts like Verbier and Zermatt, but many of the lesser resorts offer equally challenging runs, plenty of off-piste terrain and – arguably – much better facilities for beginners and intermediates. Also, using public transport, it is possible to combine visiting a number of cheaper inexpensive resorts in one trip and actually have access to more slopes in total than if you stayed in one more highly priced resort.

Book online in advance

Many things are cheaper booked online than in person – some things, like the Swiss Transfer Ticket, are only available outside Switzerland. In addition you often have the opportunity to buy online in the currency of your choice, often at a lower price than the cost in Swiss Francs.

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Break in Braunwald

City NightlineI had to go down to Switzerland for some business and thought I would take in a day’s skiing, even though the weather didn’t look good and I had a cold. The trip was painless and it made a nice break despite my heavy head. I took a bed on the excellent City Nightline on Thursday night from Utrecht to Basel for around fifty euros and was in Basel before 7am. If it wasn’t for the business, I could easily have been on the slopes somewhere like Wengen within a couple more hours.
Linthal ValleyThe next morning I got up early and took a train across to Zurich where I bought a Snow’n’Rail combined ticket at SFR 60. Despite all the talk of the cost of the Swiss Franc, somehow sixty francs for a scenic trip up the Linthal valley and a day in one of the most pleasant small, car-free resorts seems to me good value. Braunwald is not a huge resort, but it does have a good range of skiing as well as plenty for non-skiers to do – indeed, despite it being a Saturday, the slopes were almost empty and there seemed to be more tobogganists and winter walkers below the Eggstöcke than skiers and snowboarders. It has struck me before how unusual a resort so easy to get to from Zurich is so quiet at weekends, with most weekend warriors preferring to go to Hoch-Ybrig or Flumserberg. The trip really is a doddle, with the funicular railway right in the Linthalbahn Braunwald railway station. A quirky feature of Braunwald is the configuration of gondolas used in the resort, with one cableway operating them in pairs, another in quads and a final one alternating with chairlifts on the same cable.
Lara Gut and Anna Fenninger come in 1st and 2nd in St Moritz
The weather wasn’t great so I had a leisurely day on the slopes. I later saw replays of Lara Gut winning in St Moritz, but the self-service restaurant at Grotzenbüel put up a big screen to let us watch the racing live at Kitzbühel on the shortened Streif course off the Hahnenkamm.
Gondolas in Braunwald
After a pleasant day on the slopes, a leisurely train journey back down the valley and a meal at Zurich Station’s NordSee fish restaurant it was time to get on the sleeper back to the Netherlands in the company of two charming Chinese ladies. The fare was cheaper than from Basel bizarrely, some 44 euros.

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January Offers from Swiss Railways

The Snow’n’Rail scheme from Swiss Railways provides a 20% discount on the combined public transport and lift passes for a whole host of resorts in Switzerland. Additionally there are often even better offers available, and January sees some really brilliant ones.
Ski Airolo
Airolo is a pretty little village, famous as the home resort of Lara Gut, with enough slopes to keep most skiers and snowboarders happy for a day trip. They will be particularly happy with the massive 50% discount offered in January. You can get to Airolo from many locations, including Basel and Zurich, without changing trains – and there are not many resorts you can say that of. Plus it is the largest Italian-speaking resort in Switzerland.

If you do take the train to Airolo you can either take the courtesy bus from the station or walk to the bottom station – head left out of the station.

Other noteworthy deals are the 30% discount for Distentis (here), a favourite for freeriders, Meiringen-Hasliberg (here), convenient for Basel and Berne, Sattel (here), convenient for Zug and Lucerne, and Braunwald (here), a direct train trip from Zurich.

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Brig

The main ski and snowboard area near Brig is Belalp, although Rothwald and Rosswald each provide about 25km of additional piste. As well as 60km of piste at Belalp, from the Hohstock at 3112m you go through a 160m long tunnel out to a fabulous area for freeriding. The resorts can all be reached quite quickly by bus from the town. In addition a number of the major resorts in Switzerland are within an hour of Brig by public transport.

Ski Area Brig
Resorts Belalp, Blatten b. Naters, Rosswald, Rothwald
Ski Region Valais
Piste (km) 60
Top run (m) 3100
Bottom (m) 1501
Max Drop 1599
Snow’n’Rail Y
Black (km) 20
Red (km) 34
Blue (km) 20
Lifts (#/hr) 9870
My Rating 4
Alpine 3
SnowPark 3
Nordic 5
Hiking 2
Family 4
Apres Ski 4
Free Ride Y
Snow making Y
Fun park Y
Snow park
Half pipes
Spa

In Brief

Brig Station
Brig Station

Brig is an elegant small town at the start of the Simplon pass, high up in the Rhone Valley. The town has excellent rail and bus links to a number of winter sports destinations including the Aletsch Arena (e.g. via Fiesch), Belalp, Goms, Saas-Fee, Andermatt, Lauchernalp and Zermatt. There is also a thermal spa nearby, but it is only open in summer – however the wonderful spas at Leukerbad are only one hour away.

The nearest significant ski area to Brig is Belalp, reached by cable car from the pretty village of Blatten b. Naters. Blatten (not to be confused with another Valais village in the Lötschental of the same name) has regular buses from Brig station that cover the breathtaking 8km journey in less than half an hour.

Belalp is a small jewel of a ski area, with two bowls under the Hohstock (3226m) and Sparrhorn (3020m) providing acres of  relatively safe and accessible off-piste as well as perfectly groomed pistes to suit all abilities. See the separate post on Belalp for more details.

Useful links:
Aletsch Arena,
Belalp,
Brig,
Rosswald.

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