The Englishman Sir Henry Lunn wanted to be remembered as a great missionary, but it was only after he returned from a failed mission to India that he really made his mark. Lunn started the elite Public Schools Alpine Sports Club and convinced Britain’s upper class to hurl themselves down snow-covered mountains on a pair of sticks as part of a gravity-fueled thrill ride. The result was the modern sport of alpine skiing, and the preferred destination for the hordes of Lunn-inspired daredevils was Switzerland.
Even today, Switzerland’s ski resorts rank among the finest in the world. Nestled high in the jagged contours of the majestic Alps, many offer a selection of runs ranging from tame slopes for beginners to white-knuckle descents for experienced thrill seekers. But Swiss skiing is also about the après-ski scene, which is as varied as the slopes. With ski season set to begin in earnest, The Financialist profiles five resorts that define the Swiss ski experience.
Zermatt and its three large ski areas, dominated by the famous Matterhorn, offer some of the world’s best skiing. A must for any serious skier is Glacier Paradise. At an altitude of 3,800 meters, it is one of the world’s highest ski areas. From Glacier Paradise skiers can access dedicated snowboarding trails. They can also ski the nearly 20-kilometer descent into Italy. With dozens of slope-side restaurants, Zermatt is also a foodie paradise. Chez Vrony is one of the best-known eateries, and its famed cep risotto with a shaving of white truffle is worth the trek… by foot or ski.
Les Portes du Soleil
Les Portes du Soleil is not a single resort, but rather a giant ski area in the northern Alps that brings together 12 different resorts straddling the border between Switzerland and France. This is truly an international experience that allows skiers to begin their day in France and enjoy lunch on the Swiss side with a plate of rosti, a hardy potato dish. Probably one of the toughest runs is the Pas de Chavanette, connecting the town of Avoriaz in France and Les Crosets in Switzerland. Although short, the run, also known as the Swiss Wall, has jaw-dropping 50 percent inclines for the truly fearless.
Summers in Portofino, winters in Saint Moritz has long been a well-known refrain among Europe’s jet set. For more than a century high society has converged on this picture-perfect alpine village in Switzerland’s Upper Engadine Valley to ski and — of course — be seen. Corviglia, the area’s main ski area, includes 37 pistes and is accessible via a funicular railway, which starts in the center of town. Saint Moritz also offers some of the world’s best cross-country skiing, with kilometers of trails traversing frozen lakes and alpine valleys. But skiing in Saint Moritz is as much as about what happens at night once skis and boots are stowed away. An after-dinner drink at the King’s Club, the legendary nightspot inside the equally famous Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, is a must.
While Saint Moritz is about glitz, Vals, a small resort in a remote valley in the Grisons canton, is defined by its peaceful exclusivity. The ski area is accessible by five lifts and peaks to nearly 3,000 meters. The crown jewel of this well-preserved village is not a ski run, but a unique thermal spa design by architect Peter Zumthor. The facility’s warm spring waters can help soothe aching muscles after a long day of skiing.
The James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” put this small resort nestled at the foot of the Schilthorn Mountains on the map, but people were skiing here long before 007 paid a visit. More than a century ago, Mürren was one of the Swiss towns that welcomed some of Sir Henry Lunn’s English holiday skiers. While the trail choice is limited, the resort has a charming traffic-free village and stunning alpine scenery.
Photos courtesy of: Les Portes du Soleil (Facebook); Engadin – Saint Moritz Media (Facebook); Dirk Songur (Flickr); Mark Howells-Mead (Flickr); Badrutt Palace Hotel – Media