Switzerland is a skiers’ fairytale, and already this season it is a magical snow globe having received plentiful powder. Picture yourself in the story book Alps, riding ski trains and trams up thousands of vertical feet, and skiing to Swiss flag-flying alpine chalets serving fondue and raclette. A Swiss ski trip must be on every skiers’ “to do” list! A natural first ski stop is the legendary Zermatt.
You can only arrive in Zermatt by train – this car-free alpine village is unique and unparalleled. Zermatt’s ski slopes flank three mega ski mountains interconnected by amazing lifts, funiculars, trams and trains including the venerable Gonnergrat Train – the longest highest railway in the Alps that climbs from the center of Zermatt village up to 10,134′.
The majority of people come to Zermatt just to get a picture of the famed Matterhorn. As a skier you share the train out of the village with Asian camera-toting tourists (few of whom ski – btw), but you get the best view of the 14,692′ peak as you ski the 153-miles of prepared trails and ride 72 lifts serving the huge 7,500′ vertical.
Ski over the pass to Italy for lunch. No passport required, just ride the 4-stage Matterhorn Glacier Gondola then the highest cable car in the world to the 12,791′ Klein Matterhorn peak. Stay left as you ski the Plateau Rosa Glacier following the Italian flags. Savor fresh pasta on a sun deck in Cervinia, but don’t order that second bottle of vino, you want to be sure to catch that last lift back or be stranded in Italy paying for a pricey helicopter ride (about $2 grand) over the Alps to your Zermatt hotel (unless you prefer to spend the night in your ski boots in Italy).
Zermatt rocks après ski. Zermatt’s sprawling alpine village has hundred of hotels and chalets, and some of the best Swiss restaurants and après ski bars on the planet. We visited during Zermatt Unplugged in April and enjoyed live concerts every afternoon after we skied a 5+ miles descent into the lively village!
A brief beautiful train and bus ride from Zermatt brings you to the idyllic car-free village of Saas Fee. This Swiss ski resort doesn’t get the alpine accolades or the skiers, but it does yield the snow and scenery. Deemed the “Pearl of the Alps,” Saas Fee is surrounded by glittery glaciers and thirteen 13,000′ peaks.
Saas Fee’s 11,647′ summit truly sparkles with blue glacial ice and frequent fresh powder. It is so beautiful you may want to savor the view over lunch at “360” – the world’s highest revolving restaurant. Order the chacuterie – trust me. I also advise you don’t venture off-piste without a guide, there are hidden crevasses and surprises under that seemingly perfect sparkly powder.
The quaint, quiet village of Saas Fee is right at the base of the beautiful ski slopes. Electric shuttles whisk skiers from the bus station to chalet hotels and the ski lifts. Walking the classic streets over bridges of Saas Fee is a splendid après ski pastime as you ponder which of the inviting Swiss restaurants to dine at. Saas Fee’s 1,700 residents are warm and welcoming, and wild about their ski racing (Pirmin Zurbriggen’s hometown).
Saas Fee hopes to interconnect to Zermatt with a few ski lifts, they are that close. But its unclear whether Zermatt would agree that alpine integration. For now, a few days in the picturesque Saas Fee makes for a refreshing break from the busier Zermatt.
See more on Swiss skiing including Verbier, Aletsch Arena and Adelboden.
By Heather Burke, Photos by Greg Burke