Ski resorts Switzerland
Switzerland sits in the middle of the Alps and is home to a range of iconic and majestic mountains - The Matterhorn, Eiger, Jungfrau and Weisshorn are names that are steeped in mountain tradition. There are many ski resorts in Switzerland which range from small, traditional and very beautiful mountain villages to large, purpose built resorts.
There are several very high end ski resorts in Switzerland that attract a wealthy clientele (Zermatt and St Moritz if you are traditionalist and Verbier if you are a little more flashy) but there are also smaller village resorts that have genuinely good valued hotel and chalet accommodation as well as lots of charm and good skiing - Grimentz and St Luc in the Val d'Anniviers area are good examples.
Ski resorts of the Valais region and the amount of pistes:
Champery (Portes du Soleil area): 650km
Verbier (Les Quatre Vallees): 410km
Zermatt (Matterhorn ski paradise): 313km
Grimentz (Val d'Anniviers): 230km
Ski resorts of the Bernese Oberland region:
Jungfrauregion (Wengen, Grindelwald and Murren): 213km
Ski resorts of Central Switzerland:
Engelberg: 82km of ski pistes (plus huge amounts of off-piste terrain)
Ski resorts of the Graubunden region:
St Moritz (Engadin region): 350km
Laax (and Flims): 200km
Our recipe for a Swiss cheese fondue
You can't stay in a Swiss ski resort and not have a cheese fondue. It just wouldn't be right. Besides, getting stuck into a Swiss cheese fondue is a fun event whether you are with family or a group of friends. The first record of a cheese fondue goes back to a book published in Zurich in 1699. However, it was not until the end of the 19th Century that it became widely popular in the lowland towns of western, French-speaking, Switzerland. Rich cheese like Gruyère was a valuable export item which mountain peasants could not afford to eat so fondue is not traditionally a mountain meal. The introduction of cornflour to Switzerland in 1905 meant that fondues could be easily created without the cheese mixture 'splitting' and the dish was later popularized as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930s as a way of increasing cheese consumption. It was later popularised in America and the UK during the 1960's.
The word fondue comes from the French verb 'fondre', meaning to melt.
Ingredients (serves 8):
700g Gruyere cheese, grated.
300g Emmental cheese, grated.
4 tsp cornflour (to stop the mixture separating).
1 clove garlic.
1 glass dry white wine.
8 tbsp kirsch.
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
Freshly ground black pepper.
Rub the inside of a heavy saucepan with the cut garlic clove. Add the white wine and cornflour to the saucepan mix together and then bring to a simmer. Add the 2 cheeses and 4 tablespoons Kirsch and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low setting, stirring until the mixture it is hot and smooth. Add remaining 4 tablespoons Kirsch if mixture is too thick. Season with nutmeg and black pepper to taste. Transfer to a fondue pot and serve immediately with dippers of choice (small chunks of bread or slices of apples perhaps).
The popular ski resorts and ski areas in Switzerland
We have anglicised the proper name, Quatre-Vallees, into the 4 Valleys but whichever way you see it spelt this is the biggest interlinked ski area in Switzerland which is made up of five resorts: Verbier (being the biggest and best known), Nendaz, Tzoumaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon/Les Collons. The opening of the Mont Fort cable car (highest point being 3,330 metres) in 1983 allowed the formation of the huge 4 Valleys ski area with over 400km of pistes, more than 90 lifts and vast areas of high-mountain off piste terrain, as well as long itinerary runs such as the famous Tortin slope.
The highest and most challenging skiing as well as the more modern lift infrastructure is in the Verbier sector of the ski area. However, it should be noted that there are very few easy runs here so more nervous intermediate skiers would be best to look at staying in other resorts. If you manage to get to the end of the day unscathed by Verbier's tough skiing then you might reward yourself with an après ski drink and this is where Verbier excels as a resort. There is a massive choice of bars and clubs and the resort takes the whole après-ski scene very seriously indeed with several really good live music venues and a really buzzing resort atmosphere created by a young, wealthy clientele looking to party hard.
Grimentz of the Val d'Anniviers region lies less than 30km due east of Verbier but although geographically close is culturally worlds away from its brash neighbour. Grimentz is the largest (and the most charming) village in the area with cobbled streets, ancient mazots, steep pedestrian walk ways and a sunny southerly aspect await. It's exactly as you might expect a traditional Swiss mountain village to look like and although it has modern lifts and excellent snow-making facilities (thanks to the abundant supply of cheap water from the local Lake Moiry) it still remains very undeveloped - and we say 'amen' to that.
Grimentz links to Zinal with a new lift that was completed in 2015 and both these resorts are linked by bus service to St Luc & Chandolin, the 13km journey between the two separated areas takes less than 30 minutes. All the resorts are covered by the same ski pass and their proximity to each other means you can realistically ski two, or even three, resorts in one day. Grimentz is best for families whereas Zinal and St Luc are better suited to expert skiers looking for untracked, snow sure off-piste terrain that is well above the tree line. It's no accident that the famous British mountain guide/skier, Nick Parks, has based his business, Backcountry Adventures, in Zinal.
Zermatt is famous the world over as a ski resort and also as home to the instantly recognisable Matterhorn Mountain. The first ascent of the 4,478m peak was completed in 1865 by Englishman, Edward Whymper. Although he just pipped an Italian team to the summit tragedy struck when one member of the party slipped and knocked into others, dragging everyone from their footing. All 7 members of the party were roped together and so all could have died in the accident. However, the rope gave way leaving Whymper and his two guides clinging to the rock face whilst the other four members were lost.
Today Zermatt has the finest collection of mountain restaurants in the world as well as a far ranging ski domain stretching to Cervinia in Italy. The town of Zermatt is large with a huge array of hotels and chalets as well as endless shops and bars. The resort has a special magical mountain atmosphere and strolling along the car-free pedestrian streets is the perfect way to soak up the historic charm.
The pretty village style ski resort of Klosters shares a ski area with its neighbouring resort of Davos which, in contrast, is a rather ugly town stuffed with large and somewhat bland hotels built for the conference market (think World Economic Forum etc). The famous American novelist, Tom Robbins, describes Klosters as “Discreet luxury, yes, pomposity just for show, no” and warns; here “understatement is written in capital letters”. Although Klosters is often frequented during the winter by members of the British Royal family and other rich and famous patrons there is never any fuss or razzmatazz surrounding them. Take a quiet dinner in the charming three star Hotel Chesa Grischuna and you might easily find Prince Charles eating dinner with his chums on the next door table. There is no heavy security presence - he is just like any other holiday maker, simply enjoying his holiday.
The main ski area is the Parsenn with highest skiing from the Weissfluh at 2,844m. There are numerous pistes of every grade and a good collection of mountain restaurants in the Schwendi area. There are too many T bars for some but the excellent off-piste terrain that descends to the valley floor is rich reward. Catching the red mountain train to either Klosters or Davos after a wonderful powder run only adds to the mountain atmosphere. There is also the separate Madrisa mountain (2,602m) where the childrens ski school operate their classes. This area is great in March and April for ski touring and as a heli-ski drop off point. On the opposite side of the valley, and above Davos, lie the two smaller North West facing areas of Jakobshorn and the Rinerhorn.
Laax is two hours south east of Zurich and shares a large high, snow sure ski area with Flims and Falera. Although the main village of Laax is quite pretty nearly everyone stays at the new purpose built development at the foot of the main lifts and home pistes. The block style architecture of Rocks Resort, Signina Hotel and Peaks Place is not to everyone's taste but the quality of accommodation and ease of access to the large ski area is undeniable.
The ski terrain lies largely between 3,000m and 2,000m which makes this one of the most snow sure ski regions in the Swiss Alps. It attracts a high proportion of snowboarders and ‘freeride’ skiers who enjoy the open terrain and the young, hip vibe that pervades the resort. Flims is an older resort with a more established feel and a wider selection of hotels that attract a wide ranging clientele. It is quieter than Laax although there is a good après ski bar at the foot of the slopes.