You could call it a bucket list of ski resorts in Switzerland. Five ski destinations with a mix of history, renowned skiing and a touch of something that makes it a uniquely Swiss winter experience.
Rather than do top to bottom, the resorts go – for no particular reason – from west to east…
Yes, it used to be full of Sloane-y chalet staff and Hooray Henrys on a week’s break from Mergers and Acquisitions. Downmarket Royals and upwardly-mobile soap stars. Michelin chefs cooking on the slopes and nightclub drinks prices that will punch you in the stomach and smile while they are doing it.
Yet Verbier still has a touch of magic about it. The resort is probably the closest that Switzerland gets to the linked villages of the mega-ski areas in France (apart perhaps from the combined French-Swiss Portes du Soleil region). It is the largest linked Swiss ski area with 80 mountain lifts taking skiers to the four different valleys on offer.
And the historic nature of the skiing, which started in the village back in the 1920s when enthusiasts took to touring skis to discover the mountain slopes in the area, has now developed a reputation as a free-ride mecca and an off-piste paradise.
Compared to many of the French areas, the skiing in the Four Valleys can be pretty demanding and expert skiers will probably find Verbier the best choice out of this selection. And, of course, there is also enough skiing for those who prefer to look good on flattering easier runs and then enjoy the atmosphere at the mountain restaurants.
Verbier Ski Video
Verbier Ski Facts
Ski lifts: The 4 Vallées region includes 80 mountain lifts
Ski vertical: The lift-served skiing ranges from 1400 metres to 3330 metres at Mont Fort, the highest point – a vertical drop of 1930 metres (some sources add in the non-skiing descent to the bottom of the access cable car at Le Châble to increase the total vertical)
Skiable terrain: The ski runs in the 4 Vallées cover 410 kilometres
Height of Verbier: The town is situated at an altitude of 1500 metres
Nearest airport to Verbier: The small airport at Sion is the closest international airport to Verbier at a distance of 54 kilometres but the more frequently-used and much larger Geneva Airport is 160 kilometres away
If any ski resort in Switzerland deserves the title of ‘classic’ then it must be Zermatt. Situated under one of the most recognisable mountains in the world, the car-free winter destination can trace its history of tourism back to the mountaineers of the late 19th century. It offers the highest ski area in Europe along with the option of summer skiing.
Lift-served skiing started back in 1928 but really took off in the post-war years. Initially many of the ski lifts were built by individual groups of local families and it was not until this century that five lift operators combined to form the Zermatt Bergbahnen AG. The newly-formed company embarked on a programme of improvements to the ski infrastructure which has seen the modernisation of the lifts and improved interlinking between the four ski areas.
Zermatt has traditionally gone to great lengths to preserve the views of the spectacular mountains around the ski resort and electric shuttle buses and taxis and horse-drawn carriages provide transportation around the accommodation, shops and restaurants as well as helping the local environment. Visitors arriving by car are obliged to park their vehicle lower down the valley at Täsch and take the Zermatt shuttle up to the resort.
Zermatt is not ideal for those starting out with skiing, although there are some beginner slopes on the Sunegga. It is probably best suited to strong intermediate skiers, who can take advantage of the long red runs (along with the occasional black).
Zermatt Ski Video
Zermatt Ski Facts
Ski lifts: The combined Zermatt-Cervinia-Valtournenche ski area includes 54 mountain lifts.
Ski vertical: The lift-served skiing ranges from 1524 metres on the Italian side to 3899 metres at Gobba di Rollin, the highest point (but only open in summer). In winter a vertical drop of 2263 metres is possible from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise to Zermatt.
Skiable terrain: The ski runs have a total length of 360 kilometres.
Height of Zermatt: The town is situated at an altitude of 1620 metres.
Nearest airport to Zermatt: Sion Airport is 76 kilometres away from Zermatt but Geneva Airport is the closest major international airport to Zermatt at a distance of 230 kilometres.
Wengen is one of a number of options for a Swiss ski holiday in the Jungfrau region, sitting on a sunny plateau in the Bernese Oberland. It shares a ski area with Grindelwald which features stunning views of some of the best-known Swiss Alps: the peaks of the Jungfrau, the Eiger and the Mönch.
The village is another car-free resort and is reached by a rack railway service from Lauterbrunnen which also acts as part of the ski transportation as it winds its way up to the Kleine Scheidegg and then drops down to Grindelwald.
Wengen is perhaps best-known as a ski destination because of the historic Lauberhorn races, first runs in 1930. These are a fixture on the World Cup ski calendar, with the downhill course which descends from the Kleine Scheidegg being the longest in the world. Tourist authorities usually expect around 30,000 spectators for the annual event.
The Jungfrau ski region is probably best suited to intermediate level skiers, although more advanced skiers might like the slopes above the neighbouring resort of Mürren, which also hosts the highest point in the Jungfrau ski area.
Wengen Ski Video
Wengen Ski Facts
Ski lifts: The Jungfrau Ski Region includes 72 mountain lifts.
Ski vertical: The lift-served skiing ranges from 796 metres in the valley to 2970 metres at the Schilthorn peak above Mürren. From the Piz Gloria a vertical drop of 2174 metres is possible down to Lauterbrunnen when conditions allow.
Skiable terrain: The ski runs have a total length of 206 kilometres.
Height of Wengen: The village is situated at an altitude of 1620 metres.
Nearest airport to Wengen: Bern Airport is 62 kilometres away from Wengen.
If you are a skier who enjoys the fine things in life then St Moritz is likely to be just up your street. This luxury ski resort in the Upper Engadine region on the eastern side of the Swiss Alps is equally comfortable whether you just want to relax after a fine meal at a mountain restaurant or to choose from challenging runs in fresh snow.
St Moritz can proudly date its history of visitors to thousands of years ago, when people travelled to this spot to take advantage of the mineral springs. It became popular for winter holidays in the 1860s and slowly ski tourism took the place of the spa industry.
St Moritz has been host to the Winter Olympics twice – in 1928 and 1948 – and three separate ski areas have been developed over the years. The Corviglia is the main area directly above the accommodation centres of St Moritz Bad and St Moritz Dorf and offers long intermediate runs in sunny bowls above the tree line.
The Corvatsch area is a little further to the west above the lake at Silvaplana. It is north-facing, which means colder and a better snow record than the Corviglia, and offers the same variety of long open intermediate runs, perhaps at a slightly more challenging level.
The third ski area near the town is Diavolezza-Lagalb, on the road up towards the Italian border. Here the skiing is mostly top to bottom served by two long cable car journeys.
St Moritz Ski Video
St Moritz Ski Facts
Ski lifts: The different skiing around St Moritz includes 43 mountain lifts.
Ski vertical: The lift-served skiing ranges from 1720 metres at Celerina to 3303 metres at the top of the Corvatsch ski area. The longest vertical drop is just over 1500 metres is from the top of the Corvatsch to the base station at Furtschellas.
Skiable terrain: The ski runs have a total length of 350 kilometres.
Height of St Moritz: The village is situated at an altitude of 1846 metres.
Nearest airport to St Moritz: Bergamo Airport is actually the closest airport to St Moritz at a distance of 152 kilometres. The larger Milan and Zurich airports more frequently mentioned are further away.
Davos is a sprawling town in the east of Switzerland well-known as being host to the World Economic Forum conferences. But it is also a Swiss ski resort which has a claim to be the birthplace of a number of winter sports in the Alps.
The town originally became popular as a ‘Kur’ resort for people sick with lung diseases. The clean air of the mountains helped people recover their strength and mobility and some of them started to get involved with sports such as ice-skating, curling and tobogganing.
The first skis arrived in Davos in 1883 and, by 1894, foreign visitors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were heading up into the mountains with local guides. The first stage of the Parsenn railway was finished in 1931, with much of the expansion of the ski areas around the town coming in the Fifties and Sixties.
The Davos Klosters ski region, as it is known today, covers five ski areas around the settlements of Glaris, Klosters, Davos Platz and Davos Dorf which are linked on one ski pass, although not by mountain lifts. Efficient public transport bus or rail services allow skiers to move between the different areas. Davos has very much a ‘town’ feeling to it, despite being more accessible for the various ski lifts, while Klosters is more of a traditional ski resort.
The largest area is the Parsenn, which connects Davos Dorf and Klosters. Up on the mountains, there is a good variety of skiing suitable for different abilities, but the Parsenn is notorious for tough black and red runs leading back down to the various villages in the valley.
Madrisa is a smaller and less challenging area opposite above Klosters village. On the other side of the valley and accessed from Glaris and Davos Platz are the Rinerhorn and Jakobshorn areas, which are better-suited to intermediate skiers. The small area of Pischa up a side valley is deliberately kept as a freeride area.
Davos Ski Video
Davos Ski Facts
Ski lifts: The different skiing around Davos-Klosters includes 57 mountain lifts.
Ski vertical: The lift-served skiing ranges from 1124 metres at Klosters Dorf to 2844 metres at the Weissflugipfel in the Parsenn area.
Skiable terrain: The ski runs have a total length of 300 kilometres.
Height of Davos: The various settlements in Davos are at an altitude of roughly 1550 metres.
Nearest airport to Davos: Zurich Airport is the closest to Davos at 158 kilometres.