Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a two-part series about Heather’s trip to Switzerland. Read up on the first leg of her trip to Aletsch Arena and Verbier here!
Saas Fee – Head spinning skiing above 11,000′
I felt like a miner on my way into the dark mountainside shaft. But there’s light at the end of this tunnel – so cliché, I think as I clutch my skis for the swift ascent on the Metro Alpin. This highest underground funicular in the world shuttles skiers to the 11,647′ glacier at Saas Fee, Switzerland. Emerging from the mountain train, the sunshine and brilliant blue glaciers are blinding and beautiful.
A foot of fresh snow awaits us, we glide over diamond dust powder and gaze at the surrounding 13,000′ peaks (13 ironically) in this so called “Pearl of the Alps.” We are happy clams in our vast snowy shell, with few other skiers in sight. Saas Fee is sizeable with 22 lifts, 110 kilometers of prepared trails (groomed, marked) and a big vertical drop of 5,906,’ plus skiing in three other villages, Saas-Grund, Saas Almagell and Saas Balen, that we didn’t even get to. We also didn’t tackle the unbelievable off-piste ski terrain, which is tempting but riddled with hidden crevasses since this is glacier skiing. You better hire a mountain guide or the consequences could be big and bad.
The only thing that might top the skiing on our perfect powder day is the Wallis Plattli, a plate piled high of Swiss cheeses, dried meats, pickled veggies and brown bread, which we savor as we slowly circle Saas Fee’s 11,482′ summit panorama at the highest revolving restaurant in the world – aptly named “360.” “Best lunch head rush ever,” my husband says swigging his beer as we finish our hour-long full spin.
Saas Fee may be the most under marketed ski resort in the Alps. It’s a gem, or a pearl as they say, with awesome scenery, rarely a lift line, and a lovely car free village at the base. Saas Fee is so quaint, quiet electric shuttles whisk you to your chalet hotel, the bus station or the ski lifts. Walking the classic streets and bridges is a splendid après ski pastime as you ponder which of the inviting Swiss restaurants to dine at. The folks of Saas Fee are genuine and gracious, passionate about skiing, racing (Pirmin Zurbriggen’s hometown) and preserving their meadow of the cows (translation of “Saas Fee”). Saas Fee is German-Swiss speaking, but there is a strong English acceptance as Brit families know to holiday here.
Saas Fee is near Zermatt. In fact, the two could interconnect with a few ski lifts, but that’s doubtful since Zermatt officials say they don’t need that. A few days in Saas Fee on a Swiss ski holiday makes for a refreshing break from the busier ski village of Zermatt and the Matterhorn.
Saas Fee Stats: Elevation 11,647′, 5,906′ vertical drop, 22 lifts, 62 miles of prepared trails plus off-piste and glacier skiing.
Skiing Zermatt – Italy for lunch, Swiss Fondue for dinner… Sehr Gut
Zermatt is a must for every skier’s list. First, the famed Matterhorn at 14,692′ is as awesome as you expect. This spectacular pinnacle that has claimed hundreds of hikers’ lives is your backdrop as you ski thousands of surrounding acres, over 153-miles of prepared ski trails served by 72 lifts from trams to trains, gondolas to funicular.
Zermatt’s amazing alpine village, almost a ski city, has more than a hundred hotels and chalets, and some of the best Swiss restaurants and après ski bars on the planet. Plus, you can ski to Italy and dine on fresh pasta for lunch in Cervinia and return to the Swiss side for beer on a ski chalet terrace. No passport required on this cross country tour, just be sure to catch that last lift back or you are stranded in Italy or paying for a helicopter ride up over the Alps to your Zermatt hotel (I am sure the scenic ride is grand, but the price is more like $2 grand).
Zermatt ski terrain is mega – comprised of four high elevation areas; Sunnegga/Rothorn, Gornergrat, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, and Matterhorn Cervinia (Italy) all interconnected with amazing lifts. The Gonnergrat Train, for example, leaves from the village and climbs a half hour up to 10,134′ – the longest highest railway in The Alps, and obviously a long ski down with the ever-present Matterhorn in view.
Even more remarkable is ascending the Klein Matterhorn (the “little” Matterhorn next to the big daddy looming above), a beautiful four section gondola takes you up the Schwarzsee ski region, where you board the highest cable car in the world – a crazy suspended tram that enters the steep 12,791′ peak via tunnel. Emerging from the spectacular glacial mountaintop, you can ski an eight-mile run back to Zermatt village for 7,477′ vertical. Or stay left on the Plateau Rosa Glacier following the Italian flags to the sunny, spacious slopes of Cervinia – all on one ticket.
Zermatt deserves all the accolades – highest, most scenic, most photographed, longest ski season in the Alps, most famous car free ski village, best cross-country skiing – literally. Personally I would add more preferable to ski Zermatt with views of the Matterhorn, than to attempt hiking the treacherously steep jagged peak.
Zermatt Stats: Elevation: 12,500′, Vertical: 7,250′, Marked Trails/Pistes: 153 miles, 73 Railways and Lifts
Have you skied one of these incredible Swiss resorts? Let us know in the comments!