Where to ski – early season resort openings

There has been as much as two metres of snow in some parts of the Alps, although relatively few resorts are open. Upper Valais seems to have done particularly well, and Andermatt has had a good dump.

In Switzerland Corvatsch (St Moritz/Silvaplana) has a couple of lifts and one run open. In Davos there are five lifts operating and two runs open on Parsenn, with Jakobshorn due to open at the weekend. Engelberg has three runs open and five lifts. Zermatt has nine lifts operating and a handful of others set to open soon, all on the Matterhorn side of the resort. GrimentzZinal‘s web site seems to reckon fourteen runs are open, but the information is ambiguous – best to call the resort if you fancy checking it out.

Unfortunately the amount of piste available is clearly still quite limited as the resorts seek to build a good base ahead of the season hitting full throttle. No resorts have runs back to the resort open, so in all cases you need to take the lifts back down. Needless to say, you are generally paying a full lift price for a relatively modest amount of piste.

There hadn’t been fresh snow for a few days, but the snow looks to be coming back today to many areas over 2000m, and will continue for the next few days.

Expect a few more resorts to open this coming weekend and the first weekend in December, hopefully with plenty of fresh snow and sunny skies! Quck and dirty update of resort overview is here, with full details at resort pages at swisswintersports.co.uk.

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Ski Insurance

I have Swiss insurance and am a member of Rega (the air ambulance people), but there are some gaps in terms of ski insurance cover. In many resorts there is an excellent service you can buy with your lift pass called Snowcare. It costs SFr 5 per day and covers refunds of ski pass, lessons and equipment hire if the slopes are closed, and costs of assistance and rescue, transport by ambulance and helicopter, medical expenses, sanitary repatriation and legal assistance. The amount is limited, but the ceilings seem reasonable, and the insurance is intended to supplement usual insurance and European Health Insurance Card provisions as applicable. It also does not cover off-piste activities.

You can buy the card at a number of resorts, currently the list includes:

View over Zermatt
Incidentally, regarding Rega, they waive the costs of the rescue missions of members (annual fee: CHF 30), providing that these costs are not covered by a health or accident insurance. That is one good reason to sign up, but additionally they are a non-profit foundation who provide emergency medical assistance by air according to medical necessity and, as they put it: “to rescue, not to pass judgement on right or wrong, guilt or innocence”.

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Lift Operators experience dismal early season

zinal chairlift
The Swiss Cableways Association recorded a dismal start to the 2014/15 season with a decrease of 28.2% in lift use and a decline of 12.9% in revenue in the period to 31st December. The season started brightly in November but the warm conditions in much of December meant many lower slopes were not even able to use their snow cannon and some lower resorts delayed the traditional opening in time for Christmas, reports Andreas Keller, the Assocaition’s Head of Communication Division. Not surpisingly, higher resorts in the Engadine and Valais fared best. However Keller is upbeat about the prospects for the rest of the season, with improved conditions leading into the New Year.

By region this was the picture for the early season compared with the same period last season in percentage terms:

Area Volume Revenue
Graubuenden -19.9 -11.8
Central Switzerland -25.8 -12.4
Eastern Switzerland -53.4 -44.8
Bernese Oberland -38.1 -17.9
Vaud & Fribourg -17.2 -7.3
Valais -28.6 -6.5
Ticino 124.8 27.3
Total -28.2 -12.9

The resorts of Eastern Switzerland did the worst, probably from a combination of a lot of low runs in these resorts and the allure for many Zurchers of seasonal shopping as an alternative to being in the mountains. Ticino’s unexpectedly upbeat position is simply a reflection on how dismal thigs were last year when many lifts were closed early in the season and avalaanche risk was high.

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News for the 2014-15 Ski Season in Switzerland

New Wellness hostel in Saas-FeeThe family love ski resorts where we can combine winter sports with a spa. We also find the hostels in Switerland truly awesome, and inexpensive despite Switzerland’s reputation for high prices. So we are excited to hear that new from 5th September is the wellnessHostel4000 with 168 beds, right next to the Postauto bus stop in Saas-Fee. It claims to have a unique architectural design and has direct access to the new spa and gym facilities in the Aqua Allain leisure centre. As well as the usual wellness features, the centre also boasts a 25-metre indoor pool, a children’s pool, waterslide and fitness centre. Typical room rates in a six-bed dorm start from around 40 francs (35 euros, less than thirty pounds) per person per night.

New lifts in Portes du Soleil
After what the resorts call “a period full of uncertainties and intense negotiations” collaboration between Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Verbier and Thyon that comprise the 4 Vallées ski domain has been renewed for the winter season 2014-2015, and for the following 18 years.

The Portes du Soleil is very large, and features a pleasant circuit that takes you round the resorts in the circuit and across the French/Swiss border. You can generally do it all on skis, but at Châtel you needed to catch a bus if you are coming from the slopes near Avoriaz. However two new chairlifts make getting around much easier (Vonnes-Super Châtel and Linga-Vonnes) and for the 2015-16 season there will be a new piste at Super Châtel.

New lifts are also planned to open this season in Parpan (Lenzerheide) and Val Müstair in the Minschuns area, and numerous lifts have been replaced or upgraded throughout Switzerland.

The flak continues to fallout over the Swiss decision to extend the minimum wage to chalet workers, with most chalet operators working out of the UK pulling out. Andy Perrin, CEO of the Hotelplan group, which incudes Inghams, Ski Total and Esprit Ski, opined: “There are no winners here. We tour operators lose, our guests who love Switzerland lose, and all the myriad Swiss suppliers in resorts who have relied on this business for decades also lose.”

Those choosing to buy in the Swiss Alps may also experience difficulties, with a curb on construction of second homes since 2012 and a 50% rule that ensures Swiss citizens get half of any new builds leading to ongoing uncertainty. The result has been rising prices for real estate in a country which has largely enjoyed stable, albeit significant, prices for second homes.

Crystal, who alongside Thomson, Inghams and Neilson provide most of the winter sports holidays sold in Britain, has added Arosa to the resorts it services. An excellent choice,in my opinion. Now linked to Lenzerheide, Arosa is one of the best resorts in the Alps. The train journey to the resort is a delight, and there is plenty for people who don’t ski to do – as well as a fabulous range of piste and off-piste.
Ski Zinal and the fabulous Val D'Anniviers
Finally, news on an attractive deal for early-season escapes in one of my very favourite ski areas, Val d’Anniviers. The newly renamed combined resort of GrimentzZinal for the weekends of 15-16 November, 22-23 November, 29-30 November and 6-8 December offers
1 night in a double room in a hotel, with breakfast + 2 days’ skiing from CHF 175 per person. See here for details.

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