Yes, less than 14 days to go before the Magic Pass becomes available to buy for 2019-2020. Like me, many of us are still enjoying riding on our 2018-2019 Magic Pass, so why the excitement?
Well, if the first two seasons of the Magic Pass are anything to go by, there will be huge discounts when the offer is first made available. So much so that the pass costs rather less than a weeks pass for one resort. Except the Magic Pass lasts all season, and now includes summer attractions. And it is not for just one resort, but over 30.
That’s not too shabby, and there are some internationally renowned resorts such as Villars-Gryon and Crans-Montana amongst the resorts covered plus some wonderful little-known gems. For residents or frequent visitors to Romande, it is an amazing offer, and not surprisingly has been extremely popular.
One criticism has been the lack of high-altitude resorts. Crans-Montana is high and, despite being South-facing, has a long season and good snow conditions late in the season. This has led the operator of Crans-Montana – always known for brinkmanship – to threaten to pull out of the scheme. St-Luc/Chandolin is also high, but rather difficult to get to (but well worth the effort, one of my favourite ski areas). Glacier3000 is also high, but adds a premium to the Magic Pass price, which I find hard to justify.
However for 2019/20 Saas-Fee will be joining the scheme. It already had a pretty good scheme covering just Saastal if you skiied there a lot. I had it for one season and it paid for itself in four days, but I did not renew as I only ended up using it for four days when I did have it. But it is a fabulous resort with a really good long season.
Also new for 2019/20 is Leukerbad, one of the best resorts around for families or for groups which include non-skiers owing to the extensive thermal baths in the resort and some very family-friendly restaurants. There is also a great area for beginners in the village and the very pleasant Torrent ski area above the village. The Swiss Pass will also apply to many summer activities in the resort.
I’m going to tell you how to take a ski break for a day. You can literally check out the snow reports one day, be skiing or snowboarding the next, and be back in the office the following day. In other words, you can take one day off work and ski the Swiss Alps for a full day in the mountains. How’s that for a day out the office!
Why Switzerland? Well it has fabulous resorts within easy reach of Geneva Airport; you can use public transport to get to the slopes; and accommodation at short notice is widely available if you stay in the valleys rather than the mountains. And it is no more expensive than France for a quick break and much more convenient than Italy or Austria. Although Innsbruck in Austria is quite convenient for a number of resorts, there are fewer flights.
I’m not going to push Easyjet, but it is a good choice for getting to Geneva from the UK, with several flights a year from Gatwick and regional airports. BA is also a good choice if you have lots of Avios points. And if you want to take your skis with you, Swiss will carry them for free. Typically Easyjet flights start from about £26, but get pricey at weekends. At a day’s notice it can cost less than £100 pounds return for an evening flight out, and either an evening flight back the next day or an early morning flight the following day – both of which will get you back in the office the next day with a full day’s skiing.
Geneva Airport has a station in the airport itself with direct trains running to hub towns from where you can get to the slopes, either by a single train journey or a very reliable bus service.
You can stay in a resort, but with a late flight and an hour time difference it is a push if you leave the office to take an evening flight. I would recommend you stay in one of those “hub” towns, somewhere like Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, Aigle, Martigny, Sion, Sierre or Visp. It all depends on how much travel time you are prepared to put in to and from respectively the airport and your preferred ski resort. Some towns on the main line service to Brig from Geneva Airport are particularly convenient for specific resorts, e.g. Aigle for Portes du Soleil (Champéry), Villars, Les Diablerets and Leysin; Martigny for Verbier and Les Marécottes; Sion for the central section of the 4 Valleys (Nendaz, Veysonnaz or Siviez) and Anzère; Sierre for Crans-Montana; and Visp for Saas-Fee or Zermatt. I could mention other resorts, but on the whole they require longer transfers or are much smaller.
Most towns have convenient and reasonably priced accommodation near the main railway station that can be booked at short notice, typically via Bookings.com.
You are spoilt for choice about which resort to go to. Saas-Fee and Zermatt are open for longer seasons than the rest, and mid-week skiing is usually only available at the others from the start of December. During peak season Leysin, Villars, Les Diablerets and the Portes du Soleil are the nearest significant resorts to Geneva.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Flying out of Gatwick on a Wednesday at 6.20pm, arriving at Geneva at 8.55pm, book into the Lausanne Youth Hostel or Hotel AlaGare both walking district from Lausanne station. Get up early and get a full day skiing in Verbier, leaving your stuff in a locker at the base station for Verbier. Return to Lausanne in the evening and take the 7.00am Easy jet flight getting you into Gatwick at 7.35am.
Another example: Take the same evening flight and book into a hotel in Aigle. Ski Leysin the next day, then take the 9.35pm flight back getting you into Gatwick at 10.05pm.
The costs depend on a number of factors. Costing out the first option, you might spend £100 on flights, plus transit costs to a UK airport. You can bring your skis on Easyjet for £39 or hire in resort for about the same if you book in advance. With Avios points I’ve done a return BA flight for £60. The return train fare on Swiss Railways from Geneva Airport to Lausanne is about £40 and the cost of a combined ski and travel pass (the Snow’n’rail scheme) for Verbier will be about £100. Lausanne is about 50 minutes from Geneva Airport and just over 2 hours from the gondola station serving Verbier. Accommodation near the station will cost you about £80 for a night. Food and drink are best bought from supermarkets and it is totally acceptable to drink alcohol on the trains.
On my trip to Saas-Fee last week I took advantage of an all-season ski pass I bought for under £200. I also have a half-fare card which halves the cost of rail transfer in Switzerland and I have Easyjet+ which gives some perks flying Easyjet. I am over 60 so travel in the UK is free or heavily discounted. And I have a pad in Switzerland about 1 hour 30 minutes from Geneva Airport and half an hour from the nearest ski resort.
I also have a pass for 25 other leading Swiss resorts that cost me around £200 for the whole season. The benefit of also having the Saas-Fee pass is it gives me good skiing early and late in the season.
March is probably my favourite month for skiing, the longer evenings and sunny skies heralding Spring. And, of course, you do tend to get Spring ski conditions – crusty off-piste, whilst the pistes are icy first thing and slushy at the end of the day. So a good tip is to look for resorts where most of the skiing is high.
No schools in Europe have half term during March this year, so there should be some good bargains for accommodation, particularly family-friendly resorts.
Some of the medium-sized resorts are perfect to visit since they have lower lift pass prices and should have the full extent of their ski area still open.
These, then, are my top tips for March skiing, all resorts with plenty of altitude:
At last fresh snow is coming to the Alps! The temperatures will drop below zero in most resorts from tonight for at least the next ten days. Sunny skies are expected until Wednesday and Thursday when modest snowfall is expected. I say modest, but Zermatt is expecting about 78cm, Saas Fee about 35cm and St Moritz and Andermatt about 23cm. Resorts of Bernese Oberland and most of Valais should get at least 10cm of snow.
The sun will come back next Friday, but temperatures will remain low so I’m sure the snow cannons will be busy on lower slopes and patchy South-facing slopes to make sure there is good cover for Christmas. And as it stands, things are looking pretty promising for Christmas, especially Christmas Eve.