Welcome to the Ski Switzerland page, providing a regular round-up of the skiing conditions and current snow reports for the main ski resorts in the Swiss Alps. Over recent years some of the most consistent good piste conditions have been reported at Saas Fee, Davos, Zermatt, Klosters, Andermatt, Verbier, and Engelberg showing a mix of high glacial resorts and those most exposed to the prevailing north westerly storm tracks. However, in any given week or season the best slope conditions may be found at any of the numerous other high Swiss resorts or at lower elevation ski stations in poor weather amongst the trees.
For off-piste powder, resorts such as Zinal, Grimentz, Davos, Les Diablerets, Arosa, Andermatt, and Engelberg have proven among the most consistent over several seasons either because of regular heavy snowfalls, favourable sun aspect, or in some cases because they are high and quite so they don't get tracked out quickly.
Switzerland is for many people the country most immediately associated with skiing. Known for its spectacular mountain scenery, efficient infrastructure, high quality and yes, high prices, the country does have the world’s longest history as a winter sports tourism destination – with the very first holiday taking place in St Moritz one and a half centuries ago, shortly before downhill skiing was invented in Norway, in the Telemark style.
The Kulm Hotel St Moritz was the first hotel to be built in St Moritz, the Kulm opened its doors in 1856 and immediately became popular for summer spa and painting holidays, particularly among the British who comprised around 75% of the hotel guests.
The owner of the Kulm Hotel, Johannes Badrutt, initiated winter holidays to St Moritz from 1864, when he laid a bet with his last departing summer guests that the local weather was so good they could sun themselves on the hotel’s terrace even in deep December; if not, he would cover the cost of their holiday himself. He won the bet and within two years, the hotel was fully booked with guests staying for the entire winter season. The Kulm Hotel St Moritz can, therefore, take credit for starting the trend for winter sports holidays which developed in to Swiss ski holidays and the Kulm itself is now a huge five star hotel – one of five in the famous resort – is still in business to this day.
Since then around 400 Swiss ski resorts have opened in every canton including many of the world’s best known destinations. Europe’s highest ski lifts are here at Zermatt, 3899m up, which is one of only two resorts in the world open 365 days a year. As well as St Moritz there are glitzy resorts like Verbier, Crans Montana and Gstaad; resorts with long histories and particularly stunning mountain scenery like Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren in the Jungfrau – a favourite British destination for more than a century - or Davos, where Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a ski pioneer.
Architecture can be more problematic in Switzerland’s ski resorts. Although there are none of the entirely concrete-block developments that have blighted some areas in the French Alps, many of the bigger Swiss resorts contain a few similar ugly buildings as they do not have the same building restrictions as Austria, where a traditional chalet style design is normally required for all new buildings. There are however unspoilt villages to be found such as Grimentz.
Switzerland offers skiing in resorts in the West of the country where French is spoken, the East where it’s German and in the southerly canton of Ticino, Italian. There are ski areas of all sizes including the 350km cross-border area shared by Zermatt and Italy’s Cervinia and the 400km of the 4 Valleys. Thanks to the glaciers and high altitude skiing of many resorts including Engelberg and Laax, snow cover is rarely a problem and sunshine is a strength, particularly for St Moritz again, which claims more than 300 days of it each year.
Another idea pioneered by the Swiss is car-free ski resorts. There are about a dozen including Saas Fee, Wengen and Zermatt. In some cases they have been so successful that permitted hotel electric buggys throng the streets making them almost as busy as they would be with motor traffic, but the noise isn’t there, nor the polluting fumes, making these very special and relaxing places to stay.
Spectacular mountain restaurants are yet another forte, be they the revolving restaurant built with money generated by the James Bond film crew that filmed On His Majesty’s Secret Service at Murren in the late 1950s, or similar establishments above Leysin and Saas Fee, or the ultra-cool Botta restaurant at Les Diablerets.
Switzerland is expensive although just how expensive depends on the strength of the Franc against other currencies. In the 1990s its strength made Switzerland the most expensive destination in Europe for skiers, but through the first decade of the current century prices gradually dropped below those of the Euro, and the French 3 Valleys around Courchevel became more expensive than the Swiss 4 Valleys around Verbier. That changed with the global economic collapse in 2008 when investors seeking a safe haven invested in the Franc and by autumn 2011 the currency was riding so high that one version of Zermatt’s international pass became the most expensive lift ticket in the world – overtaking the usually ‘most pricey’ in Western USA for the first time in decades. The Swiss national bank intervened to limit the strength of the franc and prevent the collapse of Swiss tourism.
Many fans of Swiss skiing do say that the higher costs are worthwhile anyway, so long as they are affordable, for the higher quality experience. Swiss Airlines provide a high quality service to skiers which is continually recognised in user polls and industry awards and, once you land in Geneva or Zurich, many resorts are accessible by an ultra efficient rail and bus network direct from the airports.
It’s also worth noting that, although lift tickets for adults can be expensive, Switzerland offers the best prices in Europe for children. Indeed more than 50 resorts don’t charge for children at all until age 8 or 9 and then offers at least 50% off until adulthood at age 16 or 18 and even then there’s usually a 15-30% discount for young adults or students to their early 20s. This compares to France where children usually pay from age 4 or 5 and then 60-80% of the full adult price, which is payable in total from age 11 to 13. So some family configurations may find that, even with a higher adult lift pass cost, overall they pay less.
Switzerland: latest snow conditions round-up
SWITZERLAND Saas Fee and Zermatt (0/200cm) remain the two open ski areas in Switzerland and should be the only two options in the country for the next few months until other glacier areas begin to open in October. Conditions are little changed on a week ago with some great summer ski conditions mixed in with closure days due primarily to foggy or white-out conditions at times.
Summary of forecast snowfall and ski conditions for resorts in Switzerland.