Feldberg in the Black Forest

Although some of the best skiing in the world is only a couple of hours away from Basel it is possible to ski and snowboard much closer. In the Jura, in Basel-land, there is a small ski area called Langenbruck, with a couple of surface lifts and some short, gentle runs. It is accessible by public transport, but is easier to reach by car. However it is low and currently closed because of the unseasonably warm winter. The nearest resort of any size still open is Feldberg in the Black Forest.

Feldberg )resort website is here) is comparable to many of the smaller Alpine resorts in scale, although with pistes between 1448 and 945m it is quite low. Despite the altitude, however, the pistes have held up better than many higher resorts this season. There are fourteen runs – 3 black, 7 red and 4 blue – comprising around 25km of piste spread over two sides of a valley. The runs on the North-facing side of the valley, off the Grafenmatt, are mostly through the trees and are largely suitable for intermediate skiers. The runs on the South-facing side of the valley, on Seebuck, only loosely connect to the runs across the road via a ski bridge, but the area is better for beginners with a wide, gentle blue run and red runs that really should be graded blue and a good funpark all accessible by an excellent six person chair lift. On Grafenmatt it is almost impossible to escape using surface lifts, of which there are nine in the resort, although there is a modern four-seater chairlift with over 400m vertical ascent providing access to some fine red and black runs, a free ride area and a 3km-long, very challenging blue run. The combined lift capacity of the resort is 24,000 people an hour, so queues are generally short even at busy periods. Around 5km of the pistes have snow cannon cover.

Needless to say, Feldberg is popular with weekend skiers and parking can be challenging unless you arrive early. Interestingly enough Feldberg is also popular with many skiers and snowboarders from Belgium, Holland and North Germany, for whom it is an easier trip than the Alps.

The run from Basel by car is just over an hour, driving north on the B317 from Lörrach up through the delightful Wiesental, and from Freiburg it is three-quarters of an hour (via Titisee). By public transport the trip is under 2 hours from Basel (via Freiburg) and around an hour from Freiburg with regular buses on routes 9007 and 7300 from the nearby railway station at Feldberg-Bärental.

Although small, low, busy and with too many surface lifts, Feldberg is actually a delightful little resort, and highly affordable. A day pass is a reasonable 27 Euros and prices for kit hire, lessons, meals and refreshments are very competitive and there is plenty of choice. There are also number of smaller resorts in the area, including a pleasant area served by a surface lift at Altglashütten, and one served by a gondola at Belchen. All of the resort runs, public transport and a range of other amenities are available free with the “Hochschwarzwald-Card”, which is itself provided gratis for guests in local hotels (depending on length of stay). The area is good for walking and there are a number of cross-country ski circuits, an outstanding all-season water park at Titisee and various other off-piste diversions throughout the “Hochschwarzwald” area.

The standard of accommodation in the hotels and guesthouses in the Black Forest is consistently high. For families the Feldberger Hof  is supremely convenient for the slopes and has superb childcare facilities.  For the more budget-conscious I recommend the excellent family-run Landhotel Sonneck in nearby Altglashütten, a delightful village with rail connections to Titisee and a bus service to Feldberg, as well as having a small ski area in the village.

A full resort report is located at the Swiss Winter Sports web site, with a version in Dutch here.

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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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Family Friendly Resorts

The Swiss Tourism Federation’s “Families Welcome” designation applies to resorts that are recognized as being child-friendly. Currently resorts with the award include:

  • Aletsch Arena with Bettmeralp, Fiesch Eggishorn and Riederalp Mörel
  • Arosa
  • Bellwald
  • Braunwald-Klausenpass
  • Brigels
  • Crans-Montana
  • Davos Klosters
  • Diemtigtal
  • Engelberg-Titlis
  • Flims, Laax, Falera, Trin, Sagogn
  • Grächen
  • Haslital with Hasliberg and Meiringen
  • Lenk Simmental
  • Lenzerheide
  • Leukerbad
  • Maloja
  • Nendaz
  • Saas-Fee / Saastal
  • Savognin
  • Schwarzsee
  • Toggenburg
  • Triesenberg Malbun Steg
  • Villars with Gryon and Bex

Source: STV/FST (German, but most links have English translations)

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