My wife and I will be leaving on 12/26 to spend 2 weeks in Italy with another couple. Unfortunately I'm the only skier in the group. That being said, I've convinced my wife to make the second week of our trip all about me skiing. So we'll say goodbye to our friends in Venice on 1/4 to head into Switzerland for 7 days. Since it's my first time skiing in Europe, I have a huge list of resorts I want to ski but realize I will have to narrow it down to 2 or hopefully 3 different ones. I'll either fly out of Geneva or Zurich depending on the itinerary. I'm not looking for night life or necessarily anything other than good expert terrain and off piste skiing (plan on hiring a guide a day or two) at snow sure resorts since it will be fairly early season. The less crowded (tracked) the better . Scenery would also be nice to keep the wife happy along with the possibility of staying in a charming village for a night or two. Any itinerary suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Seem to be having a hard time not only choosing the best suited resorts but at the same time keeping in mind the most efficient train routes/schedules to maximize my skiing time.
Advice on Switzerland trip
Grindelwald has the most impressing scenery of all (Eiger north face etc.).. You can also see it from Wengen, which is a very traditional Swiss village. But the Grindelwald view is better. Also Grindelwald is better connected to the First area. I consider the First area at that time of the year as the best for off piste skiing. But Newfydog is quite right, it ist quite early in the season. If there are no heavy snowfalls you won't find a mountin to do propper off piste skiing in Switzerland (if you don't do heli skiing..). If there are snowfalls you have to get up early and be the first one on the top. We get less snow and eventhough it is getting more popular every year, you can not compare our interest in going off piste to how it is loved in Nothern America. So the hole infrastructure is more dedicated to the skiers who stay on groomers. But still you will love it here :)
Zermatt is always a very good place to go (often my first choice). But it will be the first of the 2 "Russian Weeks" in Switzerland, when you get here (Russia celebrates chrismas in january). Especially Zermatt and St. Moritz will be clearly dominated by very wealthy Russian families. Sometimes they do things a bit differently from other guests or less wealthy Russians..
I can not say much about Verbier. Saas Fee is also really high up and you would have good snow there. It is the best place for boarders and freeskiers, but everybody is welcome. Personally I love to ski there in spring and fall, because in winter it can be very cold. Depends on what you are used to..
If you have any further questions, please ask! I have skied and worked in several resorts..
Grindelwald is my favorite, but I left it off because I spent a week there one Christmas with little snow and the town is not that great. One could, however, stay in Interlachen, ski Grindelwald-Wengen by taking the morning train, and the wife would have a great base from which to dispose of the family wealth.
haha, well said Newfydog! Staying in Interlaken is good idea. I should have thought about this option. If so you can also add Mürren to your ski ticket. It is a further up than the Grindelwald-Wengen area (more snow and great slopes). Yes, sometimes we have very little snow around Christmas. Usually it improves a lot in january. If not they can produce artificial snow. But that does not help you off piste, of course..
Sounds like I should keep the wife away from Interlachen, not that I have any wealth for her to dispense. No really, Grindelwald sounds great and Verbier is definitely at the top of my list already. The only reason I would consider ruling it out is to come back another year mid season to ski it along with a few other resorts in the area that have always been a dream of mine to ski like Chamonix and La Grave. Hopefully, then I will be able to take more than a week.
I know I haven't mentioned Austria but it looks like Innsbruck (or maybe St. Anton) would be a pretty easy trip from Venice. If I did this, I would try to stick to hitting a resort or two in eastern Switzerland and flying out of Zurich. I've heard good things about Andermatt and Engelberg but I'm not sure how they would be this early in the season?
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I've only skied there in September, but I thought Saas Fee was REALLY cool and I would go back there in a heartbeat. The town seems big enough that a non-skiing spouse could enjoy it. The scenery is unbelievable and it looked like the wintertime skiing would be practically unlimited.
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Couple of observations:
1) Ditch the idea of "2 or hopefully 3 resorts"! European resorts tend to be much larger than US resorts. 3 resorts in a week will means you spend more time traveling (in trains or in cable cars) than you actually spend skiing!
2) I'd second checking out Austria along the way instead of wondering all over Switzerland to Geneva.
In eastern Switzerland, there're:
- St Moritz
I don't know enough about them to say anything with regard to the off-piste potential. I suspect not great due to being so early in the season.
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Saas Fee has a great little town at the base and is absolutely beautiful. I've only been there once and it was about a decade ago, but at that time they had a restaurant high up on the mountain that served fondue. After a fondue meal, then you can strap on a headlamp and sled down a road all the way down the hill -- very fun extracurricular activity. Sledding is clearly not the priority, I just thought I'd throw that in there. The resort has fantastic skiing.
Yeah, you really can't imagine just how big some of the resorts are until you see them. I grew up going to CO resorts, and I was shocked the first time I went to the Alps.
In the Four Valleys, it took 1:30 skiing flat out on piste to get from Veysonnaz (far left of the resort) to the station for the gondola to Mont Fort (probably another 30 min if you wanted to go to the bottom of Verbier instead), and that was without any real waits for lifts. In l'Espace Killy (Val d'Isere and Tignes), even without queues, it would take at least 2 hrs to go from Le Fornet at one end to Tignes Les Brevieres at the other end going mach schnell on piste on DH skis.
The same would be true in the Arlberg, where you can ski St. Anton, Lech, Oberlech, Zurs, and Stuben (plus a few more small places whose names I can't remember).
Even people who only stay on piste have enough terrain to keep them entertained for an entire week. Add in the off-piste, and you'll probably come out thinking you needed more time to explore.
The only reason to do multiple resorts in one week is if you want to see the smaller, unknown ones.
I do not think you would have trouble to check out at least 2 resorts. But it is true, you should pick resorts which are not that far away from each other. As I do university in Bern so I am not that familiar with the eastern resorts in Switzerland. I can not say anything about Andermatt and Engelberg. But Arosa is close to Zürich and very pretty (romantic village with a nice lake right in the middle, the journy up there takes some time, but it is worth it. Arosa is famous for its many days of sunshine.). They will have enough snow in january. I do not have first hand information on St. Anton, but it is famous in Switzerland for its amazing night life. I know male swiss ski instructors who go there for one weekend just to party. But that it is good for partying does not mean it's bad for skiing. I have been skiing in Lech am Arlberg, that was a fantastic area.
Trains work very well here. You can even check in your luggage at you airport in Italy and pick it up at your resorts train station. It also works the other way around. So people do not have to carry their stuff when switching trains. Even high resorts do usually have their own train station.
Edited by shermine - 7/9/10 at 6:24am
It's not that you can't visit multiple resorts in one week. This is obviously possible since there are so many within a short distance, and many even have train stations in town, making them quite easy to get to.
The thing is, for someone who has never skied in Europe, there's no reason to do so. Unless there is a major shortage of snow, any of the major resort areas should have more than enough terrain on offer to keep a good skier entertained for a week or more. After all, most major resort areas are actually a combination of several towns, so you already are seeing multiple resorts in one trip.
In the few years I've been in the UK, I've done week-long trips to Verbier, Val d'Isere (twice), St. Anton, and the Monterosa area. All four areas (including the other resorts combined with them) had more terrain on and off piste than I could explore within a week in decent conditions. I never once felt like I had seen enough of an area to warrant leaving mid-week. In fact, I wouldn't mind going back to all four to explore even more.
It would be like leaving midway through a great film just to drive across town to another theater just to catch the last half of another film. Why not stay with one and see the whole thing?
Edited by CerebralVortex - 7/9/10 at 9:32am
Very nice tip about checking the luggage at the airport. Was already dreading all the lugging we would have to do. Although I realize it would be hard to ski everything in a whole season let alone 1 week, I still want to see as much as possible. That being said I'm probably just going to pick one resort which will be very hard. Right now I'm leaning towards Saas Fe (would love to do Zermatt but sounds like the timing may not be the greatest with the Russians), Engelberg, or somewhere in Austria, maybe St. Anton. Anyway, thanks for all the great advice!