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Switzerland Ski Trip + Need a car?

Hi, I'm in the early stages of planning a ski trip to Switzerland. Curious if anyone has recommendations for a home base around Zermatt, St. Moritz or Verbier? Does anyone have a preference between those three? Would you get a car?

We're looking at 8-9 days with 6-7 days of skiing. Relatively descent skiers but never skied Europe. I'd prefer a place 'known' for skiing rather than a good nightlife. I don't mind driving and have driven in Switzerland (this summer) but don't want to drive every day. We'd like to ski something different every day.

My ideal situation is to stay in a village close (walkable or short ride) from a few good ski areas (not necessarily world renowned) and close enough to do a few days at Zermatt, St. Moritz or Verbier. Maybe take 1-2 days off skiing to do smth traditionally Swiss - not shopping/nightlife...plenty of that where we're from :)

Thank you

Posted by
5837 posts

Zermatt is a car free town. That makes a private auto a liability.
Zermatt is car-free. Access by private transportation is only permitted to Täsch. From Täsch, one continues to Zermatt by train. Or by taxi or limousine service as an alternative.

My Swiss born friend talks of (downhill/alpine) skiing from Zermatt into Italy then taking a train back to Zermatt.

Posted by
3392 posts

Rather than staying in Verbier, or Zermatt for that matter, which are both CRAZY expensive even relative to Swiss prices, you might want to try La Tzoumaz or Nendaz as alternatives. La Tzoumaz is just over the hill from Verbier and links to it via the extensive lift and gondola system in this area. They share the same mountain...La Tzoumaz is on one side and Verbier is on the other. We like it there because it's less of a scene than Verbier - just a small village that has developed into a small ski community made up mostly of locals from the Lake Geneva area who have chalets as well as a smattering of other Europeans coming to ski. Nendaz is a little further east but is also tied into the same ski area. Similar to La Tzoumaz but quite a bit bigger. This website will give you more specific information and help you decide. You will love skiing in this area...the views are magnificent and even better than Zermatt IMHO. Extensive views of the surrounding alps into Italy and France and you can ski for miles and miles and never do the same run twice. There are lots of runs that will seem familiar to you, similar to those in the states, and you can also try your hand at skiing on a glacier. Those runs are very well marked and there is no danger if you just stay on the marked areas. Some of the longer runs go down from Mont Fort towards Nendaz. The best views are at the top of the runs at Verbier/La Tzoumaz. Good luck deciding and have fun!

Posted by
20317 posts

If you've never skied in Europe, you have no idea of the size and level of interconnection between resorts that makes a car superfluous, even a hindrance. Several are car free and can only be reached by train. The aforementioned Zermatt is huge, and yes, you can ski into Italy. Just don't try returning by train, it would take all day. In fact Cervinia doesn't have train service. Just ride the lifts back up to the top and ski back into Switzerland. 6 to 7 days would be about right to ski the whole area with the combined Zermatt-Cervinia lift pass.
Verbier is almost as extensive. It would be easier to ski to other parts of the Four Valleys than travel by car.
I'd cross St Moritz off the list. More about posh lifestyle than good skiing.
The Berner Oberland is another spot with a lot of interconnected skiing. Wengen and Muerren are both car free.
You could throw Davos into the mix. Five ski areas with all connected by bus and rail included on the lift pass. Stay in Klosters if you want a "traditional Swiss" village (the Royals have their ski chalets there).
And nightlife seems to go hand-in-hand with the big resorts. Muerren may be a bit low key on the nightlife end with more "traditional Swiss" stuff.

Posted by
12040 posts

I wouldn't ski in Zermatt unless I was staying there. And if you're staying there, a car is useless.

One resort I really enjoyed that has the advantage of being both high altitude and car-accessible is Flumserberg. If you're not looking for a lively aprés ski scene, there isn't much of one here.

"Muerren may be a bit low key on the nightlife end with more "traditional Swiss" stuff." I would argue that aprés-ski is a VERY traditional Swiss activity. Switzerland didn't become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by putting the majority of it's population to work jodling and making cheese...

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you for the replies so far, keep them coming :)

I was looking for something like the Nendaz suggestion...some place with great views & great skiing and a link to a place like Verbier (so you can ski it some days and avoid it other days). Added Davos to the list of potential locations instead of maybe St. Moritz.

I'm not looking to avoid apres-ski all together...I understand its a major part of a European ski holiday. We simply want to avoid the posh "I go to Aspen every year and wouldn't know how to put ski boots on" crowd and associated sky high prices for everything...

Would you recommend renting equipment or bringing it with you? If we forgo a car for public transport, how much of a hassle is it to drag skis, boots, etc on a series of trains and buses?

Posted by
5837 posts

The rent vs bring compromise for Alpine skiing is rent skis and poles, bring boots.

That said, only you can answer the question as to the importance of the right skis. If the right camber/side cut and the right base structure is important and you tune your edges and wax daily, bring your own gear. Tognar carries 230v irons:

If you don't wax periodically, don't ski the double black diamond chutes and don't want to lug heavy Alpine skis around Europe, renting can be a option to consider.

Transatlantic carriers typically allow one no extra charge checked bag per passenger and a ski bag or box and boot bag is accepted as one checked bag. Carry-on and wear you ski clothing and you could get by since you don't do Aspen -fancy night life.

Ski and snowboard equipment are allowed as checked baggage. One ski/pole bag or one snowboard bag and one boot bag is accepted per person. The combined weight of the ski/snowboard bag and the boot bag may not exceed 50 lbs. or excess weight charges will apply. Linear dimensions may exceed 80 inches (203 cm) without excess size charges. All standard baggage charges apply.

Posted by
12040 posts

"If you don't wax periodically, don't ski the double black diamond chutes"

Very much agree with that statement.

"We simply want to avoid the posh "I go to Aspen every year and wouldn't know how to put ski boots on" crowd and associated sky high prices for everything..."

I've never been to Aspen, so I'm not familiar with that kind of crowd, but I've generally found aprés-ski in Europe to be more laid-back. Fun and lively, but not loud, posh and douchey. Oh, and almost everything in Switzerland has sky-high prices, so you cant really avoid it.

Posted by
20317 posts

I always bring my boots and a set of ski clothes with me in my carry-on bag so I know I will be skiing the next day even if my checked bags go astray. Ski rental is easy at all the resorts. If you do rent a car, you can get a smaller one and forgo the extra charges for ski racks. Swiss Int'l used to haul your skis at no charge, but I think that deal is a thing of the past.
If you go to Zermatt, don't miss skiing a day at Saas Fee. Beautiful glacier that comes almost all the way to the town, and it makes for some nice easy skiing. Take the train from Zermatt to Stalde and change to the post bus to Saas Fee.
Haute-Nendaz and Thyon can be reached by post bus from Sion. They have more of a family vibe. Verbier is on the far end of the ski area from there and will take an hour or so to ski there. Keep an eye on the clock so you make it back in time.
@ Tom, I hope you don't think by "low key" I meant the Swiss spend there après-ski milking cows. But Muerren is a bit more subdued than Zermatt or Verbier, and cannot hold a candle to the "spring break in Cancun" atmosphere that goes on in Austria.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks again for all your help. Another suggestion I got is to start with 3 days in Nendez and then 3 days in Zermatt. Rationale being Nendez is not as expensive/fancy as Zermatt and not as difficult of a terrain. So we'd "warm up" at Nendez, maybe ski/see Verbier (albeit briefly) and then tackle Zermatt. Would that make sense logistically (trains, multi-day pass savings, etc)?

I know we won't ski everything at either place but it won't be our last trip hopefully. Or should we just stick to one?

I'm leaning to leaving skis at home as per everyone's suggestion. We've rented demo "high performance" skis on our trips in the US - they are better than regular rentals. I'm guessing we can find something similar?

A few questions on Zermatt: would you recommend staying in Zermatt or Tasch? How hard is the terrain? We did mostly black diamonds in US and Switzerland much harder?

Posted by
20317 posts

When are you planning on going? That will make a diff. re. pricing and snow conditions. Highest prices will be be the 2 weeks around Christmas and New Years when many Europeans take at least one week and some two and a lot of them head to the ski resorts. By the second week of January, prices will be at there lowest. Late January can be the best combination of lower prices and good snow conditions. Prices go up in February as rolling school holidays go on throughout Europe and the best snow conditions mean that it is family ski holiday time. By the second week of March prices start to drop as skiing can start Spring skiing type conditions. So keep that in mind.
The US has the lowest percentage of population of skiers than any other developed nation. Can you find good skis to rent? More than in the US.
"A few questions on Zermatt: would you recommend staying in Zermatt or Tasch?"
Please do not spend all that time and treasure flying across the Atlantic and go cheap when you get to your destination. Stay in Zermatt by all means. The hotels have meal plans that include breakfast and dinner every day and that is quite reasonable. In fact, my druthers would be to spend a week. The hotels prefer Saturday to Saturday bookings and that is reflected in their per night pricing. Zermatt does have a certain magic, car free, as relaxed or as party hearty as you like. And the multi day lift passes per day rate goes down as you buy passes with more days.
"How hard is the terrain?"
Surprisingly easy. Every marked run is groomed at least every other night. The trail marking system vis-à-vis the US is "Black" is difficult (steep). "Red" is intermediate (similar to blue in the US). "Blue" is easier (similar to green in the US). Bump runs are generally considered "off-piste" as even black runs are groomed on a regular basis. You could ski all week in Zermatt and never take a black run. And the easy runs can end up as switchback cat tracks that can get quite icy without fresh snow and with all the traffic from less experienced skiers.
I hope you enjoy your trip. It will be an eye opener. People always ask me if the skiing is better in the Alps or the Rockies. My answer is, "Neither better or worse, just different in wonderful ways."