It’s my go-to activity when I can’t get to sleep – compiling lists. And last night’s focus was on the best Switzerland ski resorts.
Naming Watford teams in each match of the club’s run to the FA Cup semi-final in 1970 is another good one for serious insomnia, but I think my MadDogSki readers will be more interested in the skiing.
It’s subjective of course, but one way of deciding on a country’s top ten ski resorts is to work out which ones you’d keep if there were a new global ruling that it could henceforth have only ten. So let’s get started with Switzerland…
…a ski resort of amazing Alpine charm. Sublime Zermatt is a blend of the rustic and the chic, watched over by the mighty Matterhorn, and a formidable combination of all that could be desired in a ski destination. Its extensive, varied and lofty slopes provide wonderful skiing for intermediate and advanced skiers and snow boarders. The altitude, and glacial areas, gives good snow over a long season, with a sophisticated ski lift system. Cosmopolitan, largely traffic-free, Zermatt (reached only by mountain railway) has charm by the bucketful, and a limitless choice of apres-ski and high-end restaurants (on the mountain as well as in the resort town).
…a glorious setting with sunny ski slopes. As the name implies, Crans-Montana ski resort is actually made up of two towns (too big to be called villages) occupying a high plateau basking in the sun above the Rhone Valley. The views from everywhere are spectacular, the skiing is extensive with a wide mix of runs for all levels (with a network of good, fast lifts), the overall setting is glorious despite the rather urban base areas, and the atmosphere is getting more sophisticated as each ski season passes. There are some seriously upmarket hotels and restaurants. If there is a downside, it’s that there are so many sunny days that the pistes can suffer – but there are high altitude slopes and hidden powder stashes to compensate.
…experienced skiers love it for its excellent off-piste skiing. Verbier is one of the most popular Switzerland ski resorts with us Brits. It’s a world-class resort which suffers somewhat from its reputation as high society ‘Party Central’ – the image can overshadow the fact that it has some of the best skiing, on and off-piste, in the Alps. It’s part of the area branded the Four Valleys, embracing Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Thyon and some other smaller resorts including La Tzoumaz – which is a great place to stay, with easy access to the main skiing, if nightlife is not a priority. Located on a sunny balcony, Verbier is a sprawling town rather than village, full of chalets and chalet-style hotels, and you need to use the free buses to get about.
…famed for its superbly groomed pistes. Davos is one of the world’s most singular ski resorts – in that the town is so big and urban that it’s almost impossible to love, while at the same time being at the centre of such a glorious ski area that you end up doing just that. It boasts long, superbly groomed pistes – excellent for intermediates, with a few first-class mountain restaurants. Davos connects with Klosters, a traditional, intimate Alpine village that has all the charm Davos lacks. It’s a town of luxury hotels, international conferences – and one of the first mountain railways built specially for skiers. One thing is certain – you will never be bored here.
…for the most spectacular scenery in a land of spectacular scenery. For sheer mouth-dropping spectacle, nowhere beats Wengen in the scenic stakes – pure visual drama. On a shelf above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, it is reached only by cog railway. The railway continues to Kleine Scheidegg, to connect with the skiing of neighbouring Grindelwald. Wengen is surrounded by three of Europe’s most famous peaks, the Monch, the Jungfrau and the Eiger – you can take a train to Europe’s highest station, Jungfraujoch at 3,450-metres (where there are restaurants, an ice palace and viewing platforms), via a tunnel through the Eiger. Wengen is famous for the fearsome Lauberhorn Downhill course, but most of the skiing comprises gentle blues and modest reds.
…where ski holidays all began. Tiny car-free Murren is Alpine charm is its purest distillation – basically a network of narrow lanes full of wooden chalets (plus a handful of hotels), many ancient. It is across the valley from Wengen, and shares the stupendous outlook of classic peaks. It is reached by cable-car and cog railway from Lauterbrunnen, or by cable-car from Stechelberg. The strange idea of sliding down a mountainside on planks as a holiday recreation pretty well started here. Thanks to British ski pioneers the Lunns – Sir Arnold organised the first-ever slalom race here in 1922, some years after his father Sir Henry first brought winter holidaymakers to the village.
…glitzy ski resort of the stars. Visiting St Moritz can be as much a theatrical experience as a winter sports holiday. An exclusive and star-studded resort, St Moritz contrives to be glitzy, quirky and fashionable, while simultaneously exuding discretion, intimacy and obsessive privacy. The town itself has a somewhat stark, austere appearance, rather than being cosily Alpine – but this merely veils a collection of some of the Alps’ most luxurious and characterful hotels, including Badrutts Palace, the Kulm and the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. But don’t worry, there are many excellent more affordable billets, plus some super skiing – and the chance of watching polo and cricket on ice, definitely an odd ball amongst Switzerland ski resorts.
…a little village that joined the skiing Big Time. After being a pleasant mountain resort for donkeys’ years, with decent skiing and quite a lot to do off the slopes, Arosa has suddenly decided to join the skiing Big Time. New lifts that link it with the neighbouring lakeside resort of Lenzerheide have transformed it into a ski destination with which to be reckoned. Arosa’s slopes, set in a wide open bowl that means all runs conveniently end up at the village, are mainly blue and red cruisers, but easy access to those of Lenzerheide adds a huge amount of variety and more challenges. For the extent of its skiing, Arosa can now claim to compete with many of Europe’s great resorts.
…great for families and one of Switzerland’s highest ski villages. At nearly 6,000-ft, with some of its loftiest skiing, Saas-Fee is one of the country’s highest. There’s a touch of Zermatt about it, with electric buggies buzzing about and no cars, and lots of cowsheds among the ancient chalets. The setting is dramatic, with soaring peaks and glaciers everywhere you look – but the skiing is mostly comfortingly benign, so its ideal for intermediates. The altitude, and glacier, means the snow is ultra-reliable. The lift system includes an underground railway to Allalin, where you’ll find the world’s highest revolving restaurant. With a good choice of off-slope activities (including a leisure centre with pool, a roller coaster and ice caves), Saas-Fee is one of the favourite Switzerland ski resorts for families.
…one of the biggest ski areas in Switzerland. The two villages of Laax and Flims share an area that comprises true big-mountain skiing. It’s one of Switzerland’s biggest, including a glacier with a top station at nearly 10,000-ft. The ski map looks impressive – and the reality seems even more extensive. The high, wide and handsome runs are perfect for intermediates and there are blacks that are satisfying rather than scary. In particular, the freestyle fraternity are in heaven here – there are no fewer than four terrain parks, catering for everyone from the tentative to pros. Laax Dorf is the most charming and rustic of the villages, while Laax is modern with less character – but Flims, also traditional, has an impressive sports centre, with an ice rink.