Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part post about Heather’s trip to four Swiss ski areas. You can also read about her time at Saas Fee and Zermatt!
On a Swiss Roll – Ski, Snowmobile & Drink in The Alps!
Three trains, two trams, and a speedy snowmobile ride through a snowy village all by 9am. Not your typical start to a ski day. But this is how we roll in Switzerland, traveling by Swiss Pass on trains that run with Rolex precision. On a sunny April morning, we arrive by tram in the car-free alpine village of Bettmeralp, and a snowmobile whisks us to our Swiss chalet hotel – which looks plucked from a postcard. A quick change into our ski gear at Hotel Alpfrieden (which means mountain peace), and we load the closest six pack chairlift heading up to the vast terrain of Aletsch Arena. This Swiss ski complex is comprised of three villages miles apart, all connected by 35 lifts flanking multiple mountain peaks, covering a vertical drop of almost 6,000.’
We ski our way to the Eggishorn Tram to 9,412,’ the highest of the three peaks and best panorama of the Aletsch Glacier – the largest ice flow in the Alps at 14 miles long. The massive sparkling ice glacier, 27 billion tons of ice, is surrounded by towering 13,000′ peaks including the Jungrau, Eiger, and Mönch – an extraordinary sight. The ski run down is equally exciting, a narrow expert cat track swerves its way down the mountainside with fences on both sides, and serious cliffs beyond.
Run after run we ski high-elevation soft snow from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp and Riederalp – these three resorts were previously independent but are now marketed on one Aletsch Arena ticket – making for an amazing ski vacation (that most skiers have not heard of, yet).
Skiing all day in The Alps builds a mountainous appetite. Fortunately Swiss flags along the trailside wave you in to delightful huts, like Heidi’s Hitta, for hearty Rösti and Goulash served with local cheese and fresh baked bread, and of course – Swiss wine and big beers.
Skiing through the village to our chalet at day’s end, we squeeze by snowmobiles and pedestrians pulling sleds with kids and groceries along the snowy trail. We ski by snow laden chalets, cozy bakeries, ski boutiques and après ski bars already full of ski instructors hoisting beer steins still in full uniform and ski boots. After our big ski day, we wanted to shed our boots on the heated boot dryers at the Hotel’s ski in/ski out locker room. They’d be warm and waiting the next morning after a bountiful Swiss skiers’ breakfast, “from bed to your boards” as they say here.
Swiss fondue was the obvious choice for dinner that night as we toasted our good fortune – fantastic skiing, snowmobiling and picture-taking on the gorgeous Aletsch Glacier. Never skied in Switzerland? You must, the Alps are the source of alpine skiing and Swiss ski resorts like Aletsch Arena serve up big mountain terrain and beautiful views with all that vertical. Glaciers, gondolas and gooey fondue – say “cheese”!
Aletsch Arena is located in Wallis Switzerland, near Brig, comprised of 3 ski villages – Riederalp, Bettmeralp, and Fiescheralp.
Aletsch Arena Stats: 35 lifts, 104 kilometers of prepared pistes (trails), countless acres of off-piste, highest summit 9,412,’ rated among the Best Ski Resorts in the Swiss Alps.
What’s wilder? Verbier’s skiing? Or après ski?
The Swiss fondue was to die for! Almost literally given the steep run we skied to lunch – straight down Mont Fort Glacier – Verbier’s summit which drops dramatically from 10,925.’ Our cliffside outdoor table at Cabin du Glacier served up glorious sun and a bubbly pot of cheese, surrounded by spectacular peaks like Mont Blanc.
Greg and I have skied some steep stuff (STH he calls it), we’ve both bagged over 110 places on Liftopia’s “Where I’ve Skied” facebook app. Verbier instantly moved into our top 5 for steep and deep – in the leagues of Jackson Hole Wyoming, Big Sky/Moonlight Montana, Snowbird/Alta Utah, and Sunshine’s Delirium Dive in Banff Canada. Verbier has so much extreme lift-serviced terrain off Mont Fort and Mont Gelé – nothing is groomed off either summit, never mind marked with signage, just steep faces in all directions, cliffs and cornices – an expert skiers’ paradise.
However, there is more to Verbier than core terrain and crazy off piste; this Swiss ski resort is the European ski playground of the chic. Verbier’s après ski gets a black diamond rating as well, ritzy hotels and designer shops line the stylish village streets next to rocking bars and Michelin-rated restaurants. A fantastic mix of young free skiers, ski bums, celebs and wealthy vacationers flock to this French Swiss town (Verbier is in the French speaking region of Switzerland, but English is widely spoken). Prince Harry skis here, Richard Branson has a “Lodge” hotel and James Blunt owns La Vache summit restaurant, to name drop a few.
Verbier is part of Les 4 Vallées (four interconnected valleys) encompassing 92 ski lifts and 256 miles of prepared ski runs plus limitless off-piste terrain. Verbier is the largest of the four areas (Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon) with 38 lifts and 24 delicious on mountain restaurants, and there is so much skiing (not all expert and edgy), it would take a season to tackle it all.
We hit Verbier mid-April, with tons of snow still, brilliant sunshine and the biggest après ski parties. The Farinet was wild – picture guys dressed as bananas and zebras drinking from shot skis, and girls dancing on the bar in tutus to live bands – Animal House goes alpine. Meanwhile our suite just up the street at Verbier’s 4-star Chalet de Flore was peaceful elegance with a big mountain view balcony and a spa-like bathroom.
Verbier is not for the meek, its big mountain skiing, and the fun is just getting started when the lifts stop. Put Verbier on your ski list, then save up (yes, its Swiss francs and its pricey), and rest up for this very extreme Swiss ski resort.
Verbier and Les 4 Vallées Switzerland Stats: Elevation: 10,925′, Vertical drop: 6,496′, Prepared Trails/Pistes: 256 miles, 92 Lifts.
Have you ever skied in Switzerland? Share your stories in the comments below!