11 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Switzerland, 2017
Whether it's the glamour of Gstaad and St. Moritz or the dazzling vision of the Matterhorn towering above Zermatt's classic chalets, every skier has dreams of skiing the Swiss Alps. Contrary to what you may have heard, not everyone here skis like James Bond, and these majestic mountains are not just for experts. Most resorts have easy cruising terrain and excellent learning programs. Many have dedicated slopes and lifts just for learners and beginners. And while après-ski may be lively in some larger ski centers, Swiss ski resorts are equally well tuned to the needs of families, with family-friendly lift passes, lodgings, and packages.
Some skiers love first tracks in fresh powder, others prefer groomed trails, but whether it's the adrenaline rush of a narrow piste at dizzying heights or a broad cruiser with a panoramic view, you're never far from a mountain that offers it. Everyone loves great scenery, dependable snow conditions, and a good network of lifts; Switzerland promises all these and a choice of resorts to appeal to every taste. Caution: Backcountry terrain is unpredictable and should not be attempted without a qualified and well-equipped backcountry guide.
The highest winter sports area in the Alps, with ski terrain at altitudes between 2,500 and 3,900 meters and more than 2,133 meters of vertical drop - Switzerland's greatest - it seems almost unfair that Zermatt should also have Europe's most iconic mountain. The bold pyramid of the Matterhorn rises directly behind the town and is visible from much of the mountain's 350-kilometer trail system that connects two countries and three resort towns. The other side of the Matterhorn is in Italy, and one of the greatest moments in a skier's lifetime is skiing over the Theodul Pass and down into the Italian trail system. New for the 2017 season is the six-seat Hublot-Express chairlift, between the Gornergrat and Rothorn pistes. Under construction is the world's highest 3S Lift, which will carry 2,000 skiers an hour to the 3,883-meter altitude of the Matterhorn glacier. A new free Zermatt Skiguide app uses GPS to help skiers navigate between mountain locations, with time and routes adjusted to the user's skiing style, safety concerns, weather, and the currently open lifts and pistes.
Along with offering skiing and snowboarding 365 days a year in a postcard setting, Zermatt is famous for its long ski runs, with terrain for all skill levels. Beginning skiers and children will find non-threatening terrain at Wolli's Park, at the top of the Sunnegga funicular. From here, experienced skiers can access the gondolas, chairlifts, and a cable car up to the Rothorn's trails and snowfields or link to the Gornergrat ski pistes. The Gornergrat can also be accessed by a rack-railroad that climbs up the slopes of the Riffelberg, where the Riffelhaus 1853 hotel has a restaurant and a terrace, all with superb views of the Matterhorn.
2 St. Moritz
One of the world's oldest and most famous winter sports resorts, St. Moritz has twice hosted the Winter Olympics, in 1928 and 1948, and its Olympic ski-jump and slopes are frequently the site of world ski events. But St. Moritz is not just for experts and Olympians. Its more than 20 lifts carry skiers to terrain for all skill levels, and it's known for some of Switzerland's best intermediate terrain, with several very long intermediate runs.
Ride the Corviglia Funicular from the town to Corviglia, at 2,486 meters, for prime skiing and sweeping Alpine views. From St. Moritz Bad, on the shores of the lake, you can take the Signalbahn to the Signalkuppe ski area, at 2,150 meters. St. Moritz is known for its smart - and pricey - social life, but you'll find family-friendly accommodations here and a few minutes away in Silvaplana, where there's a gentle kid-friendly slope and a lift and cable car to the Corvatsch ski area. There are plenty more things to do in St. Moritz in the winter, including ice skating rinks, tobogganing, Nordic skiing, bobsledding, and kite skiing. In February 2017, Saint Moritz hosts the biennial Alpine World Ski Championship for the fifth time. Also in February, the annual White Turf St. Moritz is an on-snow horserace event that includes the only skijoring race in the world.
The three peaks of the Jungfrau massif, all at around 4,000 meters, provide the splendid backdrop for 206 kilometers of slopes and runs. Ride the Jungfraubahn railway from the Kleine Scheidegg, easily reached from Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald, to the highest railroad station in Europe at 3,454 meters, or take any of the dozens of lifts and cableways to reach runs as long as 12 kilometers. The Jungfrau's ski areas are known for their long runs, as well as for reliably deep snow. Beginners and learners should head for the slopes near Wengen, while experts will find Mürren's runs the region's most challenging.
The rustic and car-free chalet village of Mürren, at the foot of the Schilthorn, is reached from Lauterbrunnen by funicular to Grütschalp and from there, by a 5.5-kilometer narrow-gauge railroad. The Schilthorn is a ski legend of its own for its hair-raising black-diamond Inferno run, scene of the annual Inferno Race, the world's biggest amateur ski race, this year on January 18 to 21. A few days earlier is the Lauberhorn Race, Switzerland's biggest annual winter sporting event. Grindelwald-First is a favorite of boarders for the freestyle superpipe by the Schreckfeld station and for off-piste freeriding. One of Europe's longest gondola lifts carries skiers and boarders to dozens of kilometers of Alpine ski trails. At the edge of Mürren, with spectacular views, is the luxury Hotel Eiger, but the moderately priced Eiger Guesthouse is more convenient for those arriving in Mürren by train.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Jungfrau
Winning top honors for the quality and dependability of its snow in this year's Best Ski Resort Awards, Saas Fee is close to the glaciers of the Dom (the highest peak entirely in Switzerland) and the Allalinhorn, in the Valais region. The 150 kilometers of ski trails and slopes at Saas-Fee provide 1,800 meters of vertical, all of which is terrain where intermediate skiers will feel comfortable. In all, 26 trails covering 96 kilometers are classed for intermediates. This, plus 37 kilometers of beginner trails and the practice slope and lift at the edge of the car-free village, ideal for children and learners, make Saas-Fee popular with families.
Despite its well-earned reputation for gentle runs, there's plenty of terrain to challenge experts, with 23 kilometers of black-diamond trails. Boarders can ride year-round, at a winter snow park and in the summer on a halfpipe, boarder-x, and jumps on the glacier.
One of Europe's largest winter sports areas and one of its highest in altitude, Davos is a series of ski resorts that string for several miles along the valley of the Landwasser River in eastern Switzerland. The two main centers are the completely dissimilar towns of Davos and Klosters; for Alpine village atmosphere, choose Klosters as a base, but the multiple ski areas are interconnected, so it's easy to ski any combination. All together, they offer more than 300 kilometers of groomed runs, much of which is classed for intermediates. But the tremendous off-piste terrain attracts a loyal following of experts.
Parsenn is the major area, with some of the most challenging terrain and some of the longest runs in the Alps. The longest is 13 kilometers, from Weissfluhgipfel to Küblis, with a vertical drop of 2,034 meters. Both Jakobshorn and the Pischa area are favorites for boarders, especially the latter with its off-piste freeride terrain. Davos is also popular with Nordic skiers for its 140 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, some lighted for night skiing. The Nordic Masters World Cup Race returns to Switzerland this year, from March 2 to 11, bringing more than 1,000 cross-country skiers from 30 countries to Klosters.
6 Crans Montana
Only two hours from Geneva and 90 minutes from Lausanne, Crans-Montana can get crowded on weekends, but the crowds quickly fan out across its 140 kilometers of slopes and wide runs, reached by 27 different lifts. The mountain is best known for its preponderance of intermediate terrain - 70 kilometers of trails are classed for intermediates - and for its variety of beginner slopes and runs - 55 kilometers are rated as easy. Families get even more attention this season, with the opening of the new covered magic carpet at the Ski Kindergarten, accessible via the new Montana-Arnouva cable car. To celebrate its opening, magic carpet rides are free this year. Snow Island is a family favorite for snow tubing, with a magic carpet for novice skiers and sledders.
Snow maintenance and grooming are high priorities, and about a third of the slopes and trails have snowmaking. This is especially helpful because Crans-Montana's south-facing slopes, get more sunlight than many other Swiss ski resorts. Some trails are lighted for night skiing, and there is a dedicated snow park for boarders. A number of international snowboard and ski races are held here, and in mid-January this year the alpine views will be more colorful as the International Hot Air Balloon Meet gets underway.
Expert skiers take note: Verbier is for you, endowed with well laid out runs for long-distance skiing and an abundance of backcountry terrain that make it one of the world's best resorts for off-piste skiing. The Tortin is famed as one of Europe's steepest descents. Set on a natural terrace, with views of the Grand Combin and the Mont Blanc group, Verbier is part of the Four Valleys ski area, joining Thyon, Veysonnaz, and Nendaz for a total of more than 410 kilometers of ski runs and 93 lifts all included in a single lift pass.
Skiers not up to the rigors of the expert terrain will find some high-intermediate runs; the cable car to 2,050-meter Tortin brings you to several, and Bruson, across the valley at 1,080 meters, is less crowded and has good intermediate terrain. Verbier's snow park hosts the annual Verbier Ride freestyle event and the Verbier Xtreme freeride competitions, part of the Freeride World Tour. Expect lodging here to be expensive, although the characterful Les Touristes offers comfortable rooms at more budget-friendly prices.
The image of Gstaad as the resort for celeb-spotting doesn't mean it's only for being seen in the latest ski fashions. There's plenty of fine skiing and boarding in the 10 villages that make up the group now branded as Gstaad Mountain Rides. Together, their terrain adds up to a total of 220 kilometers of pistes and snow parks served by 57 lifts. The altitude of ski terrain reaches to 3,000 meters, and a glacier guarantees skiing from late October through early May. Some trails are lighted for night skiing, and 60 percent of them are equipped with snowmaking.
Perhaps underlining the impression that this is not a destination designed for die-hard skiers, by far the majority of the terrain - 128 kilometers of it - is classed for beginners and 60 for intermediates. But the remaining 15% of its pistes will test the mettle of any skier. The SuperPass of Gstaad Mountain Rides also includes the Adelboden-Lenk ski area.
The interlinked resorts of Adelboden and Lenk share the mountain scenery of the Bernese Oberland, and between them offer something for all skiers - beginners, daredevils, Nordic, even spectators. The ski resort Lenk im Simmental has the feel of a small ski village, and its setting in a wide, flat valley makes it popular with those who love Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and winter walking. It is very family-friendly, and beginning and intermediate skiers will find plenty of skiing among its 44 skiable acres and five terrain parks. Experts can find a few challenges, but most head to the more advanced pistes at nearby Adelboden, which is linked by the lift system.
The chalet village of Adelboden sits at an altitude of 1,350 meters, and the 160 acres of ski terrain reaches upwards another 1,000 meters. Its altitude assures consistent snow conditions, and its abundance of other winter activities makes it popular with families of mixed skiers and non-skiers. A single ski pass also includes the Oeschinen Lake region and Sunnbüel in Kandersteg, and the Adelboden-Lenk ski area is also part of the SuperPass of Gstaad Mountain Rides.
Each January, Adelboden hosts the FIS Ski World Cup, pitting the world's top male skiers in a 1,290-meter downhill race and on what's considered the world's most challenging giant slalom course. The crowds overflow the little resort village for the race, but you might have better luck in Lenk, where the moderately priced Hotel Kreuz is hospitable and centrally located.
10 Flims Laax Falera
The three towns of Flims, Laax, and Falera lie in a valley beneath the peaks of Vorab Gletscher (3,018 meters) and La Siala (2,810 meters), whose summits are connected to the towns by 235 kilometers of pistes; four snow parks; and the longest half pipe in the world, at 200 meters. As you might guess from this, the area is a favorite of snowboarders and is considered Europe's leading freestyle resort for both amateurs and professionals. It hosts the Burton European Open and the European Freeski Open and other international events. More than 90 obstacles are divided among the four snow parks; the Curnius Snowpark has an Olympic-size Pro-kicker-line.
But the resort is not just for snowboarders. The trails are among the most evenly divided for different skill levels of any Swiss resort, with 64 kilometers graded easy, 70 kilometers intermediate, and 46 kilometers for experts. About 44 kilometers are designated freeride routes. The Flims Laax Falera ski resort is 90 minutes from Zürich, in one of Europe´s best snow regions, and skiing is at altitudes of 1,100 to 3,018 meters.
Only 45 minutes from Lucerne and just over an hour from Zürich, Mount Titlis is one of Switzerland's most popular attractions, with tourists ascending to its summit in a state-of-the-art revolving cable car year-round. But in the winter, the mountain and the small monastery village of Engelberg at its foot become Central Switzerland's largest family winter sports resort.
Between Brunni and Jochpass, the more than 80 kilometers of runs lean heavily to beginners and intermediate skiers, with 27 kilometers of easy runs, 47 kilometers of intermediate, and only eight kilometers of expert pistes. A number of the easiest runs are in the lower slopes around Trübsee and Gerschnialp. The steeper slopes are in the higher areas and on the glacier, where there is skiing from October until May. With a 609-meter vertical drop, the area's longest trail is just under 13 kilometers. The quality of the powder here makes it especially popular with freeriders and off-piste skiers.
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