Swiss ski resorts: what’s new for 2013-14
Faced with stiff competition from elsewhere in the European Alps, Switzerland’s renowned ski resorts are not resting on their laurels. As the winter season gets under way, The Local’s Emily Mawson takes a look at five major expansion projects that augur well for skiing and snow boarding enthusiasts.
Joining of two giants: Arosa-Lenzerheide
Seated at the heart of Canton Graubünden, the popular ski resorts of Arosa and Lenzerheide occupy adjacent valleys, providing 70 kilometres and 155 kilometres of pistes respectively. If the figures sound modest, that is set to change this winter as the resorts become the largest contiguous ski resort in the canton.
January will see the opening of the 1.7-kilometre double-aerial cable car Hörnli- Urdenfürggli, an impressive structure with capacity for 150 skiers in each car, as well as two six-man chairs above Lenzerheide that will connect Heimberg to Urdenfürggli. Following the opening, both resorts will find themselves in the top ten Swiss ski areas: Arosa-Lenzerheide will boast 42 lifts and 225 kilometres of ski runs up to 2,865 metres above sea level.
The development will also mean skiers taking advantage of the sunny, mostly south-facing slopes of Arosa will be able to escape over the valley when the snow turns to slush.
Lift passes cost 69 francs per day and include public transport Chur-Arosa-Chur and Chur-Lenzerheide-Tiefencastel; www.arosalenzerheide.ch
Five-star Alps: Andermatt
Ever since Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris announced his plans to develop Andermatt as a tourist resort, the untouched village in central Switzerland has been under the media spotlight — and will be perhaps no more so than this winter.
With the grand opening on December 6th of The Chedi Andermatt, a five-star deluxe hotel, Sawiris’ Andermatt Swiss Alps1.8-billion franc ribbon of developments will begin to unfold.
The 104-room hotel, which is designed to blend the traditional with the modern in an Asia-inspired chalet chic style, will be followed by a 135-million-franc project to connect Andermatt’s ski resort to neighbouring Sedrun. The SkiArena Andermatt-Sedrun, forecast for completion in winter 2016, will be the largest ski area in central Switzerland, comprising 24 lifts and over 120 kilometres of pistes.
With yet more expansion pending – including further hotels and an 18-hole par 72 golf course – it remains to be seen how the character of the sleepy village will evolve.
Plans revisited: Verbier
The idea of building a lift to link Verbier’s Le Châble to nearby hamlet Bruson was first mooted in 1961, when the plans were refused by locals and environmental authorities. Over 50 years later — and thanks to concern over Bruson’s potential closure due to lack of skiers — the project has been approved, with the gondola between two of the canton of Valais’s Four Valleys (Quatre Vallées) ski resorts set to open this winter.
The eight-seater cars will transport 1,200 people per hour in a journey that takes under 20 minutes. It will give Verbier’s skiers easier access to Bruson’s intermediate pistes, as well as its ‘secret powder’: while Verbier (which draws one million visitors annually)
is largely pisted, Brusons has remained off the radar, long popular with locals for its hidden off-piste terrain and glade skiing.
The development will therefore add another dimension to the Four Valleys ski area and its 400 kilometres of pistes.
Lift passes for the Four Valleys area cost 70 francs per day; www.verbier.ch
Safeguarding the future: Grimentz-Zinal
Grimentz and Zinal in Canton Valais are otherworldly pretty, with their clusters of sun-scorched larch chalets that lie protected by the steep slopes of the Val d’Anniviers.
In keeping with their low-key natures, the resorts are popular with off-piste enthusiasts.
However change is on the horizon in January, when a 28.6-million-franc cable car is set to start operating. Spanning 3.5 kilometres from Grimentz village to the heart of Zinal’s ski area, the cable car will be the third longest in Switzerland and will ease access for all skiers to the resorts’ combined 120-kilometre network of pistes.
Less advanced skiers will be able to take the lift back into the valley, while when the piste is closed all skiers will be able to reach Grimentz (at 1,553 metres above sea level, about 100 metres lower than Zinal). As small resorts struggle in the face of bigger competition, the lift is intended to help these two quaint hamlets remain competitive.
Daily lift passes cost 56 francs; www.valdanniviers.ch
A world’s first: Samnaun-Ischgl
Samnaun in Canton Graubünden is best known for two reasons: first, It boasts duty free shopping at the heart of the Alps, and second, it allows visitors to ski in Switzerland and Austria on the same day.
This December, it will add another point of interest to its name, as the world’s first aerial tramway with seat heating opens at Piz Val Gronda in the Samnaun-Ischgl ski area. The Piz Val Gronda E5, which is 2.4 kilometres long and cost €18.5 million to build, will open up the deep snow fields beneath the eponymous peak (2,812 metres above sea level) as well as a groomed red run from the top station.
After enjoying views of the Tyrol’s Fimbatal valley for the day, visitors from Switzerland can jump back on the Silvretta A1 and Firmabahn A3 lifts to return to Samnaun and stock up on, well, let’s see, perfume and spirits?
Lift passes cost from €43.50 depending on the lifts; www.ischgl.com