WIN­TER SPORTS

Ski re­sorts in Switzer­land

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS - WORDS NEHA GUPTA KAPOOR

Just be­cause we’re in the alps, it does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that ski­ing is the only way to go. In fact, you needn’t par­tic­i­pate in any ad­ven­ture sports at all if you please. There are other ways to en­joy Switzer­land’s ski re­sorts and these range from par­ty­ing to dip­ping in hot tubs. Here is a look at five bet­ter known ski re­sorts in the moun­tain­ous coun­try.

ZERMATT

It is at the foot of the Mat­ter­horn, which is the star of this Swiss ski re­sort. There is no “open” sea­son here be­cause it is pretty much cov­ered in snow all year round, and then there is the added ad­van­tage of ar­ti­fi­cial snow mak­ing, should nat­u­ral snow sup­ply be low. Hav­ing said that, for snow­sure 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 its peak sea­sons. Here is why: it has some of the best Swiss restau­rants in the coun­try, sports en­thu­si­asts not into ski­ing find a chal­lenge here, and those with no in­cli­na­tion to­wards phys­i­cal ex­er­tion can idle away time by sim­ply ad­mir­ing the Mat­ter­horn.

This may sound like a cliché, but at least take a pic­ture of the Mat­ter­horn re­flect­ing off the al­most still sur­face of Lake Rif­felsee. You just may be asked for this pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence of your trip by those in the know. Another an­gle for a beau­ti­ful shot of the slopes is by hov­er­ing over them. Europe’s high­est ca­ble car, Mat­ter­horn Glacier Paradise car­ries you 3,883 me­tres above the peaks, which gives a per­fect ariel view of the Mat­ter­horn. If you’re in top phys­i­cal shape, at­tempt a climb up the Mat­ter­horn (be care­ful though, be­cause she is known to be mer­ci­less) for panoramic views of the re­sort from the top. 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 re­lax­ing tours too in Zermatt, such as a tour of the Zermatt vil­lage from 100 years 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.

VERBIER

This ski re­sort is sit­u­ated in the can­ton of the Valais in the south-western part of Switzer­land. Bor­der­ing the vil­lage is France to the left of Verbier and Italy to its south. Sit­u­ated at an al­ti­tude of 1,500 me­tres, it has am­ple snow sup­ply through the year. How­ever, tourist sea­son here is from mid-De­cem­ber un­til April-end. If you want to stir clear of thick crowds, don’t book around Christ­mas and New Year, and the weeks over­lap­ping Fe­bru­ary/March.

For a typ­i­cal snow and ski ex­pe­ri­ence, it would be worth rid­ing the La Chaux-Ex­press chair­lift to ac­cess the name­sake snow park, sim­ply be­cause it is teem­ing with ac­tiv­ity and the journey to it is pic­turesque to say the least.

There is a sports cen­tre in the vil­lage here where you can go for a swim or book a squash court. It also has snow and ice kart­ing, ice hockey and ice-skat­ing. Close by is the lo­cal golf club with an 18-hole golf course, but it is open only dur­ing the sum­mer.

Verbier has a young and sporty vibe to it and is pop­u­lar amongst the ath­letic crowds be­cause of what it has to of­fer. After­ski­ing par­ties are all the rage and it isn’t un­com­mon for peo­ple to make a stop at this re­sort just for its dos too.

Iron­i­cally there is a tra­di­tional Swiss restau­rant named Le Na­masté, af­ter the In­dian form of greet­ing. The moun­tain cabin is lo­cated at a height of 1,937 me­tres. Other than that, there is a 500-me­tre stretch in main Verbier from Place Cen­trale to Mé­dran that has a clus­ter of restau­rants, shops and cafes. That’s all there is to Verbier — a limited choice of ac­tiv­i­ties that doesn’t in­volve much of snow or sports. Yet, it’s a beau­ti­ful des­ti­na­tion to sim­ply be.

SAAS-FEE

Part of the Visp dis­trict, Saas-Fee is the main vil­lage of Saastal that re­ceives sun­shine 300 days a year. It is sur­rounded by moun­tains

and glaciers, and most of its slopes are snow­sure all 365 days of the year with light pow­der. This is per­haps why sum­mer ski­ing is a joy here. In co­or­di­na­tion with 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, and De­cem­ber-Jan­uary be­cause of the 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. In fact, a farm­ing community is still ac­tive here and it is com­mon to see cat­tle sheds around the vil­lage. Strolls through this tiny set­tle­ment are 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 that of­fers a dif­fer­ent set of ac­tiv­i­ties from ski­ing, such as snow­shoe­ing, to­bog­gan­ing and para­pent­ing to name a few. In ad­di­tion to these, skat­ing and roller-coaster rides on rails are other en­ter­tain­ment op­tions in Saas-Fee. For some­thing more re­laxed, there is the op­tion to swim in a heated swim­ming pool, dip into a hot tub or un­wind in the steam and sauna rooms in and around the vil­lage, at dif­fer­ent al­ti­tudes.

While you’re here, make time for Al­lalin that is at an al­ti­tude of 3,500 me­tres. Don’t drop in on the first day though be­cause you will need to ac­cli­ma­tise be­fore ar­riv­ing here. It has the world’s high­est re­volv­ing restau­rant, giv­ing you a proper view of the

This may sound like a cliché, but at least take a pic­ture of the Mat­ter­horn re­flect­ing off the al­most still sur­face of Lake Rif­felsee

sur­round­ing alps while you eat and drink. It has an ice pav­il­ion too where one can learn the his­tory of ice from 2,000 years ago.

LAAX

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. It is in the mod­ern half of the re­sort where the lift base, park­ing and mod­ern ho­tels are sit­u­ated. How­ever, the re­sort is com­monly known as Laax as a whole. De­cem­ber to April is when tourists are ram­pant.

While it is pop­u­lar amongst skiers, Laax has a host of at­trac­tions to please all kinds of tourists. Ac­tu­ally, re­ceiv­ing strong sun­light al­most con­stantly has proved to be a li­a­bil­ity for the snow qual­ity here, which is why the re­gion is ap­peal­ing to one more set of clien­tele — freestylers. One can en­rol for fun freestyle work­shops that can be prac­tised on the slopes of Laax too — and if you dare, at the world’s big­gest halfpipe lo­cated here. Halfpipe is a chan­nel em­bed­ded in snow for rollerblad­ing, snow­board­ing and skate­board­ing. Adren­a­line seek­ers will find thrill in snow­bik­ing 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. The most at­trac­tive bit for peo­ple who don’t come from snow cov­ered ter­rains is the out­door heated swim­ming pool. To be em­braced by steam­ing hot wa­ter while you take in heav­enly sights of snowy peaks and snow-fringed green­ery is a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence for many. Af­ter this, spend­ing the evening at Switzer­land’s

Win­ter walks or hik­ing in the snow is some­thing new for many who don't fre­quent ski slopes

largest pub­lic tele­scope isn’t a bad idea. To be able to see as­ter­oids, comets and satel­lites up close, al­beit through a lens, is another awe-in­spir­ing mo­ment.

Laax’s diver­sity con­tin­ues in its food of­fer­ings too — ev­ery­thing from tra­di­tional Swiss cui­sine, Ital­ian pasta and Mex­i­can tacos to juicy burg­ers, mulled wine and cold beer is avail­able here. It has lo­cal apps that al­low you to have the food de­liv­ered to your lo­ca­tion, and it has tours that take you on a gas­tron­omy trail.

DAVOS

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 from Davos and be­cause of 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. Sana­to­ri­ums were built here for their well-be­ing. One of the pa­tients here was Doyle’s wife. While he tended to her here, he also took a fancy to his lat­est win­ter dis­cov­ery — ski­ing. He spoke about it to Strand mag­a­zine and ever since there has been no looking back for Davos.

There are two parts to Davos — Platz that is a clus­ter hous­ing most of Davos’ ho­tels, shops and eater­ies, and Dorf through which one ac­cesses the ski slopes. Its six main ski ar­eas cover a to­tal of 320km 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. Of course, where there is ski­ing and other win­ter sports, there will also be to­bog­gan­ing, snow­board­ing and sled­ding in all like­li­ness and it is no dif­fer­ent here in Davos. Win­ter walks or hik­ing in the snow is some­thing new for many who don't fre­quent ski slopes. Ice climb­ing, fat bik­ing and paraglid­ing are other ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able here. Dur­ing sum­mer, the re­gion opens up for golf, stand-up pad­dling and ten­nis to list a few.

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: Ski­ing and snow­board­ing sta­tion at Saas-FeeABOVE AND RIGHT: Mat­ter­horn's re­flec­tion on the Rif­fel lake, Zermatt; and a freerider in Verbier

LEFT AND BE­LOW: Snow­park in Laax; and tak­ing a break in Davos

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