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 Sion has been used for civilian flights for some time, but the last scheduled service from the UK was withdrawn a few years ago and the military will be withdrawing from using it from next year.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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GTSpirit Rates Top Ski Resorts of 2015

Kitzbuhel - one of the worlds best ski resortsGTSpirit, the web site associated with performance cars, has made a stab at identifying the top ski resorts for 2015. Top of the list is Flims/Laax, and there is no argument there about this being one of the best resorts in the world. Other Swiss resorts in the top 10 include, unsurprisingly, Zermatt and Verbier, but also Crans-Montana and ArosaLenzerheide. I have no problem with the latter two, but they have edged out some other top Swiss resorts to make it into the best in the world.

Fleshing out the top ten are one French resort, three Austrian and no North American resorts. Here is the list in full:

  1. Flims/Laax
  2. Les Trois Vallees
  3. St Anton/Lech/Zürs
  4. Verbier
  5. Saalbach-Hinterglemm
  6. Ischgl
  7. Zermatt
  8. Kitzbühel
  9. Crans-Montana
  10. Arosa-Lenzerheide

The top 10 is idiosyncratic, but not especially so. it is probably almost impossible to judge a top 10 unless you apply stringent criteria. My top 10 ski resorts would need to have good rail access (which is probably not a big plus for package tour visitors who are accustomed to long coach transfers), picture postcards views (again, probably of little interest to people with their one week a year ski holiday), runs above 2500m (to provide some confidence in there being snow late in the season) and a reasonable range of non-ski and apres-ski facilities. However neither Ischgl nor Kitzbühel strictly meet all those criteria, but they are in my top 10 too.

Of the GTList list, Verbier, St Anton, Zermatt, Kitzbühel and Arosa can all be accessed by train, although I am not surprised that a website dedicated to luxury cars did not see that as noteworthy.

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Where is the Cheapest Place to Ski?

The Crystal Ski Industry Report 2014, produced together with Post Office Holidays in the UK, has assessed a number of ski resorts popular with UK package tour travelers. They have worked out average costs in resort for a package consisting of lift pass, rental and ski school and also for an average lunch. As a result they have come up with their idea of where the cheapest place to ski is. I don’t claim to be surprised with the outcome. I have applied an index to the figures based on an average of 100 to come up with relative prices. Essentially you can read it this way: you can get almost three days in Bansko for the price of one in Zermatt. Since Zermatt is much more likely to give you good snow conditions, has better scenery, apres ski and food, is easier to get to and has five times as much piste you could actually argue Baski is over-priced, but I have had some great ski holidays in Bulgaria and I wouldn’t knock it. However I think the independent traveller, with or without a family, doesn’t need to go to Eastern Europe to find value for money.

The top American resorts seem over-priced compared to the best European resorts, and add to that the cost, time and ecological impact of getting there from Europe, it seems wise to leave them to the natives. Again, I have had some great skiing in North America, but I lived there at the time and it was on my doorstep.
Matterhorn in Zermatt
So the eternal debate is, where is the best value resort to ski or snowboard in the Alps? Italy does well, and can only be faulted on the longer transit times required to get there. For a great ski experience on a tight budget, it is probably the best value. My personal favourite in Italy – if you are watching the pennies but want a great experience – is Madesimo. The best of Austria and France seem comparably priced, with a small price premium associated with Switzerland down to the strong Swiss Franc.

The report actually showed Switzerland gaining market share in 2013/4 over 2012/3, with 6.5% of the market – largely at the expense of France. The report claims prices are going down, but that is surely down to the strong pound since all prices are converted to sterling. Overall the report doesn’t change my perspective, which is that you get what you pay for. The ski and snowboard market is very competitive and the biggest mistake you can make is not about how much you pay, but that what you pay delivers what you want. I would never recommend Zermatt to a family of beginners, but for a competent skier I would recommend you put it on the list of places you visit before you die.

Anyway, on that sobering note, here are the indicies:

 

Resort Country Index
Bansko Bulgaria 54
Kranjska Gora Slovenia 62
Ellmau Austria 64
Livigno Italy 66
Soldeu Andorra 68
Sestriere Italy 73
Morzine France 75
Ruka Finland 78
Val Gardena Italy 84
Les Deux Alpes France 87
Mayrhofen Austria 87
Serre Chevalier France 87
la Thuile Italy 89
Kaprun Austria 89
Courchevel France 104
Val d’Isere France 104
Kitzbühel Austria 111
St Anton Austria 116
Tremblant Canada 117
Saas-Fee Switzerland 118
Wengen Switzerland 122
Winter Park USA 125
Banff Canada 136
Breckenridge USA 141
Zermatt Switzerland 142
Whistler Canada 146
Vail USA 155
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Misty Mountain High

Mountain High
Having seen many people so sozzled they can hardly stand up, before they don skis or snowboard to make the last run home (Think Crazy Kangaruh in St Anton or the Hennu Stall in Zermatt), I was interested to read that the upstanding ski lift operators of Colorado have reminded visitors of the dangers of getting high.

Of course I don’t mean altitude, I mean indulging in something the state has reputedly made legal – but the reality is somewhat short of liberation. Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado are handing out reminders to their guests that cannabis is still illegal to consume in public and is banned from Federal premises. Ok, unless it’s been purchased as a pet-care thing, according to the post at https://swellcbd.com/product-category/pet-health/.  I’m not sure about Mountain High resort in California, but the rule probably applies there too, rather sadly.

Dutch skiers who visit my Dutch language ski site may well visit their local coffeeshop before travelling down to the Alps, and they will be gratified to know that Switzerland is pretty cool about the whole thing. Dope is not legal but the Swiss smoke openly and the police are indifferent as long as you are not behaving badly. Similarly it is fine to walk down the street in Switzerland clutching a beer, or to crack open a bottle of wine on a train on your way to the piste. Not something I recommend you doing in the land of the free.

Plus the skiing and snowboarding is better. Natch!

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