Where to ski in Switzerland: 5 great winter resorts beyond the big-hitters
Verbier, Zermatt, St Moritz, Davos-Klosters – these alpine resorts are synonymous with skiing in Switzerland. And for good reason – they offer some of the most varied terrain, a range of accommodation options and the best après ski and fine dining scenes in the Swiss Alps.
These resorts are also amongst Switzerland’s busiest and most expensive (a fact compounded by the Swiss National Bank abandoning the currency cap with the euro in early 2015) making a holiday to Switzerland an even pricier endeavour. But while no Swiss ski resort could exactly be considered a bargain, there are dozens of fantastic resorts that tick enough other boxes to make the country an attractive option for a ski holiday. There is nowhere else, after all, where you can top off a great day’s skiing with a traditional Swiss cheese fondue and sledge back to your hotel for a cheeky nip of locally-brewed kirsch. We’ve rounded up five of the best lesser-known resorts worth considering.
Perhaps better known as a Swiss Army training base, Andermatt – which was also the setting of one of the most iconic car chases in film history (Sean Connery’s 007 in hot pursuit of Auric Goldfinger in the 1959 James Bond classic) – is one of Switzerland’s prettiest ski towns. It’s also one of Europe’s great untapped freeriding resorts. While intermediates will enjoy the pistes connecting Andermatt with Sedrun (lift tickets are valid for both resorts), experts would be wise take the gondola to the peak of the foreboding Gemsstock. With limited pistes, this mountain is a powder hunter’s dream – hire a guide to take you on the backcountry route to the nearby village of Hospental.
Après: Andermatt has a refreshingly low-key après scene; start at on-mountain bars Gurschen and Nätschen before dressing up for a pre-dinner cocktail at the glamorous Chedi Andermatt.
Where to stay: The Hotel Sonne offers a quintessentially Swiss chalet experience, but if you're looking for luxury, The Chedi wins hands-down.
Getting there: German-speaking Andermatt is at least 1.5hrs drive from Zurich, or three very scenic hours by train, with up to two changes. Advanced skiers would be wise to consider the Freshtracks tours offered by The Ski Club of Great Britain, which pairs skiers of the same ability with the region’s best ski guides.
Individually, the resorts of Arosa and Lenzerheide do not offer enough terrain to keep an advanced skier interested for more than a couple of days. But the linking of the two resorts in late 2013 changed all that. Now, the gentler well-groomed slopes, slick lift systems and accessible off-piste of Arosa are just a gondola ride away from the steeper sections, superb views and mountain dining of Lenzerheide. Sledging is quite big in these parts, with several fun slopes in both resorts. Both resorts also have half-pipes, and some lovely, tree-lined ski-outs.
Après: You haven’t been to Arosa without sampling a secret-recipe munggäfupf shot and a round of hammerschlagen (a game involving driving a nail into a log) at on-mountain bar Carmennahütte. After that, hotel bars are the places to be (try the Sunstar Alpine Arosa).
Where to stay: Arosa offers more accommodation than the residential resort of Lenzerheide (where Roger Federer has a family chalet); Inghams offers convenient package deals, including half board at several properties such as the aforementioned Arosa Sunstar and the luxe Waldhotel (with a fabulous outdoor sauna), return flights from the UK, transfers and lift passes.
Getting there: German-speaking Arosa can be reached by car from Zurich in about 2.5hrs, but it’s worth the two changes during the 3hr train journey for the picturesque final leg to Arosa from the town of Chur.
Laax and the interconnected resorts of Flims and Falera are a Switzerland-bound snowboarder's dream. Key to the area’s appeal are its four snow parks high up on the somewhat awkwardly-named Crap Sogn Gion; in total it offers more than 90 kickers, boxes and other obstacles, and a 200m halfpipe – the world’s longest. The facilities act as a magnet for international pros, with many dropping by for the Burton European Open held here each season. The resort area also offers vast off-piste areas, some decent tree riding – and of course skiing! – with lots of fast gondolas to whisk you to the peaks quickly, and good schools for beginners.
Après: Laax has a lively après-ski (or perhaps more accurately 'après-board') scene, mostly based around the boutique hostel Riders Palace, just 200m from the list base, which goes all night.
Where to stay: The resort has three separate bases a few kilometres apart by road: Laax, Flims and Falera. Younger crowds and families prefer the youth-oriented developments and convenience of hotels at the Laax lift base, while more mature snowboarders may be better suited to the quieter backwaters of Falera and the original rustic village Laax Dorf.
Getting there: With no train station in German-speaking Laax, you’ll need to take the train from Zürich to Chur or Ilanz and change onto a bus (around 2hrs), or organise a private transfer (around 1.5hrs) through your hotel or travel operator.
Charming Villars is a reassuringly slow-paced resort perfect for winter visitors (perhaps with kids in tow) looking for a relaxing ski holiday rather than an adrenalin hit. Carvers have the best of the slopes here with lots of long, gentle blue pistes, and more than half a dozen ski schools to choose from, including well regarded British-run New Generation. Linked to the resorts of Les Diablerets and Gryon with the same ski pass, there are several possibilities for inter-resort excursions for those keen to explore. The fact that the resort doesn’t typically attract advanced riders means there can also be plenty of untracked powder runs to be had if you’re willing to look for them.
Après: There isn’t much action on the mountain; instead head into town for a nice wine at chalet-style bar Buvette de L’Arrivee, a cocktail at Moonboot Lounge, or a cold beer at Charlie’s Bar.
Where to stay: With the main gondola, nursery slopes and mountain railway are unlikely to be more than a 10-minute stroll from wherever you are staying, it’s easy to choose a hotel in Villars. The new Hôtel Villars opens winter 2019.
Getting there: French-speaking Villars is a 1.5hr drive from Geneva, or around 2.5hrs via train (with one change).
Nestled in the shadow of the almighty Verbier, Nendaz offers the same access to terrain as its big brother without the high-octane bustle. While few visitors to Verbier stray beyond its borders, it’s possible to ski from Nendaz to Verbier for lunch and be back in time for dinner; the Nendaz’s position in the heart of the 4 Vallées (Four Valleys) also makes it easier to explore the linked resorts of Siviez, Veysonnaz, Thyon and Les Collons. Nendaz also has a genuine community vibe – indeed, around 6,000 people call it home year-round.
Après: Head straight off the slopes to the terraces of Les Etagnes and Lime It's Up for your first vin chaud (mulled wine) of the evening.
Where to stay: Self-catered apartments are popular here, with booking available via the Nendaz website.
Getting there: French-speaking Nendaz is about 1.5hrs drive from Geneva, or via train from Geneva to Sion (1hr 45mins) followed by a bus (20mins; leaving every half hour).