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VERBIER :
In the latest Good Ski Guide magazine, Verbier was ranked in 3 'Best of the Best' categories - for advanced skiers, off-piste skiing and après-ski. Do we agree? Well… as the top banana of the Four Valleys domain, Verbier has access to 400km of pistes. It has an excellent sun and snow record, particularly at higher altitudes, also offering a limited amount of year-round skiing on the Mont Fort glacier. From here the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. There's a massive array of skiing throughout the area, with unlimited off-piste and great black runs for advanced skiers. There is also a specialist park for boarders. Tuition for better skiers is of the highest order, while the lift system has been constantly upgraded since 1994. The resort itself offers an excellent variety of restaurants, extremely lively nightlife and plenty for non-skiers to do.

Any disadvantages? The skiing lower down can be poor as a result of the sun. There can often be considerable queues. Prices are high, even for Switzerland. The accommodation won't be winning architectural awards any time soon.

Verbier is a superb resort, particularly for better skiers, but as the list of faults confirms, it isn't quite in the same league as some other domains - Whistler, the Trois Vallées and Val d'Isère/Tignes are all a head or more above. Nonetheless, this is a seriously good skiing venue and the views are among the best in the world.


Resort summary :Verbier Resort
Resort Altitude - 1500m (4921ft) .Winter season: December to April .Traditional: YES .Nearest town: Martigny.
Slope suitability - Beginner: 39% .Intermediate: 42% .Expert: 19%


Lifts & slopes :
Highest lift: 3330m (10925ft) .Lowest lift: 1500m (4921ft) .No of lifts: 38 .No of slopes: 70 .Total piste length: 125km .Longest run: 15km .Snowparks: 2 .Snow runs: 70 .Glacier: Mont Fort Glacier .Cross country: 20km .


SAAS- FEE :
Saas-Fee has some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere, from 4000m peaks to a range of stunning glaciers. Much of this territory is shared by its illustrious neighbour, Zermatt. Saas-Fee sits at 1800m, so snow is all but guaranteed. The skiing is not as challenging as Zermatt's, with most of theruns favouring intermediates and beginners. Snowboarders will like Saas-Fee with its excellent school, although it isn't great for middle-ability boarders.

The ski domain is not that expansive, with 100km of its own pistes, while the lift is rather inefficient. Due to the dominance of the Dom Mountain (one of the highest in Switzerland), the resort can suffer from a lack of sun in the winter. The Mittelallalin glacier, connected by an underground funicular railway, provides summer skiing and boarding. Saas-Fee is also the official training centre for the Professional Snowboarding Association.

The resort itself has maintained more of its traditional village charm than Zermatt and is traffic-free. There is plenty to do when not skiing, with a sportscentre, the highest revolving restaurant in the world (3500m) and some good designer ski shops. Après-ski is fine, but the eateries aren't excellent and they charge prices that will have you increasing your mortgage.

Overall, Saas-Fee has a lot of great features, particularly its scenery, causing many people to fall in love with the place. Its skiing isn't awesome and it has Zermatt as a neighbour, so the two are always compared.


ST.MORITZ :
St Moritz is probably the most famous of all the Swiss resorts. It is posh, glamorous and very expensive. It's a place to be seen in but, if you're really picky, you can ski as well. The sun shines nearly all year-round and the snow record is pretty good. The town isn't that attractive, with less-than-beautiful buildings often spoiling some great scenery. There are countless things to do off the snow, while cross-country skiers are truly spoiled with lovely tracks around the frozen lake. It's difficult to access by car and the transfer times are hefty (Zurich is 200km away). Many prefer to take the train, but that still takes a fair while. The resort prides itself on having hosted the Olympics twice in the last century. Its most well-known off-snow activity is the world-famous Cresta Run - still unavailable to women. The nightlife, top-class hotels and restaurants are major pulls, although you may need to extend your mortgage to cover the bills… There are a massive 350km of piste to explore, but it's fragmented and rather poorly linked. Many of the runs in the main domains are easy and rather similar. The 'in-crowd' seem to like it like that - not too strenuous and perfect for posing. Beginners don't receive too much attention, while advanced skiers will have to travel around to get the best St Moritz has to offer. There is some good off-piste to be had on the face of the Piz Noir when snow cover is adequate. The lift system has been upgraded, but over-reliance on small cable cars means that queues can often develop. Overall, it's a venue not solely based around skiing. People come to St. Moritz all year round. The skiing is ideally suited to the clientele, as are the prices. However, if you are working on a budget, or want a massive variety of skiing, St. Moritz isn't exactly tailored to you.


DAVOS :Davos Resort
One of the first spots in the Alps to be used as a skiing venue and also a 'health' spa, Davos is a large, outstretched town 1 ¾ hours from Zurich by car or 2 ½ hours by train. It has access to 325km of pistes and is linked to Klosters.

As a whole, there is something for every type of skier, although beginners don't fair as well. Intermediates have lots of long blues and reds to exploit, while advanced skiers have some good off-piste. The snow is generally good at the higher levels and some fantastic off-piste. What the town lacks for in charm, it makes up for with its fantastic variety for skiers and boarders alike and with the new Parsennbahn railway, access to the slopes is quick and easy.


For boarders the off-piste is a major attraction, as is the designated park. Cross-country skiers also have much territory to cover. The town itself, split into 2 parts, Dorf and Platz, doesn't possess the charm of Klosters, but life off the slopes is lively with 5 nightclubs to choose from as well as lots of bars and restaurants. In addition there are many other things to do apart from skiing. You can take a scenic train ride, use the largest natural ice rink in Europe, visit the winter sport museum, or watch an ice hockey match. On top of that are the great shops and excellent restaurants (on and off mountain).

It is expensive and fur coats abound, however, it does cater for all - if you can afford it.


KLOSTERS :
Inextricably linked to Prince Charles and the Royal Family, Klosters is part of the Davos ski network. They share the Parsenn ski field, but the 2 towns are 10km apart and Klosters has its own ski area, the Madrisa.

The resort is split into 2 parts, Dorf and Platz, but neither is the exclusive hive you might have imagined. Platz has classy hotels near the station and more fizz, while Dorf remains very quiet. Both have plenty of Alpine charm.

There are great on- and off-snow restaurants, but as a rule the evenings are pretty quiet. Non-skiers can experience the sports centre, ice-skating, sleigh rides and sled runs down the front of the Gotschna. There are several beautiful marked walks up and down the valley by the river and up the mountains, for example, via the ancient hamlet of Montbiel to the old Garfiun restaurant where cross-country skiers and walkers bask in the sun and take a well-earned rest.

The skiing across the whole area is suitable for all abilities. Advanced practitioners have good on- and off-piste, intermediates have plenty of long blues and reds and beginners can head to the Parsenn for gentle, developing runs. The lift system at Klosters has been partially upgraded, including the Gotschna cable car, named after Prince Charles. Local transport is necessary to access other ski areas.

Overall, Klosters has dodged the tourist mass market and preserved much of its Alpine charm. It is still expensive and quite upmarket, but that shouldn't necessarily put you off. The skiing offers something for everyone and hey, if you go at the right time, you might bump into a prince or two.


GSTAAD :Gstaad Resort
The Adelboden ski area comprises of 5 domains. Three are lift-accessed from the town and the other 2 linked by an efficient bus service. Between them and other small local ski areas there are over 200km of runs, offering enjoyable skiing for beginners and intermediates. Experts will have to root around for off-piste and decent black runs. Most of the skiing is at fairly low altitude, but the slopes do hold their snow reasonably well as they are north facing.

Adelboden also offers 2 half-pipes and one specialist park for boarders.The fragmented nature of the skiing is probably Adelboden's greatest disadvantage. The village itself is traditional, pretty and sedate. The scenery is a real plus, with Adelboden sharing the same range as Gstaad and Wengen. It is also a great spot for other winter pursuits, so non-skiers should find plenty to amuse. Après-ski is fairly quiet, with the majority being hotel-, restaurant- and bar-based. The ski school is adequate, but best suited to kids.

Overall, Adelboden/Lenk is a great base for a ski touring holiday - if you have a car. If that's the case then most will have a variety of slopes to keep them occupied. It's a wonderful and typically Swiss environment from which to explore.


MURREN :
Mürren is one of the original ski resorts, developed by Brits in the '20s,remaining a favourite nowadays. There isn't a great range of skiing for all abilities, but 2 things draw people back every time. First is the stupendous scenery that provides views into Germany, France and Italy. Second are the black runs down from the Schilthorn and great off-piste at Blumental, which many advanced skiers find worth the journey alone. If you want more varied skiing you can slide across the Lauterbrunnen Valley. This provides access to the Wengen and Grindelwald slopes, which largely please the intermediate audience. This is best done in the week, as queues build up at the weekend.

Add a small-but-stunning village, picture-postcard chalets and no cars and you have one of the great Alpine spots. There isn't much to Mürren in terms of nightlife, but what there is really hots up at the weekend. During the day the non-skier might find themselves with a lack of activities. The mountain restaurants won't be winning many awards any time soon, but the hotel restaurants are more than adequate.

Access to the village is provided by train or gondola, definitely adding to the Alpine ambience. The revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria (at 2970m) is as good a place as any to enjoy the views. If for nothing else you really must try Mürren for the scenery.


LENZERHEIDE :Lenzerheide Resort
Lenzerheide is rather a charming old town linked with Valbella by a lake, as well as by lifts. They combine to form a picturesque, but not particularly exciting ski area, with one little-known claim to fame: Margaret and Denis Thatcher brought their twins here to learn to ski. Much of the skiing takes place on either side of a wooded valley - some runs in the trees, some above them. The uniform shape of the valley tends to make the runs in this area a little up-and-down and monotonous. However, there are some surprisingly steep and gladed slopes, sometimes mogulled, beneath the Rothorn cable car, at the Valbella end of the valley.


ZERMATT :
Zermatt, according to some reporters, is as near as anywhere to perfection, so long as you are an intermediate or advanced skier. Dominated by the stunning scenery of the Matterhorn, Zermatt's pluses can be summarised as follows - awesome scenery; amazing mountain restaurants; fantastic and varied skiing (also linked to Cervinia in Italy); a charming and predominantly traffic-free town, bar the electric taxis; great snow high up; all sorts of nightlife for everybody; great shopping; masses of non-skiing activities to enjoy; a glacier for year-round skiing; good accommodation; a cosmopolitan crowd; excellent boarding provision. Apart from all that, it's quite a good resort…

There are a few minor complaints, but nowhere is perfect. Often you may have a bit of a trek to get to the lifts and there can be queues, particularly on the way up to the skiing. Beginners don't have the greatest amount of choice. The 3 ski areas are separate and rather poorly linked. It's at least 4 hours to the nearest international airport. Oh, and it's seriously expensive, tending to attract the 'fur coat and poodle brigade'

Overall, Zermatt has been described as 'the perfect ski destination' and 'about as complete a resort as you can find'. Such plaudits are hard to argue and it must be on every skier's itinerary, as long as the credit card can come too.


WENGEN :
Wengen, which shares the Jungfrau pass with Grindelwald and Murren, is most famous for its dramatic downhill course, the 'Lauberhorn'. It's also known as one of those classic Swiss ski resorts that is relaxed and has stunning scenery. Don't come here solely to bash as many pistes as possible. Wengen is traffic free and only accessible only by train from Lauterbrunnen. Many skiers will then take the train on up to Kleine Scheidegg, so a good knowledge of the timetable is vital to avoid queues although the newly renovated cable-car to Mannlichen provides a quicker alternative into the main area. As with Grindelwald, the views of the Eiger and the surrounding mountains are awesome. Both resorts share the problem of unreliable snow, as the pistes don't go much higher than 2000m. The skiing is very good for intermediates and beginners and the ski schools are excellent. Advanced skiers and boarders don't have too many pistes to try, but off-piste is adequate.

Many people go to Wengen simply for the atmosphere. It's sedate, stress- and traffic-free and 'old-school'. The village has excellent hotels that provide most of the dining, with some superb mountain eateries to boot. Nightlife is fairly restrained but non-skiers have plenty to occupy themselves with. In particular there is the option of the train, providing access to the valley below, to Murren, and to Interlaken. When the weather is fine, many people are happy just to sit out, enjoy the scenery and soak up the ambience of the place. It isn't just skiing in Wengen, you know.


CRANS MONTANA :
Originally 3 towns, Crans, Montana and Aminona amalgamated in the 1960s to form one resort. Once spa-inspired and a resort since 1893, it is renowned for

its stunning views and sunny weather. Crans-Montana's one major failing is that the snow can be poor, in spite of sitting at 1500m. Be sure to check the snow reports before you book.

The town itself is functional, not attractive and traffic can be a problem. Most accommodation will require a bus to the lifts. The lifts are efficient, allowing few queues, except possibly at weekends. Shopping, eating out and general non-skiing activities are good, as befits a large resort. While there is a reasonable amount of nightlife, the majority of visitors prefer a quiet meal to an all-night session. There are also excellent childcare facilities.

On-piste skiing favours beginners and intermediates, with only 2 black runs for advanced. There's plenty of exciting and varied off-piste and this contributes to a strong boarding presence. Crans-Montana also provides some scenic tree-line skiing. The lift pass covers the 160km of pistes, but you will have to pay more to access the Plaine Morte glacier.

Overall, Crans-Montana is a great resort with stunning scenery, many activities and lots of skiing for all. It is a wonderful destination for families seeking quieter evenings. Beware the 3- hour transfer from Geneva, though.


GRINDELWALD :
Accessible from Berne (75km) and Zurich (2/3 hours), Grindelwald is the oldest yet least- known of the 3 Jungfrau resorts (which combine to offer 188km of piste). Most will have heard of Wengen and Murren. All 3 sit around the magnificent Eiger, with Grindelwald at the base. This does lead to a lack of sun in the winter. A mountaineering Mecca, the setting and scenery are fantastic and the resort is picturesque in the extreme, although Murren possesses the best views. Grindelwald has its own domain, linked with Wengen, while a slight trek can get you to Murren. In particular, the cog railway and the gondola to most of the skiing can get clogged, especially at weekends. The lift system is rather antiquated, but should be receiving attention soon. Grindelwald has Europe's longest sledge run - it is 15 km long!

The skiing favours intermediates, while advanced skiers may miss out if they aren't prepared to travel. The resort is hugely popular with families. The ski school also has a reasonable reputation, with many English-speaking instructors. Grindelwald's biggest problem is a lack of guaranteed snow, with most of the skiing between 1000m and 2000m.

There is plenty to do off the snow, with the train helping you to get around. Après-ski is pretty laid-back, while hotel restaurants are the focus for good

grub. There are a few reasonable bars and 2 clubs, so it's slightly livelier than the other Jungfrau resorts. Access is provided by train from Interlaken.

Overall, a beautiful family ski resort, with a great selection of skiing and non-skiing options available. Grindelwald, funnily enough, only really comes into its own when there is ample snow.

The World Snow Festival takes place in Grindelwald each year. Thousands of sculpturers present their creations on this event. It is worth watching them how they make their creations.


VILLARS :
Linked to Les Diablerets and its glacier in 1997, Villars' signature feature is its mountain railway, which winds up the valley from Bex and stops at Bretaye. Due to its lower altitude and south-facing location, Villars can be in trouble if there isn't much snow. This problem has been partially defeated by the recent introduction of snowmakers. Most of the skiing favours beginners and intermediates. For boarders there are 2 local boarding parks. The glacier has some very good off-piste. Investing in a 'Glacier - Alpes Vaudoises' pass allows you to ski on over 500km of pistes, including Gstaad and Chateau d'Oex. The on-site ski school is more than adequate and childcare is comprehensive for all ages. The town itself is more modern than Les Diablerets, but still fairly attractive. There are some decent mountain restaurants, with more local speciality venues in town. There are also several good bars, a couple of clubs and lots of off-snow activities. As a result, Villars is a relaxing, relatively quiet family resort, with ample skiing for those of lower abilities.


AROSA :
Found at the top of the delightful Schanfigg Valley, Arosa is not just a ski resort ional winter venue. Largely catering for a wealthy but unshowy clientele, Arosa has loads of Alpine ambience and attracts as many non-skiers as slope-sliders. Sitting at 1800m, the snow is very good and the lift system is highly efficient. There are 70km of pistes, largely favouring beginners and intermediates, while experts will have to make do with a few blacks and any off-piste they can find. Boarders are very welcome, although the nightlife might fall short of greater demands. Après-ski is rather sedate, mainly involving good eateries and hotel-based bars. Arosa is a great family venue - in the evenings traffic is banned from the village-centre and a free bus service takes people in and out.

Overall, Arosa is a friendly charming mountain resort that's very Swiss and traditional. The skiing isn't overly demanding, but perfect for learners wanting to have the full Alpine experience.


CHAMPERY :
Champery Resort Another of the Portes du Soleil resorts, Champéry benefits from access to 650km of runs, providing something for everyone. It is one of the more attractive places to stay on this circuit, maintaining its old Swiss Alpine charm and ambience. It also boasts dramatic views of the Dents du Midi. Most of the accommodation is hotel-based, as is the majority of nightlife. There are plenty of cafés and shops for early après-ski.

As for the skiing, there's loads for all on the Portes du Soleil, but Champéry is lift- not ski-linked. You'll have to take a bus for the cable car up and you can't ski back to base. Champéry's local slopes are very sunny and are ideally suited for intermediates. Unfortunately, beginners have to pay for a full lift pass just to access the nursery slopes. Experts should make the trip to get to the best stuff at Avoriaz.

Overall, Champéry's biggest pull is its cosy and friendly ambience, which compensates for the less-than-convenient slope accessibility.
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