In a country with a staggering amount of vertical angles, the Swiss are practically born on skis. Even the dinkiest hamlet has a ski lift in the Alps, so the question is not so much where you can ski but how. Whether your idea of ski heaven is a remote log chalet or a party-hard resort, virgin or veteran, black run or blue, Switzerland has a slope to suit when the flakes fall in winter.
The big-hitter resorts get all the fuss. St Moritz, Gstaad and Verbier, Davos-Klosters and Zermatt of Matterhorn fame are the A-listers of Switzerland’s skiing scene – and justifiably so. While they offer sensational downhill skiing, boarding and pristine backcountry for all to explore, they really are just the tip-of-the-iceberg for Swiss ski resorts.
Your magic moment might come elsewhere: in the Bernese Oberland, with Eiger’s fearsome north face looming over your shoulder as you hurtle down the pistes; in the snowy wilds of Graubünden; or on less-skied slopes in deepest Valais, where the glacier-capped Swiss Alps are at their highest as they peek across to Italy.
Read on for our take on the best places to ski in Switzerland.
1. Hit St Mortiz, Klosters, Davos and more in gorgeous Graubünden
The scenery takes a dramatic turn for the wild in remote Graubünden in eastern Switzerland, where you’ll find some truly legendary slopes to pound the powder. First up is the supermodel of Swiss ski resorts, St Moritz, enshrined in Swiss skiing legend, with Olympic heritage, 350km (217 miles) of groomed, snow-sure slopes (some topping the 3,000m/9,842ft), glacier descents and plenty of freeride opportunities.
The twin resorts of (pretty) Klosters and (popular) Davos share 300km (186 miles) of runs spread across six resorts, with some good terrain parks in the wintry mix. Davos is geared mostly toward intermediates and experts, with some terrific black runs and backcountry to play on. Boarders also rave about the terrain parks, freeriding and après-ski scene in Laax.
Family-oriented sister resorts Arosa and Lenzerheide are scenic picks for beginners, intermediates and cross-country fans, with lots of appeal for families and non-skiers with their glorious winter walking and sledding trails. Arosa has gentler well-groomed, tree-lined slopes, slick lift systems and accessible off-piste, while Lenzerheide’s steeper sections, superb views and mountain dining are just a gondola ride away.
Want to give the crowds the slip? Glide across to the serene, uncrowded slopes of Pizol, Scuol, Samnaun or glacier-rimmed Pontresina, all a snowball throw away from St Moritz.
2. Venture into a winter wonderland in the Valais & Vaud ski regions
Nudging up to Italy in southern Switzerland, Valais is the winter dream, with the country’s highest peaks rising like natural skyscrapers above the 4,000m (13,123ft) mark.
Nothing beats skiing in the shadow of the Matterhorn, soaring 4,478m (14,691ft) above Zermatt – the perfect pyramid-shaped peak says Switzerland like no other. Snowboarders, intermediates and off-pisters all rave about the car-free resort's 360km (224 miles) of scenic runs.
Reaching up to 3,883m (12,740ft), the Matterhorn Paradise enthralls with some of Europe’s highest slopes and year-round glacier skiing. Sidling up to Italy and easily reached by train, car-free Zermatt has recently upped its sustainable game, too, with a photovoltaics system powering its 3s cableway valley station, electric ski buses and snow groomers that run on eco-speed diesel.
Almost as gorgeous is Crans-Montana, a cracking beginners’ choice with gentle, sunny, south-facing slopes and Matterhorn and Mont Blanc puncturing the skyline.
Verbier has some terrifically challenging runs for experts. The terrain is vast here, with 410km (255 miles) of slopes spread across four valleys.
Hard-core skiers and boarders favor snow-sure, high-altitude Saas Fee for its long runs and glacier skiing.
Snuggling up to France’s mammoth Les Portes du Soleil ski arena, Champéry has access to 650km (404 miles) of slopes.
Queues are few, and families are welcome in Bettmeralp, tucked away in a quiet corner of Valais. With the mighty Aletsch Glacier unfurling alongside it, the cute-as-a-button resort combines classic Alpine timber-chalet looks with a phenomenally wild backdrop.
3. Insider secrets and off-piste treasures await you in Central Switzerland
Surprisingly little known given its snow-sure slopes and staggering mountain backdrop, Engelberg (Angel Mountain) is framed by glacier-capped Mt Titlis. The real treasures here are off-piste, including Galtiberg, a 2,000m (6,561ft) vertical descent from the glacier to the valley.
Contrasting low-key village charm with big wilderness, Andermatt is another backcountry ski-touring and boarder favorite. This is 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 can take the gondola to the foreboding 2,961m (9,715ft) 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.
4. Prepare to be bowled over by the beauty of the Bernese Oberland
Mountains of myth with Christmas card scenery make the Bernese Oberland pure winter wonderland stuff. Right at its phenomenally pretty Alpine heart, the Jungfrau Region is crisscrossed with 211km (131 miles) of well-maintained slopes, ranging from easy to hair-raising, that grant fleeting views of the "Big Three": Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
Ski here, and you can tag on a once-in-a-lifetime ride up to Europe’s highest train station, 3,454m (11,332ft) Jungfraujoch, where an icy wilderness of swirling glaciers and 4,000m (13,123ft) turrets unfolds.
Tougher runs appealing to experts include the Inferno and World Cup Lauberhorn. For more glitz, swing west to Gstaad, which has fine downhill on 220km (137 miles) of slopes and pre- and post-season glacier skiing at nearby Glacier 3000.
What you need to know before your ski trip to Switzerland
When to go skiing in Switzerland
The winter ski season in Switzerland typically runs from December to April, with the slopes buzzing with skiers and boarders until Easter. Prices skyrocket during school holidays, so avoid the crush and visit during the shoulder seasons (early December, January and March) for quieter pistes, slightly cheaper rooms and a greater choice of accommodation.
Which slopes are right for you?
Ski runs are color-coded according to difficulty:
- Blue Easy, well-groomed runs that are suitable for beginners.
- Red Intermediate runs that are groomed but often steeper and narrower than blue runs.
- Black For expert skiers with polished technique and skills. They are mostly steep and not always groomed, and they may have moguls and vertical drops.
How much are ski passes and lessons?
We’ll be honest: skiing in Switzerland is not cheap. But with a bit of pre-planning, there are several ways you can save some francs.
Ski passes are a hefty chunk out of your budget and will set you back around Sfr75 per day ($200US) or Sfr350 for six days. Factor in around Sfr45 to Sfr70 per day for ski gear and Sfr20 for boots, which can be reserved online at Intersport.
If you want to skip to the front of the queue, consider ordering your ski pass online. Swiss Passes gives reductions of up to 25% on standard ski-pass prices.
Covering 40 ski areas – many of them in lesser-known resorts – the Magic Pass is a good deal for skiers. It’s valid for an entire year and is substantially cheaper if you pre-order it online.
All major resorts have ski schools, with half-day group lessons typically costing Sfr50 to Sfr80. Schweizer Skischule has a clickable map of 169 ski schools across the country.