Andermatt ski resort village in Switzerland is a favourite with advanced-level local skiers and snowboarders from nearby Zurich, yet is also justly popular as a family-focused winter-sports destination.
Given its proximity to Zurich, just over an hour away by car or two hours by train, it's surprising that Andermatt isn't better known on the international winter-sports market and that it hadn't, until recently, been subject to much large-scale development. All that is about to change though following recent massive external investment in the area, with the ongoing construction of a new deluxe apart-hotel and spa complex plus possible grand expansion of the ski area. For now though, the village remains a relatively unspoilt mountain community with a genuine frisson of adventure about it, similar to the atmosphere which pervades other expert-rated ski stations such as Chamonix and La Grave in France.
Birthplace of World & Olympic Alpine Ski Champion Bernhard Russi, and site of an Alpine training barracks for the Swiss army, Andermatt has also earned its well-deserved pedigree amongst advanced freeriders who come to tackle the gnarly flanks of the iconic Gemsstock which looms above the end of the village's main street. Less experienced visitors are nevertheless also warmly welcomed and are catered for at all of the, albeit non-linked, local and regional ski areas covered by the resort's Gotthard-Oberalp area lift pass.
Two separate local ski areas serve Andermatt, both directly accessible via ski lifts from village-level base terminals at opposite ends of the resort.
The emblematic Gemsstock area is the main attraction for the resort's many expert-ability visitors: its glaciated steep upper slopes offer true black-grade pistes plus a plethora of rugged off-piste routes, together with a black-graded home-run to the village; yet it also has a novice-friendly mid-altitude sector of easy blue pistes plus a small snowpark, reached via the mid-station of the principal access cable car.
The second local ski area, Natschen, on the slopes of the Gutsch on the sunnier side of the valley, has a wider variety of pistes better suited to novices and intermediates; served by a chairlift from the village, the mid-altitude sector of the Natschen slopes is also accessible by train from Andermatt's railway station (ticket inclusive with the lift pass).
The train also links Andermatt with the more extensive Sedrun-Oberalp ski area which lies on the far side of the Oberalp Pass further to the north-east. Andermatt's Gotthard-Oberalp lift pass covers Sedrun-Oberalp and the area is definitely worth the 20-minute train ride for keen intermediate skiers and snowboarders who hanker for slopes which offer greater scope for lift-linked mileage; Sedrun's snowpark and halfpipe are also prime features.
Plans are afoot, from 2013/14, to develop ski lift and piste links across the Oberalp Pass and along the upper Ursern Valley to join the Sedrun-Oberalp slopes with Andermatt's Natschen ski area.
Off the slopes and apres ski
Weekday evenings in Andermatt are quite quiet and the village has a laid-back atmosphere, but, as visitor numbers swell at the weekends with family groups and city types making the short trip from nearby Zurich, the apres-ski hours and nightlife cranks up a gear or two and the resort acquires a lively buzz which lasts from late Friday until early Sunday.
There are a couple of venues with occasional live music, the cosy in-house bar at The River House boutique hotel is currently the coolest such hang-out. Some late-night drinking sessions are to be expected in a resort such as this that appeals to a particular sub-culture of adventure-lifestyle characters, but mostly the apres-ski action revolves around an amiable few beers over stories of the day's action in the mountains and planning for catching the first lift up the next morning.