Switzerland's best ski resorts have a host of activities to offer both thrill seekers and those looking to relax
Switzerland's ski resorts offer both chilling thrills and a chance to chill
Just because we’re in the Alps, doesn’t necessarily mean that skiing is the only activity available. In fact, you needn’t participate in any strenuous sports at all if you don’t want to. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy Switzerland’s ski resorts ranging from partying to taking a dip in a hot tub. Here is a look at five better known ski resorts and what each offers.
This Swiss ski resort is at the foot of iconic Matterhorn. There is no “open” season here because it is pretty much snow covered all year round, and there’s always artificial snow making, should natural supply run low. Having said that, for snow-sure slopes, visit between December and April.
It doesn’t matter if you’re adept at skiing, still upgrading your skills one ski trip at a time or don’t know how to ski at all, the glitzy, car-free town is teeming with tourists of all kinds, especially during peak seasons. Here’s why: It has some of the best restaurants in the country, sports enthusiasts not into skiing still find a challenge here, and those with no inclination toward physical exertion can idle away time by simply admiring the Matterhorn.
This may sound cliché, but at least take a picture of the Matterhorn reflecting off the almost still surface of Lake Riffelsee. Another angle for a beautiful shot of the slopes is hovering over them. Europe’s highest cable car, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, carries you 12,000 feet above the peaks for a perfect aerial view of the mountain. If you’re in top physical shape, attempt a climb up the Matterhorn for panoramic views of the resort from the top – be careful though, because she is known to be merciless. A little less scary would be cycling along the lake and past the mountain or hiking on the Matterhorn Glacier Trail.
There are plenty of more mundane things to do here too, such as a tour of the Zermatt village from a century ago or gastronomy tours that take you to the kitchen where you can dine with the chef. Home-made cheese and chocolate shops are found in plenty here and are the best souvenirs to take home.
This ski resort is situated in the canton of the Valais in the southwestern part of Switzerland. The village is bordered by France to the left and Italy to the south. Situated at an altitude of 5,000 feet, it has ample snow throughout the year. However, tourist season here is from mid-December until the end of April. If you want to steer clear of crowds, don’t book around Christmas and New Year, and the weeks in February and March.
For a typical snow and ski experience, ride the chairlift at La Chaux-Express snow park, simply because it is teeming with activity and the journey is picturesque to say the least. Lifts will close due to high winds, so check Live Lift Status for info.
There is a sports center in the village here where you can go for a swim or book a squash court. It also has ice hockey and ice-skating and the local golf club with an 18-hole course is nearby, but it is open only during the summer.
Verbier has a young and sporty vibe and is popular amongst the athletic crowds. Aprés-ski parties are all the rage, and it isn’t uncommon for people to make a stop at this resort just to tour the half-mile stretch in main Verbier from Place Centrale to Médran with its cluster of restaurants, shops and cafes. That’s all there is to Verbier – yet, it’s a beautiful destination to simply be.
Part of the Visp district, Saas-Fee is the main village of Saastal. It and the surrounding mountains and glacier enjoys sunshine 300 days a year, and most of its slopes are snow covered all 365 days of the year with light powder. This is perhaps why summer skiing is a joy here. Like other ski resorts in the country, this one too is busiest between January and April. Avoid visiting around July-August for these are Saas-Fee’s hottest months, while December-January brings biting cold winds.
The village is a recent development, which up until around 1951 was only accessible via a donkey-pass. Even today, the only way to reach the car-free resort is by road. The tiny settlement is beautiful, with the juxtaposition of old buildings and modern chalets, all under the shadow of 13 towering snow peaks.
The lift system ferries passengers in large gondolas to ski stations. One of the gondolas takes you to Hannig where you’ll find activities other than skiing, such as
snowshoeing, tobogganing and paraskiing to name a few. In addition, the village features skating and roller-coaster rides. For something more relaxed, choose from swimming in a heated pool, taking a dip in a hot tub or unwinding in the steam and sauna rooms in and around the village, at different altitudes.
While you’re here, make time for Allalin. Don’t drop in on the first day though because at an altitude of 11,400 feet, you will need time to acclimate before you go. It has the world’s highest revolving restaurant and an ice pavilion where you can learn the history of ice from 2,000 years ago.
Its base overlaps with another ski resort — Flims. The old part of this rustic village is known as Laax Dorf, while the new part is simply known as Laax. The modern half is where the lift base, parking and modern hotels are situated. December to April is when tourists overrun the village.
While it is popular amongst skiers, Laax has a host of other attractions. The strong, almost constant sunlight has proved to be a liability for the snow quality here, which is why the region is appealing to a different clientele – freestylers. One can enroll for fun freestyle workshops that can be practiced on the slopes – and if you dare, at the world’s biggest halfpipe located here. Adrenaline seekers will find thrill in snow-biking too.
Alternatively, there are a good number of spa hotels where one can wind down with a wellness treatment or refresh with a steam and sauna. After this, spending the evening at Switzerland’s largest public telescope isn’t a bad idea. Alternately, Laax offers a diverse culinary scene too — everything from traditional Swiss cuisine, Italian pasta and Mexican tacos to juicy burgers, mulled wine and cold beer. Local apps allow you to have the food delivered and tours can take you on a gastronomy trail.
Most are familiar with Davos as the host for the World Economic Forum held in January. Most others know it as a ski resort from February to April. Few may know that Switzerland’s skiing tourism started in Davos, thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In Victorian times Davos was better known for its clean, crisp air that was believed to be ideal for tuberculosis patients. One of them was Doyle’s wife. While he tended her here, he also took a fancy to his latest winter discovery – skiing. He spoke about it to The Strand magazine and ever since there has been no looking back for Davos whose destiny was brightened.
There are two parts to Davos – Platz, a cluster where most of Davos’ hotels, shops and eateries are located, and Dorf, with access to the ski slopes. Its six main ski areas cover a total of 200 miles of snow-covered slopes. Besides skiing, Davos’ reputation has grown because of its ice hockey team. The resort also has the largest natural ice-skating rink in Europe and of course tobogganing, snowboarding and sledding. Ice climbing, fat biking and paragliding are other activities available here. During summer, the region opens up for golf, water activities and tennis to name but a few.
This may sound like a cliché, but at least take a picture of the Matterhorn reflecting off the almost still surface of Lake Riffelsee
PREVIOUS PAGE: Skiing and snowboarding station at Saas-FeeABOVE AND RIGHT: Matterhorn's reflection on the Riffel lake, Zermatt; and a freerider in Verbier