The birthplace of ski tourism, Switzerland has the snow, the epic scenery, properly pointy mountains, and impeccable style and service. It also, of course, has the highest prices in Europe.
And with so many high-altitude resorts, snow is pretty much guaranteed: Switzerland is home to Europe’s largest glaciers and has the most peaks in Europe over 4000m. Yes, Switzerland’s still got it.
Resort 1100m | Summit | 3020m | Vertical 1920m | Ski area 235km | Parks 4
With four snowparks, glorious sunshine and some superb freeride terrain, Laax is one of Europe’s top spots for snowboarders.
One of Switzerland’s biggest ski domains, Laax, in the Graubunden region, is a mix of styles spread over three villages: Laax, Flims and Falera. Laax Dorf is the orginal rustic village, while what is now called Laax features a modern complex, Rocks Resort, with cool bars. Falera is more chilled, and Flims Waldhaus is where you’ll find most of the higher end hotels.
Most of this is above the treeline on wide-open faces. In good weather, these upper slopes are tremendous: the bowl below La Siala (2810m) and the runs from the Vorab Glacier summit are especially fine, with fabulous views. Beginners have nursery slopes at village level and at Crap Sogn Gion. Experts will mostly enjoy the vast amount of freeride terrain; we especially rate runs off La Siala and from Cassons.
It’s snowboarders who are truly spoilt here. The four parks at Crap Sogn Gion cater for all abilities and include Europe’s biggest half-pipe as well as places to chill slopeside.
Off the slopes
The party starts from 3pm at Legna bar at Flims base station and continues into the night at Tegia Larnags. Indy is more relaxed with cool drinks and chillout sounds. The Arena Lodge has one of the best bars in town. Riders Palace is also buzzy.
Resort 1800m | Summit 3573m | Vertical 1791m | Ski area 100km | Parks 2
This pretty-as-a-picture, pedestrian-friendly alpine resort in the Valais is great for families, and young, lively beginners and intermediates
Saas-Fee has a strong mountaineering pedigree, yet it’s also a family-friendly resort well suited to skiers and boarders alike. The snow-sure slopes are among the highest in the Alps, and the car-free village is easy on the eye; its facilities are modern, its restaurants are good, and its après ski is lively. A real gem.
From the top of the summit-sector ski lifts at Allalin to the base-area slopes at Saas Fee village the drop is more than one vertical mile; a non-stop descent when we feel fit enough to tackle it. There are five principal sectors, all accessed from a cluster of ski lifts based at the south end of the village. The core Felskinn sector houses Saas-Fee’s brilliant snowpark, and an underground funicular railway links to Mittelallalin in the glacial Allalin summit sector, which is best suited to intermediates.
Off the slopes
Non-skiers will love the revolving restaurant at Mittelallalin and the fabulous ‘Ice Pavilion’. The Hannig mountain offers a paragliding launch site, snowshoe and walking trails, plus a terrific long toboggan run. The resort’s multi-sports centre is holiday in itself. Après begins early in the snow-bars by the lifts: the SnowPoint ‘umbrella bar’ is a prime spot, and the Dom Bar is the place for live music.
Resort 1620m Summit | 3899m | Vertical | 2375m | Ski area 360km | Parks 1
Zermatt is one of the world’s most magical ski destinations, nestled at the foot of one of the world’s most iconic peaks, the Matterhorn, the instantly recognisable icon for Switzerland.
In a region of the planet filled with world-class ski resorts, Zermatt still tops the lot. The skiing here is on a grand scale and Zermatt attracts a high percentage of advanced skiers, but much of its terrain is ideal for adventurous intermediates and even non-skiers can get amongst it all. The slopes are high, the snow is reliable, the village is charming – and car-free – the restaurants are superb.
Zermatt has three inter-linked ski areas: Sunnegga-Rothorn is accessed via a funicular railway from the village centre. This area offers some good long reds and a couple of great black pistes; the Sunnegga plateau also has a compact beginners’ area.
The linked Riffel-Gornergrat-Hohtalli area can also be reached directly from Zermatt village by rack railway. Again this area offers some fabulous long red pistes, plus a few high-end blues between Gornergrat and Riffelberg. The summit sector is a bit special: an experts-only area exclusively comprised of unpisted itineraires off the top of the Stockhorn.
The principal Klein Matterhorn ski area has a sequence of gondolas and cable cars that climb from the southern end of Zermatt to the highest pistes in Europe, linked with the ski area of Cervinia in Italy. On the Swiss side there are epic long runs down to Zermatt.
Off the slopes
A local saying states that ‘in Zermatt, après- ski begins at noon’, and there’s no shortage of watering holes. Prime spots include the Hennu Stall and the Papperla Pub, while you have to try the Hotel Post’s basement nightclub – the Broken Bar Disco, with a dance floor atop an oversized wine barrel.
Resort 1445m | Summit 2965m | Vertical | 1520m | Ski area 125km | Parks 1
Undeniably a resort for experts, Andermatt still retains the appeal of a frontier ski town, despite being just over an hour’s drive from Zurich
If ever there was a resort where we’d say ‘go now’, this is it, as only time will tell whether Andermatt’s relatively unspoilt adventurous nature can survive the ongoing massive luxury development in the area.
Andermatt has earned its place in the hearts of freeriders thanks to the gnarly Gemsstock which looms above the end of the village’s main street. Its glaciated steep upper slopes offer true black-grade pistes plus a plethora of rugged off-piste routes, together with a black 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 sunnier side of the valley, has a wider variety of pistes better suited to novices and intermediates. The train also links Andermatt with the more extensive Sedrun-Oberalp ski area due to be lift-linked with Natschen in 2018.
Off the slopes
Weekday evenings are laid-back, but numbers swell at the weekends with an influx from nearby Zurich. 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.
Resort 1050m | Summit 3030m | Vertical 1980m | Ski area 82km | Parks 1
This compelling resort is fêted for superb off-piste runs above an old valley town dominated by a 12th century Benedictine monastery.
Engelberg’s long status as a holiday resort means that the architecture is of the grand Swiss model with old and new meeting in a generally pleasing way and giving the feel of a small town. The surrounding classic Alpine mountain scenery rises up 2000m above the village creating a spectacular backdrop.
Most of Engelberg’s runs are of intermediate level with beginner areas dotted around the mountains. Although nearly all the skiing is lift-linked, it is broken into mostly small areas spread all over the mountains, rather than being a fully interwoven network of trails.
Experts will have most fun on the Titlis glacier from which a steep black leads down to the base of the legendary revolving cable car, the Rotair at Stand. When the snow is right there are also some excellent off-piste runs down Laub beneath Titlis. There are some lower altitude and mostly gentler slopes beneath Brunni.
Off the slopes
There are some great mountain restaurants, with the Skihütte Stand next to the Titlis cable our favourite. Even non-skiers should take the cable cars for the scenery, the Titlis ice bar and the suspension bridge. Après is breezy. Check out the Spindle to bust some moves.
Resort 1650m | Summit 2970m | Vertical 2175m | Ski area 53km | Parks 1
Murren is an adorable mountain village in the Jungfrau region, famous in the history of winter sports since the very start of downhill skiing.
Pretty, car-free village linked by mountain railway to Wengen and Grindelwald. The first Alpine Ski World Championships were staged here in 1931 by the Ski Club of Great Britain and there are seriously jaw-dropping views across the valley to the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
There are three main ski areas, the best known being the Schilthorn – tough at the top but superb for intermediates from the mid-station at Birg. The Schiltgrat has a mixture of runs while the Allmendhubel, reached by funicular train from the village has a draglift and easy runs for beginners. It’s also possible to take a chair from here to Winteregg where you’ll find lovely runs down through the pinewoods. Mile-munchers should also head over to Wengen and Grindelwald which are included on the Jungfrau ski pass.
Off the slopes
We can’t resist the 007 exhibition in the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant on the Schilthorn (as seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). But your kids will probably prefer the toboggan run from Allmendhubel. Après-ski is generally cosy with most of the hotels offering traditional stubli bars. A calorific way to end your ski day is with a ‘cake stop’ at the Bellevue. but save room for a fondue at the Stäger Stübli.
Resort 1275m | Summit 2970m | Vertical 1697m | Ski area 160km | Parks 2
On the opposite side of the valley from Murren, Wengen is another charming car-free village in this spectacularly scenic area of the Swiss Alps.
Put on the ski map by Alpine tourism and ski-sports pioneers Sir Henry Lunn and his son Arnold in the early 20th century, the resort is still an important stop on the annual Alpine World Cup tour for its fearsome Lauberhorn downhill.
Although based on the slopes of the stern-faced Eiger, Wengen’s ski area – lift-linked with Grindelwald – is actually best suited to leisurely intermediate skiers. Beginners start out on the open and often sunny plateau in the middle of the village, or are taken up to a compact area on the Wengernalp; the best progression routes are over towards Kleine Scheidegg, leading to an epic long blue run below the north face of the Eiger down to the lowest point in the ski area, at the hamlet of Grund. The only real on-piste challenges are the black runs from Eigergletscher station to Wixi, and, of course, the Lauberhorn.
Off the slopes
Make time for the the astonishing rail ascent through the tunnels within the Eiger and the Mönch to ‘The Top of Europe’ at the Jungfraujoch. The view over the protected Aletsch Glacier is amazing. Après is mostly quiet but Tipirama, a wigwam bar at Kleine Scheidegg, is fun. Car-free Wengen is a pleasant place for a stroll, with good shops and cafes.
Resort 1800m | Summit 3303m | Vertical 1583m | Ski area 350km | Parks 2
St Moritz still reigns as Europe’s most glamorous old-money Alpine playground, with as much happening off its high-altitude slopes as on them.
Home of the famous Cresta Run toboggan course, St Moritz has long attracted wealthy socialites, but underneath all the glitz, this is a modern ski town – in two parts: chic St Moritz Dorf and spa resort St Moritz Bad – sitting amidst spectacular scenery. There’s even an entire mountain– Muottas Muragli – set aside for non-skiers to enjoy the views.
There are three separate principal ski areas. Corviglia is the closest and biggest, accessible by lifts directly from the resort and is intermediate bliss. To the south, the slightly smaller Corvatsch area offers the most testing terrain; with more genuinely red-grade pistes, including enjoyable long runs down to the area’s two base stations. We especially enjoy the Furtschellas one. The minor Diavolezza area, close to the frontier with Italy, has the best off-piste, but is also mostly for intermediates.
Off the slopes
Even if you’re not feeling brave enough to tackle the Cresta Run, there’s plenty of non-skiing fun to watch – from horse races, polo and even cricket on the frozen lake to the high-end shopping. Start your après on the slopes, at the Schirm Bar at the mid-altitude Corviglia lifts. Or visit Bobby’s Pub – a favourite Brit haunt.
Resort 1500m | Summit 3328m | Vertical 1830m | Ski area 177km | Parks 2
A serious resort for big-mountain skiers, Verbier is the lynchpin of the large 4 Valleys area, and a magnet for party animals with deep pockets.
Crammed with luxury chalets and hotels, and surrounded by stunning Alpine panoramas, Verbier is the principal resort in Switzerland’s extensive 4 Valleys ski domain, which stretches from Bruson, just south of Verbier, all the way to the slopes of Thyon-Les-Collons above the town of Sion.
The vast majority of Verbier’s ski area is high-altitude terrain well above the tree line. This is a serious big-mountain ski area where the focus is on off-piste and freeriding, with many marked routes left ungroomed to preserve the powder lines and to allow mogul fields to develop. The back of Mont Fort, all of Mont Gelé, and all onward link routes from the Col des Gentianes and Chassoure are either off-piste or itineraires, whose unpisted slopes are generally too tough for intermediates lacking confidence and can therefore render the rest of the 4 Valleys inaccessible without a long cable ride down to Tortin.
Off the slopes
Après-ski is a Verbier institution. For slope-side mid-afternoon fun head to the 1936 or the Rocks, both of which feature DJs on their snow patios; in the village, Le Rouge and the Nevai offer more of the same whilst the Farinet bar is arguably Verbier’s best après experience.
Resort 1034m | Summit 2500m | Vertical 1562m | Ski area 170km | Parks 1
For spectacular scenery Grindelwald is hard to beat, sitting opposite the north face of the Eiger. It’s a pretty resort, the largest in the Jungfrau region. It shares a ski area with Wengen, but also has its own First ski area.
The main ski areas of Kleine Scheidegg and Mannlichen are reached by slow but charming cog railway from Grindelwald or a four-person gondola from the ‘suburb’ of Grund. First is reached by a slow six-person gondola from the village and is generally quieter but huge fun when the snow is good. One of the best runs for intermediates is the long 8km descent from Oberjoch back to Grindelwald. There are fewer runs for experts but the legendary Lauberhorn World Cup downhill has to be ticked off.
For après, grab a beer at Tipirama on Kleine Scheidegg or at one of the bars on the way down to Grund. The Jungfraujoch excursion is a must, and the First Flyer zipwire is free to skipass holders.
Resort 1550/1190m | Summit 2845m | Vertical 2035m | Ski area 320km | Parks 3
Some of the best skiing in Switzerland is to found on the mountains above Davos and its neighbour Klosters. But while Davos struggles to live down its corporate image, and is a busy, ugly place, devoid of normal ski-resort buzz, Klosters is attractive, traditional and oozing alpine charm. And though beloved of royalty, it caters equally well for hoi polloi like us.
Intermediates get fantastic skiing, with lots of lovely long blue and red cruisers, generally above the treeline – lower down the runs become noticeably steeper. Experts will find plenty of black tree-lined runs, and the off-piste can be superb, with some classic descents of 2,000m+ from Parsenn. For freestylers, Davos/Klosters is as good as it gets, with three terrain parks and world class freeride.
For stylish après, check out the Chesa Bar.
Resort 1739m | Summit 2653m | Vertical 914m | Ski area 225km | Parks 2
Reached by one of the most scenic train rides in the Alps, Arosa has a lovely setting in a wooded basin surrounded by rugged peaks. A bit overlooked in the past, that changed when a new lift link to Lenzerheide trebled the ski terrain.
The ski area is ideal for intermediates with in-bound terrain mainly fun cruisers above the treeline – check out the shady Hörnli area for the best snow. The expert terrain is not to be sniffed at though – 40km of trails are left ungroomed for off-piste, and the Bruggerhorn is known as ‘Freeride Mountain’. If you can, stay at the five-star Tschuggen Grand: its spa is superb.