UK Flights to Switzerland 2010/2011

In addition to BA, Easyjet and Swiss into Basel, Zurich and Geneva, and BMI to Geneva and Zurich, there are a number of other operators with scheduled flights into Switzerland from the UK.

Snowjet have direct flights from London Stansted to Sion on weekends, providing the fastest route into the skiing areas of Valais and Vaud. In less than an hour from landing you can be in Verbier, Crans Montana, Villars, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Thyon, Anzère, Grimentz, Zinal and a bunch of other resorts. The airport is particularly convenient for the largely undiscovered gems of Val D’Annivers. Les Portes du Soleil, Saas-Fee and Zermatt are not much further afield so it is entirely feasible to take in several of the best ski resorts in the world during a week’s vacation. Snowjet’s flights from London to Sion include free bus transfers between Sion airport and Sion bus/train station – from where ALL of Valais and Vaud’s resorts can be reached by public transport.

In addition to flights from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Belfast and East Midlands, Jet2 is launching 2 new routes this winter from Edinburgh and Newcastle to Geneva, convenient for linking to the Snowtrain and other scheduled train services which run right out of Geneva Airport into Valais and Vaud.

Flybe have scheduled flights to Geneva from Exeter, Isle of Man, Jersey and Southampton and will have scheduled flights from Southampton to Bern from 12th February, 2011. Bern is very convenient for Adelboden, Lenk, Gstaad and surrounding resorts and the Jungfrau (Wengen, Mürren and Grindelwald), but it is also a practical option for Zermatt and other resorts in East Valais. There is a bus service from the airport  linking into the Swiss rail network.

Most airlines will charge you for carrying skis and snowboards, although some will allow you to include them in your allowance. Generally reckon on around 30 to 50 pounds of additional charges unless you get very creative. Swiss carries skis and boards for free, and you can also arrange to have your kit forwarded to any rail station in Switzerland if you send it in advance.

Remember for onward rail and bus travel to a resort from the airport the Swiss Transfer Ticket offers great value at 79 pounds, but must be purchased in advance.

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Take the Snow Train!

Every Saturday, from 29th January till 19th March 2011 a Snowtrain will be operating from Geneva Airport through Valais. With a 79 pound Swiss Transfer Ticket that means you can easily get a connecting train to the Portes du Soleil, Verbier  and Zermatt, but with a little imagination some of the more exotic and less well-known resorts are easily reachable by connecting services – such as Leysin, Les Diablerets, Leukerbad, Nendaz, the Aletsch Arena, Crans-Montana, Lötschental, Grächen, Evolène, Anzers, Belalp and the outstanding Val D’Annivers (Chandolin, St-Luc, Grimentz, Vercorin and Zinal). The Transfer Ticket is also good for the bus as well as the train, and bus transfers are almost as easy as a train transfer.

The outward and return timetable for the Snow Train are:

Geneva Airport 13.40 Brig 09.51
Aigle 15.00 Visp 10.00
Martigny 15.15 Leuk no stop
Sion 15.30 Sierre 10.16
Sierre 15.40 Sion 10.27
Leuk 15.50 Martigny 10.41
Visp 16.00 Aigle 10.59
Brig 16.15 Geneva Airport 12.27

The Snow Train is not the only way to get to the Swiss Alps and the regular train and bus services all have stowage points for skis and boards.  Saas-Fee and Zermatt are already open for an early season break and can be accessed almost equally easily from Zurich and Geneva airports and the Paris TGV at Basel or Lausanne.

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Snow’n’Rail From Basel

Basel is a great base for skiing and snowboarding Switzerland. If you live in Basel or are visiting, you can benefit from being in Switzerland’s premier transport hub. If you are staying, there are plenty of accommodation options with a very affordable and convenient YMCA and a clutch of mid-priced hotels near the station. If you are coming in for a break from abroad, Basel’s International Airport and SNCF terminus are the closest entry point for North and North-West Europe.

Using an SBB (Swiss Rail) Snow’n’Rail pass you get significantly discounted rail, bus, cable car and ski passes to all of the major winter sports resorts in Switzerland. The tickets are available from both ticket offices (which open at 6am) and automated ticket machines (which work in English), and you have a number of options for spending between 1 and 6 days on the slopes. When you buy your ticket, however, do make sure you select the right destination and right package. I have made some recommendations on which place to alight for the slopes below. In terms of packages, do bear in mind that some ski areas can provide cheaper, more limited ski passes – or may even provide a more limited one at the lift station on the assumption you won’t ski the whole area. For Verbier you may find your pass doesn’t give you access to Mont Fort without paying a supplement, and for Saas-Fee you should ensure you receive a full Saastal pass to enjoy some of the unexpectedly enjoyable skiing at Saas-Grund and Saas-Almagell.

Zermatt StationBelow are typical journey times to many of the resorts and the typical number of changes you need to make. I’ve skiied all the resorts on this list using Snow’n’Rail and only once failed to make a connection. With an early start and with a couple of exceptions, you can be on the pistes around 9-10am. Engelberg is probably the easiest, but has the tightest connection, so don’t linger in Luzern station unless you want to take a later connection. Although the main lifts at Engelberg are walkable from the station, you are better off taking the complementary ski bus. The main centres of the Bernese Oberland (Grindelwald, Wenger, Murren, Zweisimmen and Adelboden) are relatively easy to get to from Basel, and all have good integration between the rail, bus and lift networks, i.e. very little walking. From Bern they are all an hour closer, as are many of the resorts in Valais.

Many of the resorts of Valais and Graubünden are realistic options for a day trip. Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Aletsch, Flims, Klosters, Lenzerheide and Arosa all justify the effort and have lifts very near to the train station or a bus stop. Davos is also a do-able day destination, but it is more convenient to go to Klosters for the Parsenn, with its lifts adjacent to the station.

Flumserberg is popular from Zurich, but is also a pleasant excursion from Basel. For all the resorts in Graubünden and Eastern Switzerland, Zurich makes a better starting point than Basel, shaving at least an hour off the journey time.

To ski St Moritz you realistically need to stay overnight if you want to get a full day of skiing, and if you intend to do the Engadin justice you should get a two day pass and stay over two nights so you can get to both Corvatsch and Diavolezza. Samnaun is also not a realistic option from Basel for the day, with over a 5 hour journey time, and if you want to ski Samnaun you’re probably better off staying at Ischgl in Austria.

Les Portes du Soleil and the Vaud Alpine resorts of Leysin, Les Diablerets and Villars look a bit of a stretch for a day trip from Basel, but I’ve done these trips and found them worth the effort. Lausanne is a better base to ski or snowboard Francophone Switzerland (Romandie), generally saving at least a couple of hours on the journey.

Airolo in Italian-speaking Ticino is the only ski resort you can get to directly from Basel without a change, bizarrely. Incidentally the nearest ski and snowboarding to Basel is actually in Baselland, at Langenbruck, an hour by public transport from Basel. Although nothing to set the pulse racing, if the conditions are right it is fine for intermediates looking to get in a bit of practice. Better skiing and snowboarding is across the border in the Black Forest, where Feldberg offer surprisingly varied pistes and a good lift system. Feldberg can be reached by public transport or by car from Basel, although get there early if you want to park anywhere near the lifts!

Some of the resorts (denoted with an asterisk below) require you to take a bus for the last leg of the journey. Don’t let this put you off! The buses are every bit as reliable as the trains, integrate well with the train network, have facilities to take skis and snowboards and are at least as likely to drop you off at the lift station as trains do. Most of the buses are operated by the Postbus network with their distinctive yellow livery, but there are a number of other companies that also operate buses which participate in the Snow’n’Rail scheme. Buses can also be useful if you take an off-piste itinerary that drops you down to somewhere different from where you started. As often as possible in the text of articles on resorts I’ll let you know where these stops are.

Resort Recommended Station/Stop* From Basel Time Changes
Adelboden-Lenk Adelboden, Mineralquelle* Bern / Frutigen 2.35 2
Airolo Airolo 2.57 0
Aletsch Betten Bern / Brig 2.38 2
Alpes Vaudoises Les Diablerets Lausanne / Aigle 3.47 3
Arosa Arosa Chur 3.36 1
Crans-Montana Montana Gare / CMA* Bern / Visp / Sierre 3.07 2
Davos Davos Platz or Dorf Landquart 3.22 1
Engelberg-Titlis Engelberg Luzern 2.09 1
Flims / Laax / Falera Flims Dorf, Bergbahnen* Chur 2.48 1
Flumserberg Unterterzen Zurich / Ziegelbrucke 2.29 1
Grindelwald Grindelwald Interlaken Ost 2.38 1
Gstaad Mountain Rides Zweisimmen Bern 2.19 1
Klewenalp Beckenried, Post* Luzern / Stans 1.58 2
Klosters/Davos Klosters Landquart 2.52 1
Lauchernalp / Lotschental Wiler, Seilbahn* Bern / Spiez / Goppenstein 2.47 2
Lenzerheide Canols, Rothornbahn* Chur 3.06 1
Les Portes du Soleil Champèry Lausanne / Aigle 3.57 3
Meiringen / Hasliberg Meiringen Interlaken Ost or Luzern 2.34 1
Murren Murren Interlaken Ost / Laterbrunnen 2.14 1
Obertoggenburg Wildhaus, Post* Zurich / Buchs 3.02 2
Saas-Fee Saas-Fee, Busterminal* Bern / Visp 3.01 1
St Moritz St Moritz Bad SMBB* Chur 4.25 1
Verbier Le Chable Bern / Visp / Martigny 3.38 3
Wengen Wengen Interlaken Ost, Lauterbrunnen 2.14 1
Zermatt/Cervinia Zermatt Visp 3.24 1

The SBB Railaway Snow’n’Rail web site is seasonal, but you should be able to find an overview of the product and links to resort details here. Although much of the information is in English, more resorts are covered in German. Check routing information at the Swiss Rail website – at times you may need fewer or more changes than indicated above for fastest transfers, and for Valais and Vaud resorts there may be other routing options.

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Short Trips to Winter Sports Resorts

If you are fortunate enough to live in Switzerland, or have some other reason to be in or near Switzerland between November and May, it is remarkably easy to take a day trip to the Swiss Alps. Although it is convenient to use a car, there is very little reason not to take public transport. The travel times are comparable, it is at least as convenient by public transport and the ecological footprint is smaller. In addition many trains provide buffets and if they don’t, the local kiosk or Co-op can sell you snacks and refreshments to take with you. It is quite acceptable on Swiss trains to bring on board your favourite tipple to enjoy apres ski in the comfort of your return journey, reflecting on your day in the mountains whilst the mountain scenery passes alongside.
Probably the most cost-effective way to ski or snowboard is to take advantage of the Swiss Railways “Snow’n’Rail” scheme, which offers discounts on ski hire from the ubiquitous Intersports hire shops and significantly reduced charges for a combined rail and ski passes. You receive a ticket and a seperate voucher for the ski pass which can be exchanged for a ski card at the mountain resorts. Often there is a small deposit on the ski card, typically 5 SFr, redeemable when you return the card. The ticket and voucher can be purchased at railway stations either at a counter or from a ticket machine. The ticket machines will guide you through the purchase in English, French, German or Italian, and the online and printed brochures promoting the scheme are available in these languages too – although only the German version is comprehensive and the online versions are only available in season.
You can buy Snow’n’Rail passes for one or two days. There are also some destinations which offer six days passes, Engadin St Moritz being the most attractive. Astoundingly you can get to most ski areas in Switzerland by public transport on a day pass and get a full day’s skiing, provided you are willing to get up early enough! Some Snow’n’Rail desinations involve a combination of train and bus – don’t be put off by using buses, the buses are as efficient as the trains and the transfers are usually as easy as they are between trains. Most stations, hire shops and ski areas provide storage facilities if you don’t want to carry your gear around with you when you ski, although many regulars of the Snow’n’Rail service I know literally leave home in their ski boots ready to leap off the destination lift or train right onto the slopes.
Snow’n’Rail is not just for residents or people passing through Switzerland. It is entirely feasible to take a flight to Zurich Airport and get a full day skiing at somewhere like Flumseberg, two hours away from the terminal. An evening flight to Basel and a night at the YMCA near the station means you can get a full day skiing the next day at resorts like Wengen and Engelberg. Flying into Geneva on a Friday and staying at a hostel in Zermatt can give you two full days on the slopes before you return home on a Sunday evening flight.
Snow’n’Rail’s online brochure is produced seasonly, but this link will help you navigate it when it is available.

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