travel

Is skiing in Switzerland considered affordable?

Reporter Steve Brown embraces his inner Gus Kenworthy as he finds out what Switzerland has to offer

2019-01-23

Words: Steve Brown

My ski trip to Switzerland starts with me almost missing my flight to Zurich. Whilst enjoying my second breakfast – the Christmas diet is still in full swing – in Gatwick’s private lounge, courtesy of No 1 Lounges, I look down at my watch. The time says 7.15am.

There is something about that time that rings a bell in my mind, but I cannot remember where. I look once more at my watch and then down to my boarding pass. “Gate closes at 7.15”, it reads. I jump up, grab my stuff and run towards the gate.

After making my flight and touching down in Zurich, I am desperate to see some snow and get onto the slopes and, although the three-hour and 15 minute train journey – organised by the Swiss Tourism Board - is long, the views of the domineering and magnificent Swiss Alps and the stunning Interlaken area as you head closer and closer to the resort is something only a train journey could provide.

Finally arriving at the last train station in Lauterbrunnen, the final train up to the Wengen resort is truly one of the most delightful journeys.

The resort is carless and the only way up to the mountain resort is by taking a small, train carriage than can only be described as closely resembling a toy train.

As the train goes higher and higher into the mountains, the view is unforgettable. With the snow gracefully falling down as if it is dancing with the wind and the treacherous cliff faces of the mountains on both sides, there really is nothing else like it in the entire world.

Wengen itself is a small resort that has one gondola, which takes a painfully long 30 minutes, to the top of the mountain and only one ski route back down. 

Wengen does have 110km of piste in and combined is 220km in the linked area of Grindelwald and you can ski both areas from either resort.

But despite its size and amenities for skiers, the dramatic views of the dominating Eiger Mountain – which is famous for being climbed by the late Swiss climber Ueli Steck who conquered the terrifying north face without any safety equipment in just two hours and 22 minutes – make Wengen one of the most beautiful resorts I have ever visited.

After my first night at the 4* Silberhorn hotel – which costs around £691 to £688 for three nights in February and March - it is time to get onto the slopes and become the Gus Kenworthy I was born to be.

Skiing is never considered an ‘affordable’ holiday with prices rocking up to around £1,000 to £1,500 per person when you factor in flights, accommodation, ski hire and ski pass.

But I am surprised to hear that Switzerland – which is also not always considered an affordable holiday destination – charges roughly around the same prices than other ski resorts. For six days, you can buy a ski pass for £275 per person and for a standard ski and boot hire for just £193 per person with Flexiski.

Although you bank account will more than likely be screaming when it comes to paying but it's no more expensive than other resorts.

On the first day on the slopes, I am told the weather could turn and white outs are the first day could not be any more perfect. The sun is out. The slopes are good. I am in my element.

Taking the long journey up to the top of Mannlichen, I meet with my guide Sandrine Vogt who takes me around the numerous slopes in the mountain range.

Sandrine also shows me the famous Lauberhorn downhill course. The race is one of the longest and toughest on the World Cup circuit. I am here the Sunday before the famous race!

The next day, the weather then takes a dramatic turn as I sit and eat my breakfast – yes, once again second breakfast – in the Silberhourn.

Visibility is poor. The wind is cold. Hail and snow continues to fall down. But that does not stop me making it to the top of the gondola – which is pretty terrifying in poor conditions – and to have another day on the slopes.

Spending most of the day around the slopes of Kleine Scheidegg, visibility is still poor, but the weather does start to clear up as the day gets on but I decide to call it a day and head back to Wengen as we move resorts to over the mountain to the much larger town of Grindelwald.

Grindelwald is just a 40-minute train journey from Kleine Scheidegg – which can be paid for using your ski pass – and is just as beautiful as Wengen but much larger in capacity.

With chalet-style buildings and a cog railway station, Grindelwald is, in my opinion, a better location for families and beginner-level skiers.

Arriving at my next hotel, the family-run Belvedere which has been open in the area for 111 years, I am overwhelmed by the quality of the hotel. Both hotels I visit are 4* and both offering great food, but one is more traditionally Swiss and the other more modern luxury.

Each room consists of a balcony of its own and a spa and pool to see you through the cold nights and you wouldn’t expect anything less when paying up to £973 to £980 for just three nights.

For those more adventurous than I, there is also a naked sauna, but I am quite happy spending my time in the outdoor Jacuzzi watching the snow gentle fall onto my face and hair while still be tremendously warm.

The next day is a disappointment. The snow, although still insanely beautiful, has been falling all throughout the night and, I am told that all the slopes are closed meaning there is nothing to do during the day.

I venture outside trying to find something remotely LGBT+ related and although same-sex sexual acts between adults has been legal since 1942, same-sex marriage, full joint adoption and IVF is still banned in the country.

Although the slopes remain shut throughout the day, I find the local sports centre – a quick five-minute walk away from my hotel – is open and ice skating is available.

Here I find as a guest in the Belvedere, there is a deal where guests are able to use the facilities in the sports centre for free as well as using the local buses – although I believe a ski pass is valid on public transport as well.

I take to the ice – now embracing my inner Adam Rippon – but after a few laps around the ice, my feet begin to ache, and I stop as the pain is too much to deal with.  

My friend decides to take one more lap and as I am unlacing my boots, I hear a loud thud and look up. There he is. On the floor.

I think he is just struggling to get up, but I then see the ice beneath his start to get red. Blood. I dart across the ice and help him to his feet and off the rink and as he is being stitched up by the staff, I look at his wound.

The pulsating blood drips out of the deep cut and down onto the floor. The man helping to close the wound then tells him that we need to go to a doctor. He kindly drives us there – which is luckily right behind our hotel.

After an hour or so of waiting, my friend finally leaves the doctors with a £180 bill which will hopefully be covered by his insurance. This is a helpful reminder to everyone to get travel insurance.

Being vegetarian – and being genuinely a fussy eater – I am pleased to see that every restaurant in the resort is accommodating to my dietary needs and the food is absolutely delicious, especially if you eat cheese.

I go to an amazing bar called Barry's - and thanks to the The Eiger Selfness Hotel who kindly pay for the drinks all night - where I have the most delicious burger - vegetarian of course - I have ever eaten. Looking at pictures now, I still salivate at the sight of it.

The weather clears up and the snow is beautifully perfect. I meet with Sandrine once more who takes me up to the First Mountain and points out that with a ski pass, people are also able to go on the First Glider – where you are attached to a bird-shaped glider and fly from one side to another – as well as a zip line shooting you down the mountain.

Neither of these things sound enjoyable and with the foggy weather, I prefer to keep my feet on the ground (or snow).

The First Mountain is more like the slopes I am used to. With little open due to the weather, I still manage to get a good day of skiing in and for beginners, this side of the mountain is much more accessible with wide blue and red slopes.

We make our way back up to the top of the mountain and Sandrine decides to take me on what can only be described as something from hell. The First Cliff Walk.

In simple terms, the walk is a metal path going around one side of the mountain to the other. As someone who does not fear heights – but who fears the idea of falling from them – this was utter hell.

I brave it thinking, ‘You only live once’ and I can safely say I will never do it again. Even the thought of it now panics me.

Thankfully the view is obstructed by the clouds, so I am not concerned about taking any photographs, but I know I need to prove that I have walked the 2,168m high cliff walk. I call out to Sandrine, shaking as I hand her my phone to get the proof I need.

On this day, after the horrendous ordeal, I eat at the restaurant at the top of the cliff. Luckily it is not hanging off the edge of the mountain like the cliff walk was and once again the food is divine - which is once again courtesy of the Swiss Tourism Board.

To say that I ever think of Switzerland as being an affordable place to visit especially for skiing would be a lie.

However, after visiting and hearing the prices of the ski passes, rental hire and hotel stay, it really doesn’t seem any more expensive that other locations.

Of course, there are still cheaper places – France comes to mind – but I have no criticism against the two resorts I have been to.

The only thing to say is for Switzerland to legalise same-sex marriage, adoption and IVF and then it would be the perfect country.

  • Flexiski does also offer cheaper accommodation and it is something they do feature - 3* is from £589 for 3 nights in February, half board including flights and transfers
  • Flexiski can offer tailor-made short breaks and ski weekends to Switzerland from £589 per person this season including flights, transfers and accommodation. Call them on 0208 939 0864 or visit flexiski.com to find out more.

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