Affordable luxury ski holiday in Zermatt

Matterhorn, Zermatt
There are probably few things better than a week in Zermatt, especially when there is fresh snow and clear, sunny skies. The recent hike in the Swiss Franc makes what was already an expensive resort, even more so. But, hey, it’s Zermatt! When you’re dead and buried, Zermatt will be off the agenda (unless you are buried in the mountaineer’s graveyard in the resort), so you have to make it here at least once in your lifetime. I reckon I have made at least a dozen ski trips there.

So, how do you make it affordable? There are two main options as far as accommodation is concerned. Option one is to bunk up in a hostel or a lower end hotel like the excellent Hotel Bahnhof. Option two is to share a chalet, especially if there is a deal on.
Haus Alpa
Until the end of April, Ski Zermatt are offering a 30% discount on Haus Alpa. The chalet is in an ideal location, in the heart of the town, only 300 meters to the Sunnega Cable Car and 500 meters to the mainline station and the Gornegrat railway. It has superb wellness facilities and free wifi and even a spa called ComplexCity Spa. Good skiers can even ski to the front door. Haus Alpa provides two catered penthouse chalets, which sleep 6-8 people at a regular price of CHF 15000-18000/week and seven self-catered apartments, which also sleep 6-8 people at a regular price of CHF 7000-10000/week. That means you can enjoy a luxury chalet for as little as around GBP 60 (CHF 87.50) a night.

Although the catered option is more than twice the price, the discount makes it particularly attractive. Ski Zermatt is part of the Elysian group who have won awards and built a strong following for their attention to detail, the standard of catering and their friendly service. They claim their catering at Haus Alpa is of Michelin star quality, and it is accompanied by an excellent wine list, included in the price.

So, having chosen where you are going to stay, what else do you need? A ski pass covering both Zermatt and Cervinia will set you back CHF 434 for six days, and you can purchase these online in advance from www.matterhornparadise.ch.

I recommend flying in with Swiss to Zurich. Prices start at around GBP 130 return from Heathrow, and the price includes free carriage of skis or snowboard, boots and helmet. You must buy it in advance, but the Swiss Transfer Ticket at CHF 141, is a return ticket from any station in Switzerland to any other station in Switzerland – in your case from the station inside Zurich airport to the station in Zermatt. The journey time is around three and a half hours and you need to change in Visp. Some trains run direct from the airport to Visp, but alternatively you can change at Zurich HB.
Zurich airport
The train journey is an absolute delight and infallibly reliable. A useful tip is to pop into the Co-op in the airport and buy some snacks, cold beers or wine for the trip. Supermarket booze is cheaper than in the UK and drinking on the trains is absolutely acceptable – on the train to Visp there is also catering and a trolley service, but not on the last leg. I remember once being complemented on my foresight by the ticket inspector for having stocked up on beer for this last section! Incidentally there is also a Co-op in the middle of Zermatt in a small shopping centre opposite the railway station. If you are self-catering or want to stock up on booze, this is the best value in Zermatt. All the clubs and bars are free to enter in Zermatt, but the drinks can get pricey.
Chalet Etoille at Plain Maison above Cervinia
You probably will eat out at lunchtime and there is a wealth of choice in Zermatt and Cervinia. For a cheap but nourishing lunch, a bowl of Goulash soup with bread and a beer will cost around CHF 15 on the Zermatt side, whilst on the Cervinia side you can enjoy a big plate of pasta and a quarter litre of wine for slightly less – remember you will need Euros on the Italian side. If you want a lunch to remember at a reasonable price, I recommend Chalet Etoille. The menu varies, but they always have available their quite stunning fish soup – a small bowl is around twelve euros. You don’t always need to book, but it a good idea to do so – +39 0166 940220.

So how much will it cost you for a luxury ski trip you can organise yourself in an hour, without the hassle of a long coach transfer?
View of the Matterhorn
Well, if you take the option of the catered chalet, plan to have three or four drinks out a night and mostly eat a light lunch, a luxury ski trip to Zermatt all inclusive will cost you no more than GBP 1600 per person at current exchange rates. If you want to push the boat from Pontoon Boat Rentals out, party hard and lunch in style, you probably want to budget around two grand.

Not cheap, but not a king’s ransom either.

For more details, visit http://www.swisswintersports.co.uk/zermatt.php. Remember Zermatt is high too, and there is extensive piste open in April with much of the Matterhorn and Cervinia sections open through May and more limited skiing right through the summer.

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FIS World Championship Vail / Beaver Creek

The FIS World Championship in Vail and Beaver Creek is about halfway through, and it has been a fascinating competition, with wonderful conditions.
beaver Creek Podium
In the Ladies SuperG, Austrian Anna Fenninger held off Tina Maze and local favourite, Lindsay Vonn. Maze, however, came off top in the Downhill, edging out Fenninger and Switzerland’s Lara Gut, fresh from her win in St Moritz.

Meanwhile the Mens competition has looked kindly on the Swiss, with a Gold for Patrick Keung and a Bronze for Beat Feuz, with America’s Travis Ganong sandwiched between them. The Super G saw Hannes Reichelt of Austria on the podium with Gold, followed by Canada’s Dustin Cook and France’s Adrien Theaux. Marcel Hersher rounded out a good few days for the Austrians, taking the Combined Gold, whilst the sensational winner at Kitzbühel, Kjetil Lansrud, came in second with Ted Ligerty third.

The fractions of a second difference in medal positions are recorded by Longines, the Swiss watch maker based in St Imier since 1832. The company has a long association with skiing, stretching back to ski trials in Chamonix in 1933, and it has been official partner and timekeeper for the FIS since 2006. The relationship was re-inforced when Longines took on the same role for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, as they had for previous World Championships. To commemorate the occasion they have launched a new chronograph, the alluring Conquest 1-100th Alpine Skiing. One for my wish list for sure, and one I will be looking forward to checking out at Baselworld, the watch fair in Switzerland that takes place next month. In addition, the equally alluring and talented Mikaela Shiffrin has been announced as Longines Ambassador of Elegance.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins in Zagreb 2015
Mikaela Shiffrin wins in Zagreb (c) Longines 2015

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Switzerland

Sir Arthur Conan DoyleSir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, had a long association with Switzerland, even making a claim that he was “the first to introduce [skiing] for long journeys into Switzerland”. On a trip to Switzerland his wife contracted tuberculosis and the family decided in 1893 to move to Davos (in what we call Graubünden but which the French call the Grisons) where the crisp, clean mountain air and the clinics were famous for their impact on the well-being of patients with respiratory problems. Interestingly Conan Doyle was himself an MD, having studied medicine in Edinburgh. To while away the time Conan Doyle, a keen sportsman, tried many diversions. In his autobiography, “Memories and Adventures” (1924, London) he recounts:

“As there were no particular social distractions at Davos, and as our life was bounded by the snow and fir which girt us in, I was able to devote myself to doing a good deal of work and also to taking up with some energy the winter sports for which the place is famous.”

He continues:

“There is one form of sport in which I have, I think, been able to do some practical good, for I can claim to have been the first to introduce skis into the Grisons division of Switzerland, or at least to demonstrate their practical utility as a means of getting across in winter from one valley to another. It was in 1894 that I read Nansen’s account of his crossing of Greenland, and thus became interested in the subject of ski-ing. It chanced that I was compelled to spend that winter in the Davos valley, and I spoke about the matter to Tobias Branger, a sporting tradesman in the village, who in turn interested his brother. We sent for skis from Norway, and for some weeks afforded innocent amusement to a large number of people who watched our awkward movements and complex tumbles. The Brangers made much better progress than I. At the end of a month or so we felt that we were getting more expert, and determined to climb the Jacobshorn, a considerable hill just opposite the Davos Hotel. We had to carry our unwieldy skis upon our backs until we had passed the fir trees which line its slopes, but once in the open we made splendid progress, and had the satisfaction of seeing the flags in the village dipped in our honour when we reached the summit. But it was only in returning that we got the full flavour of ski-ing. In ascending you shuffle up by long zigzags, the only advantage of your footgear being that it is carrying you over snow which would engulf you without it. But coming back you simply turn your long toes and let yourself go, gliding delightfully over the gentle slopes, flying down the steeper ones, taking an occasional cropper, but getting as near to flying as any earth-bound man can. In that glorious air it is a delightful experience.

“Encouraged by our success with the Jacobshorn, we determined to show the utility of our accomplishment by opening up communications with Arosa, which lies in a parallel valley and can only be reached in winter by a very long and roundabout railway journey. To do this we had to cross a high pass, and then drop down on the other side. It was a most interesting journey, and we felt all the pride of pioneers as we arrived in Arosa.”

It was an interesting early example of back-country skiing, and I must admit that I have not attempted to make the journey from Davos to Arosa, by skis. One to add to the list.

Conan Doyle wrote prolifically, and no doubt engendered interest in the English public (or at least a section of it) through his enthusiastic reports on “ski-running”, as he often called it. In an article in the Strand Magazine in 1894 he opined “Ski-ing opens up a field of sport which is, I think unique. I am convicted that the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the ski-ing season in March and April”. He described the sport as one where “You have to shuffle along the level, to zigzag, or move crab fashion, up the hills, to slide down without losing your balance, and above all to turn with facility.” Whenever I ski the Jakobshorn, I can’t help but think of Conan Doyle energetically moving crab fashion in his tweeds and eight-foot long skis, “occasionally taking a cropper”.
Conan Doyle on skis, with his wife
However Conan Doyle’s most famous association with Switzerland is entirely fictional.

Conan Doyle was frustrated that most of his writing received little attention, except for his Sherlock Holmes stories. As he wrote in his memoirs:

“It was still the Sherlock Holmes stories for which the public clamoured, and these from time to time I endeavoured to supply. At last, after I had done two series of them I saw that I was in danger of having my hand forced, and of being entirely identified with what I regarded as a lower stratum of literary achievement. Therefore as a sign of my resolution I determined to end the life of my hero. The idea was in my mind when I went with my wife for a short holiday in Switzerland, in the course of which we saw there the wonderful falls of Reichenbach, a terrible place, and one that I thought would make a worthy tomb for poor Sherlock, even if I buried my banking account along with him.”
Sherlock Holmes in an illustration for the Strand magazine meets his fate at the Reichenbach Falls
So Conan Doyle placed the demise of his most famous invention, Sherlock Holmes, at a waterfall just outside the resort of Meiringen in his story, “The Final Problem”, published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893. A small museum, below the church near the station in Meiringen, commemorates the association of Conan Doyle with the area. In the story Holmes spends his last night at the Park Hotel Du Savage (renamed by Conan Doyle as the Englischer Hof) before visiting the Reichenbach Falls, where both Holmes and Moriaty meet their fate. At the fictional spot where this happens a plaque in English, German, and French reads “At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty, on 4 May 1891.”
Lake Geneva
According to his memoirs Conan Doyle also lived in Maloja in Graubünden for a time and in Caux, above Lake Geneva, reached by funicular railway from Montreux.

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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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