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Berner Oberland vs Zermatt in combo with Chamonix as a family of five

We are in the early stages of planning a ski vacation in Switzerland February 2022. We booked flights in/out of Zurich back to USA, with 10 nights available to explore. Our family of five (kids 14, 12, 10) are all strong skiers and we love traveling in Europe. We are struggling to decide between Berner Oberland and Zermatt.

Affordable Airbnb accommodations for four-ish nights (vs a full week minimum rental) seem to be easier to secure in Lauterbrunnen vs Zermatt. Does anyone have any tips for traveling with a larger family in either of these two cities? Is one better for families with teens (Zermatt seems "fancier" than what we prefer?!?) and just overall easier to enjoy?

Plus - we are considering adding Chamonix as our second ski destination instead of doing Berner Oberland AND Zermatt. The train seems much easier from Zermatt (darn) but my gut tells me that Berner Oberland may be more our style and we can spend a few extra hours on the train if needed. Chamonix has so many Airbnb condos that can fit five which makes it appealing for us and the varied ski terrain with fun activities at night for families looks fun. Would love any advice people could offer on this somewhat unusual itinerary idea we have.

p.s. my husband is 6'5" and older son is 5'11" so tiny hotel rooms are tricky for our family, and we love to self cater at least three of our four meals as they eat a ton! We travel extensively and are very comfortable flexing on the road with creative itineraries ....but lots of sleeping space at a cheap(er) price is our vibe.

Posted by
16165 posts

February is prime time for European family ski vacations as there are rolling 1-week Winter school holidays throughout Europe. You might have difficulties unless you book a full week Saturday to Saturday.

As far as destinations go, Zermatt is superior to the Berner Oberland for strong skiers, but the B.O. is perfectly good enough to keep them occupied.

Edit. I will add that if you get the Berner Oberland Ski Pass, it will include use of all the trains in the region all the way to Interlaken. Also if you want to go to the Jungfraujoch, you only have to pay the price from Kleine Scheidegg.

Posted by
1425 posts

Sam, how do you know all of this???? Impressive!

Posted by
36 posts

we are a family of five and stayed in these apartments in the summer - they fit our budget but not sure how convenient they are for skiing or the price differential for winter high season but you might want to see if they would work for you. We found them through booking.com which has lots of detail re bed and bath configuration that can be important when travelling with kids:

Zermatt "Apartment Richemont 2" (great view of matterhorn and goats)

Wengen "Apt Im Gruebi 1" (close to main town area, mannlichen cable car, and nice view from living room)

Posted by
16165 posts

Goats in Zermatt are cooped up in the barn in February. You can smell them when you walk by.

Posted by
2434 posts

For a skiing trip, Lauterbrunnen is not where you should stay - there is usually no snow down there, you have to take the train to the slopes. You should compare Zermatt prices with Wengen or Grindelwald instead. These two villages share a common skiing area which is fairly large, and Grindelwald has its own separate skiing area in addition (south-facing so conditions are not always the best). There are also some slopes in Mürren, more limited in extent but probably a good choice too if you only plan to stay 3-4 days (which might not be easily accepted by apartment owners in peak winter season!).
This being said, the skiing in Zermatt is really excellent for strong skiers. Insane verticals (up to 6,000'+), great variety of slopes, and where else can you ski across a border? You can find non-fancy accommodation, and the town has charm in spite of all the jewelry and watch shops. I spent a week skiing there once but it was around 2012, so where I stayed is probably no longer relevant. It was, however, my best skiing trip ever, and I have been to quite a few places in the French and Swiss Alps.
If you struggle with short-term accommodation in Zermatt, you can have a look at Täsch, a 10-minute train ride down the hill with very frequent shuttle trains.

Posted by
22 posts

Highly recommend Chamonix. We did a european delivery with a car and went to the Alps and skied several of the resorts in the Chamonix valley. It was gorgeous and such an amazing experience. We are Ikon pass holders and are planning to visit Kitzbuhl, Dolomites, and Zermatt this winter.

Posted by
596 posts

I strongly suggest you book NOW as affordable lodging options dry up quickly. Europeans tend to book their vacations very early.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you for everyone's help on this thread! We had some major challenges finding accommodation for five people in one rental (vs two hotel rooms, tough with kids) for under seven nights.

We booked:
5 nights in Berner Oberland in Wengen
4 nights in Chamonix, France

One last question if this great forum could help. We will probably get the Swiss Travel Pass as our three children would be free. I see posts in the past that explain that the Swiss Travel Pass works in Chamoix - which is amazing. But I cannot find this proof anywhere. Old posts reference this validity map: https://www.sbb.ch/content/dam/sbb/de/infotexte/uebersichtskarte-sts.pdf.sbbdownload.pdf but to me I see Chamonix as a gray line and not red. Did this recently change? I saw a 2019 map with it as red.

If it did change, do we just use the Swiss Pass until we get to the border crossing at Le Chatelard-Frontiere and buy an onward ticket once we enter France to continue to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc?

Posted by
2434 posts

Sadly the line to Chamonix is indeed no longer included. You will be able to check the validity map again at the end of the year; there tend to be slight changes form one year to the next.
If Chamonix is still grayed out, it is better to buy the ticket ahead of time because the connection in Vallorcine is too short to do so. I think SBB sells the whole ticket from Chatelard Frontiere to Chamonix. If not, then you can get an e-ticket from Chatelard to Vallorcine on SBB for sure, and an e-ticket from Vallorcine to Chamonix on Oui SNCF (French railways).