Choosing a ski resort for your holiday with friends or family can be a tough task. High-altitude with guaranteed snow? Or a majority of sunny bluebird days? You want awe-inspiring mountain peaks straight out of Lord of The Rings, and a cute chocolate-box village atmosphere? Perhaps you need something with challenging red and black slopes for the experts in your group – but what about the kids and beginners who are just learning? Of course you want good food, stunning scenery and an excellent choice of ski schools. And some jumps or rails for the snowboarders and freeskiers among you. Impossible!
Surely you’re not demanding enough to request highlights like the world’s highest revolving restaurant, or the world’s highest underground train? You are? Well, welcome to the one resort which ticks every one of the boxes above – Saas Fee, the pearl of the Alps. Oh, did we mention that Wham’s Last Christmas video was filmed here?
Travelpod.ie went to Saas Fee expecting picturesque scenery, great skiing and Swiss efficiency in transport both on and off the mountain. We got all of that and much more, and are already planning our return. Flying from Dublin or Cork to Geneva (with Aer Lingus), or Dublin to Zurich (with Aer Lingus or Swiss), the 2-hour flights to both destinations link up perfectly with the unbeatable Swiss Rail System. From both airports it’s a 3 hour train trip through stunning views of lakes and snow-covered Alpine mountains. Disembark the train at local village Visp and hop on the connecting bus which will have you in Saas Fee in under half an hour. Check timetables and reserve train tickets here.
By this time you’ll be longing to get into your accommodation and out onto the slopes. Saas Fee is a car-free town but a freephone by the bus station exit will reach your hotel, who speedily dispatch little electric cars to transport you and your luggage. The effect of the car-free village is a peaceful and safe one, the effect of which may only be felt after a day or two. The length of the village, from bus station to slopes and furthest lifts, can be walked in about 15 minutes and there are many electric buses to drop you right at the cable car.
Staying half-board in a hotel can be an excellent option and deals and offers are frequently available if you check the listings. Half-board is easy and affordable; the Swiss really know how to provide a mountain breakfast, and evening meals are healthy and plentiful. Here is where we should have a word about prices and the dreaded Swiss Franc/Euro exchange rate. Yes, some prices in Switzerland can seem high, but we found Saas Fee prices to be very fair. If you’re careful you can end up spending no more than a comparable stay in France or Austria. Supermarket prices are as cheap as anywhere in Europe so self-catering can also work out well, especially for families. For hotels and other accommodation in Saas Fee please see the listings here.
Heading to the slopes one of the first things you’ll notice are the two large nursery slope areas, one almost flat, one with more of a gradient and a few small bumps – both perfect for beginners. If you’ve conquered these, then head up on the Felskinn lift and then take the connecting underground funicular (world’s highest) to the 3500m high Allalin. From here you’ll find pleasant blues and straight-forward reds, nothing too steep as you’re riding on a snow-covered glacier. These pistes are perfectly maintained and groomed. Off-piste it is advised to be accompanied by a guide, as crevasses can be frequently found on the ungroomed terrain.
Allalin is home to some of the most beautiful alpine scenery we’ve experienced. You could spend quite a while here taking in the mesmerizing views of white snow above and blue-green glacier underneath. We suggest you do some of this gazing from the warmth of the Three Sixty the highest revolving restaurant in the world. It takes a full hour to spin 360 degrees ensuring you an uninterrupted view of literally the top of the world. Food is healthy and tasty here, we recommend the burgers and local non-alcoholic pick-me-up drink Rivella. You may need to book a table in high season, but it’s well worth the effort.
Underneath the restaurant a progression of cavernous passages and steps leads you right inside the glacier towards the world’s largest ice grotto. While it’s quite something to think of walking under 15 meters of glacial ice, the ice sculptures and children’s slide means you feel quite safe in the ice caves. The most dangerous element is perhaps the hike back up stairs which feels more challenging than normal at this altitude. Go slowly and save your speed for the breath-taking downhill descents waiting for you at the surface.
Runs below the mid-station at Morenia are a little more challenging than those higher up but do lead to lovely tree-lined runs back to the village. The terrain park provides plenty of kickers, rails and boxes. For kids big and little there’s the exhilarating railed Feeblitz toboggan run, the steepest in all the Alps.
Let’s not forget summer skiing. The glacier skiing area around Allalin is open through the summer, with 20kms of slopes to suit all levels. You’ll find some of the world’s best ski teams training here then, and a real buzz of activity in the town.
If you want to improve your ski or board ability there are a number of ski schools in Saas Fee. We recommend Eskimos an English language ski school who are professional and highly innovative in teaching techniques. You’ll find their office on the main street and will see their distinctive powder blue ski suits around the slopes. Their private and group lessons are absolutely worth taking, and can make a noticeable improvement to your style.
It’s clear that visiting Saas Fee is an exercise in superlatives, but our stay was enriched by other elements which can’t be measured: the friendliness of the locals, the effort taken to make all elements of the stay smooth, the clean sweet air. The town recently won Best Swiss Ski Resort 2012, voted on by over 40,000 visitors. Sipping a piping hot gluhwein by the river running through the pretty village centre, we couldn’t help but agree with their choice.
Vertical Drop 1800m
Top Elevation 3600 m
Total Pistes 100km
Terrain 9% Green 37% Blue 40% Red 14% Black
Terrain parks 1