Ski holidays in Switzerland offer winter sports among some of the most breathtaking scenery that can be found at any resort across the world.
Switzerland is one of the world’s leading ski nations, famous as it is for its largely mountainous terrain. Many of those mountains are big too: Europe’s highest ski slopes are here, touching 3,900m on the Klein Matterhorn above Zermatt, and open for snow sports 365 days a year.
Although Switzerland does not claim to have invented skiing, it does have a good claim to being the country that invented ski holidays, or at least winter snow holidays, before anyone thought of downhill skiing.
It all began in 1864, when the owner of a small guest house in St. Moritz placed a now famous bet with a group of British tourists who had spent the summer in the local health spa taking the waters. The bet was that they’d see more sunny days and generally have a better holiday in the Swiss Alps if they came back and stayed in the winter than they would back home in foggy, rainy London. Furthermore, if they didn’t agree with him by the end of their stay, he wouldn’t charge them for it.
Needless to say he won his bet. The small guest house is now part of the vast, grand Kulm hotel, one of five “beyond five star” hotels in St. Moritz, and you could buy a reasonably sized house back home for the cost of spending a winter in a suite there today!
Although it is unsurprisingly loved by the rich and famous, it is a mistake to think that Switzerland has to be expensive. Prices there have actually fallen relative to costs in many ‘Euro Zone’ resorts over the past decade. Families do especially well as most Swiss resorts charge fair child prices for children. Whilst in many resorts in France, Andorra and Italy children will pay between 65 and 80% of the full adult cost from age four or five, in an increasing number of Swiss resorts children don’t pay at all until age nine, or even ten in Saas Fee and Zermatt.
Then there are healthy discounts right through to late teenage and sometimes young adult over age 20. This again compares favourably to many resorts elsewhere in Europe where the full adult price may be payable from age 11 or 12.
And of course as Switzerland is outside the European Community, you can still buy duty free at swiss airports.
Another aspect of the Swiss ski holiday experience that hits you as soon as you arrive in the country’s airports, are the famous smooth efficiency and high quality. Crowds and queues are the exception rather than the norm and, if you are fortunate enough to be using the superb rail network between your arrival airport and resort, you’ll be stunned by the quiet efficiency of it.
Reservations are rarely required, with the Swiss taking the radical step of running trains large enough and frequent enough to cope with passenger numbers.
Geographically, Switzerland is divided in to three language groups with French speakers in the west, German in the east and a small area of Italian speakers in the canton of Ticino to the south. Some local dialects are also spoken.
The country has many famous ski areas. Besides those mentioned already there is Davos, which has a lift connection to Klosters, popular with the British royal family. Verbier, in the country’s largest ski region the 4 Valleys, is popular with the international jetset, with the Beckhams reputed to own a chalet there.
Also well known are Grindelwald, Wengen, Gstaad (a favourite of Mrs Thatcher), Crans Montana (to which famous chef Michel Roux recently retired), Villars and Flims-Laax. Tiny Murren was an early base for British racers and the world’s oldest and longest ski race, the Inferno, started by the Brits around 80 years ago, is still run there annually.
The revolving restaurant at the top of the mountain was completed with money provided by a film company after much of the early James Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed there, and you can still buy a plate of James Bond spaghetti.
It is also a mistake immediately to associate all Swiss resorts with the “Swiss chocolate box chalet resort” style. Although there are plenty of pretty Swiss resorts with classic chalet style buildings, most of the famous resorts do contain at least some rather ugly concrete buildings that tended to be erected as their success led to their becoming small towns in the 1950s to 1970s. It is Austria that has maintained strict planning laws which has largely maintained traditional architecture at all their resorts.
However, where Switzerland cannot be beaten is in the spectacular beauty of the Swiss Alps. The legendary views of the Matterhorn from Zermatt or the awe inspiring views of the Eiger and other peaks in the Jungfrau region from Wengen, Murren and Grindelwald have been thrilling visitors for centuries and will no doubt continue to do so for generations to come.