Nowhere are the Alps more ravishing than in Switzerland. Rippling across 60% of the country, these phenomenal peaks look like ready-made Christmas cards when the flakes flutter and fall. But when every dinky Swiss village has a ski lift and local three-year-olds know their snowplough, how do you begin to pick a piste?
Ever since winter tourism was born in St Moritz in 1864, the Swiss have harnessed the magic of the mountains as only ski-mad perfectionists possibly could. They carved lines across ritzy Verbier and rounded the Matterhorn-topped Zermatt, but even away from Switzerland's star slopes there’s always a resort with your name on, no matter your style, budget or proficiency.
A snowboarder looks out across the white fluffy powder of Grindelwald © Pavel Ilyukhin / Shutterstock
Jungfrau Region, Bernese Oberland
If you’re looking for fantasy Switzerland, the Jungfrau Region is it. Presided over by the ‘Big Three’ (Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau), their peaks rise to around the 4000m mark offering views of the mighty Aletsch Glacier from on high.
Spread over two valleys, three mountain ranges and 206km of pistes, the wide, sunny slopes are beginner and intermediate heaven. Up the challenge by braving the fearsome Lauberhorn or the black run from the Schilthorn, which includes a section of the hell-for-leather Inferno Run.
As for the scenery, it’s winter wonderland all the way, whether you opt to stay in Grindelwald, Wengen, Mürren or cute-as-a-button Gimmelwald. Slope-side activities abound, from cross-country trails to stomps through frozen forests, sledding, ice climbing and rides to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest station at 3454m.
Fly to: Zürich, Basel
Level: Beginners/intermediates (plus a handful of black runs)
Ski passes: 1/6 days Sfr64/300
Sleep: The Gletschergarten in Grindelwald and Hotel Eiger in Mürren are enticing family-run chalets.
Eat: Go traditional Swiss at Café 3692 in Grindelwald and Stägerstübli in Mürren. Wengen boasts upmarket 1903.
Party: Live it up at Tipirama wigwam at Kleine Scheidegg or Scandi-style Tanne Bar in Wengen.
Dawn breaks over Zermatt with the Matterhorn peak rising up in the background © anshar73 / Getty Images
Oh my, what a mountain! As the train curls up through fir-cloaked peaks from Täsch to Zermatt, suddenly the view breaks to reveal the fang-shaped, 4478m monster that is the Matterhorn. Jaws drop at the first sight of this iconic Swiss peak and cruising in its shadow, along long, scenic red runs, is an uplifting experience. Ski over the border to Cervinia in Italy for a pasta lunch and bragging rights.
At 1608m, Zermatt has an impeccable track record for powder, with 360km of slopes, a freestyle park with a half-pipe and snow activities including winter walks, ice skating, curling, ice climbing and tobogganing. The icing on the cake is the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, where you can ride Europe’s highest-altitude cable car to 3883m.
Fly to: Geneva, Zürich, Milan
Level: Mostly intermediate, but ample black runs and off-piste for experts.
Ski passes: 1/6 days Sfr79/380
Sleep: Bed down in budget digs at Hotel Bahnhof. Alpine-chic style Kulmhotel Gornergrat has sky-high views. It’s the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps at 3100m.
Eat: Swiss soul food at Chez Vrony (try the homemade cheese and sausage). Ride the Sunnegga Express funicular to 2288m, and then ski back down.
Party: Hennu Stall is the wildest après-ski shack on Klein Matterhorn.
Aside from some sublime slopes, ritzy St Moritz has a glamorous side, which includes snow polo © saveriolafronza / Shutterstock
St Moritz, Graubünden
In 1864, Johannes Badrutt, the owner of St Moritz’s Kulm Hotel, wagered four British guests that they’d love the village if they returned at Christmas, setting the ball rolling for winter tourism. Today, the glamour puss among Swiss resorts still looks a million dollars, with its lakeside grand hotels and aloof mountains.
With 350km of pistes, the skiing and snowboarding is second to none, especially for confident intermediates and experts. Snow is guaranteed between 1800m and 3303m at Corviglia, Corvatsch and Diavolezza. The latter is great for black runs and glacier descents.
For a thrill you can also throw yourself head first down the heart-stopping Cresta Run in Celerina. St Moritz caters for non-skiers and families too, with sleigh rides, sledding, curling, skating and winter walking.
Fly to: Zürich
Ski passes: 1/6 days Sfr79/376
Sleep: Budget picks include the panoramic youth hostel on the forest fringes. For more style and a post-ski sauna, try central Piz.
Eat: Grab a pizza at Laudinella, dig into regional grub at super-cosy Chesa Veglia, or blow the budget at two-Michelin-starred Ecco.
Party: Rock on at après-ski joint Roo Bar at the Hauser Hotel, where rum-laced hot chocolate and pumping music fuel the party.
With blue skies and knockout views Verbier can be magical © gorillaimages / Shutterstock
Celebs and royals (Prince William, the Beckhams and Leonardo DiCaprio included) all pound powder in swanky Verbier. Richard Branson even has his own luxury ski lodge here. From the summit of 3330m Mont-Fort, the views are show-stopping, reaching all the way to the Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc over the border in nearby France.
In the heart of the vast 4 Vallées, Valais has a whopping 410km of pistes as well as some of Switzerland’s best extreme terrain for skiers and boarders, and plenty of virgin powder for off-pisters, ski tourers and heli-skiers. The après-ski scene is thumping, too. For non-skiers and families, there’s husky sledding, tobogganing, winter walking, snowshoeing and more.
Fly to: Geneva
Ski passes: 1/6 days Verbier Sfr64/357, 4 Vallées Sfr69/373
Sleep: Get a head start by staying at 2457m-high Alpine hut Cabane du Mont-Fort, or save at bunker-turned-backpacker Dzardy’s.
Eat: Verbier does burgers, Michelin-starred finery and everything in between. The fondue is fab at mountain hut Le Namasté. Skidoo up and sledge down.
Party: Heaving Pub Mont Fort near the Médran cable car station sells the most beer in Switzerland. Groove in your ski boots at Le Rouge.
Away from the slopes, the devilishly handsome Davos can be chocolate-box stuff © Boris-B / Shutterstock
Thanks to its awesome backdrop, high elevation (1560m) and consistently great powder, Davos in Graubünden has carved out a fine reputation, with a nice mix of runs spread across the five different areas it shares with storybook-pretty sister resort Klosters.
Jakobshorn attracts big air-seeking snowboarders and freestylers, with its terrain park, half-pipe and off-piste opportunities. Ideal for confidence-building novices, Parsenn has assorted pistes for all levels and one of Europe’s longest runs (12km from Weissfluhgipfel to Küblis). Beginners, kids and families can slide over to Schatzalp-Strela.
More quaint than cool, Klosters is quite the Alpine dream, with log chalets daubed with snow and hung with icicles, horse-drawn sleigh rides and bags of family appeal, with a toboggan run, tubing and skidoo park at Madrisa. The village — Prince Charles’ favourite — attracts slaloming celebrities to its paparazzi-free slopes.
Fly to: Zürich
Ski passes: Regional pass 2/6 days Sfr143/342
Sleep: Stay at one-time sanatorium turned cool hostel Davos Youthpalace. For more luxury, check into Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain Waldhotel, or the rustically romantic Romantik Hotel Chesa Grischuna.
Eat: Feed up on Swiss grub like rösti and fondue at Strela-Alp and Montana Stube.
Party: Perched at 2560m atop Jakobshorn, Jatzhütte is Davos' wackiest après-ski joint.
If the star slopes don't take your fancy, Switzerland has many more pistes that will © kovop58 / Shutterstock
The best of the rest
Still itching to hit the slopes? Here are a few more of our top choices for skiing in Switzerland.
- Arosa An Alpine all-rounder, with family appeal, a postcard-perfect setting and 225km slopes shared with over-the-mountain Lenzerheide.
- Saas Fee Hemmed in glaciated, 4000m peaks, Saas Fee has reliable snow, terrain parks, and great beginner and intermediate skiing and boarding on 140km of pistes.
- Andermatt Wild, beautiful, charmingly traditional and with new ski lifts opening up the ski area in winter 2017/2018.
- Engelberg Watched over by glacier-capped Mt Titlis, Engelberg has good downhill and boarding and some glorious off-piste.
- Gstaad Glitz, glamour, 200km of groomed slopes and Glacier 3000.
- Kandersteg Adorable alpine village, with gentle skiing for beginners, cross-country tracks, winter hiking, ice climbing and lots for families.
- Flims, Laax and Falera High-altitude trio with a top snow record, 224km of slopes, some of Switzerland’s best boarding and a party vibe.
- Pontresina Low-key alternative to St Moritz, with access to 350km of pistes and glacier skiing.
- Samnaun Snow-sure resort, with 238km of pistes that it shares with Ischgl in neighbouring Austria.
- Bettmeralp & Riederalp Family- friendly, car-free alpine cuties at 1900m+, with 104km of pistes in the Aletsch Arena.
- Champéry Near the French border, it attracts skiers and boarders of all levels, with a huge 650km of downhill in the Portes du Soleil.
- Crans-Montana Sunny slopes, 160km of pistes and 360-degree views reaching from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc.
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