Ski holidays in Switzerland

Scenery and substance

Nicola Iseard

Nicola Iseard
HomeAway travel expert

Winter holiday houses in swiss alpsIt may seem superficial to begin a ski resort guide by talking about the scenery (a bit like beginning a car review by talking about the colour), but there is no denying that when it comes to jaw-dropping, stop-and-take-a-photo-on-every-run vistas, Switzerland takes the biscuit. Watching the sun set on Zermatt's majestic Matterhorn is something that everyone should experience before they die; as is seeing Wengen's trio of peaks (Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau) dusted in fresh snow on a bluebird day. Best of all, many resorts are accessed via railway, so you can start enjoying the scenery before you even get there.

Switzerland has substance as well as scenery – bucket loads of it. You'll find some of the highest, longest and toughest runs in the Alps here. The same goes for the off-piste. Don't believe us? Head to Verbier, hire a guide and ask him/her to show you the best freeride areas in the resort. By the end of the day your face will ache from grinning so much (especially if the snow gods are kind to you, which they invariably are in Switzerland's high-Alpine resorts such as this).

There is no doubt that Switzerland is expensive. However, as with most things, you get what you pay for. If world-class terrain, scenery and dining (enjoying homemade rösti on a sunny terrace has to be one of life's greatest pleasures) is what you want from a holiday, then Switzerland is the country for you.

Nicola Iseard's fast facts on ski holidays in the Swiss Alps

 Wengen is home to one of the most famous World Cup downhill courses – the Lauberhorn. It runs for a thigh-burning distance of 4.5km and can be skied by the public when it's not being prepped for a race (annually in mid-January). Watch out for the Finish-S: three sharp corners that are usually mogully and icy.

 The Matterhorn is the symbol of Zermatt. The first successful ascent of this majestic 4,478m peak was carried out by Englishman Edward Whymper in 1865. However, his elation was short lived – a rope snapped during the descent and four of the seven men in his party fell to their death.

 Verbier is famous for hosting the final stage of the Freeride World Tour, which sees some of the world's best freeriders throw themselves down the 3,223m Bec de Rosses – a steep, scary face littered with cliffs and mandatory airs.

 Saas Fee's claim to fame is being one of the locations where the video for Wham!'s 1984 hit single Last Christmas was filmed.

 The Rocksresort in Laax is built using local slate from boulders that were scattered through the valley by an immense landslide over 10,000 years ago, which is reported to be the biggest in the history of the world.


Nicola Iseard's guide to skiing in Switzerland


Wengen - suitable for beginners Wengen - suitable for beginners

The only way to reach this sunny, wind-protected resort, perched on a ledge at the foot of the Jungfrau, is by cog railway. It is worth the effort though – once you get here you'll find a picturesque and car-free resort that is ideal for people who are new to skiing. As well as a beginners’ ski area in the village centre and up the mountain at Wengernalp, there are plenty of long, gentle runs to practice your parallel turns on at Kleine Scheidegg. Best of all, because the area is also suitable for early intermediates, beginners have some tasty slopes to progress onto. Invest in some lessons; try Altitude, a British ski and snowboard school with a good reputation.

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Zermatt - suitable for experts Zermatt - suitable for experts

If the mighty Matterhorn is what Zermatt is best known for (it towers above the resort in all its 4,478m glory), then second on the list is its impressive amount of hardcore freeride terrain and mogul fields – rated among the best in the Alps. The Stockhorn is the ultimate playground for experts, home to the famous Triftji bump run – a long, steep run where the moguls can be the size of VW Beatles. If black pistes are more your thing, you're spoilt for choice, from the wide and steep National on the Sunnegga sector to the twisty Furgg-to-Furi black run on the Klein Matterhorn. There are also a number of challenging ski touring routes – book a guide to make the most of them.

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Verbier - suitable for off-piste Verbier - suitable for off-piste

Verbier is a bit like Marmite: if you come here for the pistes, you might find its sprawling and somewhat disconnected slope network frustrating. But, if it's the ungroomed terrain you're interested in, you'll have a blast and will probably be declaring it as your favourite ever resort by the end of the week. There are endless off-piste routes: one of the most famous is accessed via the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, a steep ladder-style climb which opens up a huge powder bowl. Then there's the Col de Mines itinerary – get here early after a snowfall for fresh tracks. Wherever you decide to go, make sure you book one of Verbier's reputed English-speaking guides – they'll know which areas are safest to ski when.

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Saas Fee - suitable for families Saas Fee - suitable for families

Not only is this one of the most charming and snow-sure resorts in Switzerland, it is also one of the most family friendly. The village is traffic-free, with much of the accommodation located at the foot of the slopes – great for little ones with tired post-ski legs. For young children, there is a large beginners' ski area at the edge of the village, with gentle blues higher up for when they're ready. Meanwhile, for older kids, there are several children's fun parks with beginner rails and roller kickers, and a more difficult freestyle park. Had enough skiing? Go sledding or snowtubing, which involves hurtling down a designated course on a giant tyre. Laughter guaranteed.

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Laax - suitable for freestyle skiers Laax - suitable for freestyle skiers

Together with Flims and Falera, this is one of the largest ski circuits in the Alps, with extensive, varied slopes that suit all levels of skier. But it's the resort's snowparks that make it stand out from the crowd. It boasts four terrain parks, plus a mini half-pipe and a super 140m half-pipe – the biggest in Europe. Need to work on your moves? Head for the Laax Freestyle Academy down in town. Featuring a series of jumps over 1000m², it allows skiers of all abilities to try out their spins in the safety of a padded environment.

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Verbier by Leo Seta

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